Posts tagged Abraham Lincoln

Lost Causes, part II

B. K. Marcus recently complained about a Tom Toles cartoon which suggested that George Allen, the Republican ex-Senator from Virginia, is a Confederate sympathizer. I have no idea whether or not the cartoon reveals Tom Toles to be an arrogant ignoramus. I don’t know much about how George Allen views himself in relation to the Confederacy. I do know that Marcus doesn’t strengthen his case by quoting—apparently with approval—the following bit of repulsive historical fudging by Jim Webb, the white Southern Democrat who recently defeated Allen in the Senate race:

I am not here to apologize for why they fought, although modern historians might contemplate that there truly were different perceptions in the North and South about those reasons, and that most Southern soldiers viewed the driving issue to be sovereignty rather than slavery. In 1860 fewer than five percent of the people in the South owned slaves, and fewer than twenty percent were involved with slavery in any capacity. Love of the Union was palpably stronger in the South than in the North before the war — just as overt patriotism is today — but it was tempered by a strong belief that state sovereignty existed prior to the Constitution, and that it had never been surrendered. Nor had Abraham Lincoln ended slavery in Kentucky and Missouri when those border states did not secede. Perhaps all of us might reread the writings of Alexander Stephens, a brilliant attorney who opposed secession but then became Vice President of the Confederacy, making a convincing legal argument that the constitutional compact was terminable. And who wryly commented at the outset of the war that the North today presents the spectacle of a free people having gone to war to make freemen of slaves, while all they have as yet attained is to make slaves of themselves.

— Remarks of James Webb at the Confederate Memorial (1990-06-03)

It’s not true, by the way, that fewer than twenty per cent of Southerners were involved in slavery in any capacity. In 1860, 39 per cent of Southerners were slaves; what Webb meant to talk about were white Southerners. But in any case, while only about 1 in 5 of them directly profited from holding, selling, or driving the forced labor of the black Southerners, there’s no reason to assume that the people who set the course for government policy and war policy in the Confederacy were particularly representative of even the white citizens in whose names they professed to act. Whatever most Confederate soldiers may have thought, the policies and the orders and the justifications for the course the Confederacy took were largely set by, handed down by, and elaborated by, other men—the men who governed the Confederacy. One such man was that brilliant attorney Alexander Stephens, and here is what he had to say about what the Confederacy stood for and fought for:

This new constitution. or form of government, constitutes the subject to which your attention will be partly invited. In reference to it, I make this first general remark: it amply secures all our ancient rights, franchises, and liberties. All the great principles of Magna Charta are retained in it. No citizen is deprived of life, liberty, or property, but by the judgment of his peers under the laws of the land. The great principle of religious liberty, which was the honor and pride of the old constitution, is still maintained and secured. All the essentials of the old constitution, which have endeared it to the hearts of the American people, have been preserved and perpetuated. Some changes have been made. Some of these I should have preferred not to have seen made; but other important changes do meet my cordial approbation. They form great improvements upon the old constitution. So, taking the whole new constitution, I have no hesitancy in giving it as my judgment that it is decidedly better than the old.

… But not to be tedious in enumerating the numerous changes for the better, allow me to allude to one other—though last, not least. The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution—African slavery as it exists amongst us—the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the rock upon which the old Union would split. He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact. But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon which that rock stood and stands, may be doubted. The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with, but the general opinion of the men of that day was that, somehow or other in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away. This idea, though not incorporated in the constitution, was the prevailing idea at that time. The constitution, it is true, secured every essential guarantee to the institution while it should last, and hence no argument can be justly urged against the constitutional guarantees thus secured, because of the common sentiment of the day. Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the storm came and the wind blew.

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery—subordination to the superior race—is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. This truth has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science. It has been so even amongst us. Many who hear me, perhaps, can recollect well, that this truth was not generally admitted, even within their day. The errors of the past generation still clung to many as late as twenty years ago. Those at the North, who still cling to these errors, with a zeal above knowledge, we justly denominate fanatics. All fanaticism springs from an aberration of the mind—from a defect in reasoning. It is a species of insanity. One of the most striking characteristics of insanity, in many instances, is forming correct conclusions from fancied or erroneous premises; so with the anti-slavery fanatics. Their conclusions are right if their premises were. They assume that the negro is equal, and hence conclude that he is entitled to equal privileges and rights with the white man. If their premises were correct, their conclusions would be logical and just—but their premise being wrong, their whole argument fails. I recollect once of having heard a gentleman from one of the northern States, of great power and ability, announce in the House of Representatives, with imposing effect, that we of the South would be compelled, ultimately, to yield upon this subject of slavery, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics, as it was in physics or mechanics. That the principle would ultimately prevail. That we, in maintaining slavery as it exists with us, were warring against a principle, a principle founded in nature, the principle of the equality of men. The reply I made to him was, that upon his own grounds, we should, ultimately, succeed, and that he and his associates, in this crusade against our institutions, would ultimately fail. The truth announced, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics as it was in physics and mechanics, I admitted; but told him that it was he, and those acting with him, who were warring against a principle. They were attempting to make things equal which the Creator had made unequal.

In the conflict thus far, success has been on our side, complete throughout the length and breadth of the Confederate States. It is upon this, as I have stated, our social fabric is firmly planted; and I cannot permit myself to doubt the ultimate success of a full recognition of this principle throughout the civilized and enlightened world.

As I have stated, the truth of this principle may be slow in development, as all truths are and ever have been, in the various branches of science. It was so with the principles announced by Galileo—it was so with Adam Smith and his principles of political economy. It was so with Harvey, and his theory of the circulation of the blood. It is stated that not a single one of the medical profession, living at the time of the announcement of the truths made by him, admitted them. Now, they are universally acknowledged. May we not, therefore, look with confidence to the ultimate universal acknowledgment of the truths upon which our system rests? It is the first government ever instituted upon the principles in strict conformity to nature, and the ordination of Providence, in furnishing the materials of human society. Many governments have been founded upon the principle of the subordination and serfdom of certain classes of the same race; such were and are in violation of the laws of nature. Our system commits no such violation of nature’s laws. With us, all of the white race, however high or low, rich or poor, are equal in the eye of the law. Not so with the negro. Subordination is his place. He, by nature, or by the curse against Canaan, is fitted for that condition which he occupies in our system. The architect, in the construction of buildings, lays the foundation with the proper material-the granite; then comes the brick or the marble. The substratum of our society is made of the material fitted by nature for it, and by experience we know that it is best, not only for the superior, but for the inferior race, that it should be so. It is, indeed, in conformity with the ordinance of the Creator. It is not for us to inquire into the wisdom of His ordinances, or to question them. For His own purposes, He has made one race to differ from another, as He has made one star to differ from another star in glory. The great objects of humanity are best attained when there is conformity to His laws and decrees, in the formation of governments as well as in all things else. Our confederacy is founded upon principles in strict conformity with these laws. This stone which was rejected by the first builders is become the chief of the corner—the real corner-stone—in our new edifice. I have been asked, what of the future? It has been apprehended by some that we would have arrayed against us the civilized world. I care not who or how many they may be against us, when we stand upon the eternal principles of truth, if we are true to ourselves and the principles for which we contend, we are obliged to, and must triumph.

— Alexander H. Stephens (1861-03-21): Cornerstone Speech in Savannah, Georgia

Unconditional secession from coercive governments is a human right, and the policy of Lincoln and his partisans during the Civil War was morally criminal. But far too many libertarians make the mistake of thinking that opposition to the rampaging mercantile empire in the North entails supporting, or at least carrying water for, the rampaging slave empire in the South. This antihistorical fetish for the Confederacy is regrettable.

Further reading:

MLK Monday #2

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a day to honor the life and the thought of Dr. King — a hagiographed, ignored, misunderstood, overrated, and indispensable man; one of our greatest Southern heroes; an agitator and a moral witness who gave long years of his life to the cause of the Freedom Movement, and who — underneath the television specials and the holy martyr imagery that so often serves to obscure and empty out his real, fallible, challenging, essential vision — played a vital role (together with Ella Baker, Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, and countless others) in changing the world for the better, within living memory. If he were not taken from us, Dr. King would have celebrated his 77th birthday yesterday.

Most of what I want to say today, I said last year, in GT 2005-01-17: MLK Monday. So, instead of repeating myself, I link; and having linked, I step aside for the man himself.

I have been so greatly disappointed with the white church and its leadership. … I say it as a minister of the gospel, who loves the church; who was nurtured in its bosom; who has been sustained by its spiritual blessings and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of life shall lengthen. … In spite of my shattered dreams of the past, I came to Birmingham with the hope that the white religious leadership of this community would see the justice of our cause, and with deep moral concern, serve as the channel through which our just grievances would get to the power structure. I had hoped that each of you would understand. But again I have been disappointed. I have heard numerous religious leaders of the South call upon their worshippers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers say, follow this decree because integration is morally right and the Negro is your brother. In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churches stand on the sideline and merely mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities.

— Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail

And also:

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have never yet engaged in a direct action movement that was well timed, according to the timetable of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the words Wait! It rings in the ear of every Negro with a piercing familiarity. This Wait has almost always meant Never. We must come to see with the distinguished jurist of yesterday that justice too long delayed is justice denied.

We have waited for more than three hundred and forty years for our constitutional and God-given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jet-like speed toward the goal of political independence, and we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward the gaining of a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. I guess it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, Wait. But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick, brutalize and even kill your black brothers and sisters with impunity; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see the depressing clouds of inferiority begin to form in her little mental sky, and see her begin to distort her little personality by unconsciously developing a bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son asking in agonizing pathos: Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?; when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading white and colored; when your first name becomes nigger, your middle name becomes boy (however old you are) and your last name becomes John, and your wife and mother are never given the respected title Mrs.; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tip-toe stance never quite knowing what to expect next, and plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of nobodiness; then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into an abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.

You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, it is rather strange and paradoxical to find us consciously breaking laws. One may well ask: How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others? The answer is found in the fact that there are two types of laws: There are just and there are unjust laws. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with Saint Augustine that An unjust law is no law at all.

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine when a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of Saint Thomas Aquinas, an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority, and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. To use the words of Martin Buber, the Jewish philosopher, segregation substitutes and I-it relationship for an I-thou relationship, and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. So segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, but it is morally wrong and sinful. Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Isn’t segregation an existential expression of man’s tragic separation, an expression of his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? So I can urge men to disobey segregation ordinances because they are morally wrong.

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action; who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a more convenient season. Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice, and that when they fail to do this they become dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is merely a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, where the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substance-filled positive peace, where all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured as long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its pus-flowing ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must likewise be exposed, with all of the tension its exposing creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured. …

… You spoke of our activity in Birmingham as extreme. At first I was rather disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of the extremist. … But as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a bit of satisfaction from being considered an extremist. Was not Jesus an extremist for love — Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you. Was not Amos an extremist for justice — Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream. Was not Paul an extremist for the gospel of Jesus Christ — I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus. Was not Martin Luther an extremist — Here I stand; I can do none other so help me God. Was not John Bunyan an extremist — I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience. Was not Abraham Lincoln an extremist — This nation cannot survive half slave and half free. Was not Thomas Jefferson an extremist — We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. So the question is not whether we will be extremist but what kind of extremist will we be. Will we be extremists for hate or will we be extremists for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice—or will we be extremists for the cause of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill, three men were crucified. We must not forget that all three were crucified for the same crime—the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thusly fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. So, after all, maybe the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

— Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail

Elsewhere

  • GT 2005-01-17: MLK Monday: this is, as I mentioned, what I wrote last year. I still kind of like it.

  • Austro-Athenian Empire 2006-01-15: Happy Actual Birthday: Roderick remembers King on just and unjust laws.

  • Negro Please 2006-01-16: Repost in Honor of MLK, Jr. Day reposts his excellent tribute from two years ago

  • Pseudo-Adrienne 2006-01-16: Remembering Him: Never forget them, never forget him, and never forget what he struggled and died for. The dream that we would live in a color blind society and there would be racial equality. How far have we come? Or was Dr. King’s dream unfortunately just that, a dream, and therefore— given America’s ugly history of perpetuating racism and even sexism and other forms of bigotry sanctioned by the law— too fanciful to achieve. Nonetheless, the man was on one of the twentieth century’s greatest orators and noble leaders, and symbols of justice, racial equality, and freedom.

  • Chris Johanesen 2006-01-16: King’s Dream Still a Dream: Every Martin Luther King Jr day, whites all over the nation drag out King’s 1963 I Have a Dream, speech and pat themselves on the back about how far we’ve come as a just society. I suggest we try one of his other speeches for a change, Where Do We Go From Here?, from 1967: . . . I’m not saying we haven’t made progress since 1967—we surely have—but I would argue that we still have a very long way to go before we get anywhere near to realizing Dr. King’s dream.

  • Black Looks 2006-01-16: Martin Luther King Day: a wonderful, meditative photo of King, and a pointer to further discussion: The legacy of Martin Luther King is discussed in this weeks Black Commentator. The promised land and why we are still waiting by Anthony Asadullah Samad.

  • Echidne of the Snakes 2006-01-16: Messages from Martin Luther King remembers him through his words, including: Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter, and Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.

  • Ed Brayton, Positive Liberty 2006-01-16: Martin Luther King’s Dream: … I cannot listen to King’s I Have A Dream speech without getting goosebumps. It is one of the most inspirational speeches you will ever hear …, made more so in my view because of his invocation of the Declaration of Independence as a promissory note. … I can’t even read those words on a page without getting goosebumps. American history, as I have often said, is largely the story of perpetually extending the principles found in the Declaration to cover more and more people. It should have been enough 230 years ago to cover everyone, but change is slow and sometimes it takes a long time for the true implications of our stated principles to rise to the top. It rose through the bravery and sacrifice of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony and so many others, through the bravery and sacrifice of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X and so many others, just as today it continues to rise through the efforts of millions of people to bring equality and liberty to so many gay Americans who are still denied the basic dignities that the rest of us take for granted. Let freedom ring, indeed.

  • Dr. B’s Blog 2006-01-16: Lest you thought I forgot: The struggle continues!

  • David T. Beito, Liberty and Power 2006-01-16: King, Marx, and Statism: Last January, I put up these statements from Martin Luther King, Jr. in his book, Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story published in 1957, but they are well worth repeating … This deprecation of individual freedom was objectionable to me. I am convinced now, as I was then, that man is an end because he is a child of God. Man is not made for the state; the state is made for man. To deprive man of freedom is to relegate him to the status of a thing, rather than elevate him to the status of a person. Man must never be treated as means to the end of the state; but always as an end within himself.

  • to the barricades 2006-01-16: The speech that unfortunately never loses its relevance: Martin Luther King Jr, Beyond Vietnam.

  • Christine C., PopPolitics.com 2006-01-16: Remembering MLK, in Words and Images: I’ve just returned from lunch with a former priest from Chicago who marched in Selma and Montgomery with Martin Luther King Jr. He vividly recalled the hoof marks embedded in the Capitol lawn from police horses brought in to scare the marchers. He spoke of receiving King’s blessing before kneeling on the first two steps of the Capitol in prayer — a prayer that had to be negotiated with police, as the group was prohibited from moving even one step higher (though one priest suggested they make a break for it and run to the top). Driving between Montgomery and Birmingham in a convertible with black and white priests, they were stopped at a highway roadblock. They were eventually let through, but the fear he felt that day is still evident, more than 40 years later.

  • Fighting for a Lost Cause.net 2006-01-16: We’re still killing our prophets quotes Stephen Oates’s biography, telling the story of King’s final hours, memorial, and funeral.

  • Frank Newport, Gallup Polls 2006-01-16: Martin Luther King Jr.: Revered More After Death Than Before offers some interesting statistics about how King was thought of at the time and how he is thought of today. You’ll also find some interesting statistical grist for the mill if you want to think about the politics of popular admiration. It also ought to remind you that, in the midst of all the very public demonstrations of affection for King from the white moderates and even the hard Right, how genuinely challenging and polarizing his struggle — against racism, and poverty, and imperial war — was. (And still is, when it is actually taken seriously.)

  • Remember Segregation: a vivid memorial to Dr. King and the victims of segregation in the Jim Crow South

  • Slate 2006-01-16: Zoom In: Celebrating Martin Luther King, a retrospective photo essay.

  • Martin Luther King, Jr. Papers Project features printed volumes, electronic copies, and audio and video files of many of King’s essays, sermons and speeches.

Coda

It’s astonishing to realize that everything Dr. King was a part of, and everything he spoke out against, struggled against, and, in some tremendous cases, defeated, was happening while my parents were in college, just about 40 years ago. To think of what Dr. King’s efforts, and the efforts of the countless heroes—those whose names we know and the thousands of ordinary people who haven’t made it into the books or the teevee specials—have meant for the world in those few years. Yes, we are living through dark days, but think of what it was like just within our memory or the memory of our parents. As Dr. King put it: Let us remember that the arc of the Universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

I hope so. Happy MLK Day, y’all.

Lost Causes

image: Confederate soldiers in front of the second flag of the Confederacy

DiLorenzo and the LewRockwell.com Fact-Checking Team unwind after a hard day of defending free markets and individual rights against the warfare State.

Tom DiLorenzo has made a pretty steady gig for himself in lodging criticisms — mostly just ones — against the federal government’s conduct in the Civil War and against Abraham Lincoln in particular. But the tenor of his comments and his comments about similar crimes by leading lights of the Confederacy has led to some accusations that he seems to be motivated by a dishonestly-supported fetish for Dixie at least as much by concerns about the historical Lincoln. Lately he decided to prove these charges wrong, once and for all, with the following modest proposal:

re: Greatest Americans

Perhaps we should start a list of politically incorrect greatest Americans. I’ll begin by nominating Robert E. Lee, who brilliantly led the Army of Northern Virginia in its war of secession against the empire.

Virginia originally voted to stay in the union, after the lower south seceded, and re-voted (by popular vote as well as by its legislature) only after Lincoln began his invasion of the southern states. Lee turned down command of the Union Army, which was offered to him, to defend his home country against foreign invaders. He also personally liberated the slaves his wife had inherited, something Ulysses S. Grant did not get around to until he was forced to do so by the 13th Amendment in 1866.

(This should cause the politically-correct liberventinists to start cackling like a flock of hens).

Now, my opinions about Robert E. Lee may be different from Tom DiLorenzo’s. (If I were going to make a list of politically incorrect greatest Virginians, I would suggest Gabriel Prosser or Nat Turner long before the pro-slavery, anti-secession, statist warrior Lee.) But whatever our differences may be, what I want to remark on here is that DiLorenzo’s description of Lee contains a documented factual error. I know about it, and he knows about it; I know that he knows about it because I wrote him about it a week ago:

To: Thomas DiLorenzo
Subject: Like a flock of hens, indeed.
Date: Mon, 20 Jun 2005

In “re: Greatest Americans”, you recently claimed:

Perhaps we should start a list of politically incorrect greatest Americans. I’ll begin by nominating Robert E. Lee, who brilliantly led the Army of Northern Virginia in its war of secession against the empire. … He also personally liberated the slaves his wife had inherited, …

But this is not true. Lee’s wife did not inherit any slaves and Lee did not “liberate” them. Lee did gain temporary control over 63 slaves after the death of his father-in-law, George Washington Parke Custis, but Custis freed the slaves in his will and Lee was legally obligated to process the manumission papers within five years of his death. (You can find a copy of the will at [1].) In fact, after hiring the slaves out to other plantations for the five years he finally released the slaves in the winter of 1862 and formally filed the manumission papers on December 29, 1862 [2], five years, two months, and nineteen days after his father-in-law’s death.

To suggest that Lee deserves any credit for the emancipation when the terms of the will legally mandated it, and when he held the slaves in bondage for his own profit as long as he was legally able to do so, is either misinformation or disinformation; in either case it should not have been printed and ought to be publicly corrected.

Sincerely,
Charles Johnson

DiLorenzo didn’t mention this point in his later posts to the LRC Blog, exactly, but he did go on to prove his objectivity by explaining that Lee could not be blamed by anti-state, anti-war, pro-market libertarians for his role in the imperial war against Mexico because doing the right thing would have been personally costly and possibly dangerous, and to suggest Jefferson Davis as the candidate for the state of Mississippi.

Still, it is important that these facts see the light of day. I wrote yesterday in praise of direct action over lobbying, and since DiLorenzo’s public correction doesn’t seem to be forthcoming, I suppose that I will have to take matters into my own hands.

Lee did not free a single one of the slaves that he gained control of after his father-in-law’s death. Custis emancipated them in his will; Lee just enacted the terms of Custis’s will, as he was legally obligated to do as its sole executor. Lee also happened to keep control over those 63 slaves for as long as he could legally get away with it and sent them, for his own profit, to be forced to work on neighboring plantations and in eastern Virginia. To credit Lee with liberating enslaved people, when it was his father-in-law who freed them, and Lee who kept them in bondage as long as he felt that he could, is disingenuous, and the statement ought to be retracted.

Further reading:

The Hand of DiLorenzo?

Pictured: a detail from a History Book Club advertisement, with three portraits in the left margin: a photograph of Abraham Lincoln, a photograph of Adolf Hitler, and an illustration of Napoleon Bonaparte Here’s a detail from a piece of marketing flotsam that I found recently attached to the advertising section of some magazine or another: an insert hawking the History Book Club’s three books / three bucks promotion. And look whose portraits are juxtaposed in the left margin…

Is a devotee of The Real Lincoln slaving away somewhere for the History Book Club, taking some compensation for his meagre salary by producing subversive ad copy for a national audience? Or do history buffs really just put out things like this with a complete lack of self-consciousness?

Whatever the case may be, I think it should serve as an excellent reminder: the subjects of so-called Great Man history are almost never great; they are usually just large. And when you try retelling history through the deeds of Great Men, you usually just end up telling the stories of huge assholes.