on December 18, 2006
"The Union was formed by the voluntary agreement of the States; and in uniting together they have not forfeited their nationality, nor have they been reduced to the condition of one and the same people. If one of the states chooses to withdraw from the compact, it would be difficult to disprove its right of doing so, and the Federal Government would have no means of maintaining its claims either by force or right."--Alexis de Tocqueville
I teach American history at a community college. The country that our Founding Fathers established, politically, is much different from the country we have today. Most Americans, if they even think about our early history, interpret it through the current nationalistic perspective. "The Union is inviolable." Thus, the South was wrong for breaking it, the North (and Lincoln) to be honored for preserving it.
It's not quite that easy. Contrary to one review of this book, the right to secede was almost taken for granted in early America. Our Founding Fathers seceded from England; who could deny the same right to others who did not "consent" to the government they lived under? Texas seceded from Mexico, and that was ok, too; that state joined the Union. But the South couldn't secede from the Union? That's really what the Civil War was fought about. It was actually the North, more often than not, that wanted to secede early in our history. Vermont threatened to secede over the Louisiana Purchase. Massachusetts threatened to secede over the Embargo Act of 1807, the War of 1812, and the annexation of Texas in 1845. Secession as a right was taught to the cadets at West Point. Jefferson, Hamilton, even Lincoln said it was a right that was "to liberate the world." Yet increasingly, as the 1800s drew on, "Union" became more sacred, especially as the financial ties between North and South deepened. Yet, even when the South seceded, many, many Northerners argued that they had the right to do it, and wanted to let them go. The Civil War destroyed that right, once and for all. It was a different country then, and most Americans don't understand it, mainly due (at least according to this book, and probably rightfully so) to being taught, in school, the "nationalist" interpretation of America. The North won the war. Winners get to write the history.
Now the losers are starting to speak up. And some of the winners don't like it.
Thomas Dilorenzo's "Lincoln Unmasked" is a highly unfavorable, interpretive look at Abraham Lincoln. This is not the only book that a person should read about Abraham Lincoln; one would come away with a rather distorted view of our 16th President if that were the case. Dilorenzo presupposes some knowledge of early American history in this work; those who don't have it probably won't understand the book very well and see it only as a negative screed. Yet Dilorenzo is writing from his understanding of what the Founding Fathers created--states' rights, limited government, free market economics, an America that minds its own business and avoids "entangling alliances." Dilorenzo argues that Lincoln and the Civil War destroyed that America and replaced it with an all-sovereign, omnipotent federal government, which has had no restraints upon it in mushrooming into the Leviathan we have today. Dilorenzo doesn't like this current government, and largely blames Abraham Lincoln for it. Those who like the current American government won't like this book.
Abraham Lincoln was a human being, a product of the 19th century, and a politician--a very good one. Dilorenzo attempts to "humanize" Lincoln some, by showing the issues that bound Lincoln to the Republican party and thus demanded he go to war to keep the South in the Union, resulting in the all-powerful federal government we have. And he demonstrates how many today use Lincoln to justify active government involvement, here at home and abroad. There are no new facts in Dilorenzo's book; what he does is interpret them from his understanding of what the Founding Fathers established and how Abraham Lincoln destroyed that. Other Lincoln biographies will often refer to the same facts (suspension of habeus corpus, for example), but if they applaud the Civil War and the current American system, they will simply see Lincoln's actions as necessary to win the war and preserve the Union. Those who accept the latter view will NOT like this book, as you will see from some of the reviews of it here.
Love this book or hate it, Dilorenzo will make you think. Please don't listen to the reviewers who try to tell you this book is trash. It's not, far from it. You may not agree with it, but it's a worth a read and it's worth investigating whether Dilorenzo's understanding of the Founding Fathers and early America is correct.
on April 14, 2007
"Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past." - George Orwell, 1984.
Imagine an alternate world where the American patriots lost their war for independence against the British Empire. How would that loss have influenced American culture? What would American school children be taught about those patriots today, in an America that was still part of Great Britain? Imagine another alternate world in which Nazi Germany defeated the Allies in World War II. How would the official view of the war have differed in a Nazi-dominated Europe, as opposed to the free Europe of our world? Would Belgian children in such an alternate world be taught that Hitler was a villain, or one of the great and good leaders of history?
All too often we assume that history is a true and faithful account of events as they actually took place and people as they actually were. We tend to forget that people who lived in the past (and recorded the events of those days), were ordinary human beings who were as vulnerable to the temptation to color events according to their own beliefs, agendas and prejudices as are people living today. For this reason, it behooves us to constantly re-investigate and re-evaluate the past in order to be certain that what we think of as the truth is, in fact, the truth. Much of how we view ourselves in the present, and how we view our path into the future, is based upon how we view the past. If that view is inaccurate, if it is tainted by the prejudices of those whose word we blindly accepted, then we ourselves are helping to perpetuate old injustices -- to say nothing of the fact that we are deluding ourselves.
The obligation to constantly re-evaluate the past is especially important where wars and other clashes of of culture, religion and politics are concerned, because they are inherently based in ideology, and thus are especially vulnerable to manipulation. You may have heard the saying, "To the victor belongs the spoil." Well, one of the spoils of any conflict is the history and dominant view of that conflict. The side that prevails always colors itself as good and noble, while simultaneously coloring its opposition as (at best) misguided or (at worst) evil; and it does its best to pass its views down to posterity so that its perspective will remain dominant.
This is a pattern that is demonstrated time and again throughout history; and yet, quick as we are to spot it in the histories of other lands, we Americans are very reluctant to acknowledge it here. We are too idealistic in our view of ourselves, too slow to believe that any kind of prejudice has colored our history.
I think I can establish otherwise rather quickly.
Let me ask you this: was Ronald Reagan a good president, or a bad one? How about George Bush? Bill Clinton?
How you answer this question will depend on your own personal political viewpoints, but I believe I can say with some certainty that you hope your viewpoints on these men will prevail as the dominant viewpoint accepted by future Americans. And if your viewpoint does not prevail, will you not think that future generations will have been deprived of the truth?
Am I wrong? Be honest.
Now, is it really so far-fetched to believe that others who lived in eras before you might have felt the same way, and that they might have done whatever they could to ensure that future generations accepted their views?
With that in mind, I ask you to fairly consider what so many seem prepared to dismiss out of hand: namely, the idea that Abraham Lincoln might not have been the towering giant of greatness and goodness that he was made out to be by the generation that won the War of 1861-1865. In "The Real Lincoln" and "Lincoln Unmasked", Thomas DiLorenzo has done a fine of job of re-evaluating Lincoln and demonstrating that neither he, nor the war he inaugurated, are as we have been led to believe.
For instance, were you aware of the following facts about Lincoln and the war?
- He did not believe in racial equality, and stated this publicly a number of times (such as when he pledged to uphold Illinois' law against interracial marriage).
- As a lawyer, he once defended a slave owner's right to keep his slaves, but never defended a runaway slave.
- Lincoln and Republicans opposed the extension of slavery because they wanted to keep the territories free for white settlement.
- He favored a constitutional amendment (the Corwin Amendment) that would have guaranteed the existence of American slavery in perpetuity and would have been irrevocable.
- He was willing to leave every slave in slavery if it would "help save the Union".
- He preferred that all American blacks be "colonized" outside of the United States, and actively worked for this - including during his time as president.
- The Emancipation Proclamation was strictly a military measure designed to "suppress said rebellion", not a humanitarian gesture; and it freed only those slaves in parts of the Confederacy that were not under Union occupation. Slaves in the border states and occupied areas were unaffected by it. As his own Secretary of State said, it applied to slaves where Lincoln could not reach them, but left them in bondage where he could have easily freed them.
- He ordered the arrest of the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, Roger Taney, when Taney referred to Lincoln's suspension of Habeas Corpus as an act of despotism.
- He and his military machine closed down anti-war newspapers; censored telegraphs, sermons and sheet music; unlawfully arrested thousands for expressing anti-Lincoln or anti-war sentiments (including in the Northern states); and made pitiless war against Southern civilians in an effort to win this "peoples' contest". Entire towns and cities, such as Meridian, Mississippi and Atlanta, Georgia, were laid waste, their inhabitants left destitute and starving.
- Secession is not forbidden by the Constitution, and is a more American ideal than that of Union by force. The United States of America came into existence as an act of secession, justified by the Declaration of Independence, which states that all people to have a right to a government of their consent.
DiLorenzo uncovers and skillfully presents these and other facts about Lincoln and his war in "The Real Lincoln" and "Lincoln Unmasked". You may find these things hard to believe, but they are indeed facts, and it is time more Americans knew it.
At the very least, before you dismiss DiLorenzo as a "revisionist", a "neo-confederate", or a crazy (as so many seem to be doing) for daring to challenge conventional wisdom, bear in mind man's tendency to color events to serve his own interests, and do yourself a favor and evaluate DiLorenzo's information and arguments on their own merits. You may be surprised by what you learn.
"Having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged, by better information or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise." - Benjamin Franklin
Mr. DiLorenzo's well-written and well-researched expose of Abraham Lincoln tells truths long ignored aka hidden by modern historians, chiefly his undeserved reputation as "the Great Emancipator" who fought a war out of strictly benevolent reasons. The harsh truth, as he so eloquently points out, is that the Emancipation Proclamation freed NO ONE AT ALL, and that although slavery was one cause of the war, it was not "the" cause.
While no intelligent person alive today would not admit that the end of the south's "peculiar institution" was the only good thing that came out of the war, the ugly fact remains is that Lincoln was no less racist than most men of the day, and that he used that cause as a propaganda tool. The man who claimed to despise racism gave free reign to federal troops in the west to wipe out the Indian tribes while supposedly advocating equality to all in the northeast and south!
We do historical figures no honor by elevating them to martyrs, and prevent future generations from benefitting from the mistakes of the past. I highly recommend this book to serious students of politics, of the antebellum period, Lincoln buffs.
on October 24, 2006
Far from being a "laughable screed," as claimed by the curiously anonymous Publishers Weekly editor above, Lincoln Unmasked is a serious, scholarly work. Only a thoroughly biased, ignorant critic would pen such a characterization, and his or her opinion should simply be ignored.
If you look at what Lincoln did -- as opposed to what he said -- it is hard to refute DiLorenzo's portrayal. Just take the single premise that despite the south's attack on Fort Sumter, it was Lincoln who decared war on his countrymen. Think about it for a moment. What kind of leader sends troops to kill his fellow citizens? Even assuming that the south wasn't maneuvered and provoked into the attack (it was), and that there were casualties at Ft. Sumter (there were not), what would a reasonable person -- let alone a leader -- do in response? Would a reasonable person try to understand what had happened, to meet with the "attackers" -- or would he immediately say "kill them"? Would a great President negotiate with states which wanted to leave the Union, try to keep them in the fold -- or would he declare "stay or die," and plunge the entire nation into conflict? Would he try to keep chaos and calamity to a minimum -- or condemn 600,000 to death in a ghastly internecine war, which he personally micro-managed?
Just considering that one premise -- and there are many, many more that cast Lincoln in an extremely negative light -- it is difficult to understand how anyone, let alone so-called academics, could consider Lincoln a great President, or even a decent human being. The group of "Lincoln scholars" who idolize him can, indeed, be labeled a cult, because their adulation is based not on Lincoln's deeds, but on an "ends justifies the means" rationale that "he saved the Union," regardless of cost. It is similar to the reverence of dogs for their master -- it is not based on logic and truth, but on a mindless devotion to a higher power or concept. Those who praise "Father Abraham," while ignoring or obfuscating the unpleasant truths about him, deserve nothing but contempt, and DiLorenzo provides plenty.
My only complaints with the book are that it could be longer, and it presents only one side. There is no attempt to analyze possible thought-processes which might have led to Lincoln's specific actions. Of course, this is not the author's purpose, which is to offer a "prosecutor's brief" in response to the Lincoln cultists, and in this DiLorenzo succeeds quite well.
on February 28, 2008
This is a historical polemic in that it attacks other historians and the official Lincon standards. There is no other way to present an alternative to accepted scholarship than to try to debunk it. I work in DC and pass the Lincoln Memorial frequently. It is a temple. It is the stone deification of a man, not unlike the Roman deification of Augustus. They did the same to Jefferson. It is a human tendency. No one will say it - but they are temples seeking public worship. Very odd, not just today, but when built. The US has no state religion. That is the first amendment - but we do. One is the Lincoln religion. Lincoln's actual feelings about slavery, racial equality and the nature of total war have been glossed over in favor of the temple. All historians know it. Some of the contents of this book are rather shocking. Extensive footnotes. Your kids will probably get in trouble if they take this to public schools where the temple is strong. I recommend the book as one of many about Lincoln, but mostly because it will cause you to rethink Lincoln, read more about Lincoln and come to a decision on your own - which may disagree with the author. You may end up accepting the temple theory, but Lincoln should be reconsidered rather than just worshipped. This is one of those think-for-yourself books that gives you some concepts to reconsider. Personally, I don't think it goes far enough as I have studied Lincoln for years and am amazed at the amount of material the general public does not know. Why the civil rightds movement associates with the Lincoln temple and not with Harper's Ferry is beyond me. Also read up on John Brown, Harper's Ferry and Lincoln's plans for life after the presidency. But I give this book five stars for its daring, brevity, footnotes and polemical style that makes for lively reading. As for the temple, I would rather see a copy of the magna carta, the constitution and a large, running mirror where people saw themselves and their personal responsibility. Lincoln's statute reminds me of the descriptions of Jupiter Optimus in his temple in anceint Rome. One day, people will claim miracles...
on May 8, 2007
DiLorenzo's "The Real Lincoln" was the garlic and crucifix that made the Lincoln Cult hiss and avert their eyes. "Lincoln Unmasked" is the stake through it's heart that ends the unholy 150 year fabrication about this beloved dictator's life.
I expected great things from this book and was not dissapointed. Those who would accuse DiLorenzo of putting his own spin on things or even fabricating facts need only review the last chapter of the book - the one that lists sources and quotes. (Even exposing the quotes Lincoln DIDN'T really say!)
Lincoln was a tyrant - no excuses. Even though he's been gone almost 150 years, his abuses of the Constitution are still being used as justification for the ongoing and even more flagrant abuses comitted by FDR and STILL being committed by the curent administration. Therefore, we can't cut Lincoln any slack for being dead or even being a "martyr" - this is serious stuff and needs to be understood to get a good grasp of what's going on today.
As I said about DiLorenzo's first book on the topic - this is the kind of stuff that public school "educated" kids (and adults) MUST read to learn the truth. It's a bitter tonic, but allowing the falsehoods to stand is even worse.
DiLorenzo cites many works - even ones by Lincoln fans - that document many of the offenses committed by Lincoln. DiLorenzo disagrees only in their defense of their "Father Abraham" - most undeserved defense.
If you want to know the truth about the "Great Emancipator" - read this book. If you're satisfied with what Mrs. Jones taught you in 5th grade, this book will only upset you. Still, better to be upset and knowing the truth than to remain blissfully ignorant of the lie schoolchildren and adults are STILL being fed about this enemy of the Constitution.
on April 25, 2007
DiLorenzo explains how the republic founded in 1787 died at the hands of Lincoln, uncovers the Lincoln myth and shows how it is used to justify big government, imperialism, and erosion of freedom in America today. If everyone in America read this book, we could take the country back from the politicians and bureaucrats, reclaim our birthright, and enjoy a rebirth of freedom and prosperity.
DiLorenzo includes an extensive bibliography for further reading. Highly recommended for serious students of history.
on June 5, 2007
It's always essential to separate history from writings which simply favor the victor, since the conflict of interest between truth and jingo require careful examination and objective analysis-- in addition to wariness of pro-victor bias in popular hagiography. However critics here seem intent on throwing out this rule, in favor of unquestioning Lincoln-worship.
First, Publisher's Weekly states that "the author's loathing of Lincoln is an ideological commitment to states' sovereignty, a doctrine largely undone by the Civil War." This reveals an ideological bias so strong that it doesn't realize its own error: if the doctrine was "undone" by the war, then it clearly existed beforehand-- and was "undone" only by brute force of Lincoln's military rule, rather than actual legal merits of his position; one could easily make the same argument for any successful dictator. However the critic condones this without question, apparently blinded by bias.
The critic likewise blasts DiLorenzo for attacking biased historians as "cover-up artists" and "propagandists--" while tacitly conceding the truth of these statements, and resorts to ad hominem attack: again presenting an apparent bias.
"Booklist" critic Gilbert Taylor likewise directs the invective that "DiLorenzo directs acid criticism at President Lincoln in this espousal of 'Lost Cause' ideology," arbitrarily stating that "Lincoln was the legal winner of the 1860 presidential election, and it is vital to contrast the legality of his election with the speculative right to nullification and secession that DiLorenzo champions in this defense of the Lost Cause." He then continues that "DiLorenzo has a nugget of a case, but it is overargued and is not measured against the secessionists' thwarting of a legitimate election by sundering the U.S."
Any objective student of American history should know quite well, that Nullification-arguments were (and are) based entirely on the premise of unqualified sovereignty of a state's people over that of the federal compact as regards to supreme rule within their state; therefore no such "contrast" is applicable, and any argument against Nullification and Secession, must first address and negate this premise of popular sovereignty. However neither of these critics seems willing or able to do so, each being too thoroughly (and arbitrarily) convinced that history truly happened as the victors wrote it-- and that the law means what the victors claimed it meant, regardless of all evidence to the contrary. This defies all responsibility of basic objective introspection, which typifies egocentrism.
Taylor likewise responds to DiLorenzo's claims of a "'cult' of biographers and Civil War historians who conceals the historical Lincoln from the public," stating that "but if this cabal exits, it is unable to stanch a steady flow of anti-Lincoln books."
Here Taylor confuses DiLorenzo's claims of mass-hagiography with claims of censorship, implying that somehow the mass-idolization of Lincoln cannot supplant objective scrutiny, unless it results in absolute book-bans regarding anything to the contrary.
Likewise, Taylor's phrase "steady flow" is misleading and devoid of all proportion, basically "straining out gnats and swallowing camels" in failing to address the relative steady and ever-increasing deluge of PRO-Lincoln books and media, which has flooded the American and world mainstream for almost 150 years-- against which the anti-Lincoln media is a drop in the ocean. Refusal to recognize quality vs. quantity in such an outrageous manner, is inexcusable.
(Ironically, Taylor closes with the statement that "However, general readers are accustomed to noncritical admiration of Lincoln and might be motivated by DiLorenzo's assertive, free-swinging style into exploring the validity of his argument." Apparently, Taylor admits that Lincoln is so non-critically admired as to "accustom general readers" to such, but at the same time implies that no such popular bias exists.)
Here it seems that these critics are too blind to their own pro-Lincoln prejudices, to be capable of rendering an objective evaluation of either Lincoln or any arguments against him.
With this book, Thomas J. DiLorenzo continues his mission of taking a firehose to the feet of clay beneath America's martyr-saint. "Lincoln Unmasked" is an essential companion to the author's earlier The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War, not only for additional evidence provided to support the historical revisionism, but also for his analysis of the "Lincoln Cult" -- historians and pundits on both the Right and the Left who see in Lincoln justification for their own centralizing agendas.
Taking on a nation's mythology is a serious undertaking, and Abraham Lincoln long ago ascended from the realm of human politician to that of mytho-poetic symbol and even Christ-figure. That makes dissenters like DiLorenzo not just historians with a different point of view, but Judas Iscariot or worse. I wrote in my review of "The Real Lincoln" and I'll say it again: I admire DiLorenzo for his willingness to withstand these assaults for the sake of truth as he sees it.
But the facts laid out in "Lincoln Unmasked" are more than just "truth as he sees it." They're aspects of Lincoln that his defenders not only refuse to confront, but deny even exist. So much easier to smear Father Abraham's critics as "neo-confederates" or even defenders of slavery than to square Lincoln's modern image with his actual words and deeds. (When I recommended "The Real Lincoln" in an online forum once, someone else discounted it as "a book John Wilkes Booth would love." I'm sure Booth loved fuzzy puppies too, but that doesn't mean I'm going to tie my pugs in a bag and throw them in the creek.)
DiLorenzo has a commitment to primary sources, and so those who would discount "Lincoln Unmasked" must also deal with the author's extensive and well-catalogued research. One of the things I've always appreciated about Mises Institute writers is their commitment, not only to bibliographies per se, but also to listing additional resources for interested students. DiLorenzo's appendix, "What They *Don't* Want You to Read," is itself valuable reading. As usual, I've come away with a list of books to add to my find-time-to-get-to pile.
Assaulting the Lincoln Lie is not an act of nihilist destruction. Instead, it's a radical ("to the root") effort to reclaim America's *original* founding story, the one Lincoln himself so hated: an America that emphasized local communities, free trade, voluntary associations, decentralized government, sound economics, peace and freedom. It's one thing to say we may never recreate such a nation, but something else -- something far worse -- to insist we must deny it ever existed. That's what makes "Lincoln Unmasked" both so brave and so important.
on March 29, 2010
If you are not comfortable having popular history challenged and you do not really like people exposing your heroes for who they really are/were, then do not buy this book! But if you value getting ALL of the facts and building your opinions on truth and information that exposes what really happened, then you will be right at home here. Come on in and see one of America's favorite icons for the man he truly was. There is no Lincoln bashing, and there is also no starry-eyed fan view of a fantasy legend to be found here. This is history, plainly honest and elegantly researched and presented. And if Lincoln were around to see this book, I think he would approve of its approach, though perhaps the politician in him would be hard-pressed not to respond with sharp wit and an unbridled tongue.