Here’s what Dr. Thomas DiLorenzo told Brian Lamb in 2008 about Lincoln, secession, and the Sumter crisis:
LAMB: … I want to ask you something you said. Was he a great man?
DILORENZO: He was – when you consider that he had less than one year of formal education and he became one of the top lawyers in the United States self taught, he certainly had greatness. I think he was brilliant. I think he was a genius. And I think a great a tragedy for America, however, is that he uses genius to essentially manipulate the South Carolinians into firing the first shot at Fort Sumter and plunging the whole nation into a war. And then, invading his own country after, you know, at Fort Sumter, as you know, no one was killed or hurt, but the response was a full scale invasion of the entire southern states.
And so, I think, he used his genius in a way that – in my latest book ”Lincoln Unmasked” I write about how wouldn’t it had been great had he used this genius to be more statesmen like and end slavery peacefully like the British and the Spaniards did and then do other things for America, as opposed to a four year war that killed 650,000 Americans?
LAMB: How did he trick the South Carolinians?
DILORENZO: Well, he promised he would not send war ships to Fort Sumter, certainly, when he did. And then in my book, I quote him – a letter from Lincoln to his naval commander, Commander Fox, Gustavus Fox thanking him for his assistance in getting the outcome that they desired, and the outcome that they desired was getting the South Carolinians to fire on Fort Sumter because he guessed correctly that the people of the north would rally behind the flag and support the war that he wanted to get into.
And at the same time, you had the confederates had sent peace commissioners to Washington to offer to pay the south’s portion of the national debt and to pay for federal forts like Fort Sumter. Napoleon III of France offered to broker some sort of compromise, but Lincoln refused to speak to any of them. He wouldn’t see any of them. He was determined to go to war, which he did.
LAMB: Why was he determined to go to war?
DILORENZO: Well, I think, he came up with this idea of the mystical union. He – in one of his speeches he talked about the mystic cords of memory that – of the union. But up to that time, a great deal of Americans, I would argue most Americans understood that the union was voluntary and that it would be an atrocity if any state left to march an army into that state and kill some of inhabitants just to keep it back into the union.
In my book, ”The Real Lincoln”, I ran across a big two volume set of books called ”Northern Editorials on Secession” by a man named Howard Perkins and it’s just reprinted northern newspaper editorials in 1859, 1860, 1861 about this whole issue of secession and some other topics. And he concludes that the majority of the newspaper from New York to Cincinnati to Vermont, Wisconsin in the north were in favor of letting the south go peacefully because they believed in the old Jeffersonian dictum that the union was voluntary. In the declaration of independents when governments derived their just powers from the consent of the governed. And when the northerners saw the south saying, we no longer consent to be governed by Washington, D.C. most of them said, OK, well let them go. Horace Greeley, really the famous newspaper man, he’s often quoted as saying this, he might have thought they were mistaken or wrong headed, but let them go and maybe we can persuade them to come back into the union at some future date seemed to be the attitude of a lot of these newspaper people.
Crossroads comments: My, but we have a lot of ground to cover here. First, let’s note that DiLorenzo sees Lincooln as a tyrant, but then faults him for failing to end slavery on his own (which is something a tyrant would do, right?). Of course, that’s what secessionists were afraid he would do, and so they seceded. DiLorenzo seems unaware of the tensions in his own argument, tensions that soon turn into contradictions.
After all, I think we can agree that without secession, there is no war. What guaranteed secession was Lincoln’s election, because secessionists saw him as the enemy of slavery. Lincoln had said nothing about using violence to end slavery: indeed, he had repudiated John Brown. But white southerners were willing to use violence to preserve slavery. Lincoln can’t win in DiLorenzo’s eyes. Any plan he would have proposed (as well as any plan he did propose) got no traction among secessionists (or, indeed, the vast majority of southern whites). Somehow DiLorenzo overlooks that. Any plan he did propose would have been greeted by secession. In any case, secessionists in the Deep South decided to act before finding out what Lincoln would do, so that point’s moot. So Lincoln’s blamed for bringing on the war as well as blamed for not proposing a policy guaranteed to bring on secession and most probably conflict.
After all, if Lincoln allowed the Deep South’s secession to go uncontested, how does that contribute to the abolition of slavery? DiLorenzo does not say. And what measures could Lincoln had secured that would not have led to his being called the tyrant DiLorenzo claims he is? DiLorenzo does not say.
Of course, it’s amusing to hear that Lincoln was invading his own country. That’s how far DiLorenzo will go to whitewash the history books of Confederate complicity. Secession’s okay, because it’s a voluntary union, yet South Carolina’s still Lincoln’s own country. It’s an interesting argument to try to follow. Try to follow this … if it’s Lincoln’s own country, then secession’s unconstitutional, and a state cannot simply leave the Union.
Now, who fired the first shot at Fort Sumter? Jefferson Davis authorized it. Yet he does not seem to exist, either, in DiLorenzo’s narrative.
As for Fort Sumter, perhaps DiLorenzo needs to refresh his understanding of the facts. Lincoln sent an expedition to reprovision the fort. Given that South Carolinians had fired on a United States vessel in January, it was only understandable that warships might well accompany the expedition. However, if Lincoln was hell-bent on starting a war, why notify Governor Pickens in the first place? Why couldn’t Jefferson Davis have let the garrison be resupplied, and continue negotiations? Why did he choose war? Oh, that’s right, the Confederacy exercises no agency and bears no responsibility for what happened in April 1861. It’s all Lincoln’s fault.
The Fox letter (dated May 1, 1861) that DiLorenzo cites reads as follows:
I sincerely regret that the failure of the late attempt to provision Fort-Sumpter, should be the source of any annoyance to you. The practicability of your plan was not, in fact, brought to a test. By reason of a gale, well known in advance to be possible, and not improbable, the tugs, an essential part of the plan, never reached the ground; while, by an accident, for which you were in no wise responsible, and possibly I, to some extent was, you were deprived of a war vessel with her men, which you deemed of great importance to the enterprize.
I most cheerfully and truly declare that the failure of the undertaking has not lowered you a particle, while the qualities you developed in the effort, have greatly heightened you, in my estimation. For a daring and dangerous enterprize, of a similar character, you would, to-day, be the man, of all my acquaintances, whom I would select.
You and I both anticipated that the cause of the country would be advanced by making the attempt to provision Fort-Sumpter, even if it should fail; and it is no small consolation now to feel that our anticipation is justified by the result.
Most of the letter deals with a mishap to Fox’s original plan. Clearly it is the last sentence that draws our attention, and all it suggests is that Lincoln saw the effort to relief Sumter as a win-win situation: either the fort would have been resupplied, prolonging the stalemate, or the Confederates would initiate hostilities. That’s different than saying he wanted war: he left that decision in Davis’s hands. Nor does DiLorenzo mention Davis’s interest in initiating hostilities at Fort Pickens, a sign of Confederate intent.
Most studies of the Sumter crisis show a growing determination not to allow the secessionists to get their way: the idea that most northerners thought secession was legitimate is simply wrong-headed. Indeed, DiLorenzo returns time and again to that notion that the Union was voluntary precisely because he does not want to wrestle with the vocabulary of secession or address its constitutionality.
I’m surprised DiLorenzo doesn’t know more about Napoleon III and how his efforts to broker a settlement recognizing CSA independence were tied to his own interests in restoring French power in the western hemisphere. Apparently tyranny’s okay, so long as it’s French. Oh, and by the way … the French first conveyed their willingness to mediate to an American representative on May 12, 1861. That’s a month after the Confederates fired upon Fort Sumter. See Lynn Case and Warren Spencer, The United States and France: Civil War Diplomacy (1970), p. 31.
Of course Lincoln would not meet with Confederate representatives, for doing so would grant legitimacy to the Confederacy. That is something of a sticking point, after all.
So much for Dr. DiLorenzo’s arguments on these points.