A philosophy professor named Allen Guelzo discovered in 1995 that one way out of academic obscurity (where most philosophy professors reside) is to become a “Lincoln scholar.”
He began writing books that tell the same old, same old, line about Lincoln: he died on Good Friday; he supposedly died for the sins of America just as Jesus died for the sins of the world; etc., etc. His first book of this time is entitled Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President. Seeking redemption for your sins? Then become a Lincoln worshipper, says Allen Guelzo.
Guelzo now teaches at Gettysburg College. He was recently interviewed by the World Socialist Web Site which describes itself as an arm of the “International Committee of the Fourth International” and “the leadership of the world socialist movement” that is “guided by a Marxist world outlook.”
The interview is entirely friendly with every question a “softball pitch.” One striking feature of the interview is how Guelzo’s comments on Lincoln and economics are exactly the opposite of historical reality.
One of Guelzo’s first comments on Lincoln’s economic policies is based on a fake Lincoln quote about which Guelzo is apparently unaware. The Marxist Web site asked, “did [Lincoln] not privilege labor [over capital]”? Guelzo’s response is “He does indeed talk about labor having priority over capital . . .” Part of the Lincoln mythology is that Abe supposedly said: “All that loves labor serves the nation. All that harms labor is treason to America . . . . If any man tells you he loves America, yet hates labor, he is a liar.” In their book, They Never Said it: A Book of Fake Quotes, Misquotes, and Misleading Attributions (Oxford University Press, 1989), Paul Boller and John George concluded that “there is no record of [Lincoln’s] ever having uttered these words.”
The biggest howler of the interview is where Guelzo claims than an un-named “observer” supposedly said that “on political economy [Lincoln] was great, that there was no one better than Lincoln.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Lincoln was a Hamiltonian, which is to say he was a mercantilist. He was slavishly devoted to the Whig policy of economic nationalism as expressed by the “American System” of Hamilton and Clay.
This “system” was comprised of protectionist tariffs for the benefit of mostly Northern manufacturers; corporate welfare for road and canal-building and railroad corporations; and a national bank to finance subsidies and bailouts and to ladle out cheap credit to politically-connected businesses.
“Few people in the Whig Party were so committed to its economic agenda as Lincoln,” wrote Michael Holt in The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party. “From the moment Lincoln first entered political life as a candidate for the state legislature he demonstrated an unswerving fidelity to Henry Clay and to Clay’s American system,” wrote Robert Johannsen in Lincoln, the South, and Slavery. Lincoln himself once said that all of his economic ideas came from Henry Clay.
In his book Lincoln the Man Edgar Lee Masters gave a perfect description of the Hamilton/Clay/Lincoln “American System”:
Clay was the champion of that political system which doles favors to the strong in order to win and to keep their adherence to the government. His system offered shelter to devious schemes and corrupt enterprises . . . . He was the beloved son of Alexander Hamilton with his corrupt funding schemes, his superstitions concerning the advantage of a public debt, and a people taxed to make profits for enterprises that cannot stand alone. His example and his doctrines led to the creation of a party that had no platform to announce, because its principles were plunder and nothing else.
This was neo-mercantilism, the very system that genuine “greats” in the field of………