The Essence of Liberty Chapter 10: The Costs of Lincoln’s War
A Condensed Version of The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda and an Unnecessary War by Thomas J. DiLorenzo. Prima. 352 pp. $24.95
Dr. Jimmy T. (Gunny) LaBaume
2. The Death of Federalism
Although its significance is lost on most Americans, the destruction of states’ rights was probably the biggest cost of Lincoln’s war. It was important because the people, as citizens of their states, would no longer be sovereign. The federal government would become master rather than servant.
The doctrine of states’ rights is not just unique to the South. It is a universally acknowledged check on the arbitrary powers of the central state. But unfortunately, it no longer exists. It was destroyed by Lincoln’s war.
The founding fathers believed that states’ rights were the “last best bulwark” of constitutional liberty. It is a question of the sovereignty of the people. Every political community must have a sovereign or final authority on political matters. In the united States , the people are said to be sovereign. As Professor Wilson explains: “The whole of the Constitution rests upon its acceptance by the people acting through their states…The sovereign power resides, ultimately, in the people of the states…states’ rights is the American government, however much in abeyance its practice may have become.”
The only real alternative is to hand sovereignty over to the “black-robed deities of the Court” (as Calhoun called them) who tell us what orders we must obey, no matter how nonsensical or unpopular.
James Madison said that the Constitution ”received all the authority which it possesses” at the state conventions. In other words, the father of the Constitution believed that the Constitution received all of its authority from the sovereign states and nowhere else.
The whole reason for federalism is the fact that the federal government will never check its own power. There is no check unless state sovereignty exists and state sovereignty is meaningless without the right of secession. Thus Lincoln ‘s war, by destroying the right of secession, also destroyed the last check on the potentially tyrannical powers of the central state.
As General Lee wrote in a letter to Lord Action, ”…the rights and authority reserved to the states and to the people…are…the…safeguard to the continuance of a free government…whereas the consolidation of the states into one vast republic, sure to be aggressive abroad and despotic at home, will be the certain precursor of …ruin.”
If by “union” one means a voluntary confederation of states, Lincoln was far from “saving” it. To the contrary, he actually destroyed it. Forcing states to remain in the union at gunpoint defeats the whole purpose of having a union in the first place.
Lincoln transformed the American government from a constitutional republic to a consolidated empire. And, just as Lee predicted, it quickly became more and more despotic at home and adventurous abroad. For example: As soon as the war ended, Grant planned an invasion of Mexico and the government began agitating England . As president, Grant proposed annexing Santo Domingo and waged a campaign of ethnic genocide against the Plains Indian for the benefit of the railroad industry.
The Lincolnian spirit of conquest, subjugation and imperialism was evident when William McKinley took over the Philippines and slaughtered 3,000 Filipinos. As a consequence of the Spanish-American War, Spain ceded Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippine Islands.
Furthermore, Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson would invoke Lincoln ‘s name as they unabashedly advocated wars of empire and “righteousness.” American foreign policy was overturned by Lincoln ‘s precedents. George Washington would be shocked to know that the uS government is now commonly called “the world’s policeman.”
Up until 1865 there had been an ongoing debate over who would be the final arbiter of what was or was not constitutional. Would it be the sovereign states or the federal judiciary? Lincoln’s war ended that debate. The death of federalism resulted in the federal judiciary becoming the final arbiter of constitutional interpretation.
Right up to the present day, advocates of ever-greater governmental powers continue to invoke the name of Lincoln . His “disregard for constitutional liberties opened the door to the whole array of unconstitutional government interventions that form the modern Leviathan state Americans labor under today.”
Many academics agree on the constitutionally issue but never-the-less praise the outcome. This is because they want the purpose of the government to be the pursuit of “egalitarianism” (i.e. socialism), not the defense of liberty.
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