As I stated before this series is very contrary to establishment dogma and I do hope that I don't lose any friends over it. However, I do have to tell it as I believe it is. I see and hear with libertarian eyes and ears, and consequently my interpretation of events is thoroughly libertarian.
Generally speaking, this country started out as a basically, but not entirely, free country. There were a few low taxes and tariffs, and some restrictions on civil and economic liberties, but these were nothing in comparison to what existed in other parts of the world, and to what we have here today. In fact, the taxes, tariffs, and regulations that were imposed by the British and that triggered the American Revolution were very benign compared to what we have been saddled with for decades now.
Very few could vote in the beginning, but taxes were low and government was largely absent from every aspect of life, so possibly individuals were not that concerned about the vote. I personally would be willing to stop voting if I could stop paying taxes and stop the adverse effect of books and books of statutes and regulations that affect me directly and indirectly. Actually, if we are going to have voting at all, I think it should be universally permitted, and we are moving in that direction, but that is another topic for another Zine.
Democracy does not guarantee freedom. Actually, liberty has diminished as suffrage has increased.
As for the loss of liberty, has it gradually occurred, or have there been some definite turning points?
There have been turning points, and in my opinion three of them have been major.
One major turning point was at the middle of the Nineteenth Century. It was at that time that freedom took at least two very mighty blows from which it never even began to recover.
The person who was primarily responsible for these two blows to liberty was one I consider to be the greatest American enemy of freedom of the Nineteenth Century.
He was Abraham Lincoln.
Now, this is certainly quite a shock to libertarians and others who have always believed that Lincoln ended slavery in this country. Needless to say, every libertarian on this earth vehemently opposes any form of slavery. However, Lincoln did not end it, nor did he even try.
Lincoln made it quite plain that he did not care one way or the other if slavery existed. He also was what we today would consider a vehement racist; he considered whites superior to blacks and he did not think blacks should be permitted to vote, serve on juries, or even mingle with whites (1). Like all racists, Lincoln placed his own race in the superior position.
Therefore I will move on from that issue and describe the two hard blows Abraham Lincoln dealt to liberty.
The first blow was an end to the relatively free market system we had been enjoying. The free market brought about a prosperity never before known. By today's standards, Americans were dirt poor, but we must remember that this was before most technological development. Almost everything had to be done by hand or by rudimentary tools, which left little time to invent and make new tools. A lack of tools (capital goods) means an increase in the amount of work done, a decrease in the amount of goods produced, or, more likely, both. There was only time for necessary work. Over time, however, people were able to set aside the time and resources to obtain better tools that, in turn, freed up more time and resources (2). Under our almost-free market at that time, government did not stand in the way.
Beginning with the Lincoln administration, however, economic liberty was greatly curtailed. Lincoln was a big admirer of another American enemy of liberty, Henry Clay, who had come up with a set of ideas he called the "American System." This system was no more American than was the British system that provoked the American Revolution.
This "American System" Clay was calling for was pure mercantilism (3). He was a Whig, the Whigs being forerunners of the present Republicans. Clay and Lincoln were both Whigs and they worked for about thirty years to replace the free market with mercantilism (4). The Whigs called themselves "Whigs" to make themselves appear to oppose centralized government and to fool the public (5). The earlier Whigs of the Eighteenth Century had been classical liberals, i.e., libertarians. In order to ram their program through, the Whigs needed to fool the public, since at that time it was generally known that a concentration of power is inimical to liberty. True to their mercantilism, debt and pork barrel projects were the Nineteenth Century Whigs' hallmarks.
These pork barrel projects, or "internal improvements" as the Whigs insisted on calling them, were chiefly beneficial to Northeastern establishment industry and were paid for by tariffs which hit the South especially hard. (This ties directly into Lincoln's second blow to liberty.)
This is glaringly inimical to liberty. When Henry Clay was in Congress sponsoring pork barrel projects, the great Founder James Madison was president and he vetoed these bills.
Now, just exactly what is this "mercantilism" that enraged the Founders, and that Abraham Lincoln and his mentor, Henry Clay, were trying to reinstate?
The great economist, Murray Rothbard, in Making Economic Sense (P. 183-184), defines mercantilism, the system of western Europe in the Sixteenth through Eighteenth Centuries, as big government with high taxes, large bureaucracies, and massive regulations, the point being to grant monopolies, cartels, and subsidies to favored groups. Political favorites of that time were those who gave the king something in return, or were possibly friends or relatives of the king. Analogous today would be major contributors to political campaigns, either directly or through soft money or volunteer work. Corruption is certain.
The Whigs, and later the Republicans, led by those like Lincoln and Clay, worked hard to institute this system. Like the Jacobins, the Republicans favored this authoritarian agenda even as they couched their rhetoric in the language of freedom, i.e., they thought nothing of lying in order to increase their power (6). To their credit, the Democrats at the time (before they gave up their Jeffersonian roots) stood for the separation of economy (and just about everything else) and state. They were the true liberals (i.e., classical liberals) much as today's libertarians are (7), and fought hard to fend off this major blow to the Constitution and to freedom.
However, once Abraham Lincoln was elected president in 1860, mercantilism prevailed and the major blow was dealt. Murray Rothbard lists some specifics including, but not limited to, high tariffs, high excise taxes on alcohol and tobacco, railroad subsidies, an income tax (fortunately later repealed), an end to the gold standard, and quasi-nationalization of banks.
Abraham Lincoln was warming up in the bullpen for his second major blow to freedom. The cause of this major blow can be summed up in one word:
Tariffs are Constitutional, of course, although most free market economists oppose them, and this history is good reason to oppose them. Their distortion of the economy is only the beginning of the problems they can cause, and in the case of Lincoln's tariffs, they alienated people so much that it caused a war.
To see how this happened, we need to follow the money, which drifted away from the South toward the North, and to Lincoln cronies.
Prior to Lincoln and Clay's dreadful "American System," the Industrial Revolution had really taken hold in the North and most people were really prospering more than they ever had. In the South, there was an agricultural economy and not much industry, so the South had to bring in a lot of things from elsewhere. They could either buy these things from Northern companies or from overseas. If they bought from overseas they had to pay a tariff, which was purposefully kept high enough to make importation prohibitively expensive. So, all else equal, they could get their supplies cheaper if they bought from the North. Of course, that encouraged Northern businesses to charge higher prices, higher, but not high enough to lose customers back to overseas companies. So, money flowed from the South to the North and its big guys and their mercantilist buddies, who made out like the bandits they were.
Southerners were stuck. Even though the market was most likely free enough that Southerners could build their own factories, they apparently found that it would not pay to do so. For reasons known only to them, they opted not to do this; rather they took other steps to solve the problems they faced due to tariffs.
Left-wingers today who justly complain about corporate power are advised to read up on what happened during the Lincoln administration, as this is when the government went out of Constitutional bounds and formed partnerships with business. Abraham Lincoln and his mentor, Clay, were the main culprits. Most of the tariff money was spent on pork-barrel projects lining establishment pockets even more.
The South was, understandably, alienated by the tariffs, especially in 1828 when the "Tariff of Abominations" was passed. This tariff, which imposed different rates on different goods, was obviously tailored to cater to special interests. This was the last straw for South Carolina, which nullified the tariff in that state.
Nullification of a Federal law by a state was regarded as a Constitutional right up until that time. The Founders were wise enough to realize that any government that is allowed to determine the extent of its own power will eventually assume unlimited power. Even though tariffs are Constitutional for revenue purposes, South Carolina exercised its right to nullify this tariff on the grounds that it would enrich some at the expense of others and that would violate the General Welfare clause (8).
South Carolina had grown impatient and exercised its right because Fort Sumter in Charleston was where most of the tariff was collected, enforced by federal troops stationed there. However, the situation cooled down for a while as the Feds backed down on the tariff in 1832. But things heated up on another front. The mercantilist Whig party went belly-up because of internal disagreements on Western territories and in 1854 the infamous Republican Party was founded by advocates of tariffs and centralization, including Abraham Lincoln and Henry Clay. They also took a divisive stand on slavery in the Western territories. They wanted slavery outlawed in these territories, not because of any anti-slavery beliefs (we already know that Lincoln was a rabid white supremacist who cared not at all if every black person was permanently enslaved ) but because they feared that free white labor could not compete with slave labor.
In 1860, the new Republican Party adopted a platform calling for tariffs and "internal improvements" (meaning for making the South pay for Northern pork barrel projects) and it nominated Lincoln as its presidential candidate.
South Carolina became angry again because of this and exercised its right to leave the Union on December 18, 1860. The federal government promised to evacuate Fort Sumter, but instead sent provisions to the troops there. South Carolina fired warning shots. The same kind of thing was happening in Florida at Fort Pickens in Pensacola Bay, and Florida also left the Union on January 10, 1861. These seceded states did not want federal troops at these forts any more than the Americans wanted British troops here during the American Revolution.
Lincoln had not been in office even a month before he sent troops to Fort Pickens, by secret executive order bypassing Congress. This was regarded by the South as an act of war, especially since the South had tried to negotiate a settlement. By that time, five more states had left the Union.
In my opinion, the South really had no choice about the firing on Fort Sumter. The right to secede from the Union was beyond question, for there is nothing in the Constitution that said this could not be done. Besides that, these states obviously existed before the Union did. Once they had bowed out, Washington had no more business in their jurisdictions than it had in Canada. But the federal (Northern) government dug in its heels and gave the South no choice but to fire on Fort Sumter.
Four more states seceded as a result of Lincoln's use of military force (10). Lincoln apparently had totally forgotten what he had said only a few years earlier about the right to get rid of an old government and form a new one being a most sacred right (11). This kind of change seems to go with the territory of being in a position of power.
The whole Northern establishment was further galvanized against the South because of jealousy as well. The new Confederate Constitution called for very low (if any) tariffs and very low taxes that, of course, caused the economy to boom in the South and stagnate in the North (12).
But, let's stop here for a general discussion of secession.
The military attack on the South was the beginning of Lincoln's second major blow to liberty. It was the beginning of the end of the United States as a republic, meaning it was the beginning of federal government dominance over the states. This was directly in contradiction of the Tenth Amendment and resulted in the gravitation of political power to the federal (read central) government and away from individuals and localities. Of course, politically, Lincoln had no choice either, because if he allowed secession he might have gone down in history as a weak president. So, to appear strong, he dug in his heels and fought even though it was in total disregard for the supreme law of the land. He engineered the situation in such a way that the South would fire the first shot. Besides that, a war unites and at the time the country was divided, Lincoln was low in the polls, and the Republicans had been whipped pretty badly in elections (13).
The right of a state to secede is based upon the fact that the Union is a voluntary pact among sovereign states. What really gives teeth to this right is the fact the Constitution is silent on the matter and does not deny the right. However, it does say in the Tenth Amendment that the federal government can only do what it is expressly permitted to do, and no more. All other rights are reserved to the states or the people.
Most anti-secessionist arguments come from Lincoln's first Inaugural Address of 1861 (14). He said that every government rejects the idea of its own termination. Well, don't we all? But that does not make anything permanent. Lincoln also claimed that the constitution is a "contract" rather than like a treaty. How? I do not remember signing it. Do you? We could bow out. The people of any state could decide to bow out. He gave other arguments but none can stand up to the Tenth Amendment.
One major argument against secession is that the states implicitly gave up that right when they joined the union. They did? Do we implicitly give up the right to leave any organization when joining? Do we have to call for a vote to be allowed to leave? Since when?
According to anti-secessionists, Union victory in the war settled the issue. I have just shown that it did not. Anti-secessionists also argue that, in Texas vs. White, the Supreme Court settled it. But I think it was wrongfully. The Supreme Court, which is made up of human beings like the rest of us, can be wrong. Even if the issue is settled from a legal standpoint, it is far from settled morally.
In such “settled” matters as the Dred Scott decision, the Supreme Court eventually reversed itself. Scott Peterson has "settled" the issue of Lacie and Connor Peterson's futures, too, but is it right?
The fact that the Constitution is silent on this issue implies to me the right of secession is assumed. As someone who interprets the Constitution very strictly, I believe the right of a state to secede from the Union is absolute and is one right that guards all the other rights of a state and the people in it.
Therefore, when Lincoln "settled" the issue of secession in the manner he did, he dealt the second major blow to liberty, which ended state and hence individual sovereignty.
The sorry state of Lincoln's damage to freedom and decentralization could be left at that, but I would like briefly to describe some of his specific infringements on liberty that were precedent setting.
The South was no threat to the North. Lincoln could have let it go, but he was determined to punish. Congress never declared war, so when Lincoln went to war it was illegal and unconstitutional, besides being uncalled for. (15) John V. Denson, in Reassessing the Presidency, claims that this made Lincoln "America's first dictator" (16). This began a major assault on constitutional rights, beginning with the suspension of habeas corpus and the arrest of a judge who did not agree.
Then, with Southern Congressmen now out of Congress, Lincoln and the Republicans went right to work in enacting the Republican agenda, i.e., the Clay "American System" that we have been saddled with ever since.
Lincoln allowed martial law to be declared and had more than thirteen thousand people arrested in the North without warrants and convicted without any due process in military courts. That is a large number of people, especially when the population was so much lower than it is now. Some of these cases were overturned, but the idea that this can be done in the first place is appalling.
Lincoln also ordered the arrest of state legislators who he feared might vote for secession in their legislatures. Railroads were nationalized, and more than 300 newspapers that opposed his policies were closed.
Some opinions are that these policies started us on the road to imperialism and were the precedent for presidential war powers, which give a president unlimited powers during a war (17). I could add that the end of states' rights is also the end of natural rights, the central government and the president becoming deified.
The above rights violations were, at least in part, the reason that the Cherokee Nation supported the South (18).
On the economic front, Lincoln kept signing more tax and tariff bills. Additionally, his National Currency Acts began central banking which students of economics know causes inflation which is really a back-door tax through money depreciation (19). Bonds were sold. The printing up of new money was deemed necessary to finance the war.
New bureaucracies were set up to administer the new taxes and other areas the rapidly growing government was encroaching upon. The military-industrial complex was born (20). The "imperial presidency" was here.
After the war, the assaults on freedom did not end. The seceded states, once pulled back into the Union, were treated like mere provinces rather than states.
The behavior of the Union soldiers in the South during the war was not to the standards that had been followed by European warriors for about two centuries. These standards called for leaving the civilian population alone (21). It makes sense to leave them alone as, not only are they not involved in the war but a soldier cannot tell which side, if any, a given civilian is on. It is naive to think that every citizen of a country unconditionally supports his or her government in every war. Individuals do have the God-given ability (and right) to think for themselves and there were certainly those Southerners who opposed secession. But Union soldiers, like spoiled brats, purposefully went right ahead and destroyed civilian property and civilians themselves to the equivalent of bombing them back to the stone age.
Union General William Sherman was the worst offender. He allowed (or ordered) troops to commit crimes so dastardly against the Confederate population that even conventional, mainstream history touches on it. This behavior was so unacceptable in the Nineteenth Century that even Sherman himself admitted that according to his West Point training, he could have been executed for it (22).
There were more examples of this sort of thing on the North's part. But, in all fairness, Southern soldiers were not totally innocent either. In fact there probably has never been a war where atrocities against the innocent have been uncommon. This by itself is a good reason to oppose war.
Though President Lincoln possibly did not order the atrocities, he allowed them, which proves yet again that he had no regard for the rights of the individual or any state, meaning no regard for the Constitution except to trot it out when it served his purposes.
I could stop right here as my point is proven. But, I will forge ahead.
Lincoln thought ahead to what he would do about the seceded states after the war. His belief, contrary to the Constitution which was meant to be strictly interpreted, was that secession was impossible; therefore the states had not actually seceded. He seemed to think of them as runaway slaves, to be brought back to his plantation and severely dealt with.
My first response is: Therefore secede again! Lincoln might have thought of that. All he demanded was loyalty oaths from certain people (23). His death occurred before he could do much more, so he cannot be blamed for what the federal government did to the South during reconstruction.
But, because it was his Republican party that was in power, I will briefly list some major rights violations.
After the seceded states had jumped through all the hoops that they were required to by the Andrew Johnson administration (Vice President Johnson had become president upon the death of Lincoln), the reconvened Congress refused to seat the representatives from those states. This refusal was an authoritarian one-size-fits-all, rather than a case-by-case refusal. It was blatantly political. The Republicans wanted to stay in power. The same goes for their plans for the enfranchisement of the freedmen. This had less to do with fairness than it did with bolstering the Republican vote.
It was the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment that was the worst thing the federal government did after the war. Now, the Fourteenth Amendment had some really good content such as "equal protection of the laws" and other superior ideas. But my focus here is not on the content of the Amendment. Regardless of the merit of the ideas, it is still inimical to freedom because, for one thing, it set yet another precedent for federal power over the states. The states were compelled to adopt the ideas therein. If the states were compelled to follow the Fourteenth Amendment, then no telling what the federal government could and would shove down their throats later on behalf of this amendment, not to mention other federal laws that might be passed.
Another reason to oppose it was the way the Fourteenth Amendment was "passed." Only one in the eleven former Confederate states would ratify it.
In response, Lincoln's Republicans passed some laws that would call for martial law and military governors in the other ten states until they "ratified" the Amendment, among other things. This means that, morally, the Amendment is null and void having been ratified involuntarily. Even if the forced ratification could morally count, voting irregularities would make it illegal anyway (24).
To his credit, President Johnson vetoed these means of coercion, the Reconstruction Acts, on the grounds that they only proved the point the Southerners made when they seceded in the first place. Of course, he was right. Over-ridden, but right (25).
President Johnson made some statements that were leaning very heavily in the libertarian direction and make me wonder how he ever became Lincoln's running mate. Perhaps this "balanced ticket" nonsense showed that then, as now, stands on issues took a back seat to party loyalty.
To recap, Abraham Lincoln was the worst Nineteenth Century American enemy of liberty because of the two major blows he dealt to liberty.
One was the replacement of the relatively free market that had brought about unprecedented economic prosperity for the common person with the tired old mercantilist system that favored government and establishment interests at the expense of the common person.
A person who has not studied economics will counter that people were far poorer before the Lincoln administration than they were after. This is true, but the reason is the technological progress we have made thanks to inventive individuals who could envision cheaper and more efficient ways of getting consumer needs satisfied. Harnessing electricity for light and power tools, the internal combustion engine for faster transport, refrigeration for comfort and food preservation, the telephone and the computer chip are but a few of the thousands of ideas that have come to fruition thanks to individuals who think and take the initiative.
And, more is to follow if there is sufficient freedom. The above improvements will become obsolete as new ones are developed to serve consumer wants better. A clean environment is one thing that consumers demand, and if government will just get out of the way, inventors and entrepreneurs will rise to that challenge.
The American people were still relatively independent, self-reliant, and frugal in the Nineteenth Century. They had the insight to save and invest for the future and enough freedom left to make it possible to do so. A large portion of the gross national product was invested in capital goods (tools of production), creating higher productivity (26).
Mercantilism and its sibling, the welfare state, have done nothing at all to bring any of that about. In fact, mercantilism has curbed progress by its many taxes, regulations and prohibitions.
So, when we are discussing how the Lincoln administration affected prosperity, we must not compare the economic well-being of before Lincoln to that of after Lincoln. Rather, we must compare what we have to what we would have had if the market had remained free. We do not know what we would have had, but we would have had a lot more than we have except for the number of hours necessary to work in order to feed our families.
The other major blow dealt by Lincoln was the blow to state and individual sovereignty in favor of a more powerful federal government. Power and money started their gravitation to Washington and this trend has never slowed down. States are now stuck in the Union, like it or not, and are ruled from Washington. The common person has no real voice as he or she might at the state or local level, since it is impossible to get one voice heard in Washington. The person's money does go there, by force, in large amounts.
We are not a free country today as a result.
(1) Woods, Thomas E., The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History, Regnery Publishing, 2004, Washington, D.C., P. 66-67.
(2) Rothbard, Murray N. Man, Economy and State, with Power and Market, Scholars' Edition, Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2004, Auburn, Ala., P.47-52 ff.
(3) Rothbard, Murray N. Making Economic Sense, Ludwig von Mises Institute, 1995, Auburn, P. 183-184. Hallmarks of mercantilism are big government, high taxes, large bureaucracies, and massive regulation, the point of which is monopolies, cartels, and subsidies to favored groups.
(4) Denson, John, ed. Reassessing the Presidency, Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2001, Auburn, P.203-204.
(5) Ibid, P. 211
(6) Denson, John, ed. The Costs of War: America's Pyrrhic Victories, Transaction Publishers, 1998, New Brunswick, P. 159.
(7) See http://www.lp.org/
(8) Woods, P. 37-40
(9) Denson, Reassessing the Presidency, P. 242-243.
(10) Woods, P. 61.
(11) Ibid, P. 63.
(12) Denson, Reassessing the Presidency, P. 252.
(13) Ibid, P. 250.
(14) Dorf, Michael C. "Does the Constitution Permit the Blue States to Secede? With Permission, Perhaps; Unilaterally, No."
(15) Denson, Reassessing the Presidency, P.270.
(16) Ibid, P. 274.
(17) Ibid, P. 280.
(18) Woods, P. 70-71.
(19) DiLorenzo, Thomas J. "An Abolitionist Defends the South."
(20) Denson, The Costs of War, P. 28-31.
(21) Woods, P. 71-73.
(22) Woods, P. 73.
(23) Woods, P. 77.
(24) Woods, P. 88-89.
(25) Woods, P. 86-87.
(26) Higgs, Robert, Crisis and Leviathan: Critical Episodes in the Growth of American Government, Oxford University Press, 1987, New York, P. 79.