A rightie named Thomas Bray has come up with the most tortured, desperate, sophomoric howl of flaming ignorance yet known to mankind to excuse George W. Bush’s mishandling of Iraq. Get this:
The President “lied” us into war. Much of the pre-war intelligence was wrong. The civilian defense chief was detested as “brusque, domineering and unbearably unpleasant to work with.” Civil liberties were abridged. And many embittered Democrats, claiming the war had been an utter failure, demanded that the administration bring the troops home.
George Bush? Well, yes – but also a President who looms far larger in American history, Abraham Lincoln.
Let’s take these claims one at a time.
1. “Lincoln ‘lied’ the nation into war.”
The ‘lie” Bray thinks he sees is that while campaigning for president in in 1860, and early in his presidency, Lincoln tried to end the secession crisis by assuring the South that he had no intention of abolishing slavery in the slave states. Indeed, it is clear he believed a president had no constitutional authority to do such a thing. In his first inaugural address he said,
I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.
This had been his stated opinion for a long time before he considered running for president, in fact.
Since the Late Unpleasantness, generations of American idiots have discovered this and other Lincoln quotes about slavery in the slave states and jumped to the conclusion that Lincoln supported slavery. Years ago I spent a lot of time on civil war history usenet forums, and you could count on one or two such idiots popping by about once a week. However, in fact, Lincoln detested slavery. The most prominent plank of his 1860 platform — the one issue he ran on more than any other — was a promise to keep slavery from spreading into the federal territories. He didn’t think the constitution gave the federal government the power to abolish slavery in the slave states, but federal territories were another matter.
This was a huge issue in 1860, as most of the country west of the Mississippi River was still territory, and citizens north and south cared passionately about what kind of economy would take hold in the territories — free enterprise and capitalism, or slavery? Slavery killed free enterprise; before the war the South’s slave plantation-based economy remain locked in 18th-century agrarianism while the North had marched into the industrial revolution. Thus, the issue of whether Kansas would enter the Union as a free or slave state had sent the entire nation into a murderous rage.
Conventional wisdom of the time said that unless slavery could spread into the territories eventually it would die. For this reason, when the “free soiler” Lincoln became president, the southern plantation owners were certain that secession from the Union was necessary to protect their wealth. For the secessionist point of view on this matter, see the Declaration of Causes adopted by the secessionist convention of Mississippi, for example.
Several states had seceded before Lincoln was inaugurated. His first few weeks in office were taken up with trying to persuade other states to remain in the Union and with troops at Fort Sumter, who were running out of food because South Carolina refused to allow them to be re-supplied. Sumter was, note, a federal military reservation, not part of the state of South Carolina. But South Carolina claimed it. And when South Carolina fired on Fort Sumter, South Carolina started the war.
The South started the war. They’ve denied this lo these many years, but they started it, not Lincoln., They began the hostilities, not Lincoln. If anyone “lied” anybody into that war, it was the plantation owners, not Lincoln. Therefore, Lincoln neither lied the nation into war nor “truthed” it into war, as he didn’t started the bleeping war.
Let us go to back to Bray:
Lincoln repeatedly asserted that his aim was to prevent the spread of slavery, not eliminate it in the South. “I believe I have no lawful right to do so,” Goodwin quotes him as saying. Thus when he finally issued his Emancipation Proclamation two years into the war, freeing the slaves in the Confederate states, his Northern critics claimed that he had misled the country.
Regarding emancipation — as soon as the war started, abolitionists began calling on Lincoln to abolish slavery. But Lincoln resisted this idea at first. In fact, when Major General John Fremont emancipated slaves in Missouri in 1861, Lincoln countermanded the order and relieved Fremont of duty. Lincoln feared emancipation would cause Missouri to secede as well.
So why did Lincoln issue the Emancipation Proclamation, which emancipated slaves only in the seceded states, in September 1862? As I explained in more detail here, Lincoln realized emancipation could be a tool to help the war effort. It would swing British public opinion against the Confederacy, for example, and discourage the British government from sending military aid to the secessionists. It would also allow for recruiting former slaves to serve in the Union Army.
In August 1862 Lincoln wrote to Horace Greeley, who had been pressuring
Bush Lincoln to emancipate the slaves,
My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union. I shall do less whenever I shall believe what I am doing hurts the cause, and I shall do more whenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause.
Lincoln did not change the purpose of the war from saving the Union to abolishing slavery. He changed his policy toward emancipation to support the goal of saving the Union. Yes, the proclamation pissed off a lot of racist white northerners. Some Union volunteers deserted and went home because of it. But it proved to be a brilliant tactical move; it really did prevent Britain from entering into an alliance with the Confederacy (a plan being pushed by British textile mill owners who needed southern cotton), and it added about 200,000 highly motivated recruits to the Union army and navy.
Bray continues to try to draw parallels between Iraq and the Civil War, calling the latter “A bloody and unnecessary war was being fought in a Utopian effort to bring the blessings of democracy to a people who had little experience with it.” Is he saying the southern states had little experience with democracy? Perhaps not, but they might disagree. As for the freedmen, in 1863 it had not yet been decided if they could become citizens. Historians are still arguing about whether Lincoln would have supported the 15th Amendment had he lived long enough to read it. Bringing “the blessings of democracy” to the freedmen remained a goal way down the priority list while Lincoln was alive.
Oh, and by the way, where did this President get off claiming, as Lincoln did, that his implied powers as Commander in Chief allowed him to tinker with institutions, such as slavery, expressly acknowledged in the Constitution?
The express acknowledgment of slavery in the Constitution didn’t make it legal everywhere in the nation; only where state governments had made it legal. But the states in rebellion weren’t states any more, genius. They had seceded, remember? I don’t believe there is consensus whether the seceded states had reverted completely to the status of federal territories, but they were required to go through a process of re-admission to the Union after the war.
And not until 1865 did the administration get around to pushing for the 13th Amendment officially ending slavery.
I’m not sure what Bray’s point is — maybe that Lincoln was for slavery before he was against it — but the 13th Amendment wasn’t Lincoln’s baby. Republicans in Congress came up with it. Lincoln didn’t take an active role in the 13th Amendment until after it was passed by the Senate in 1864.
2. “Much of the pre-war intelligence was wrong.”
Bray isn’t talking about faked pre-war intelligence that the confederates had weapons of mass destruction, but the opinion held by most that the Civil War wouldn’t last long, and that the rebellion would be put down in a few weeks. If you spend much time with military history you notice this is a common theme; when wars are getting started, people nearly always underestimate how bloody they will be and how long they will last. That’s not always true, but it’s very often true. For example, lots of Confederates believed the yankees would give up quickly without much of a fight. They were wrong, too.
Bray’s point is way stupid, in other words.
Bray points out General George McClellan complained he hadn’t been given enough troops to do the job, an obvious dig at current complaints that more troops should have been sent to Iraq in 2003 to secure the occupation. However, history shows us that McClellan was an idiot. Once Lincoln found a general who knew how to fight — Ulysses S. Grant — he had plenty of troops to do the job. In Iraq, on the other hand, events have shown us clearly that the Pentagon civilian planners were wrong about the number of troops required.
3. “The civilian defense chief was detested as ‘brusque, domineering and unbearably unpleasant to work with.'”
Bray is referring to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. Stanton was a snot, but he was a very smart snot who was good at his job. Rummy, on the other hand, is an incompetent snot.
4. “Civil liberties were abridged.”
… Or suspending the writ of habeas corpus, perhaps the most fundamental bulwark of liberty in the Anglo-Saxon tradition?
Only much later did Lincoln seek congressional authorization for the suspension of habeas corpus, despite the Constitution’s explicit instruction that Congress must agree beforehand.
As I explained in more detail here, Lincoln made emergency use of a power given to Congress (to suspend habeas corpus) to deal with riots and unchecked lawlessness in some of the border states while Congress was not in session. The next time Congress came back into session (not “only much later”), Lincoln went to Congress, acknowledged this power rightfully belonged to Congress, and asked for their retroactive approval even while the Civil War was still heating up. Unlike Bush and his NSA spy program, he didnâ€™t act in secret, nor did he declare he could ignore Congress entirely because there was a war on. I agree Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus is still controversial, but if Lincoln was wrong, then Bush is thrice wrong.
5. “And many embittered Democrats, claiming the war had been an utter failure, demanded that the administration bring the troops home.”
Support for the war waxed and waned during the four years it was fought. The most prominent opposition to the war came from the “copperheads,” or Peace Democrats. In those days, the Democratic Party was the party of right-wing conservatives and the Republican Party was much more liberal and progressive, a distinction generally lost on righties today. The copperheads were pro-slavery white supremacists who favored a negotiated settlement with the Confederacy that would have protected the peculiar institution. They were on the wrong side of history, which IMO is where Bray is now.
Bray’s effort, dumb as it is, might have been a respectable effort for a ten-year-old. But he looks older than that in his photo, so there’s no excuse for him.
See Bennet Kelly at Huffington Post for more reasons why Bray deserves to be laughed off the Web.