Lincoln and Democracy
by Paul S. Whitcomb
Nothing so intrigues the mind of the people of the Northern States of the American Republic as the personality of Abraham Lincoln and the imperial American Union. For sixty-two years the crescendo of laudation
of Lincoln has been steadily rising, and the end is not yet. For Lincoln
was the central figure and the dominating personality in one of the greatest wars of history and,
in spite of all the theories of democracy, nothing so appeals to the emotions of men, which are
the wellsprings of eulogy, as martial and imperial glory. People are not given to repudiating the
wars they wage or those who lead them into war. Lincoln, himself, was retired from Congress
for eight years because of his opposition to the Mexican War.
It is an interesting question as to what Lincoln's place in history would have been if there had
been no Civil War with its lurid glow to silhouette his eccentric personality for future
generations. At the time of his election to the Presidency he was scarcely more than a local
character. He had served in Congress without rising above mediocrity. He had played fast and
loose with the questions of slavery and secession without contributing anything original or
constructive to the discussion, and what he said only served to further agitate the South and to so
compromise his own public position as to make secession inevitable when the Black
Republicans came into power.
He has been called a great thinker, but his attitude toward both slavery and secession was at once
doctrinaire and the result of mechanistic logic which failed to recognize the distinction between
the laws of physical science and the laws of human action. With regard to the slaves he appealed
from their legal status to the "higher" law, but with regard to secession and the rights of the free
and highly civilized White people of the South he argued their rights on the basis of those
maxims of despotism which were invented for the express purpose of denying to the people their
rightful liberties. He argued that the principles of the Declaration of Independence applied to the
Negro but denied that they applied to the free White inhabitants of the States in whose favor they
were originally promulgated. He failed to discern that the independence of the slave and the
independence of the States involved the same fundamental principle, that the right of secession
was absolute and unqualified and no more required oppressive acts to justify it than did the right
of the slave to secede from his master. He failed to see that those same class of arguments which
denied freedom to the South also denied freedom to all men "and undermined the very
foundation of free society."
The indiscriminate and uncritical eulogies which have been heaped upon Lincoln have been
pronounced in the face of all but the most superficial facts and as though all the rest of the world
was composed of brutes, knaves and fools. There is no evidence that Lincoln was any more
honest, kind, accommodating or sagacious than the ordinary run of men. His waging of the Civil
War was the very antithesis of common sense and statesmanship. There was no catastrophe
potential in secession that in any way justified the waging of the war, viewed simply as a matter
of State policy, without reference to the moral and human aspect of the war. It was one of the
most colossal bankruptcies of common sense and humane statesmanship known to modern
history. As the situation stood in 1860, it were better for the North and the South both that they
should separate. The prosperity which followed in the wake of the Civil War was not due to
keeping the South in the Union but to the development of the West. But even if it was, it is a
Prussian, and not an American, doctrine that war is a legitimate agent of national progress, that
the end justifies the means. We have no right to do evil that good may abound.
Lincoln has been acclaimed the great democrat,(1) yet the greatest act of his career was the very
antithesis of democracy. Washington was infinitely a greater statesman and a greater democrat.
Robert E. Lee was greater in all around character. It has been too readily assumed that lowliness
of birth is evidence of greater democracy. But the man of lowly birth can be no more than a
democrat and it is no particular credit to him that he is. But the man of aristocratic birth, who
has the privilege and opportunity of being more than a democrat, and yet who remains one, not
only in simulation but at heart, can truly claim the title of being a great democrat. The purpose
of democracy is not to drag the few down but to lift the many up. It is not to make all common
but to make all aristocrats, to diffuse the benefits of culture and good breeding throughout the
community. And Washington, who was an aristocrat by birth, because of the largeness of his
heart and the breadth of his character became the first democrat through choice and affection.
Never can it be truthfully charged against the man who subordinated the military to the civil
through seven long miserable, heartbreaking years of revolutionary struggle and at the finish
scornfully spurned the crown, that he was lacking in all the great qualities of a democrat.(2)
When Lincoln said that the question of union or disunion could only be settled by war, and
ridiculed those who decried force as a legitimate and lawful means of maintaining the Union,
arguing that "their idea of means to preserve the object of their great affection would seem to be
exceedingly thin and airy" and compared them to free lovers, Washington said, "Let us erect a
standard to which the wise and the just can repair — the result is in the hands of God"; and of the
accomplished Union he said that it was "the offspring of our own choice, uninfluenced and
unawed, adopted upon full investigation and mature deliberation, completely free in its
principles." Washington based the Union upon the democratic principle of free consent. Lincoln
ridiculed the basis of democracy, spoke of it as exceedingly thin and airy, likened it to a free
love arrangement and asserted that force was the only sound basis of government. He appealed
from the basis of democracy to the basis of despotism, from the ballot to the bullet. The Civil
War was the result of the putting the new wine of democracy into the old skins of despotism.
The responsibility for the Civil War has been laid at the door of the South on the grounds that
they fired the first shot against Fort Sumter. But the grounds beg the question and the
responsibility for the war must await the determination of the question as to whether or not the
South had the right to secede. If South Carolina had a right to secede she had a right to take Fort
Sumter. Lincoln's policy in sitting tight and forcing the South to make the first move was
identical with that of Bismarck. "Success," Bismark said, "essentially depends upon the
impression which the origination of the war makes upon us and others; it is important that we
should be the party attacked."
But the attack of South Carolina upon Fort Sumter was not an attack upon the North in any such
a sense as the attack which Bismarck maneuvered an all too willing Napoleon into making upon
Prussia. Fort Sumter was historically and geographically an integral part of the soil of South
Carolina. It was there, as Lincoln said in his special message to Congress, for the protection of
the people of South Carolina. It was an integral and vital part of their system of common
defense. It symbolized the right of these people to defend themselves, a right which is basic to
all other rights and which is the very test of manhood. Deny a man or a group of men the right to
defend themselves and you deny them all other rights, for what a man has not the right to protect
it cannot be reasonably and intelligently argued that he has a right to at all.
Fundamentally and vitally the fort belonged to the people of South Carolina. The site of the fort
had been ceded to the Federal Government for the protection of the City of Charleston, and the
moneys with which the fort had been constructed were drawn by taxation from the people of the
States by methods to which all the States had agreed in ratifying the Constitution. South Carolina
had contributed her share and was morally entitled to a division of the common property. As to
the legal phase of it there was none, for there was no law governing the subject, regardless of the
fact that no technical, legal grounds can justify such a social catastrophe as war. War defeats the
very end of law and government, which is the conservation of human values.
In spite of the persistent attempt, carried on through school histories and by partisan historians in
general, to brand the people of the South in general, and of South Carolina in particular, as so
many hell-bent hotheads, the fact is that the secession movement was done "decently and in
order." They did not wantonly and in undue haste fire upon Fort Sumter. They sent a commission
to Washington to negotiate a peaceful settlement of all questions arising from secession.(3) The
assertion that secession was an essentially war-like act was a Federal doctrine and not a Southern
doctrine. It was not until this commission had been snubbed on the narrow, childish legalism
that the people of the South had no right to speak for themselves, that the people of South
Carolina took the only other course open to them and asserted their rights by force of arms.(4)
In general principle the right of the people of South Carolina to dispossess the Federal
Government of Fort Sumter involves no more than the right of any property owner to discharge a
watchman hired to protect his property. The Federal Government had no more reasonable or
moral right to wage war against the people of South Carolina and destroy their lives and property
than a discharged watchman would have to destroy the property he was hired to protect. The
authority of government is not an end in itself but a means to an end. The attempt to give to civil
authority a special extra moral status is without ethical or social warrant and is simply one of the
superstitions invented by despots as a means of awing the people and maintaining themselves in
Unionists would deny that two times two make four if it were necessary to vindicate the Civil
War. To them no statement of principle is valid in favor of the independence of the South and
against the war. Secession itself is a true principle when exercised in favor of the Union as
Lincoln declared in the case of the secession of the forty-nine counties of Old Virginia.
The issues involved in the Civil War were not of concern solely to the generation which fought
the war but are questions of eternal right and wrong and are subject to the law of Lincoln's
doctrine that no question is settled until it is settled right. The objection that the war is water
over the dam and that the problems of the present demand our attention is valid providing that
history is all bunk and that there is nothing to learn from our past. But the problems of the
present are largely the legacy of the past, and if the past had settled them right they wouldn't
confront us at the present time. It has only been since the late war that an English Premier has
quoted the arguments of Lincoln against secession as an answer to the principles of the
Declaration of Independence as put forward in defense of the right of the Irish to freedom. And
the struggle of Ireland for freedom antedates our Revolutionary War by a century and a half and
involved and involves the same questions.
It is thus that our past rises up to meet us and, as Lincoln said of slavery, "deprives our
republican example of its just influence in the world." In setting up the sovereignty of the Union
as a basis for making war against the seceding States and as a fence against European
interference, he was acting upon the same principle that if one man chooses to kill another,
neither that man nor any third man has a right to object. The logic of the Civil War was that the
right to govern is paramount over the right to live, that man is made for government, rather than
that government is made for man, and that for men to claim the right of self-government is to
deserve and incur the death penalty.
Lincoln's arguments against the right of the South to independence were drawn from baseless
exaggerations, the fatalistic sequence of mechanistic logic, an imperial and authoritarian
interpretation of the Constitution which ignored its humanitarian purpose, a strange hodge podge
of the maxims of monarchical political science, and an instinctive metaphysical attitude toward
Lincoln said of slavery that it was the only thing that endangered the perpetuity of the Union and
that it was the sine qua non of secession, but from the constitutional and historical standpoint
this is not true. Slavery, as he admitted, was "indeed older than the Revolution." It existed
previous to the Constitution and the Union was formed in spite of it. Both from the standpoint of
the Constitution and sound statesmanship it was not slavery but the intemperate fanatical
Abolition movement that endangered the Union. These Abolitionists proposed to apply all the
principles of the Declaration of Independence to a race of people that were totally unprepared
It was the intemperate, arrogant, self-righteous and academic attitude of the Abolitionists that
made any constructive solution of the slavery question impossible and led the six cotton States to
withdraw from the Union. The right to withdraw was early claimed. As a matter of historical fact
South Carolina had threatened to secede over the tariff. The Colonies seceded from Britain over
a question of local self-government. Belgium seceded from Holland and Norway from Sweden,
where no question of slavery was involved.
Lincoln said of secession that it was the destruction of the country, of the Union, of the nation,
and of the liberties of the people and of the institutions of the country. He said, "We have, as all will agree, a free government, where every man has a right to be equal
with every other man. In this great struggle, this form of government and every form of
human right is endangered if our enemies succeed."
The argument was absolutely senseless. One would think to read the argument that some
Napoleon, Caesar or Alexander the Great were attempting to conquer the Southern people and
set up a despotism and that Lincoln was waging a war in aid and defense of those people, rather
than that those people were seeking to do nothing more than govern themselves and that Lincoln
was warring to conquer them, to keep them from exercising their rightful liberties.
Secession was not, in any substantial sense, the destruction of the nation, nor was it in a proper
sense the destruction of the Union. A nation is simply a corporation through which men exercise
certain of their rights, just as they exercise other of their rights through their other organizations.
Secession did not destroy the nation, but merely altered it. The Union existed when there were
only thirteen States composing it,(5) and it would have continued to exist when there were
twenty States left with a boundless public domain.
As for the liberties of the people, all their liberties would have remained intact. Furthermore, in
spite of the gravity of the situation as it existed in 1789, Washington never proposed to use force
to compel a Union.
In his Missouri Compromise speech Lincoln said:
I trust I understand and truly estimate the right of self-government. My faith in the
proposition that each man should do precisely as he pleases with all which is exclusively
his own lies at the foundation of all the sense of justice there is in me. I extend the
principle to communities of men as well as to individuals. I so extend it because it is
politically wise, as well as naturally just; politically wise in saving us from broils about
matters which do not concern us — the doctrine of self-government is right — absolutely
and eternally right.
No argument could give any stronger support to the right of secession than this argument in
favor of freedom for the slave. If the inhabitants of the States are men, is it not to that extent a
total destruction of self-government to say that they shall not govern themselves? When the
people of the North govern themselves that is self-government; but when they govern themselves
and also govern the people of the South, that is more than self-government — that is despotism.
The Negro was the beneficiary rather than the victim of slavery, as Booker T. Washington has
admitted. Lincoln's talk about "unrequited toil" ignores the fact that the condition of the Negro
was better under slavery than it was in Africa, it ignores the fact that as compared to White
laborers of equal mentality he was not deprived of any substantial rights, it ignores the economic
and social status of northern so-called "free" labor which bordered closely upon serfdom, and it
ignores the contribution of management to production. The strong probability is that the Negro
received at least as great a share, in proportion to what he contributed to production, as did the
technically free Northern laborer.
In any event civil war was no more a legitimate remedy for slavery than were the reputedly
revolutionary methods of the I.W.W. a proper remedy for the wrongs inflicted upon free labor by
In his first inaugural address Lincoln said:
I hold that in contemplation of universal law and of the Constitution, the Union of these
States is perpetual. Perpetuity is implied, if not expressed, in the fundamental law of all
national governments. It is safe to assert that no government proper ever had a provision in
its organic law for its own termination. Continue to execute all the express provision of
our National Constitution, and the Union will endure forever — it being impossible to
destroy it except by some action not provided for in the instrument itself.
The argument views States simply as political abstractions. It ignores "States" as denoting an
organization of men. It assumes that there is some authority capable of making a contract
binding upon all generations of men which shall, throughout the course of time, inhabit a certain
territory. It assumes that a few hundred thousand voters living along the Atlantic seaboard a
century and a half ago possessed authority over all generations of men which may throughout the
course of time inhabit all the country from the Atlantic to the Pacific seaboard.
The Southern people of 1860 had never entered into "a clear compact of government." It is true
that a generation of men previously inhabiting the same territory had done so, but that was not
their affair. One generation possesses no such authority over future generations. Political
theorists may call this anarchy, but they take their theories too seriously. Men do not maintain
government because their granddaddy said they should any more than they live in homes, or eat
three square meals a day, or go to church because their granddaddy said they should. In some
notes on government Lincoln said, "Most governments have been based, practically, on the denial of the equal rights of men,
as I have, in part stated them; ours began by affirming those rights."
In asserting that if we continue to execute all the express provisions of the Constitution the Union
will last forever, Lincoln asserted no more than is true of any institution whose charter runs in
perpetuity. But the assertion contains no argument against secession. Theorize, as men will, with
regard to the basis of government it must conform to rational and moral reasoning, and there is
no rational and moral reasoning to support the assumption that one generation can bind another
generation in any such a way as is implicit in Lincoln's interpretation of the idea of perpetuity as
applied to the Union.
Lincoln neglected to draw the distinction between the right to dissolve an organization and the
right to withdraw or secede from it. The one is a right which belongs to the members as a whole
while the other is a right inherent if not expressed in the laws of any organization except as
membership therein partakes of the nature of a contractual obligation involving a consideration.
But the Union is not of such a nature and there is no authority by which such a perpetual
obligation could be established.
In arguing that secession was the essence of disintegration and anarchy Lincoln asked:
Why may not any portion of a new confederacy — arbitrarily secede again.... Is there such
perfect identity of interests among the States to compose a new union, as to produce
harmony only, and prevent renewed secession?
Plainly, the central idea of secession is the essence of anarchy. A majority, held in restraint by
constitutional checks and limitations — is the only true sovereign of a free people.
Grant has admitted in his Memoirs that if the Southern States had been allowed to secede, they
would have set up a government that would have been real and respected, and the assertion that
secession was the essence of anarchy was purely academic. The essence of secession is not
anarchy but freedom, independence, and nationalism.
Lincoln asserted that, "All who cherish disunion sentiments are now being educated to the exact
temper of doing this [continuous disintegration]." He could have better argued that all who
cherish warlike sentiments were being educated to the temper of conquest. His argument that
secession was the essence of anarchy and that the movement could end only in the complete
disintegration of society is answered by his own words that "happily the human mind is not so
But while the central idea of secession is not the essence of anarchy, war is anarchy. "It is the
essence of war to summon force to decide questions of justice — a task for which it has no
After being brought up to the idea that the Southern leaders were so many hasty hotheads, it is
disconcerting to read in the speeches of their real leaders the fairness, calmness and friendliness
with which they faced the situation. And this attitude was not only in their speeches but in their
actions as well. They took only those measures which any people who had determined upon their
course, would have taken as a matter of good judgment and precaution.
Lincoln asked, "Why should there not be a patient confidence in the ultimate justice of the
people," and again, "Will you hazard so desperate a step while there is any possibility that any
portion of the ills you fly from have no real existence?" He had better have asked why he should
not have a patient confidence in the ultimate justice of the Southern people and why he would
hazard so desperate a step as war while there was any possibility that the evils of secession had
no real existence. He had said of the Southern people that in point of justice he did not consider
them inferior to any people and that devotion to the Constitution was equally great on both sides.(6)
The South in seceding did not take anything that by any moral principle belonged to the North,
and if the Civil War is to be justified, either upon policy or principle, it must be upon a showing
that secession was an invasion of the rights of the people of the North that justified the taking of
human life.(7) No abstract, highly synthetic and controversial theories of sovereignty can justify
the taking of human life. Man acting gregariously possesses no other right to take life than is
possessed by the individual. Murder is murder whether it is committed by one man or twenty
millions of men and the empiricisms of political so-called "science" constitute no authority for
murder. The idea that a "nation" can commit murder in order to achieve a fancied destiny is the
essence of immorality and imperialism.
Lincoln said, "This country, with its institutions belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it, or their revolutionary right to dismember or overthrow it." His theory was that the territory of the United States belonged to the people as a whole as
sovereign proprietor. That the soil of South Carolina did not belong to the people of South
Carolina, who inhabit it, but to the people of the United States as a whole. The theory is a legacy
from feudalism and monarchy and as applied to a republican Union or State is the essence of
communism. Democracy is an association of equals. Under monarchy or feudalism the title to
both person and property ultimately resided in the monarch or lord. It was this principle which
was the cause of the War of 1812 when England asserted that once a subject always a subject,
just as Lincoln claimed that once a State in the Union always a State in the Union.
The right of expatriation, which is simply a right of personal secession, is an acknowledged
American right and has ever been since Jefferson directed the affairs of the nation. We fought
over it in the War of 1812 and incorporated it in the Burlingame treaty with China. This right is
absolutely inconsistent with the description of the Southern peoples as rebels and traitors and the
calling of them to return to their "allegiance" to the Federal Government. The idea of
"allegiance" is that of the relation of an inferior to a superior and not of the citizens of a republic
to their republican society.
Certainly there is a territorial consideration in the formation of civil society, but that
consideration is born of practical necessity and must end with the necessity. But no such
consideration was involved in the secession of the Southern States. They were as able to govern
themselves as were the people of the North or of England or of France or any other State. There
are however no constitutional grounds for the pretense of territorial sovereignty on the part of
the United States Government. The Government of the United States is simply the joint and
common agent of the States, members of the Union, just as a farmers co-operative is the agent of
its members. The basic principles involved in the Union of the States are the same as those
involved in the agricultural co-operatives. And as I have previously observed, the United States
cannot, under the Constitution, exercise exclusive legislative jurisdiction over the site for its own
capitol, or the sites for forts, dockyards or other needful public buildings without first getting the
consent of the legislature in which the site is situated. To call such a government a territorial
sovereign is absurd.
The people of South Carolina possess exactly the same natural, moral and fundamental rights as
against the people of the State of New York that the people of Canada do.
Lincoln spoke of the people as possessing a revolutionary right, but such talk is to deny their
sovereignty and imply the sovereignty of the Constitution. Revolution is the overthrow of the
sovereign, not of the Constitution or of the Government. The people do not derive their sovereign
authority from the Constitution. It is not the Constitution of the people but of the Federal
Government and is also the record of a compact between the States.
Lincoln admitted that the Government could be overthrown and the Union dismembered. A
successful rebel becomes a revolutionist and his success vindicates his rebellion. It is a curious
doctrine that success vindicates what would otherwise be a crime.
As a matter of historical fact these rebellions were generally efforts on the part of the people to
regain their rightful liberties. As to whether or not secession was revolution depends upon
whether the people of the seceding States possessed the right to run their own business.
Lincoln said of secession that "it recognizes no fidelity to the Constitution, no obligation to
maintain the Union," but the fact is, there is no obligation on the part of the States to maintain
the Union. He said, "Surely each man has as strong a motive now to preserve our liberties as
each had then to establish them," but in order to justify war he must have a stronger motive, for
the Union wasn't established by force and the war overthrew those very liberties for which the
Revolutionary War was fought and the Union created — the right of each State to govern itself.
He said, "This Union shall never be abandoned, unless the possibility of its existence shall cease to
exist without the necessity of throwing passengers and cargo overboard." A more accurate analogy would be to compare the Union to a fleet of ships sailing in voluntary
convoy for mutual protection and Lincoln's act in waging war to the act of the elected
commander of such a convoy in sinking any ship that seceded from the convoy.
Of the States Lincoln said:
They have their status in the Union, and they have no other legal status. If they break from
this, they can do so only against law and by revolution. This Union, and not themselves
separately, procured their independence and their liberty.... The Union is older than any of
the States and, in fact, it created them as States. Originally some dependent Colonies made
the Union, and, in turn, the Union threw off their old dependence for them, and made them
States, such as they are.
Lincoln here pretends to be arguing upon legal grounds. The force of his argument lies in the
implication that the Union had the legal authority to create those "dependent colonies, States,
such as they are." But the Union of which he speaks possessed no legal status or authority
whatever. It was purely an illegal, revolutionary Union whose acts depended for their force upon
ratification by the respective Colonies represented in the Continental Congress or tacit consent. It
was ridiculous for Lincoln to impute legality to such a Union while denying it to the
Confederacy which was established upon the same legal authority as was the United States.
Lincoln hypostatizes the Union and speaks of it achieving the independence of the States. But the
Union was not a personality or an entity but simply a condition of co-operation.(8) Water cannot
rise higher than its source; derived power cannot be superior to the power from which it is
derived and the Federal Union cannot be superior to the States that created it. The Constitution is
supreme only in the sense that the laws of any organization are supreme over its members, so
long as they remain members.
Contrary to Webster's assertion and the language of the enacting clause of the Constitution, it
was not ratified either by the authority of the people of the United States or directly by the
people of the States.(9) The phrase, "people of the United States," does not bear out the
argument of Webster and the imperialists, that the people of the United States are united. The
phrase is not "united people" but "United States." The present Constitution was ratified when the
Union was still based upon the Articles of Confederation. The mode of ratification ignored the
Articles entirely and referred back to the prime authority of the State legislature.
It is only in a subjective or administrative sense that the people of the United States constitute
one people. In the exercise of their sovereign powers they do, and always have resolved
themselves into sovereign States. Marshall argued that the United States was sovereign to the
extent of its authority, but is no more sovereign than any agent is sovereign. Its powers are
delegated powers. In waging the Revolutionary War, the men of 1776 were fighting for
everything that Webster and Lincoln argued against. The men of 1776 denied the rightfulness of
the asserted British sovereignty. They asserted that they were men with all the rights of men, and
Englishmen with all the constitutional rights of Englishmen, and that their colonial situation had
no political significance, that it was not a crime for which they could be punished by depriving
them of their rights of self-government.
They claimed for their colonial legislature a constitutional parity with Parliament, possessed of
exclusive legislative jurisdiction within its respective colony and that the Empire was bound
simply by the theoretical sovereignty of the Crown. They did not fight for union, but for the right
of each Colony to complete self-government.
The question as to whether the Union is a league, confederation, federation or nation, is not a
vital one, but is purely technical and is simply a matter of the mode of administration, of the
extent of organization, not of obligation. Because it employs some machinery of government
also used in its national organizations is no more reason for calling it a "nation" than there would
be for calling a gasoline engine a steam engine because of certain features they possess in
The assertion that secession is treason is not borne out by the nature of the Union, by the
constitutional definition of treason or the nature of treason itself, or by the principles of
democracy. Treason is a crime against the "sovereign." The Union is an association of co-equal
States and the Federal Government is simply the common agent of those States. The Constitution
says that, "Treason against the United States shall consist in levying war against them, or in
adhering to their enemies," etc. It uses the plural "them" and "their" denoting an association of
sovereigns rather than a unitary sovereign. It was Lincoln who committed treason and not the
States. Lincoln overthrew eleven sovereign States and State governments, which even according
to Webster were the equal of the Federal Government. The idea of the sovereignty of the whole
people of the United States is purely an imperialistic dogma. Analyzed, it means that the people
of Oregon are sovereign over the people of South Carolina and that the people of South Carolina
are sovereign over the people of Oregon. The people of Oregon possess no more sovereign rights
in the government of the people of South Carolina than they do in the government of the people
of Canada or Mexico. The doctrine is indefensible by the principles of democracy.
Lincoln has been put forward as the great exemplar of Christianity, but the Civil War was fought
in diametrical opposition not only to every principle of democracy, but of Christianity. What he
said of John Brown may also be said of Lincoln that "it could avail himself nothing that he might
think himself right." That cannot excuse violence, bloodshed, and treason.
Like the enthusiast, of whom Lincoln said that he "broods over the oppression of a people till he
fancies himself commissioned by Heaven to liberate them," so Lincoln brooded until he fancied
himself commissioned by Heaven as a modern Moses raised up to lead the "oppressed" slaves to
freedom, and when the war had brought such misery and destruction that it could no longer be
justified upon the original object of saving the Union, he then attributed to it the added character
of a divinely appointed means of punishing the North and the South for "the bondsman's two
hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil."
But, regardless of the fact that slavery was in no sense a unique crime, Christ said that He came,
not to judge the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. The Civil War was a
greater crime than slavery. Both were a denial of the right of self-government, but where slavery
simply took away the unrestrained barbaric freedom of the negro and put him to constructive
employment, the war destroyed the very lives of those who had been previously denied the right
of self-government. Lord Morley has said that it is not enough that we should do good. We must
do it in the right way. War was no more a righteous method of perpetuating the Union than it
would have been a righteous method of originally forming the Union. It was no more a righteous
method of keeping the Southern States inside the Union than it would be a righteous method for
bringing Canada into the Union or the United States into the League of Nations. The end does
not justify the means.
Lincoln would have been a true democrat if he had perpetuated the Union by the method by
which Washington formed it. He would have been a true Christian if he had followed the
example of that other Abraham who said to his kinsman: "Let there be no strife I pray the between me and the — for we be brethren. Is not the whole land before thee? Separate thyself, I pray thee, from me; if thou wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the right, or if thou depart to the right hand, then I will go to the left."
1. In politics Lincoln was a Whig.
2. It is a remarkable confirmation of this character of Washington that Col. Landon Carter, of
Sabine Hall, Virginia used the following language on 3 May 1776, before Washington had been
called to the command of the American armies, "I never knew but one man who resolved not to
forget the citizen in the soldier or ruler, and that is G.W., and I am afraid I shall not know
3. They offered to pay the cost of construction of the fort, etc.
4. This does not state the full case. Not only were commissioners snubbed and denied audience,
but no attack took place till Lincoln sent an armed squadron to supply the Fort with men and
provisions. On this very question he took the advice of his Cabinet on 15 March 1861 and only
one of them favored the movement. The rest in effect declared that the measure would
inaugurate civil war, and it must be remembered that Mr. Hallam in his constitutional History of
England states that "the aggressor in a war is not the first who uses force, but the first who
renders force necessary." (Tyler)
5. As a matter of fact it existed when only eleven States were members of it — before North
Carolina and Rhode Island joined.
6. At this point the author overlooks the circumstance that only the cotton States acted on their
rights of secession prior to President Lincoln's making war on them — then the other States united
in resisting the invading armies.
7. The New York Times, in a remarkable editorial dated 9 September 1864, justified the war not on
slavery or the restoration of the Union, but on the threatened danger to the Northern people. It
passed a tremendous eulogy on the resistance which had disintegrated the Southern people
beyond any in the world, rendering their conquest absolutely necessary, lest in the future the
Northern States themselves might become subject to their terrible neighbors. In other words, the
more evidence the Southerners gave of their right to self-government, the more it was denied to them.
8. There was no Union in existence before 1781. There was a congress of delegates who acted as
allowed or directed by the several Colonies or States. In 1781, Maryland having agreed, the
congress then became a Congress of the States — and the confederation became operative. Then
by Article VII of the proposed Constitution: "The ratification of nine states shall be sufficient for
the establishment of the constitution between the States so ratifying the same"; and, when nine
States ratified, it went into effect between them; and it went into practical effect, leaving out
some of the States. The ratifying States had broken up the old confederacy — agreed to be "perpetual."
9. The Constitution was to take effect between the States just as the "perpetual confederation" of
1781 was — not over the States, but between the States — and Virginia and each other State was,
by the Treaty of Peace with Great Britain, declared to be — each separately — "free sovereign and
independent States"; and so in subsequent treaties. Nor was their condition altered by the
Constitution of 1787.
This article by Paul S. Whitcomb was extracted from Charles L.C. Minor, The Real Lincoln (Richmond, Virginia: Everett Waddey Company,  1928). Click HERE to order this book.