To commemorate his birthday, let us draw on the history lessons of Abraham Lincoln, almost universally lauded as a wonderful person, if not the nation’s best president. The first lesson is, he wasn’t the former, and definitely wasn’t the latter.
Lincoln was a self-confessed white supremist bigot. He unashamedly boasted about it. You could look it up, although most history books avoid that aspect of his character. Nevertheless, we can learn much from Lincoln’s true history.
First, let’s consider which type of ignorance is worse:
Someone who doesn’t know in which century Lincoln lived?
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Or someone with the misconception Lincoln fought the Civil War to abolish slavery?1
The first brand of ignorance, let’s call it Ignorance A, is a factual void. It’s the result of public education and the media erasing. It’s happens when we stop telling people what occurred.
The second kind of ignorance, Ignorance B, is factual misrepresentation. It’s the result of systematic disinformation for political gain. It’s happens when someone distorts the meaning of what happened.
The consequences of Ignorance A were explained by George Santayana, who said: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Give yourself extra credit if you knew that essentially the same words also were uttered by Edmund Burke. But we digress.
The upshot for Ignorance A is that people will repeat mistakes they could have avoided had they known how those choices went wrong in the past. Think of Hitler invading Russia in the bitter-cold winter. Apparently, Der Fuhrer hadn’t learned about Napoleon’s big fail, a mere century before.
But the unhappy consequences of Ignorance B are difficult to correct because the misinformed often are convinced they are right. Think of Lincoln launching the Civil War in response to states seceding from the union.
If it’s difficult to determine which of the two types of ignorance is worse. But when the two types are combined, consequences are worse yet.
Our birthday boy, Lincoln, seems to have suffered both varieties of ignorance.
Lincoln’s factual ignorance was that he apparently never learned that government’s military oppression of God-given rights to life, liberty and property triggered a bloody revolution against King George and left 25,000 colonists dead. Consequently, Lincoln repeated King George’s error, assuming he had authority to ruthlessly suppress those over whom he claimed jurisdiction. Had Lincoln paused long enough to wonder, “How did that work out for King George?” he might have avoided the slaughter of 600,000 in the Civil War, more American deaths than in all its foreign wars combined.
But Lincoln also operated from the ignorance of misinformation. He misunderstood government’s authority.2 Government’s only legitimate roles are suppression of evil and punishment of evildoers. Anything beyond those biblically inspired duties is above government’s pay grade. Witness the train wrecks of socialized medicine, the welfare state and wage and punitive greenhouse gas taxes.
In a society designed to preserve God-given rights, it’s illegitimate for government to forcibly require states to remain affiliated if they freely choose to separate themselves. If you as a citizen renounce your citizenship, no one has legal or moral grounds to legitimately stop you. Likewise, a state that wishes to remove itself from the union of states.
Lincoln could have consulted biblical history to learn that even God’s chosen people exercised their right to separate from Judah when they formed the northern kingdom of Israel.
(An important note: the right to secede is the right of self-determination. The motive for secession is a different matter. Israel was wrong in its motive, but certainly had the right to break away.)
There remains dispute over whether in Lincoln’s day southern states’ motives were pure or evil. But, like Israel, that’s a separate matter from their right to secede. An analogy might be that you have a right to vote for whichever candidate you choose, even a terrible one.
Lincoln’s argument against secession was rooted in historic conquest and domination. In the Roman empire, the central government used force to hold together far-flung, once independent principalities. Anyone in Syria, or Britain or Egypt who wished to secede from the Roman empire was forcibly oppressed by troops serving Rome, just as southern states were forcibly oppressed by troops serving Lincoln.
When these history lessons are never learned or misrepresented or both, it serves oppression, not liberty.
Secession talk is ramping up. California threatened to leave the USA, which it finds unpleasantly too conservative. In turn, that state’s inland counties are talking about seceding from California, which they find too “progressive.”
Let them all go. Let them learn and teach others by their examples. Let them imitate the northern kingdom, if they choose. Let them do what tyrants refused the Syrians, Britons and Egyptians. Let them choose their future, rather than live under the thumb of contemporary Romes and Lincolns.
The greatest impediment to secession today is the financial interdependency of regions and states and their central governments. But these are impediments, not deal-killers.
If California can secede from the U.S. or if some of California can secede from the rest of California, more power to them. Working out who owes what to whom so neither he who secedes nor those seceded from unjustly profit would be complicated. But not impossible.
Historically, the wealth of knowledge gained would greatly benefit anyone who bothers to learn from history. What a wonderful antidote to Ignorance A.
Let us learn something from the true history of that white supremist bigot Abraham Lincoln, who was personally responsible for the deaths of more Americans than anyone who ever lived. You could look that up in a history book, unless it’s a book written by someone advancing Ignorance B.
1 In Lincoln’s own words, he made it clear his purpose in waging civil war was not to abolish slavery: “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… What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union…”
2 When Lincoln launched the Civil War he acted contrary to what every state had long known to be their inherent right: to leave the union once it no longer served their interests. Northern states, Atlantic states and Southern states previously all considered secession at one time or another based on that understanding.
The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.