February 11, 2015

Abraham Lincoln oversaw an unnecessary war


by Jared Labell, Guest Commentator



As Republicans gather for their annual dinner celebrations honoring the birth of the sixteenth president of these United States, it would serve the public well to reassess the legacy of Abraham Lincoln, a politician who still commands overwhelming bipartisan praise two-hundred and six years after his birth. More notably, today's birthday celebrations take place just prior to the one-hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the end of the Civil War - an unnecessary war that Lincoln oversaw, resulting in the deaths of 850,000 of his countrymen. His quest for Union has had long-lasting implications for the succeeding centuries and its affects are still felt today.



Detailed in the book Colonization After Emancipation: Lincoln and the Movement for Black Resettlement, co-authored by Phil Magness of George Mason University and Sebastian Page of Oxford University, there is an aspect of "Honest" Abe's political maneuvering that is seriously understated by just about everyone on the political spectrum: Lincoln was a longtime proponent of colonizing freed black slaves abroad, previous to and during the war, and up until his assassination.
Colonization, the policy of resettling African American slaves as free individuals in lands outside of the country, was one of many approaches actually pursued by the Lincoln Administration to resolve the problem of slavery. Some advocates of colonization supported such measures of voluntary or forced emigration due to their own notions of white supremacism; while others were well-intentioned, but flawed abolitionists who believed that only the removal of this long oppressed subset of the population could resolve the slavery question and stabilize the country. Different plans for colonization at times considered locations in Central America and the West Indies for establishing colonies of freedmen.

Besides the authors' exhaustive study of the extensive and nuanced politics of colonization and Lincoln's proposals, Magness additionally notes that Lincoln most likely began his interest in colonization policy by the 1840s, following in the footsteps of his political mentor, Henry Clay. Lincoln was part of the Illinois state colonization society and by 1856 he also joined its national contingent, the American Colonization Society, as evidenced by Lincoln's subscription and payment of membership dues to the organization.

It is quite clear that the reverence for a martyred politician has taken precedence over historical facts, but further inquiry and study of history will assist in redefining political discourse. We are still living with the ramifications of substantial violations of the Constitution from a century and half prior, but perhaps learning our history will better prepare our future.

In years past, Taxpayer Education Foundation (TEF) has published commentary regarding various aspects of the Lincoln Administration and the 1861-1865 War Between the States, including: Rain on the Lincoln Parade, parts I and II; Illinois and Lincoln Set the Bar for Political Sleaze, parts I and II; Lincoln's Unpopular War, parts I and II; and Lincoln Brutalized the Country and Shredded the Constitution.

These commentaries cover a range of topics; from motivations and supposed justifications for the war, to the shrewd machinations of the early Chicago Political Machine that helped Lincoln obtain the nomination in 1860, as well as examining notable opposition to the war and the numerous instances that the Constitution was violated in pursuit of forcibly maintaining the Union.

The nearly forgotten story of Abraham Lincoln's long held interest in colonization is yet another development in the ongoing discussion of his administration and the Sesquicentennial of the War Between the States. Although Lincoln was among the more tolerant of the colonization enthusiasts, this policy cannot be assessed in a vacuum, as Lincoln simultaneously allowed four loyal slave states - Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, and Missouri - to remain in the Union alongside chattel slavery.

Lincoln continued to send escaped slaves back to their masters in the South and instituted conscription for the first time in America, merely another form of slavery. All of these considerations underline the fact that Lincoln's priority was not liberating individuals, as often claimed. The preservation of the State was held sacred above all else, including the liberty of the enslaved, the conscripted, and that of the hundreds of thousands who would be sacrificed for Lincoln's quest to preserve the Union.

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