Debating DiLorenzo: The Corrupt Lincoln

In the following passage from an interview on C-SPAN with Brian Lamb, Dr. Thomas DiLorenzo accuses Lincoln of being personally corrupt.

LAMB: In another one of your columns you said, ”Lincoln was personally corrupt as well.”

DILORENZO: Yes. Well, one example is there’s an old book that was published in the ’20s and recently reprinted called ”Lincoln and the Railroads” and Lincoln was an attorney for all of the main railroads in the Midwest. He was offered the job of general counsel of the New York Central Railroad, and that, of course is not corrupt, that’s a perfectly legitimate thing.

But one of the things that I found in this book was that Lincoln bought a bunch of land in Council Bluffs, Iowa in 1957 and around the same time he was offered the job of the general counsel of the New York Central Railroad at a pay of $10,000 a year which was a very princely sum in those days, 1857 and he turned it down. And then, a few years later after he got elected president, he – one of the first things he did was to call a special session of Congress and the war had started, to get the ball rolling on the Pacific Railroad bill. And the bill passed about a year or so later and the bill gave the president the right to determine the eastern terminus of the transcontinental railroad and guess where he chose? He chose Council Bluffs, Iowa. And so he must have made a killing on that.

And there was another instance written about in this book where Lincoln worked for his client, the Illinois Central tax case which he won and he presented them with a bill for $5,000 and that was an enormous bill. And the vice president of the Illinois Central that he was dealing with said, ”My board of directors will not pay a $5,000 bill to a country lawyer from Illinois.” So he sued. He sued the Illinois Central. And then, when he went to court, the lawyers for the Illinois Central did not show up and he won the $5,000 by default. And the author of this book John W. Star, he can’t prove that there was some sort of corrupt deal between this vice president of Illinois Central and Lincoln but he strongly suggests there was something, and I think there probably was. By the way, the vice president was George B. McClellan and I’ve read about this and I kept reading it over and over and thought, surely this is not the George McClellan the general, but it was. It was the same man that he was dealing with at the time who would become the commander of the army of the Potomac four years later after this whole episode happened.

So – and I have a speech in Springfield, Illinois last year and I visited Lincoln’s home and he lived on a place now in Springfield that’s called old aristocracy row and he lived in the biggest house in old aristocracy row and his law offices are still there, Lincoln and Herndon law offices are about 100 paces from the old state capital building in Springfield and so he was essentially a lobbyist, the way we would think of him today, for the railroad companies. And that in itself is not corrupt, but I think he did demonstrate some corruption in his career.

Crossroads Comments:  The tale of the selection of Council Bluffs is an interesting one.  Lincoln had indeed purchased some land in the vicinity in 1857, along with his law partner, Norman Judd.  However, Judd bought him out two years later; then Judd borrowed money from Lincoln, who took the land title as collateral.  When it came to picking the eastern terminus of the transcontinental railroad in 1863, the two other recommended sites were in areas where war was raging (the Kansas City area and St. Joseph’s Missouri), while Iowa was well north of military operations.  If anyone was under suspicion for the selection, it was Grenville Dodge. But wait, wait, there’s more …

Lincoln did have to sue to collect legal fees owed him by the Illinois Central Railroad.  In fact, he had to go all the way to New York City in an effort to collect his fee.  When the officials failed to pay the fee, Lincoln returned to Illinois and secured a court order against the railroad’s property, causing the railroad to pay up.  The proceeds from that settlement were used by Lincoln to lend money to Judd to buy his Iowa lands.  All of that, by the way, is in David Donald’s biography of Lincoln (see in particular pages 196-97).  As Dr. DiLorenzo speaks well of Donald’s work, I’m at a lost to speculate as to why he ignored all that information.  In turn, Donald secured his information from Henry E. Pratt’s Personal Finances of Abraham Lincoln (1943), available here.  You might want to take a look at the chapter on Lincoln as a money lender, specifically pages 77-79.  That account draws the connection between Lincoln’s legal fee and his transactions with Judd: in turn, perhaps DiLorenzo might consider revisiting his claim.

Finally, I want to draw your attention to DiLorenzo’s remark:

one of the first things he did was to call a special session of Congress and the war had started, to get the ball rolling on the Pacific Railroad bill.

You understand the inference: Lincoln called Congress into session on July 4, 1861, not because it was time to pass measures concerning the conduct of the war, but because he wanted to make a killing on a real estate investment we now know he didn’t have.

I’ll let you draw your own conclusions on what this says about DiLorenzo’s scholarship.

I assume DiLorenzo knows the difference between representing railroads in court and serving as a lobbyist.  Oh, Lincoln could do some lobbying for friends on various matters, but I’m not sure how that merits the charge of being personally corrupt.  Still, if you want to read his case in detail (a case which rests in large part upon a single book he read), you’ll find it here.

36 thoughts on “Debating DiLorenzo: The Corrupt Lincoln

  1. Sherree February 28, 2011 / 5:52 am

    Thanks for debunking DiLorenzo, Brooks. So far, his approach to history reminds me of those who purport to write “history”, yet inevitably begin to dwell upon claims that such and such President was a womanizer, for example, or that so and so had a mistress. These are books that I don’t read because they have nothing to offer.

    Yesterday, my husband handed me a copy of Newsweek and said that there was a book mentioned that I might be interested in. My husband is always a good barometer for me as I continue my own journey in learning about our history. He simply asks, “What are you doing in there?” (meaning my office as I read blogs, and/or comment) My answer always is : “I really don’t know. I just feel that I need to do it.”

    I bring this anecdote up only to point out that my husband knows nothing of you, or of other bloggers, and he is not really interested in the Civil War. Nevertheless, the review of the book he gave me was the review of the book that you helped to edit. It seems to me that you are being quite modest in not posting the review. My birthday is coming up soon and I have requested that your book be a gift, and I based that request upon the following quote from the review:

    “That (a passage from the book that details a soldier’s experience on the battlefield) astonishingly, is a typical entry in this splendid literary tapestry. As the testimony accumulates, a profound portrait of a nation in crisis emerges, conjuring the epic quality of the conflict and its consequences as almost nothing before. It is both mesmerizing and deeply troubling, and it will forever deepen the way you see this central chapter in our history. And while this is only the inaugural installment in the series, it does not seem the least bit rash to call this collage of testimony a masterpiece”.

    That is quite a review. Congratulations to you, and thank you for helping to edit and create this book. Thank you also for the opportunity to comment on Crossroads from time to time. Sherree

  2. James F. Epperson February 28, 2011 / 7:41 am

    DiLo’s failure to mention that Judd bought AL out on the Iowa land, or that the alternate terminal sites were in war zones, is so typical of his agenda-driven scholarship.

    • Brooks D. Simpson February 28, 2011 / 8:17 am

      … topped only by his calling a special session of Congress to line his pockets (or so DiLorenzo would have us believe).

      • James F. Epperson February 28, 2011 / 9:37 am

        Yeah—you might think he was thinking more of the emerging crisis. eh?

          • Bernie Cyrus April 30, 2016 / 6:50 pm

            He didn’t wait… he did ask for forgiveness instead of permission. But, he already set up the game. Because he effectively tricked the CSA to fire on the fort in the tradition of Chinese Warlord SunTse ” they Fired the First shot” . He became the victim and thereby making it aight for OLd Glory!

          • Brooks D. Simpson April 30, 2016 / 10:31 pm

            And those stupid Confederates fell for it, eh? You much not think much of Jefferson Davis.

      • Bernie Cyrus April 30, 2016 / 6:44 pm

        He violated the Constitution by going to war , incarcerating thousands for speaking out against him ( 1st Amendement squashed) after lifting Habeas Corpus , he had to Call Congress in to make his war legal. Meanwhile , he threw in his personal cronies kick backs for putting him on office. Thomas Durant Lincoln’s client) of the Union Pacifc Railroad was awarded a no bid non compete exclusive . Well known fact his Credit Mobiler Scandel stole 23 Million Dollars . Lincoln was a crook ok live with it!

    • Bernie Cyrus April 30, 2016 / 6:36 pm

      Come on everyday corrupted politicians play that game! Lincoln had inside knowledge and abused hhis power to help his friend and vice versa. Council Bluffs , Iowa? It would beother wise worthless property. Some strange coincidence! Lol

      • Brooks D. Simpson April 30, 2016 / 10:34 pm

        Always amazed at the feeble defenses offered by defenders of DiLorenzo. Right, “Bernie”?

        • Jimmy Dick May 1, 2016 / 10:31 am

          Looks like our old buddy from Virginia has made his return. Must be spring.

          • Andy Hall May 1, 2016 / 1:46 pm

            That’s nothing. One angry make-believe Confederate posted comments under three different profiles, none of which is her actual name, in a single thread. That’s got yo be some kind of record.

  3. Frank February 28, 2011 / 12:05 pm

    Railroads aside, there is one area where Lincoln probably needs to be scrutinized more thoroughly in matters of corruption: the Treasury Department’s cotton trading permit system, which seemed to have been operating out of Fortress Monroe and City Point late in the war.

    In the grander scheme of things it isn’t a massive scandal. But Leonard Swett and Ward Lamon seem to have had an atypical amount of access to the cotton permits, which could only have come from Lincoln himself. The implication is that Lincoln’s use of the permits was much looser than either Congress or the War Department intended when they devised the program. That put him to come into the crosshairs of the Radicals in that crucial late 1864/early 1865 period after the Wade-Davis bill got stuffed, and the cotton trading issue only went away after the assassination turned Lincoln into a martyr.

    • Brooks D. Simpson February 28, 2011 / 12:29 pm

      Here I think you have an excellent point. Ulysses S. Grant was quite unhappy about this business, and it was the closest the two men came to direct disagreement at a time when one might have supposed there to be perfect harmony between the president and his general.

  4. M.D. Blough February 28, 2011 / 2:51 pm

    I don’t say this as an exoneration of Lincoln on the cotton issue but what was considered acceptable in the 19th century, especially before the begining of the replacement of the spoils system by the merit system in public employment, would curl our hair now. One of the greatest fears expressed by secessionists as an argument against waiting to see what Lincoln would actually do as President was the fear that the power to appoint postmasters would be used to seed the South with abolitionist agents.

  5. M.D. Blough February 28, 2011 / 2:55 pm

    In addition, the reason that McClellan rose to the top command was due to the Union’s successes in what became West Virginia, an essential shot in the arm at a time when not much else was going well (Of course, this was mainly due to William Rosecrans, but McClellan got the credit.)

    Another thing that DiLorenzo ignores that, if President Lincoln had not called a special session of Congress, the new Congress was not scheduled to have its first session until December 1861.

    • Bernie Cyrus April 30, 2016 / 6:56 pm

      He created West Virginia more electoral votes , Coal , Tactical Military advantage . I’ll ask this …how come he could let them secede from Virginia but Virginia could not secede from the U.S.?

  6. Bob Huddleston February 28, 2011 / 7:22 pm

    Someone who bases his attacks on AL on a 1927 book sows a tremendous lack of understanding of historical scholarship.
    And then claims that Lincoln called the Special Session on July 4 to rip off the taxpayers on the Pacific Railroad discredits himself on *any* claims to understand AL, let alone the long standing efforts to build a transcontinental railroad.
    He somehow missed the detail that Lincoln chose 5′ as the gauge for the rails because of the lobbying efforts of Leland Stanford of the Central Pacific who had already started construction from Sacramento of a 5′ gauge line. The Pennsylvania, the B&O, and, BTW, Lincoln’s old IC, all 4″ 8 1/2″ lines, applied their lobbying to get Congress to change Lincoln. Somehow the Tyrant slipped up there!

    • Bernie Cyrus April 30, 2016 / 6:46 pm

      He knew he needed to uniform the tracks because the South had various specs.

  7. Bob Huddleston February 28, 2011 / 7:23 pm

    Oh, and Lincoln never represented the NYC. *They* did not need a country lawyer!

    • Bernie Cyrus April 30, 2016 / 6:57 pm

      One year of formal education , a grandstanding Country Lawyer who never went to Law School!

  8. steve edmondson November 16, 2011 / 7:14 am

    One would question why it took Lincoln so long (7/4/61) to call a special session of Congress. Seems like before April,prior to trying to reinforce Sumter,would of been the time to speak with the men who declare war. Another note is the fact that none of these train lines were running in the South. (MO? Please) A fact that was not lost on this part of the country that was paying the lion’s share of taxes. Jus sayin’.

    • Brooks D. Simpson November 16, 2011 / 7:27 am

      Are you saying that the president of the United States cannot suppress a rebellion or insurrection without first calling Congress into session? There was no declaration of war against a foreign power, and Congress did not contest Lincoln’s decision to suppress insurrection. Your last point eludes me. Who was paying the “lion’s share”? If it is all “this country,” then you are conceding that Lincoln has the right to protect the integrity of “this country” from insurrection. Just sayin’.

  9. Al Mackey November 16, 2011 / 9:58 am

    Besides, the lion’s share of the taxes were paid outside the south.

  10. Timotheus September 4, 2013 / 3:26 pm

    Lincoln was a Zionist who was a tight friend of that tub of Bolshevik flatulence, Karl Marx. They both belonged to the Masonic offshoot, The Society of The Just, which became the Communist Society in 1848. Lincoln was nothing but a coprophagic plant of the racketeering Rothschilds. It has been noted that Lincoln loved to defecate in people’s hats, and he also loved to defecate all over the Constitution and wipe his Zionist anus with the Bill of Rights. His cabinet was filled with Zionist agents.

    Interestingly enough, the cabinet of Jefferson Davis was also full of Zionist excrement in the form of Rothschild plants. Judah Benjamin, a prominent Rothschild agent, was his chief advisor. He kept Stonewall Jackson from destroying the North’s factories and transportation systems in the first few months of the war, which would have created a rapid victory for the South in this imbecilic war that was actually the triumph of Northern Bolshevik hoods over Southern Constitutional liberty.

    • Patrick Young September 4, 2013 / 9:28 pm

      You’re just saying that because you know all the Jews are off tonight.

      • Timotheus September 5, 2013 / 10:09 am

        The one night Zionists are officially off is September 17th at sundown. This is when they take their Kol Nidre oath to their maleficent Yahweh to lie to, cheat and defraud all non-Talmudic gentiles. The Rothschilds have boasted of how they artificially created the fraudulent “Uncivil War.”

        • Brooks D. Simpson September 5, 2013 / 11:03 am

          Thank you for reminding us of the hatred that’s out there, especially when it’s spread by unnamed people. Your minute here is up.

          • Patrick Young September 5, 2013 / 7:52 pm

            We knew where that one was going. Just went there a little faster than I thought.

  11. SF Walker September 6, 2013 / 9:31 am

    I’ve encountered similar folks before. Some of these types also believe that the Jesuits deliberately built and sank the Titanic for the sole purpose of killing John Jacob Astor, Benjamin Guggenheim, and Isidor Straus–to ensure the passage of the Federal Reserve Act. Yeah, I know; it’s bizarre.

    • Timotheus June 3, 2016 / 5:15 pm

      What is ultimately bizarre is that there are actually people who believe the Orwellian fraud that they were taught by their third grade teacher that attempted to pass itself off as history. Astor, Strauss and Guggenheim would have stopped the Federal Reserve and the creation of the IRS, both of which are Marxist political-economic paradigms. The one ship that was called unsinkable was the only ship in modern maritime history to sink after hitting an iceberg. Morgan, the owner,backed out at the last minute. The Titanic sank on April 15th, which became tax day. lincoln, who initiated the first income tax, died on April 15th. Perhaps you and the rest of your pals would benefit by not being such closed-minded, intellectual bigots and attempt to look at history from a non-brainwashed perspective. Perhaps you would also benefit by not practicing Marxist censorship, which only reinforces your intellectual bigotry and proves the point i have made about the Marxist Lincoln and his preeminent role in destroying freedom of speech and freedom of the press in this Marxist state for all time.

      • Brooks D. Simpson June 3, 2016 / 11:17 pm

        In short, you can’t challenge the post on the blog. Thanks.

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