What Would Lincoln Do?

Walter Berns delivers a column on “why America celebrates Lincoln.” Berns’s piece begs the question: is there anyone out there who doesn’t celebrate Lincoln’s saving the Union and “freeing” the slaves, notwithstanding the narcissists who love to indulge their sense of moral superiority by harping on Lincoln’s failure to achieve modern levels of racial political correctness?

Mr. Berns is a resident scholar of the American Enterprise Institute, known to leftists everywhere as the intellectual Mecca of neoconservatives, the notorious members of a Jewish cabal who, it is said, think war is the answer to every problem and who conspire with dumb gentiles like George Bush to send Americans to die in wars that benefit Israel. So, it’s only natural that neocons would love a president who insisted that war was the only answer to the problem of secession and slavery. But why would the anti-war left go along?

Nowadays no one seriously challenges Lincoln’s adamant insistence on war. Berns at least acknowledges the possibility of an alternative opinion which is more than most are willing to do. But he basically sets up strawmen and then knocks them down. For example consider his shot at the president considered to be the worst in history, James Buchanan (yes, even worse than W):

…[Lincoln’s] predecessor, the incompetent fool James Buchanan, believed that the states had no right to secede from the Union, but that there was nothing he could do about it if they did. Thus, by the time Lincoln took office, seven Southern states had seceded, and nothing had been done about it. Led by South Carolina, they claimed to be doing only what they and the other colonies had done in 1776. To oppose them might bring on the war, and Buchanan had no stomach for this.

Hmm…no stomach for war? Sounds a lot like today’s New York Times editorial board. But it wasn’t only that fool Buchanan who had stomach problems:

…Lincoln knew that the time had come when the only way to save the Union was to go to war. But could he say so and retain the support of the people who had voted for him? The abolitionists, for example. For them, slavery was a sin, and the slaveholders sinners. But their leading spokesman, William Lloyd Garrison, was no friend of the Union. He said the Constitution was “a covenant with death and an agreement with hell.” During the Fort Sumter crisis, Garrison said “all Union saving efforts are simply idiotic.”

The country’s leading antislavery editor, Horace Greeley of the New York Tribune, said much the same thing. As he put it, “if the Cotton States shall become satisfied they can do better out of the Union than in it, we insist on letting them go.” But suppose we had let them go. How, then, would Greeley free the slaves, except by going to war with them? The self-righteous journalist did not say — perhaps he would have had us enter into “real” negotiations with the Confederates — but it was his desire to avoid war that led him to say what he said…

And there were more who wanted “to avoid war” including the guy who would become Lincoln’s Secretary of State:

… there was the effort, a desperate or last-chance effort, to avoid the war by way of compromise. On Jan. 16, 1861, the Kentuckian John Crittenden, on behalf of a Senate committee that included the Democrats Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois and Jefferson Davis of Mississippi, as well as Republicans Benjamin Wade of Ohio and William Seward of New York, proposed a set of six constitutional amendments that, among other provisions, prohibited slavery in the territories north of the Missouri Compromise line but protected it south of the line “in all territories now held, or hereafter acquired.”

Obviously, this was not much of a compromise, but it had the support even of some important Republicans. Lincoln, however, said no. “Let there be no compromise on the question of extending slavery,” he wrote his Republican friends in Congress. “The tug has to come and better now than later.” That tug came, and with it came the war…

So the pre- Civil War equivalents of Barack Obama and Maureen Dowd also wanted to “reach out” to the slave holders and avoid the mother of all quagmires that the War Between the States became. “Better now than later”? Sounds to me like a “rush to war.”

But then Berns asks:

…Would Lincoln have taken so hard a line, or refused all compromise, had he anticipated that the war would take the lives of — the number is appalling — some 620,000 Americans? Probably not. (Nor, I suspect, would the Southern states have seceded had they anticipated the price they would pay.)

Still, Berns goes on to argue that it was the right decision even if Lincoln wouldn’t have made it had he known the result would be the modern day equivalent of six million deaths, not including the non-combatants who died from war-related illnesses.

Berns’s argument is that but for Lincoln’s decision to go to war, slavery would have prevailed throughout the United States, not just the South. But he doesn’t consider the likelihood that slavery would have eventually died a “natural” death since, at the time, slavery existed in no other Western Christian country and thus almost certainly could not have survived into the 20th century.

A Wall Street Journal editorial asks whether Barry’s “stalwart supporters” are willing to follow him (the new Lincoln) into a larger war in Afghanistan:

The regents are on the ground and commanders are crafting new battle plans: President Obama is girding for a war surge in Afghanistan. Let’s hope he’s willing to see it through when his most stalwart supporters start to doubt the effort and rue the cost…

Isn’t it ironic? Barry can count on neocons like Walter Berns and the Journal’s editorial board for support.

I can’t wait for Frank Rich’s first quagmire column.

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