My Stance on the Confederate Battle Flag and Public Displays of Confederate Symbols

I wrote this on Facebook soon after the Charleston shooting and the ensuing controversy. But it looks like the issue isn’t receding anytime soon. This is what I said then, and what I stand by now:

There’s been a lot of talk on the matter of the Confederate flag recently.

Is it appropriate to display Dixie’s Battle Flag on public buildings? This flag being the symbol of the *Confederate Army*, not the actual CSA, by the way.

In my view one of the most admirable things about America has been the spirit of magnanimity regarding Confederate symbolism and Southern patriotism.

Plenty of honourable, decent Americans at the time believed that secession was lawful. It so happened that legality of it was never decided in the courtroom, but on the battlefield. The contest of 1861-65 was a matter of might over right. Had the South prevailed, nobody would be questioning its right to exist, no more than we do in regards to Canada today.

Race slavery would have continued for a few decades, but as in every country in the western hemisphere apart from Haiti, it would have died a natural death. It’s feasible that several states in the Union could have maintained slavery for a time. Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri and West Virginia kept it up during the war and after the Emancipation Proclamation (which only applied to rebel-held territory). Secession might even have speeded up the process. If the Union had no obligation to return escaped slaves without the fugitive slave law, slavery might have collapsed from the number of runaways.

All this is hypothetical, though. The South lost a war, in which many men took up arms against the federal government because they felt it was oppressive and that a new one would suit them better. Rather in the spirit of 1776, isn’t it? From what I have read, there were plenty of legally valid and logical reasons for secession, held by men of honour, intelligence, and principle. Robert E. Lee was one of them. And he wasn’t defeated by the forces of law or logic, but by being out-manned and out-gunned.

I don’t like the modern efforts by some cultural militants to cleanse the South of all patriotic sentiment and Confederate symbolism, from renaming schools to removing the portraits of Confederate generals at the war colleges. They see this as unfinished business and have no shame in stomping on the faces of the defeated all over again.

It’s not in the spirit of consensual, constitutional government to treat such vanquished people like mere bandits. I prefer that old spirit of magnanimity, diversity of opinion, and respect for the ambiguities of the war.


On Accepting Blame

150 years ago today, on July 3rd, 1863, the Battle of Gettysburg was lost for the Army of Northern Virginia.

The nine infantry brigades that advanced in Pickett’s Charge were repulsed and suffered 50% casualties. The day before, the Union line had held at Devil’s Den and Little Round Top. The enemy Army of the Potomac was secure in a clever fish-hook formation that allowed for easy reinforcement of weaker sections.

Pickett’s Charge was a bloody mess. It could have been avoided. It left a psychological blow from which Southern morale never quite recovered.

“It’s all my fault”: that’s what General Lee said as routed Confederates were falling back. The greatest American was willing to admit his mistakes and accept the blame. The affections of his countrymen have often shielded Lee from responsibility. Blame is often laid at the feet of J.E.B. Stuart, the cavalry general who was absent at the early stage of the battle, depriving the army of its ‘eyes and ears’. But Stuart was absent on the orders of Lee, cutting telegraph lines, capturing supplies, and giving the Yankees  hell elsewhere. My own hero, Robert E. Lee, knew who was at fault and never hid the fact.

Which brings me to yesterday’s abortion vote in the Dáil.

The bill that passed overwhelmingly in the Chamber will allow for termination of a pregnancy when doctors agree that a woman is at risk of suicide as a result of that pregnancy.

This suicide clause will inevitably cause in Ireland a repeat of the bloody history of the United Kingdom, where 98% of abortions are carried out as a result of mental trauma. This system is a great ruse between the doctor and patient, and everybody involved knows it. It has led to abortion becoming another form of contraception, a concept that the majority of people have always found distasteful. This year, Lord Steel admitted this was not at all envisaged when he introduced the 1967 bill.

Ireland had the chance to demonstrate a different path, one which would hold the life of the mother and the unborn child in equal regard, and one which would reach the best possible compromise in situations of conflict between the two. What we have now is the wholesale abandonment and derision of Christian principles in favor of secularist barbarism, mediocrity, and conformity; a new milieu in which there is no room for a small nation that refuses to sell its soul.

There are nowhere near enough TDs to stand firm and shout ‘stop!’. Similarly, after Gettysburg, it would have taken nothing short of a miracle to save Dixie.

And how did we get here? In 2002 the 25th Amendment would have amended the Irish Constitution in order to clarify the law on abortion. It would have specifically removed the threat of suicide as a grounds for abortion in the state; a bone of contention since the infamous X-Case of 1992. Pro-life parties made a terrible mistake in advancing the ‘No’ vote even as the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin was saying that informed Catholics were free in conscience to vote as they wished. The amendment was rejected by the electorate, 50.42% to 49.58%.

Nobody thought this would be the end of the matter of abortion. The pro-life movement had a chance to close the suicide loophole. Now the specter of abortion on mental health grounds hovers over us yet again. This foolish decision in 2002 seemed to put tactics ahead of strategy, and the immediate fight before the war.  The Confederates too could have avoided contact with the Union at Gettysburg. What started as a skirmish Lee urgently escalated with reinforcements because he felt he had a shot at destroying the Union Army there and then. There were alternatives. Lee could have interposed between the Federal left flank and Washington to take them on better ground and prevent the enemy from retreating to D.C. He could have retreated to the passes of South Mountain in eastern Pennsylvania and forced Meade to attack him there.

Perhaps moral or abstract principles have no place in a world of strategy, and this has been the pro-life movement’s mistake. Perhaps sentiment and certainty in 2002 trumped good reasoning. What I feel for sure is that what occurred in the Dáil yesterday is partly our fault.

Lincoln’s Marxists

Was Abraham Lincoln a Marxist?

No. No he wasn’t.

Yet Marx certainly adored Lincoln, and there was an abnormally high Marxist presence around Lincoln, the Republican Party and the Union Army. These shocking facts are recounted in a fascinating new book, Lincoln’s Marxists, by Al Benson and Walter Donald Kennedy. Neither writer was very familiar to me prior to reading this, though I remember an appearance by Kennedy on Bill Maher’s Politically Incorrect some time ago.

The book has two main thrusts:

1. An examination of the socialist/communist support for Lincoln, his war against the South and the reasons for this support.

2. Exploring the role played by socialist/Marxist veterans of the 1848 revolutions in Europe in the founding of the Republican Party, supporting Fremont and Lincoln, and the War Between the States itself.

Socialist and Communist Support for Lincoln and the War

The fact that Marx was vigorously supportive of the Union is not a new revelation. I’ve mentioned this before. The reason is simple. Marx sought the creation of a single, powerful and indivisible state to replace the multiple sovereign states that existed in Germany, the United States and elsewhere as a preliminary for the Communist revolution. As he wrote to his colleague Joseph Weydemeyer in the London Communist League (a future brigadier general in the Union Army!) about the situation in Germany in 1853:

“The preliminaries of the proletarian revolution, the measures that prepare the battleground and clear the way for us, such as a single and indivisible republic, etc., things that we had to champion against the people whose natural, normal job it should have been to achieve or, at least, to demand them – all that is now convenu [taken for granted]”.

What is amazing in Marx’s writings on the War Between the States is his sheer ignorance of the situation. He frequently makes major mistakes in some of the most basic facts, claiming “the South embraces more than three-quarters of the territory hitherto comprised by the Union”. He writes easily spotted falsehoods about the Confederate Constitution, the Confederate war effort and American history in general. I couldn’t help being reminded of the communist propaganda and hyperbole directed against their current obsession, Israel, today. But that’s for another post.

Interestingly, Marx was hired by in the 1850’s to write for the New York Tribune by its managing editor Charles A. Dana. Dana had become a personal friend of Marx and Engels while reporting on Europe in 1848. Dana was an associate of the famous socialist and abolitionist Horace Greeley, and was sympathetic to many communist movements. He later became assistant secretary of war under Lincoln, the first communist, or at least communist sympathiser, to hold such a position.

Communism and socialism (the terms were more interchangeable in the 19th Century) had a significant presence in the United States in the antebellum years. Numerous attempts at Utopian communistic communities sprang up, almost entirely in the North. These ranged from the religious-based, such as the Shakers and the Oneida Community, to more secular Owenite and Fourierist communal systems. These always failed, and within a short period (though the Shakers might have lasted much longer if they hadn’t banned marriage and sex). The ideologues within tended to be fanatically anti-Southern. The famous Brook Farm produced two notable officers to the Union Army: General Francis Channing Barlow and Colonel George Duncan Wells. Ralph Waldo Emerson, a well-known member of the Transcendental Club/Brook Farm group once stated: “If it cost ten years, and ten to recover the general prosperity, the destruction of the South is worth so much”.

The reasons for this hostility were complex, and probably best illustrated by the economist and polymath Murray Rothbard in his fantastic talk on Just War:

“The North, in particular the North’s driving force, the “Yankees” – that ethnocultural group who either lived in New England or migrated from there to upstate New York, northern and eastern Ohio, northern Indiana, and northern Illinois – had been swept by a new form of Protestantism. This was a fanatical and emotional neo-Puritanism driven by a fervent “postmillenialism” which held that as a precondition for the Second Advent of Jesus Christ, man must set up a thousand-year Kingdom of God on Earth.

The Kingdom is to be a perfect society. In order to be perfect, of course, this Kingdom must be free of sin; sin, therefore, must be stamped out, and as quickly as possible. Moreover, if you didn’t try your darndest to stamp out sin by force you yourself would not be saved. It was very clear to these neo-Puritans that in order to stamp out sin, government, in the service of the saints, is the essential coercive instrument to perform this purgative task. As historians have summed up the views of all the most prominent of these millennialists, “government is God’s major instrument of salvation”…

…If anti-slavery, prohibitionism, and anti-Catholicism were grounded in fanatical post-millennial Protestantism, the paternalistic big government required for this social program on the state and local levels led logically to a big government paternalism in national economic affairs. Whereas the Democratic Party in the 19th century was known as the “party of personal liberty,” of states’ rights, of minimal government, of free markets and free trade, the Republican Party was known as the “party of great moral ideas,” which amounted to the stamping-out of sin. On the economic level, the Republicans adopted the Whig program of statism and big government: protective tariffs, subsidies to big business, strong central government, large-scale public works, and cheap credit spurred by government.

The Northern war against slavery partook of fanatical millennialist fervor, of a cheerful willingness to uproot institutions, to commit mayhem and mass murder, to plunder and loot and destroy, all in the name of high moral principle and the birth of a perfect world. The Yankee fanatics were veritable Patersonian humanitarians with the guillotine: the Anabaptists, the Jacobins, the Bolsheviks of their era. This fanatical spirit of Northern aggression for an allegedly redeeming cause is summed up in the pseudo-Biblical and truly blasphemous verses of that quintessential Yankee Julia Ward Howe, in her so-called “Battle Hymn of the Republic”.”

The Impact of 1848

And now we come to the refugees of 1848. In the left-wing historian Theodore Draper’s book, The Roots of American Communism, the first Marxist socialists in the United States are said to be the exiled revolutionaries who arrived in the wake of the famous failed revolts of that year. When these radical socialists settled in America, they quickly resumed their old habits. Though their numbers were not large, historians such as Arnold Whitridge have written that “the influence of these few thousand refugees was out of all proportion to their numbers”. They would see the newly-founded Republican Party and the war against the South as a continuation of their revolution. Many became prominent in the German language press, founding or editing newspapers to recruit Germans to their cause. These men contrasted greatly with the peaceful and pious farmers that were the older generation of Germans.

The socialists championed Lincoln as a working class hero, despite the fact he was a wealthy corporate lawyer, and were just as enthusiastic for John Fremont’s campaign in 1856. They had reason to admire the Republican Party. After all, Republican Senator John Sherman (brother of General Sherman) had stated the United States should “nationalize as much as possible [and thereby] make men love their country before their states”. During the War Between the States, it was Gen. Fremont’s camp that became a magnet for the radical socialists. Indeed, his chief of staff was a former Hungarian socialist revolutionary, Alexander Asboth.

Other notable ‘Forty-Eighters’ in the Union Army include General August Willich, Louis Blenker, Gen. Weydemeyer (mentioned earlier) and Franz Sigel.

Karl Marx described his friend Willich as a “communist with a heart”. He was a member of the Central Committe of the Communist League and referred to as the “Reddest of the Red”. Willich gave a speech in 1859 urging Northeners to “whet their sabers with the blood” of Southerners.

Brigadier General Louis Blenker has the distinction of creating a new word that came into common usage during the war. This Forty-Eighter, due to having inadequate supplies from Union command, led his 10,000 man division to forage and loot from all over Virginia in the spring of 1862. The term “Blenkered” was applied to the unfortunate souls who had been victims of his German-American troops. Blenker became notorious for allegations of corruption in his camp and the lavish lifestyle he lived during the war (off the back of many stolen goods, of course).

Gen. Joseph Weydemeyer was a close friend of Karl Marx, and a fellow member of the London Communist League. Marx assisted Wedemeyer in meeting Charles A. Dana, the communist sympathiser and future assistant secretary of war in Abraham Lincoln’s administration. Dana assisted him in producing various communist journals in the United States, as well as the first American edition of the Communist Manifesto. Weydemeyer was active in the Republican Party as well as both the Fremont and Lincoln Presidential campaigns.

Franz Sigel had led a failed socialist uprising in Baden, Germany in 1848. His career in the Union Army was mixed. He is probably most known for the rout he took at the Battle of New Market. There, teenage cadets of the Virginia Military Institute (the oldest being barely 19) led a fateful charge that broke the Union line.

Gen. Carl Shurz (pictured above) was an active participant in the unsuccessful socialist revolution of 1848 in Germany. Like thousands of others he sought asylum in America. Shurz obtained the rank of Major General in the Union Army. After the war, he served a s a Senator from Missouri and Secretary of the Interior in the Hayes administration. He became notorious for his treatment and neglect of the Indians in the Reservations system (which he helped fashion into effective Gulags). A Native American delegation were once so impressed by the size of his eyes and named him Mah-hah-Ich-hon, meaning ‘Big Eyes’. They wondered how a man with such large eyes was unable to see the needs of their people. His wife pioneered the kindergarten system.

I have focused mostly on the Forty-Eighters of German extraction, perhaps unfairly. Hungary produced many of note, and one of the most interesting might just be Albin Francisco Schoepf. Schoepf was appointed to the rank of Brigadier General at the beginning of the war with the assistance of contacts in the War Department. Wounded at the Battle of Perryville, Kentucky, in 1862, he resigned his command yet surfaced six months later as the commander of Fort Delaware. Fort Delaware was one of the worst POW camps of the conflict. As one historian put it: “Schoepf allowed his subordinates unrestrained control inside the compound, and it eventually evolved into the most brutal POW institution in America”. Torture such as ‘thumb-hangings’ were a daily occurrence, and beatings were inflicted on prisoners to compel them into forced labour.

So, these were the men who came to shoot at the grandsons of Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry to teach them how to be good Americans.


Commenator William Grigg said it best: “Lincoln’s war didn’t preserve or restore the Union; it destroyed it and supplanted it with a new polity based on radically different premises. Just as Marxists of his era gravitated naturally toward Lincoln and vibrated like tuning forks when he spoke the language of raw power and ruthless centralization, Marxist academicians of our era understand the true nature of what Lincoln accomplished”.

The Forty-Eighters did not dominate Lincoln’s Party, but they were a very strong element within it. They recognized that  the Union cause was a step in their desired direction. Now its time for our generation to see that too. Which is why a book like Lincoln’s Marxists is so important.

Lincoln’s Marxists [Hardcover] [Kindle Edition]

Johnny Cash Sings Civil War Songs

Johnny Cash’s love of country and his Southern Heritage shines through in these performances. You can always tell when a subject is really close to a performer’s heart. 1862, 150 years ago, saw many fierce battles still etched into the American memory: Antietan, Shiloh, Fredericksburg, Harper’s Ferry and ‘Stonewall’ Jackson’s victories in the Shenandoah Valley. The first video is a medley of several songs performed with great dignity and respect for all the men that fell, even though Johnny cheerfully admits his Southern sympathies in the end. The second is one of my personal favorites ‘God Bless Robert E. Lee’, and the last is a soul-stirring performance of ‘The Battle Hymn of the Republic’.

Fugitive Slaves in Ancient Israel

How great it is to incorporate some lessons and issues from the Bible into this blog, even for a short post tying in with something I wrote here earlier. I couldn’t resist bringing this up after studying some of the Laws of Deuteronomy earlier today. In Deuteronomy 23:16-17, Israel is given an obligation concerning the treatment of escaped slaves, reading (from the Tanakh of the Jewish Publication Society):

You shall not turn over to his master a slave who seeks refuge with you from his master. He shall live with you in any place he may choose among the settlements in your midst, wherever he pleases; you must not ill-treat him.

What a remarkable departure this is from the norm of the Ancient World. The Code of Hammurabi stipulated that all escaped slaves be returned to their owners, on pain of stiff penalties. The Fugitive Slave Law in America lasted until the end of the War Between the States. In his excellent Pentateuch & Haftorahs, the former Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, Joseph H. Hertz, noted in his commentary that despite the noticeable laws surrounding slaves in the Torah, slavery in Ancient Israel & Judah was appears to have been very rare. Throughout Scripture, there are no references to slave markets in the Land, and scant indeed are mentions of slaves among Israelite society.

The obligation to shelter escaped slaves and treat them kindly might explain this situation, along with the commandment to free slaves on the Jubilee year, as well as to release a slave upon his seventh year of service (Exodus chap. 21 and Deuteronomy chap. 15). This relates to the libertarian and humanitarian arguments I mentioned in favor of the Secession of the Confederate States of America. In the libertarian scholar Jeffery Rogers Hummel’s Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men: A History of the American Civil War’, the author argues that slavery would not have lasted very long in the Confederacy, given that the United States would no doubt have quickly repealed the widely hated Fugitive Slave Law of 1850. This in turn would have created a flood of runaway slaves from the South in the direction of freedom, making slavery more costly to maintain where it existed. Famous abolitionists such as William Lloyd Garrison actually advocated before and during the war years that the free states secede from the slave states for this to happen. Hummel uses the example of Brazil, where slavery was outlawed in some areas but not in others. Free regions became such a haven for runaways that the costs of runaways on slave-owners became far too much to bear. Slavery was abandoned all over Brazil in 1888, without a shot fired. Human beings forced into slavery simply don’t start acting like cattle or pieces of furniture.

Interestingly, if unexpectedly, it seems that there is good evidence to support the position of Hummel and Garrison from the Bible itself.

Libertarians for Secession: Answering Michael Lind

It seemed every libertarian was up in arms this week over the rather silly piece attacking those of our persuasion penned by Michael Lind in Salon. Unsurprisingly, the old chestnut about Hayek and Freidman’s tenuous connections to Pinochet cropped up, along with fairly standard misrepresentations of the words of Ludwig von Mises on fascism, something very common nowadays among left-leaning hacks. The main focus seemed to be criticisms of democracy and majoritarian tyranny laid down by the brilliant libertarian scholar Han Hermann Hoppe and others. Over at the Adam Smith Institute blog, Sam Bowman addressed all this quite extensively.

I want to focus on Lind’s discomfort with libertarians who sympathise with the cause and struggle for Southern independence from 1861-65, as I happen to be such a person and associate with many others. Lind, let us not forget, was the man who warned us in Salon that “neo-Confederate” Tea Party “fanatics” are apparently attempting to “destroy America’s credit rating unless the federal government agrees to enact Dixie’s economic agenda”. It’s fairly clear Lind’s picture of his Southern countrymen is not an enlightened one. One can almost imagine Michael Lind gleefully day-dreaming of murdering thousands of Dixie’s residents while burning its crops and cities in the anti-Semitic General Sherman’s genocidal march through Georgia. All for human rights, of course.

Now Lind writes:

When it comes to American history, libertarians tend retrospectively to side with the Confederacy against the Union. Yes, yes, the South had slavery — but it also had low tariffs, while Abraham Lincoln’s free labor North was protectionist. Surely the tariff was a greater evil than slavery.

This is one of the most ignorant insults I have ever seen directed against libertarians who claim the War Between the States was a war that should never have been waged. I know absolutely zero libertarians that side with the Confederacy because of its tariff policies. Instead, it is the issue of secession that overwhelmingly dominates libertarian debate on the topic. Now, libertarians often point out the differences in the Confederate Constitution to the original document that still existed in the Union (despite Lincoln’s subsequent complete disregard for it by suspending habeas corpus, closing down hundreds of anti-war newspapers and locking up the Mayor of Baltimore and much of the Maryland legislature). Those differences being the Confederacy’s ban on protectionist tariffs, government subsidies to private enterprises and the requirement of a two-thirds legislative majority for any tax increase. Libertarians do this to demonstrate the strongholds of Jeffersonian limited-government that many Southern states were, compared with the Hamiltonian big-government North. When first running for office in Illinois in 1832, Lincoln, already a famous lawyer, proclaimed:

I presume you all know who I am. I am humble Abraham Lincoln. I have been solicited by my friends to become a candidate for the legislature. My politics are short and sweet, like the old woman’s dance. I am in favour of a national bank… in favour of internal improvements and a high protective tariff.

‘Internal improvements’ was the term at the time for large-scale spending programs on infrastructure, something I have written about here previously. Unsurprisingly, Lincoln carried no Southern state in the election of 1860, and very often did not even appear on the ballot. Lincoln was the most divisive electoral candidate in American history, even after guaranteeing the rights of slave-owners to keep their slaves throughout his campaign and First Inaugural Address.

Returning to Lind’s argument, it’s very difficult to see what libertarians he is talking about. That is, libertarians who would accept slavery for lower tariffs, as well those who induct “Jefferson Davis into the libertarian hall of fame”. The original and most well-known study of the War Between the States from a modern libertarian viewpoint is undoubtedly Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men: A History of the American Civil War’ by Jeffrey Rogers Hummel. In this book Hummel happens to be fiercely critical of Jefferson Davis as well as Lincoln, and sees no inconsistency in supporting the right of secession while uncompromisingly opposing slavery. In fact, one of Hummel’s most interesting arguments is that secession would have helped defeat slavery, as it would have allowed the Union to repeal the fugitive slave laws, and thus have legally made the North a haven for escaped slaves. Other chattel slavery-based economies such as Brazil could not sustain the vile institution due to the problem of runaways. Conscious men, even in bondage, do not act like cattle or furniture. If you believe this is a radical original proposition, it is interesting to note that the abolitionist movement itself was fiercely split before the war due to this very point. In fact, the most famous abolitionist, the editor of The Liberator and social reformer William Lloyd Garrison, actually advocated long before as well as during the war that the Northern states should have seceded from the slave states for this to happen. Hummel estimates slavery would have collapsed in the Confederacy before the end of the century, possibly even in under five years.

All sane libertarians can agree that the death of slavery was a positive result of the war. The fierce Lincoln critic Tom DiLorenzo, of the Mises Institute, calls the end of slavery the “one unequivocal good” that came of it. However, libertarians also lament the loss of the right of secession, which is most relevant considering secession, not slavery, was the reason Lincoln launched his destructive war in the first place. Several states in the Union actually had slavery, and they were not affected by the Emancipation Proclamation (which only applied to “rebel-held territory”). Even the head of the Union Army, Ulysses S. Grant, was an overseer of slaves on his family’s Missouri plantation. Lincoln actually demanded in the early stages of the war that captured slaves be returned to their owners, until many figures in the Union Army persuaded him this was aiding the Confederate war effort, and that these slaves could be used for menial tasks around Federal army encampments.

Libertarians always prefer peaceful alternatives to war, even when it comes to ending the evil of slavery. Why not peaceful Emancipation, as occurred in every country except Haiti, over a war where more Americans would fall during one battle at Gettysburg than in all previous American wars combined? Buying the freedom of every slave, along with forty acres and a mule for each freed man would have cost a fraction of what the brutality of 1861-65 did. Libertarian critics of Lincoln simply argue non-violent options and less bellicose forms of persuasion should have been tried.

Lind seems shocked that Lord Acton wrote to Robert E. Lee to express support for his lost cause after the war. I find that as unsurprising as Karl Marx’s letters of congratulations to Lincoln and his ardent support for the Union war effort. I don’t know about you, but the letters of Acton and the gentleness in the response of Lee bring joy to the heart of this proud Neo-Confederate.

Acton to Lee, Nov. 1866:

I saw in State Rights the only availing check upon the absolutism of the sovereign will, and secession filled me with hope, not as the destruction but as the redemption of Democracy. The institutions of your Republic have not exercised on the old world the salutary and liberating influence which ought to have belonged to them, by reason of those defects and abuses of principle which the Confederate Constitution was expressly and wisely calculated to remedy. I believed that the example of that great Reform would have blessed all the races of mankind by establishing true freedom purged of the native dangers and disorders of Republics. Therefore I deemed that you were fighting the battles of our liberty, our progress, and our civilization; and I mourn for the stake which was lost at Richmond more deeply than I rejoice over that which was saved at Waterloo.

Lee’s response, Dec. 1866:

While I have considered the preservation of the constitutional power of the General Government to be the foundation of our peace and safety at home and abroad, I yet believe that the maintenance of the rights and authority reserved to the states and to the people, not only essential to the adjustment and balance of the general system, but the safeguard to the continuance of a free government. I consider it as the chief source of stability to our political system, 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 that ruin which has overwhelmed all those that have preceded it.

The full correspondence can be found here.

The Worst Statement of the Week: James Surowiecki Revises American History

Henry Hazlitt, one of the few economists who could write well, claimed economics is haunted by more fallacies than any other discipline. He made his case in Economics in One Lesson, the greatest introductory book to sound economics ever written. Read it, and you can talk more sense in fiscal policy than Paul Krugman. Then read Man, Economy & State by Murray Rothbard and you can talk more sense in every field than Paul Krugman. Hazlitt’s thesis on why the economics profession succumbs to such idiocy is not relevant here – but his sentiment at the time of writing that great book I can certainly channel this evening.

James Surowiecki has by any standard reached the dizzying heights of economic journalism, having contributed articles for the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and Fortune magazine, among others. He now has a regular column in The New Yorker (I’m really picking on those guys a lot here so far) and has published a bestselling book called The Wisdom of Crowds. He is a statist, but clearly an intelligent and erudite one. I admit to enjoying a lot of his articles on the corporate scene, though I have little taste for the economic policies he advocates.

This year happens to be the 150th anniversary of the official beginning of America’s Second War of Independence, most often incorrectly dubbed a Civil War. This fact will become more relevant in a minute. It’s an era I have much interest in. Those familiar with the politics of pre-1861 America might be surprised to find Surowiecki coming out with this very brazen statement when he advocates massive government spending on R&D and infrastructure:

‘’Historically, at least, this was a bipartisan position. Alexander Hamilton argued for the “encouragement of new inventions and discoveries” by government. In the nineteenth century, an era of limited government, one of the few things that people were willing to spend money on was “internal improvements”—canals, railroads, and the like—and Abraham Lincoln supported these as being of “general benefit’’.’’

This is one of the most misleading comments I have ever seen in the mainstream media. Even the Guardian might think twice about printing such clear distortion unless it was in covering Israel affairs.

I am going to make three distinct arguments on why Surowiecki’s statement is incorrect, to put it mildly. Economic wisdom is a side issue here, as this just concerns matters of historical record.

Argument One: There were vastly different attitudes towards ‘Internal Improvements’ among the Founding Fathers and American policymakers prior to the Civil War.

Surowiecki attempts to demonstrate that internal improvement policies were supported across the political divide by quoting Founding Father Alexander Hamilton. This is specious reasoning. Hamilton was the leader of the Federalist Party whose policies were formed largely around his own views. These policies included support for internal improvements, a strong Executive Branch, protectionist tariffs and close ties with Britain. Yet Hamilton’s agenda was fiercely opposed by fellow Founder Thomas Jefferson and his Democratic-Republican Party, which advocated strong states-rights policy, support for France (for a while) as well as opposition to virtually all Hamiltonian economic policies like a national bank. ‘Jeffersonian Democracy’ largely won the day in the early years of the American Republic. After Jefferson, Presidents Madison and Monroe took up the mantle against Hamilton’s ideological heirs, namely the Whigs of Henry Clay. Surowiecki’s approach is like a writer quoting Barack Obama’s support for universal healthcare plans one hundred years from now and saying it was never a contentious issue in his first term. Indeed, one need only quote James Madison when he vetoed a bill for $1.5 million for railroad and canal subsidies. According to biographer Robert Rutland:

‘‘… [I]t was time to teach the nation a lesson in Constitutionalism… The bill… failed to take into account the fact that Congress enumerated powers under section eight of the first article of the Constitution, ‘’and it does not appear that the power to be exercised in the bill is among the enumerated powers, or that it falls by any just interpretation within the power to make the laws necessary and proper’’ for carrying out other constitutional powers into execution’’.

Sixteen years later, Andrew Jackson vetoed every internal improvement bill that landed on his desk, bills sponsored by Whig leader Henry Clay, which Jackson claimed were:

‘’…[S]addling upon the government the losses of unsuccessful private speculation’’.

Ever the tough guy, Jackson would boast of his stance against internal improvements in his Farewell Address, and stated his only regret (other than not hanging his Vice-President, Calhoun!) was refraining from shooting Henry Clay.

Prior to Abraham Lincoln, federal subsidies had never appeared for internal improvements. It was left up to the State governments alone to experiment with. It is amazing that Surowiecki is so confident the policy had massive support, when by 1860 no bill granting Federal Government aid for the purpose of building a railroad to the Pacific ever materialised, despite massive support from the Whigs and many Republicans. The Democratic Party at the time was fiercely opposed to all such policies, proving Surowiecki’s point about the existence of bipartisan support for internal improvements to be pure fantasy.

Argument Two: Experiments amongst the States in ‘Internal Improvements’.

Moving from the Founders and Federal Government to local state governments, the story of internal improvements appears to be a bleak one. Since Surowiecki offered Lincoln as an example, looking at Lincoln’s record in Illinois, a state which experimented with internal improvements in a major way in the 1830s and 1840s would be pertinent. Lincoln was an open admirer of Alexander Hamilton’s policies for governance, but even more so of the great supporters of big government that were Henry Clay and the Whigs. Lincoln famously delivered a hagiographic eulogy at Clay’s funeral. The Whig agenda was taken up later by the Republican Party, the first President to win office on the Republican ticket being Abraham Lincoln.

When first running for office in Illinois in 1932, Lincoln, already a famous lawyer, proclaimed:

‘’I presume you all know who I am. I am humble Abraham Lincoln. I have been solicited by my friends to become a candidate for the legislature. My politics are short and sweet, like the old woman’s dance. I am in favour of a national bank… in favour of internal improvements and a high protective tariff’’.

By 1837, Lincoln was powerful enough to help the Illinois Whigs approve over $12 million dollars for multiple ‘internal improvement schemes. Other states had also caught onto the vibe. I will be blunt and say here that the programs lead to atrocious results, which by the 1840s were similar to the effects of Ireland’s recent crash from a Central Bank funded boom: massive state debt and useless, often non-complete pet projects. Lincoln’s own law partner and best friend was able to say:

‘’The gigantic and stupendous operations of the scheme dazzled the eyes of nearly everybody, but in the end it rolled up a debt so enormous as to impede the otherwise marvellous progress of Illinois… [I]t is little wonder that at intervals for years afterward the monster of (debt) repudiation often showed its hideous face above the waves of popular indignation’’.

Lincoln made fantastic promises that the policies would make Illinois the ‘Empire State of the Union’. Every river in the state was to be widened, deepened and made navigable.  Cities were promised to ‘spring up everywhere’. Two men who worked in Lincoln’s law offices in Springfield, Illinois were George Nicolay and John Hay. They later had jobs as administrators in the Lincoln White House. At the time of the internal improvements fiasco they were able to report that nothing came of the schemes other than:

‘‘… [a] load of debt that crippled for many years the energies of the people, a few miles of embankments that the grass hastened to cover, and a few abutments that stood for years by the sides of the leafy rivers, waiting for their long delaying bridges and trains’’.

These men were Lincoln loyalists!

Some examples are always held up as successful projects during this national infatuation, such as New York’s Erie Canal, but even that became obsolete very quickly with the advent of railroad transit. The subsequent public attitude towards internal improvements can be summed up in one word: revulsion. Revulsion at the massive corruption brought about between the integration of government and big business, and revulsion at being saddled with the debt of failed industries. This can be clearly proven by the fact Illinois actually amended its state constitution in the late 1840s to forbid transfer of government moneys to corporations for internal improvements. This was followed by Ohio in 1851, which was in an even worse state than Illinois. Indiana and Michigan were next in passing popular amendments, as they were also bankrupt from internal improvements. The states of Wisconsin and Minnesota would enter the Union in 1848 and 1858 respectively. They saw the disaster internal improvements had caused and prohibited them in their state constitutions from the beginning. They went further in banning loans to private businesses. State Supreme Courts suddenly began to deem internal improvement policies unconstitutional. This occurred in Iowa. By the beginning of the ‘Civil War’, 13 states forbade by amendment internal improvements in their constitutions.

Argument Three: ‘Internal Improvements’ and the Confederacy.

Jefferson, very wrongly overlooked by Surowiecki, was a Virginian, and a man who idolised the yeoman farmer as superior citizens than the captains of industry in North Eastern cities. It is not surprising that the Southern states became fierce defenders of the Jeffersonian anti-internal improvements tradition when Northern Whigs and Republicans threatened to take their moneys, to finance projects which would primarily benefit California, Illinois and especially the North East. Therefore, at the Federal level Southern Senators and Congressmen were vital in preventing internal improvement subsidies, to the constant ire of Northern political classes. It was a sure thing that Article 1, Section VIII, Clause III of the Confederate Constitution would state:

‘‘Neither this, nor any other clause contained in the Constitution, shall ever be construed to delegate power to Congress to appropriate money for any internal improvement intended to facilitate commerce’’.

If the Confederate States, making up 9 million out of 22 million of the American population prior to secession saw it fit to enshrine opposition to internal improvements in its supreme law code, there is little justification indeed for Surowiecki’s blatant revisionism in the service of neo-Keynesian ideology. It is only prudent to warn Mr. Surowiecki of the role internal improvement subsidies played in a very human tragedy beyond state bankruptcies.

Tariffs were a much more important way of raising revenue before the income tax was introduced in 1913, and this disproportionately affected the agrarian states of the Deep South. These states had a small manufacturing base, and relied on imports from Europe or the North for which they exported massive amounts of cotton annually. One of the most significant laws in American history was introduced in 1860, known as the Morrill Tariff Act. This massively increased the tariff from 20% to 47%. The Cotton States were now shouldering 80% of the nation’s tax burden, despite constituting 30% of the population. Lincoln in his Inaugural Address threatened war on any state that refused to pay federal tariffs, while at the same time, Lincoln committed himself to subsidising transcontinental railroads. The most destructive war in history up to that time followed the next year.

Confederate bodies lie where they fell in the immediate aftermath of Antietam

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