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Lincoln scholarship scholarship

Here's a pretty old post from the blog archives of Geekery Today; it was written about 14 years ago, in 2008, on the World Wide Web.

Let’s compare and contrast.

Here’s Tom DiLorenzo at LewRockwell.com Blog

George Mason University Ph.D. candidate (public policy program) Phil Magness has had this terrific article published in the Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association. It shows that, until his dying day, Dishonest Abe was hard at work trying to organize the colonization (i.e., deportation) of all the freed slaves.

— Tom DiLorenzo, LewRockwell.com Blog (2008-04-08): The Latest Scholarship on Lincoln’s Colonization Fetish

Here’s George Mason University Ph.D. candidate (public policy program) Phil Magness, in this terrific article published in the Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association:

Constrained by the limitations of written evidence, inquiry into Butler’s account becomes necessarily speculative. Given the general’s probable exaggerations, one conceivable scenario involves the conversation turning to the subjects of racial conflict and colonization, with Lincoln indicating his willingness to receive Butler’s suggestions. Such a conversation would fall short of the specific project Butler describes or Lincoln’s choice of Butler to complete the task, though it indicates the possibility, and perhaps even likelihood, that Lincoln still entertained colonization ideas. Many unlikely parts of the conversation appear in Butler’s quotations of himself, rather than those attributed to Lincoln. The use of black troops to establish a colony, the canal component, and the policy itself are all expressed as ideas of Butler, which I will suggest to you, Mr. President. Lincoln’s only reaction, there is meat in that, General Butler, is far from espousal of the plan’s particulars, though it would indicate a more likely scenario in which Lincoln patiently received and considered Butler’s suggestions.

The present inquiry set out to provide a firmer basis for evaluating Butler’s colonization anecdote by resolving the issue of its reported timeline. Though established in date, the anecdote leaves many additional questions unanswered and provides room for further examination of an underexplored area of Lincoln’s presidency. As the full conversation between Butler and Lincoln was known only to its participants, one of them assassinated only three days later and the other writing of it twice several decades after the fact, a comprehensive and unbiased record of its events is unlikely ever to emerge. What is certain is that a private meeting in 1865 between Butler and Lincoln occurred. The details of this meeting, as conveyed by Butler, exhibit duly acknowledged signs of embellishment and the distorting effects of their distance from the event itself. Beginning with the meeting’s known date though, the two Butler accounts deserve greater attention than they have received. Sufficient evidence exists to merit additional consideration of Lincoln’s colonization views later in life, and tends to caution against the conclusiveness that many scholars have previously attached to the view that Lincoln fully abandoned this position. The Butler anecdote remains an imperfect example, yet some of its more plausible details may indicate that Lincoln retained an interest in colonization, even if limited, as late as 1865.

— Phil Magness, Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association 29.1 (Winter 2008): Benjamin Butler’s Colonization Testimony Reevaluated

Magness’s article shows nothing like what DiLorenzo claims it to show. Nor does it claim to show anything like what DiLorenzo claims it to show. What it shows (with a great deal of care and interesting detail) is that a common argument, based on problems with Butler’s timeline, for decisively rejecting a particular piece of evidence for the claim that Lincoln continued to advocate deportation and colonization of free blacks after 1863, is ill-founded, because, while Butler could not have met with Lincoln at the time he claimed in his memoirs (published decades after the fact), he did meet privately with Lincoln not long after, and a little-known second account that Butler gave of his meeting with Lincoln helps clarify which parts of the anecdote are more trustworthy and which parts are less trustworthy. Magness says that the evidence leaves open the possibility that Butler is telling the truth, although encrusted with misremembering and possibly deliberate exaggeration. Unfortunately, the facts being what they are, the anecdote leaves many questions about Lincoln’s final views unanswered, and many questions that it may be impossible ever to answer. But it remains possible that Lincoln was still interested in, though apparently not actively working on, small-scale colonization schemes near the end of his life. Scholars who reject the possibility, and Butler’s testimony, out of hand need to reconsider their views, and Butler’s two accounts of the meeting deserve closer attention.

DiLorenzo would have us believe an entirely different claim — that this article decisively demonstrates that not that a particular piece of evidence should not be rejected out of hand, but rather that a particular conclusion on Lincoln’s views must be accepted, and that it decisively demonstrates not merely that it’s possible that Lincoln idly believed in colonization and patiently received and considered plans for small-scale projects while doing nothing to further them, but that he was actively pursuing colonization schemes up to the end of his life. None of these claims are anywhere to be found in the article.

There are already plenty of certain reasons to condemn Abraham Lincoln as a shameless opportunist, a dictatorial warlord, and, yes, a white supremacist and segregationist. There is no need to jump on any and every opportunity to manufacture new reasons, or to distort scholars’ claims so as to depict the case as being much stronger than the facts warrant, not to mention much stronger than the scholar in question ever claimed it to be. This mad-dog polemical style and partisan misrepresentation of arguments serve nobody.

Further reading:

8 replies to Lincoln scholarship scholarship Use a feed to Follow replies to this article · TrackBack URI

  1. Jimi G

    Tom DiLorenzo is a rape advocate. During the Duke lacrosse fiasco, on the LRC blog, he expressed his firm wish to see Nifong raped in jail.

    While Nifong is a most contemptible human being, I have no sympathy for those who advocate aggression against any human.

    I thought everyone should know this.

  2. JOR

    Autistic-type libertarians like some of the LRC crowd might well deny that raping Nifong counts as aggression.

    Anyway, yeah, DiLorenzo’s polemical style is something I could never stand. There are plenty of reasons for at least libertarians to despise Lincoln without distorting and lying to try and make him out to be the worst dictator ever. That reminds me of the habit the neocons have of comparing every Bad Guy of the Week to Hitler, and of replying to criticism of US policy with, “Well if you think we’re bad, you should move to Cuba/Iran/North Korea!” as if anyone marginally less murderous and tyrannical than Kimmie must be an okay guy.

  3. Jimi G


    I thought it would be fair to post the link.

    JOR, libertarianism is a big tent — there’s room for autistic libertarians too!

    But to give credit where it’s due, DiLorenzo did contribute to opening my eyes to the Lincoln cult and he adds much needed balance to what would otherwise be the universal worship of Lincoln the God.

  4. Rad Geek


    I wouldn’t use autistic-type as a term of criticism. I think it’s unfair to people labeled with so-called autism spectrum disorders to compare them to the worst examples of the LRC attack-dog mode of discourse.

    Otherwise, I agree.

    Jimi G,

    If DiLorenzo helped steer you towards the truth in spite of himself, then I suppose one can say that his work has had some accidental good effects. But I really can’t describe what he offers as much needed balance (any more than I think purveyors of embarrassing Lincoln hagiography provide much needed balance to DiLorenzo and other neo-Confederates). DiLorenzo’s work is so full of misrepresentations, irrelevant gossip, Lost Cause nostalgia and euphemistic dishonesty that, whatever good things it may effect by accident, it’s worth less than nothing to the cause of honest and principled anti-statist revisionism on the Civil War. From the standpoint of intellectual clarity it distracts from the real issues by lingering over mythology and nonsense, and from the standpoint of intellectual acceptance it serves to discredit good people doing serious work.

    For a much more serious and valuable approach to the issues that DiLorenzo writes on, I would suggest Jeffrey Rogers Hummell’s excellent work, especially Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men.

  5. Jimi G

    Excellent points all, Mr. Johnson. I am always looking for good suggestions on reading material, thanks very much for the lead. As for DiLorenzo, well, in his own extreme style, he got my attention long enough for me to consider Lincoln from the anti-establishment perspective. Accidental benefit, yes, but I’ll take my good fortune where I can find it.

    On a related topic, my 8-year-old son in 3rd grade government elementary school received his year-end project assignment — an oral/written report on an “American hero who helped advance freedom.” From a list of acceptable candidates, who was he assigned as his subject? None other than Woodrow Wilson!!!

    I send my kids to government school because it’s all I can afford. It’s a decent school district and the kids learn reading and math rather well. The only time there’s trouble for me is when they teach history, especially to such young children. It’s state religion in sheep’s clothing. I must object, especially in such an outrageous example as Woodrow Wilson being a “hero promoting freedom.”

    I met with his teacher and explained my conscientious objection. She graciously agreed to let us select a more appropriate subject. I also offered to let my son do a report on Wilson that demonstrated his villainy, but she nixed that immediately, of course. Can’t have the truth being taught in State history class!

    You won’t believe this (/sarcasm) but Jefferson and Lincoln were also on the list. This is a State of California approved list.

    But seriously, I was completely unprepared for the last name on the list — Anne Hutchinson!!!!

    I almost lost consciousness. I told the teacher that Anne would do! She replied, “Well, Bret would have to wear a dress.” Part of the report is presenting in costume. Then she said, “And we don’t assign Hutchinson.” No shit, lady!!!

    That was one of the most bizarre moments of my life — a State school putting an anarchist on a list of “freedom heroes.” I’ve seen it all.

    Sorry to bore you, thought it was an amusing anecdote and marginally topical.

  6. Otto Kerner

    Well, I guess the logic of hoping for Mike Nifong to be raped in prison is that he supposedly tried to frame up the Duke boys to go to prison, where they would (according to the assumptions of this thought process) be raped themselves, not just over the course of one day, but over a period of years. This is not really a compelling argument to me, but it seems like it would make sense by most people’s lights, so I don’t see why DiLorenzo should be held up to special ridicule for it.

  7. JOR

    I agree. Ordinary ridicule will do.

  8. Otto Kerner

    Sure, sure. Everybody’s got a hobby.

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