Jack Hunter, aka “Southern Avenger,” has been purged from Kentucky Senator Rand Paul’s staff. Given the outcry by the Beltway autocrats over his criticism of what’s known as the Civil War, the departure was expected. When the Gilded Class of D.C. has their fangs out, they are destined to get a bite.
In the lead-up to Hunter’s resignation, he was hammered on both sides of the mainstream political aisle for racism that supposedly filtered through his earlier work. The claim is highly dubious on its face. The erstwhile shock jock simply pointed out the total hypocrisy of certain cultural celebrations being praised while others are demonized. Just imagine the cries of racism if there existed a “white” history month, and you can see where Hunter was coming from. Reprehensible behavior this was not.
What really perturbed the likes of lefty Joan Walsh and righty Jennifer Rubin was Hunter’s scathing rebuke of Abraham Lincoln and full on endorsement of John Wilkes Booth. In America’s modern political discourse, Honest Abe hagiography is the norm. A multitude of books, movies, and tributes have been dedicated to the 16th President – so much so that one would be pressed to think that the man was an angel sent from Providence to guide America through her darkest days.
Except, not really.
Whether or not you agree with Lincoln’s handling of the South’s attempt to vacate the Union, an objective look at his war policies is needed to understand just how far the United States government has come in terms of size and influence. This is especially so in light of the National Security Agency’s ubiquitous spying operation and legal authority for the American state to lock up whomever for extended periods without trial or jury. It is also crucial to understand just why so many political thinkers regard the Rail Splitter as a character of paramount importance in American history. Jack Hunter’s criticism of how the Union Army, by all measures, desecrated civil liberties while waging total war against the Confederacy was not just apt, but a necessity in the search for the truth.
Recently in The American Conservative, Daniel McCarthy made the case as to why neoconservatives of the Straussian school have a slobbering love affair with Lincoln. Despite the popular nomenclature, Honest Abe was far from sincere. He was a politician’s politician who led a war crusade using tactics the despots of today could take a cue from. During the War of the States, Lincoln abolished habeas corpus, forcefully shut down opposition press, jailed political dissenters, and forever tarnished the original model of the American Republic. His reign was tyranny writ large – which is precisely why Lincoln’s term in office is so lauded today by intellectual statists.
Today’s vast, wide-reaching state apparatus is the natural outcome of the Lincoln philosophy put into action. The precedents set during the War of Northern Aggression carry over into the kind of domestic spying carried out by government officials. The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s monitoring of Fox News reporter James Rosen is right out of Lincoln’s playbook. To the neoconservatives, hawkish liberals, and all-around statists who make up the Fourth Estate, Lincoln was a man who did what was necessary to maintain a strong, central government. For this, he must be trotted out endlessly as an example of steel-nerve leadership.
Perhaps the most despotic action taken by Lincoln was his overseeing of the implementation of General Order Number 38 that made it illegal to criticize the Union Army. The order would eventually lead to the exiling of Ohio Congressman Clement Vallandigham for speaking out against the war. A copperhead Democrat, Vallandigham gave a speech on May 1, 1863 declaring the invasion of the South “wicked, cruel, and unnecessary.” He was arrested a few days later on the charges of violating the gag order and “declaring disloyal sentiments.” It makes sense for security-state advocates to enjoy such a measure. But for the intellectuals who pay lip-service to “fighting for freedom,” it is utterly bizarre.
Much to the chagrin of both progressives and conservatives, to criticize Lincoln’s draconian security measures during the Civil War is not a subtle endorsement of slavery. One can objectively differentiate actions based on their respect to natural rights. For instance, if a serial murderer saves a small child from drowning, it is entirely possible to extol the good deed while damning the record of malfeasance. The “slavery” card is a common trick used by Lincoln apologists – one which is a childish evasion. The Great Emancipator is on record declaring that his goal was to preserve the Union of the states – not end the inhuman institution known as slavery.
Some argue that Lincoln’s usurpation of federal authority was necessary to squash human bondage. In his piece, McCarthy makes the point that slavery ended in many other Western countries through government centralization of power. If it is not war, he attests, then state power is still a necessity to eradicate human bondage. The claim is used to beat back paleoconservatives who believe the Civil War was unnecessary. What McCarthy neglects to take into account is the economics of servitude and the trend toward higher per annum economic growth. Slavery can defeat itself if capital accumulation is allowed to flourish, as was the burgeoning case of late 19th century America. As Ludwig von Mises put it quite trenchantly, “If one treats men like cattle, one cannot squeeze out of them more than cattle-like performances.” Common sense says that someone paid to produce is more willing to do a better job than an involuntary laborer. It is this truth, Mises said, “that has made all systems of compulsory labor disappear.”
Even if Hunter’s critics were correct about some hidden racial message, nothing he wrote comes close to the despicableness of Lincoln’s contempt for blacks. In the infamous debates with Frederick Douglas, the lawyer from Illinois declared there was such a “physical difference” between whites and blacks that it “forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality.” To top it off, Lincoln gave the title of the “superior race” to whites. If Jack Hunter came within even a mile of such open and unapologetic racism, let’s see the evidence. Some will say that Lincoln “evolved” and renounced his racist tendencies. The fact that there is no proof for such an assertion does not bother the worshippers one bit.
It’s clear why Hunter was so critical of Honest Abe. Lincoln’s actions during the War of Southern Independence were so detached from the philosophy of a free society, no honest advocate for limited government could possibly endorse them in full. Even if you believe the United States is better off as a centralized union rather than genuine republic, the actions taken during the war to prevent Southern secession would have neoconservatives and other humanitarians all aflame if carried out in some Middle East country. Instead, they heap accolades upon Lincoln while condemning similar leaders such as Saddam Hussein.
A recent New York Times article documents a growing trend among Mormons who are coming to terms with the various discrepancies over the very founding of their dogma. The internet has served as a conduit of doubt for the Church of Latter Day Saints. In the same manner, conservatives and libertarians are using the World Wide Web to discover that Abraham Lincoln was not the saint in the frame at the head of their elementary school classrooms. The less-than-stellar legacy of the 16th President is quickly being unearthed thanks to a batch of revisionist historians who are unafraid to shout during orthodox hymns of praise. For the old guard who takes comfort in wartime necessities like suppressing free speech, imprisoning dissenters, centralizing political power, and immense spying apparatuses, heterodoxical views on what they see as settled history are a dire threat. They threaten the very basis of broadspread statism at home and abroad.
I don’t endorse Hunter’s “toast” to Wilkes Booth’s birthday, as such explicit violence is not entirely condonable and it has turned Lincoln into a martyr. But making bombastic statements is not nearly as offensive as overseeing the death of over 700,000. If Lincoln admirers are comfortable with that statistic, that is fine. But it’s a stretch to say they have the moral authority to slander someone for questioning if such a price was worth the death of a Republic.