Lincoln’s ‘Second American Revolution’
James McPherson and other prominent historians sometimes speak of Abraham Lincoln’s “Second American Revolution” (the title of one of McPherson’s books). They are correct to portray Lincoln as a revolutionary, but the reasons they give for this are incomplete or inaccurate. He led a revolution all right, but it was an anti-American revolution against virtually all the founding principles of this country. It was a revolution against: free-market capitalism (Lincoln was a devoted mercantilist); the principles of the Declaration of Independence; the Constitution; the system of states’ rights and federalism that was created by the founders; and the prohibitions against waging war on civilians embodied in the international law of the time as well as the canons of Western Christian civilization.
Lincoln Versus The Declaration of Independence
One of the most absurd Lincoln myths is that he was devoted to the principles of the Declaration of Independence. Harry Jaffa and his followers have perpetuated this myth for decades based on their own stylized interpretations of a few lines of Lincoln’s speeches. In reality, however, Lincoln’s words and actions thoroughly and completely repudiated every one of the main principles of the Declaration.
The Jaffaites usually dwell only on the “all men are created equal” line of the Declaration and ignore the rest of it. Not only is this selective reading of the Declaration intellectually dishonest; it is wrong. Lincoln denounced racial equality over and over again throughout his entire adult life. He did not believe that all men are created equal. In his August 21, 1858 debate with Stephen Douglas he said “I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and black races” and that “I, as well as Judge Douglas, am in favor of the race to which I belong having the superior position. I have never said anything to the contrary.”
“Anything that argues me into his idea of perfect social and political equality with the Negro,” he said in the same speech, “is but a specious and fantastic arrangement of words, by which a man can prove a horse chestnut to be a chestnut horse.”
“Free them and make them politically and socially our equals?” he continued. “My own feelings will not admit of this…We cannot, then make them equals.”
In his book, Forced into Glory: Abraham Lincoln’s White Dream, Ebony magazine editor Lerone Bennett, Jr. writes that “On at least fourteen occasions between 1854 and 1860 Lincoln said unambiguously that he believed the Negro race was inferior to the White race. In Galesburg, he referred to ‘the inferior races.’ Who were ‘the inferior races’? African Americans, he said, Mexicans, who he called mongrels…”
For his entire adult life Lincoln advocated deporting all the black people in America to Africa, Central America, or Haiti (“colonization”) and was a member of the American Colonization Society. “There is a moral fitness in the idea of returning to Africa her children,” he said in his 1852 eulogy to Henry Clay. Ten years later, in his December 1, 1862 message to Congress, he said, “I cannot make it better known than it already is, that I strongly favor colonization.” He held these views until the day he died. As Joe Sobran has remarked, Lincoln’s position was that black people could be “equal” all right, but not here in the U.S.