Tuesday, January 18, 2005
Lord Lincoln
Why is that everytime the subject of great Presidents comes up, Abraham Lincoln is always, without question immediately, almost subconsciously, and irrevocably elevated to the top of the list. I mean he was tall…and had a cool hat, but as far as actually keeping the Union from falling the hell apart, he probably has one of the worst records. He was only able to keep it together through absolute brute force, and even then not very effectively.

Polipundit has had a sort of bracket of great Presidents and they’re putting it to a vote to it’s readers. One of the contests was between James Monroe and Abraham Lincoln, and of course President Lincoln is winning by about 10-1. I want to post the comments of one of the readers called “Bamaman”:

“I really hate to see Monroe being dissed like this…. My contention is that Lincoln is far from being one of the greatest. He gets far too much credit in the way that our public school system has rewritten history. A better man could have prevented much of the worst of the Civil War. His election was one of the back breaking straws in the first place. The first few states States would have suceeded anyway its true, but there were three rounds of secession that he should have been able to prevent.

“He is an utter failure as commander in chief as well. How many Generals did he end up going through? And how long should it really take when you outnumber the enemy 5 to 1? It took him 3 years to even win his first victory. Freeing the slaves was indeed a great result, but was not either his idea nor his intent. It had more to do with caving to political pressures, and also a diplomatic attempt to prevent a foreign nation from assisting the CSA. Up to that point in the war, the Federal forces were not doing that well against the Confederates. Mainly from the incompetant people Lincoln put in charge of the war.

“You can find these facts in virtually any true research piece on the Civil War. I think Lincoln was a horrible President because he constantly caved to political pressure, had horrible delegation skills, and heck, he was a liberal (Republicans were the liberals in those days folks). What did Monroe do? Ohh not much, just prevented any foreign nation from colonizing any more of the Americas and thus shaping America into what we have today. Anyone read the Monroe Doctrine lately? Prob not as they barely even mention it in our rewritten public history books.”

Now I think it’s irrelevant whether Lincoln was officially a “liberal” or “conservative” but the truth is, he was ineffective in all the ways that really count, and most especially in that one all-important responsibility of actually holding the Union together.

And here’s the kicker: out of all the wars in History that were “unnecessary” or a “quagmire” or “wasting the lives of our young men” or “could have been prevented”; the only one that somehow gets left out is the Civil War.

Think about it. Vietnam, Iraq, WWI and WWII; Jimmy Carter was even on TV the other day talking about how the American Revolution was an “unnecessary” war. All of these wars “could have been prevented” if we all could all just “get along”.

But somehow, 5 years of killing EACH OTHER was the right thing to do. WHY? Slavery. The evil institution of slavery. Granted an evil institution, absolutely a bad thing…but THAT much worse than:

  • Monarchial Oppression
  • The Holocaust
  • Stalinism
  • Cambodia
  • Saddam’s mass murders
  • International Terrorism
    etc.

War is only OK if it’s against your own country? I don’t get it. And the only way that slavery could have possibly been defeated was to have Grant and dozens of others just throw thousands upon thousands of men into the South until they finally couldn’t take anymore and then replace it with a less evil but equally destructive institution called “Reconstruction”? What’s wrong with discourse and understanding and compromise and “letting negotiations run their course”. That just didn’t apply in the 19th century? My contention is that not only was the Civil War THE most unnecessary and unjust war in American History, but it was also the most poorly handled and fecklessly fought war in our history, at least in some part due to (and by no means all due to) a hilariously overrated and ineffective President. Someone convince me why:

a) the Civil War was justified or necessary
b) why Lincoln is automatically considered one of our “Greatest and most wonderful Presidents”

Please…I need to be sold.

Posted at 05:02 pm by Logipundit

Posted by Johnny B @ 01/18/2005 11:01 PM PST
I keep trying to come up with a good argument for these, but I keep coming up with these websites

http://www.lewrockwell.com/decoster/decoster21.html

instead

Posted by John Broussard @ 01/18/2005 11:22 PM PST
Reminds me of that old song “If the south woulda won we’d a had it made” by Hank Williams Jr. I especially like how he says, “We’d have all the cars made in the carolinas, and ban all the ones made in China”, if only because no cars are made in China anyway. Are you being serious here Butch or trying to make a weird point?

Posted by BP @ 01/19/2005 09:40 AM PST
Do the points seem that ridiculous? I don’t think they’re too far out.(although lewrockwell MIGHT be taking it a little too far)

So yes I am being serious, but my main point is not that he was evil or horrible, simply that he was not as great or wonderful as he is made out to be, and should automatically and reflexively be put in the annals as one of our greatest Presidents, when there is little evidence to show he was THAT great.

I’m willing to be sold, but unfortunately no one has come up with a great argument yet.

Posted by G71 @ 01/21/2005 03:42 PM PST
I agree. Lincoln is top ten, but by no means ahead of a Washington or TR…

Posted by JM @ 01/21/2005 07:51 PM PST
The Civil War was decades in the making; Lincoln was certainly not to blame for it. It was the inevitable result of halfway measures and bad legislation. Few Presidents could have kept the North from capitulating and allowing the country to split, or stood against the backbiting within his own Cabinet — remember the vicious fight over the West Virginia statehood question? His master-stroke was the timing of the Emancipation Proclamation, which forced England to refrain from recognising the South. If he’d lived, I believe he would have managed to reconcile both sides during the rest of his term and afterwards. He was a great man, if not a great President, and it’s easy to mix up the two.

Posted by alicia @ 01/21/2005 07:53 PM PST
You’re absolutely right. And actually, its not written out of the history books. My history book clearly says that if lincoln hadnt have died when he did, he could easily have been made out to be the worst president ever. But there was a lot more than slavery going on in that war. Slavery wasnt even brought into it formally until 63. The main issue was that the north wanted everyone to be like the north and the south was different. Its the age old american dream of taking land and making it the same. The war ended up being condoned on the great benifit of ending slavery (though that didnt happen until after the war) But it started out by just being states rights vs central government. And that was a huge issue- A country cant stand devided. To carry out our threats to the rest of the world, we needed to keep the country together. Keeping a country together requires a lot of work, and some forced conforming. The war could have been handled better, but it was necessary.

Posted by BP @ 01/21/2005 11:02 PM PST
JM,

You made my point. He probably was a great man, and you could argue that Adams was a great man (in my opinion the all around greatest of the founders) but as President he was less than effective, and the issue is who is the greatest President.

{Hell Jimmy Carter is probably a great man. Super nice guy. And he was the worst President in modern history, and an even worse ex-President (evidenced by the Nobel Peace Prize).}

Anyway, my point is that it shouldn’t be an autonomic reflex to say Lincoln is the greatest President because of the Emancipation Proclamation any more than you should automatically call Bush a great President simply because he attacked Afghanistan after 9/11. Neither one of those decisions are really hard or even impressive.

History should judge people on the hard decisions that resulted in positive change not the political decisions that just about any President would make under the given circumstances.

Posted by John Broussard @ 01/21/2005 11:25 PM PST
A few comments.

1. Didn’t most of the states vote to secede before Lincoln took office? It was his very election that signaled the loss of southern control of the executive and sent the southern states to secession. Lincoln was a pragmatic guy, but by the time he got to office his choice was to allow the southern states to secede…or not. At the time the South had the richest class of people in history running plantations who had a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. They also had the better tactical generals, more west point grads and such. To this end they were more organized than the North. My point is Lincoln was at a disadvantage from the get go, he made tough decisions, not all of them right, but he chose was to keep the Union together in a tough time. Would Monroe have done the same, probably. Would Carter?

Posted by BP @ 01/23/2005 03:07 PM PST
Most definitely Carter would not have, and we would not have songs like “if the South woulda won the war”, because the South would have won the war.

Roughly half of the States did officially secede before Lincoln took office. Lincoln took office on March 4 (a mucher better day for an inauguration by the way, in my opinion).

SC, MS, FL, AL, LA, GA, and TX all seceded before that, however VA, AR, TN, NC, MO, KY, and the AZ and Indian Territories all seceded after that most within a few months, but KY and MO didn’t secede until Oct and Nov resp.

And ALL of the secessions happened after Lincoln was actually elected (the first obviously was SC on December of 1860).

So you’re right that Lincoln’s election was perhaps a signal that secession was inevitable, and most definitely some of the blame can easily be laid on previous Presidents (and legislatures). And I hope I haven’t left the impression that I’m BLAMING the war on Lincoln, because that’s not my intent.

HOWEVER, the two questions remain firmly, (and they can be separated quite easily–they are not necessarily intertwined):

Was the Civil War a completely necessary war?

My answer is no–
1) not because I necessarily think that Lincoln could have prevented it, but because I think the issues should have been addressed better starting in 1812 when our Constitution allowed the issue to be addressed, instead of with the Missouri Compromise in 1820, which simply didn’t “take” and was repealed 30 years later.

2)because I think the number one rationale by historians was that it was to end slavery, and I think any reasonable person knows that that’s not what it was for…and if you strip that away, the only way the war looks just is from the Southern point of view, much like the American Revolution.

The second question is whether Abraham Lincoln was a great and wonderful President, and I will give my opinion as simply as I can:

Can you think of a worse resolution than the way the Civil War actually played out? Out of all the ways that the Union could have been saved, can you think of a worse way?

My contention is that 5 years of war, hundreds of thousands of lives lost and 12 years of “Reconstruction” followed by 75 years of “separate but equal”, was absolutely the worst possible scenario for preserving the Union and ending slavery, and I believe that rewarding a President with God-like status for creating that scenario does not serve us well.

Posted by JM @ 01/23/2005 08:23 PM PST
When Lincon took office, his choices were a) war, especially since the South fired first or b) allow the Union to be destroyed. A weaker man would have chosen b) and hoped for the best. Had he done so, any further disagreement between the remaining States would have automatically led to further successions, and the eventual Balkanisation of North America. A weaker President would have been forced to concede and compromise with the South after any one of the crushing defeats the North suffered. By standing firm despite setbacks and opposition in his own Cabinet, Lincoln proved that he was more than just a pretty face. Well, OK, he didn’t even have THAT.

>12 years of “Reconstruction”
>followed by 75 years of “separate
>but equal”

You can hardly blame Lincoln for THAT.

Posted by BP @ 01/24/2005 12:25 AM PST
True, true on your last point; there’s no way you can blame Lincoln for what happened as a result of the Civil War, so…I stand corrected. (However I suppose I could stand by the 5 years of war and hundreds of thousands of lives lost, right?)

However, the fact that the South fired first is nothing. Number one, they did not fire back into Union Territory, they were simply trying to take control of territory that, given their seccession was really their’s again.

Now, although standing firm is an admirable quality in a President it doesn’t answer the question of whether prosecuting the war the way Lincoln did was the right way to go about it. I’ll agree that doing nothing and hoping for the best was not an option, but….

WAIT A MINUTE!!!

{Now go back and read all of this stuff again, and the next time you have a discussion with a true liberal who can’t see past his own eyeballs, or a conspiracy theorist who thinks that every executive’s decisions should be judged by what happens 25 years later, then walk them through this exercise.

And then ask them if war is not sometimes necessary.}

You see, I would agree it was necessary by the time Lincoln came into office, but it was horribly prosecuted by any measurable standard. This, in my opinion, makes Lincoln less than a wonderful wartime President, and since the war (and in JM’s view, his tenacity in sticking with it) is what makes him great, his greatness is suspect.

And, as far as the necessity of the Civil War: I think you’re making the right arguments, but again all of those arguments are tied to the situation as it was in 1861, and in that case we need to go back further to answer the question adequately. And that, my friends, will require a separate post.

If I decide to take that on…well it’s going to be a while, but I’m looking forward to it.

Posted by JM @ 01/24/2005 08:35 AM PST
>However I suppose I could stand
>by the 5 years of war and
>hundreds of thousands of lives
>lost, right?

The length of the war was largely due to his inability to find someone to prosecute it effectively, as you pointed out earlier. Most of the high-ranking generals with real war experience were far too old (like Winfield Scott). Some had received their rank through politics (like Nathaniel Banks). Ambrose Burnside only took the job because he hated to see Joseph Hooker get it. Benjamin Butler kept ticking off foreign diplomats. Joseph Hooker was not imaginative enough. This was the material Lincoln had to work with. Really, what should he have done? What choices did he have?

Lord Lincoln

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