Gettysburg Address: Still Balderdash after 150 Years

James Bovard, November 19, 2013

I am mystified by all the whooping on the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address. Most of the commentators seem to believe that Lincoln was an honest man touting the highest ideals.
The fact that warmongers like George W. Bush and Obama purport to idolize Lincoln should be a warning sign to attentive folks.

Massachusetts abolitionist Lysander Spooner offered the most concise refutation to President Lincoln’s claim that the Civil War was fought to preserve a “government by consent.” Spooner observed, “The only idea . . . ever manifested as to what is a government of consent, is this—that it is one to which everybody must consent, or be shot.”

The main lesson from the Gettysburg address is – the more vehemently a president equates democracy with freedom, the greater the danger he likely poses to Americans’ rights. Lincoln was by far the most avid champion of democracy among nineteenth century presidents—and the president with the greatest visible contempt for the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Lincoln swayed people to view national unity as the ultimate test of the essence of freedom or self-rule. That Lincoln suspended habeas corpus, jailed 20,000 people without charges, forcibly shut down hundreds of newspapers that criticized him, and sent in federal troops to shut down state legislatures was irrelevant because he proclaimed “that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”

Lincoln’s rhetoric cannot be judged apart from the actions he authorized to enforce his “ideals”:

In a September 17, 1863, letter to the War Department, Gen. William Sherman wrote: “The United States has the right, and … the … power, to penetrate to every part of the national domain. We will remove and destroy every obstacle — if need be, take every life, every acre of land, every particle of property, everything that to us seems proper.” President Lincoln liked Sherman’s letter so much that he declared that it should be published.

On June 21, 1864, before his bloody March to the Sea, Sherman wrote to the secretary of war: “There is a class of people [in the South] — men, women, and children, who must be killed or banished before you can hope for peace and order.”

On October 9, 1864, Sherman wrote to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant: “Until we can repopulate Georgia, it is useless to occupy it, but the utter destruction of its roads, houses, and people will cripple their military resources.” Sherman lived up to his boast — and left a swath of devastation and misery that helped plunge the South into decades of poverty.

General Grant used similar tactics in Virginia, ordering his troops “make all the valleys south of the Baltimore and Ohio railroad a desert as high up as possible.” The Scorched Earth tactics the North used made life far more difficult for both white and black survivors of the Civil War.

Lincoln was blinded by his belief in the righteousness of federal supremacy. His abuses set legions of precedents that subverted the vision of government the Founding Fathers bequeathed to America.




28 Responses to “Gettysburg Address: Still Balderdash after 150 Years”

  1. Good piece by Mr. Bovard. In my opinion Lincoln remains the worst President ever with the possible exception of Franklin D. Roosevelt. And Lincoln's body count of dead Americans, over 650,000 in the totally unnecessary War Between the States tops FDR's, both Bushes and Obama combined(that's not counting the millions of civilian deaths they are responsible for). Karl Marx even wrote to Lincoln praising him for his centralization of Federal Government power at that time which was the beginning of the modern police state we live in today.

  2. But all those daguerreotypes show him suffering greatly! How can you DOUBT!

  3. Then there was the 'Emancipation Proclamation', which served to 'free' the slaves in the southern states (but not the border states that had not seceded), with the condition, or rather 'encouragement', that they serve as cannon fodder in the Union Army.
    He actually ripped off the idea from the British governor during the American Revolution who threatened to 'free the slaves', something that caused great distress, actually terror, to all the Revolutionaries that happened to own some, and who described the proposed action as barbaric and monstrous.

  4. I thank John Wilkes Booth for his patriotism on page 1 of "Observations". http://www.RichardLHarrell.com

  5. When I was in the 8th grade (back in the 60's) my American history teacher spent at least a week of class time requiring each student to memorize the Address and regurgitate it in front of the class. Good indoctrination, don't ya think? What a bunch of crock. Of course, it's sacrilege to question the "Lincoln cult." Read anything by Thomas DiLorenzo to find out the true Lincoln.

  6. The feds certainly have never let up in their scorched-earth tactics. Today the specific tactics are unlimited interest-free money for banks and Obamacare.

  7. In (minor) defense of your teacher, the Gettysburg Address is famous more for its rhetorical techniques and structure than its political message.

    So the Gettysburg Address is worthy of study as high propaganda, after having studied Machiavelli, Bernays, et al.

  8. To provide context: technically Gettysburg is above the Mason Dixon line–the Union Army was on the defensive against a "Rebel" offensive and invasion… Antietam is another big battle on Union soil…

    The rulers of the "Confederacy" didn't just want to "self-govern", which is a big reason why the whole thing started in the first place…but all of that is besides the point…

    This is what happens in War–which is why it's terrible…Grant was actually above average on foreign policy as POTUS…

    Anyway, based on the rhetoric alone, those seem like the golden years from a certain perspective…

    “The world will note that the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, a military base. That was because we wished in this first attack to avoid, in so far as possible, the killing of civilians. But that attack is only a warning of things to come. If Japan does not surrender, bombs will have to be dropped on her war industries and, unfortunately, thousands of civilian lives will be lost. I urge Japanese civilians to leave industrial cities immediately, and save themselves from destruction.”

    –Harry S. Truman, August 9, 1945

    http://www.dannen.com/decision/hst-ag09.html

  9. oh, i get it now! force obeisance on a sovereign nation
    at gunpoint! now that’s democacy, ‘merkan style!

  10. Maybe so, but it obviously is not viewed as propaganda in our public (government) schools. It is politically incorrect (and also unpatriotic) to question anything about what Lincoln did in his war of aggression. Any public school teacher with the courage to do so would probably be fired.

  11. Lee struck north with the idea of ultimately turning back to the southeast and cutting off DC from the rest of the North after the defeat of Hooker at Chancellorsville. This battle was fought in Virgina in May, 1863. The same was true for the Sharpsburg campaign in September, 1862 following another Northern invasion led by Pope. In both offensives the idea was to force Lincoln to grant independence.

    None of this would have been necessary if Lincoln had allowed the South to leave peacefully but the constant encroachments upon the Confederate States forced these moves. If the South had wanted to bring down the Federal govt. it would have done it in July of 1861 right after First Manassas in Virgina when the Union Army was routed. That (unfortunate) restraint demonstrates beyond all doubt the South's intention of not trying to overthrow the Federal govt. The South wanted simply to have nothing to do with it.

    It was the Federal govt. that invaded first, not the other way around. I note that years later that nothing has changed in this regard.

  12. Great minds think alike. Paul Mulshine found this great quote by Mencken on Lincoln:
    http://blog.nj.com/njv_paul_mulshine/2013/11/hl_m

    Great column, Jim.

  13. I think Mr. Mencken has been outdone!

  14. […] […]

  15. hahaha

  16. Evidently, some on this list still regret that the Confederacy lost the war and that slavery was repudiated. Actually, the NPR program on the Gettysburg address was informative, and to me revealing.
    Yes, Lincoln was a politician, and made political compromises, but his feelings about the slaughter at Gettyburg were deep, honest, and not vindictive, and were brilliantly reflected in his short message.

  17. Anybody offended by slavery was quite morally entitled, in my view, to kill any and all slaveowners who refused to free AND compensate their slaves. Slaveowners forfeit ALL rights, period. Now if Sherman had simply marched thru Georgia shooting slaveowners, I would not have any problem with him.

  18. It wasn't just the Confederacy that lost. America lost as well.

  19. I mourn, every day, the loss of the true republican government that was guaranteed to us by the Constitution and embodied in the Confederate cause. Anyone who doesn't regret the loss of the Confederacy and their bid for independence, simply doesn't understand what the Confederacy fought for, and what was actually lost in that war. They, like you, get caught up in the smoke screen of the slavery issue, and are completely blinded to the actual causes impelling the separation of the Southern States from the federal union. However, there should be absolutely no ambiguity as to what caused the war and the massive carnage and loss of life that followed. The war happened because abraham lincoln called up 75,000 troops and unlawfully invaded a peaceful, sovereign country. The people of the Confederacy had no choice but to defend itself from the aggressor. Had lincoln not pursued his policy of cruel and bloody war against a people who only wanted to be left alone, then masses of treasure, loads of misery and, most importantly, untold precious lives would have been saved.
    There was nothing "deep, honest and not vindictive" about abraham lincoln or his masterful piece of propaganda, "the gettysburg address. As a matter of fact, as with anything associated with that butcher, he was exactly the opposite of what you describe, he was a thoroughly shallow, dishonest and decidedly vindictive man; he was, as you pointed out, a consummate "politician."
    Had the Southern Confederacy not been wrongfully invaded and subjugated, I believe it would have become a modern Switzerland, a free trader with all the nations of the world, and a neutral party in regard to war, but armed to the teeth against aggression. As for slavery, the institution would have ended in the Confederacy within the next decade or so, as it did in every other country in the world, and without a single shot being fired or a single life being lost. linclon was mass murderer and a truly evil man.

  20. So, you think that Sherman and Grant and half the yankee general staff should have shot themselves? I mean, they being SLAVE OWNERS and all. Do you also mean that it would have been quite all right to walk down the streets of Washington D.C. during the war and shoot slave owners, seeing as how SLAVERY WAS STILL LEGAL in the united States………. Ignorance is it's own punishment.

  21. "Lee struck north with the idea of ultimately turning back to the southeast and cutting off DC from the rest of the North after the defeat of Hooker at Chancellorsville."

    Pretending this to be true for a second, and assuming you can read the mind of a dead man during events which occurred over 150 years ago….'conceding' all of these points, the bottom line is: that obviously didn't happen.

    After Gettysburg, Lee never "struck north" again…

    The End…

  22. Somewhat off-topic of the Address, but relevant to the comment section: I contend that the Confederate strategy of attack was flawed, and the Cause was doomed from the beginning because of this. If Lee and his generals has instead focused their efforts on stabilizing borders and overall defense, the South (in my unprofessional opinion) would have stood a much greater chance of success by giving the states more time to gear up for defense and consolidating the political landscape of the Confederacy. By going on the attack rather ill-prepared, the South more or less walked into a trap of its own making, going much farther afield than was necessary or militarily advisable.

  23. Lincoln and so many other presidents are guilty of a scorched earth policy. US history teachers teach American history as if the USA did nothing bad. The USA has done so many bad things since 1776. The USA expanded settlements all over the continental US, Alaska and Hawaii. They took land away from Mexico during the Mexican War and took away many of Spain's colonies after the Spanish American War, they caused environmental damage in Japan, Korea and Southeast Asia. They created more prostitution in the Far East. They persecuted non whites for most of their history and put people of Japanese ancestry in concentration camps. Although Germans and Italians are white, many Americans of those backgrounds were also put in concentration camps.

  24. No mind reading, Ben. Just history. You should try it sometime.

    By the way, while technically correct about Lee himself never striking North again you are still wrong. Lee sent Jubal Early north in 1864 with his corps instead in an effort to gain some counter-play.

  25. I've been to Gettysburg numerous times and have listened to many talks by the very knowledgeable Park Rangers who work there. I remember one talk in which the ranger said that Lee had the opportunity to take the high ground if he had attacked upon arrival instead of resting his men. At that point the North was greatly outnumbered,(reinforcements had not yet arrived), but Lee didn't know it. The point was that, if Lee had captured the high ground on day one, the South may have won the battle and the whole course of the war would have changed. After the South lost this pivotal battle, the war was all but lost – and the voluntary republic envisioned by our Founding Fathers was finished.

  26. And he set the slave population free to do as they deem fit. The knock out game being but the latest and most brutal manifestation of black social progress.

  27. In 1961, I had a course on the “Civil War” at the University of Maryland. The professor taught the real history but the final exam was pure Political Correctness.

    Later, I did some research at the Library of Congress, discovered some interesting facts which made their way into two feature articles on the re-enactment of First Manassas. I received a letter of censure from the Pentagon, LOL.

  28. Just bought a small collection of Lincoln’s speaches, inspired by this artical. I’ll get back to you next week. :-)