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Are you tired of reading the Bible or one of the other Good Books? Do they not “do anything” for you any more? Well, then, read the Gettysburg Address instead, the real “American Gospel.” That’s the message of a new book (The Gettysburg Gospel) by Gettysburg College’s Gabor Boritt, featured recently on the front cover of Newsweek. Never mind that Lincoln himself did not believe in God and even ridiculed those who did. The “American Gospel,” as Boritt calls the Gettysburg Address, defines the “religion” of the U.S. government, the “good news of a free people,” according to Boritt.
Boritt does not deny that Lincoln was a non-believer. “He would not join a church, could not embrace the Christian conception of sin and redemption, kept mostly silent about Jesus, and showed no inclination to build a personal relationship with God,” he writes in Newsweek. He “rejected, even ridiculed” the Calvinism of his parents. But Lincoln was a master politician, once defined by Murray Rothbard as one who is “a masterful liar, conniver, and manipulator.” There has never been anyone better at it than Lincoln.
Lincoln may have been an atheist, but he fully understood that most Americans were certainly not, that they read the Bible, and that their emotions could be rather easily swayed by references to the Bible, especially at wartime when emotion seems to overwhelm reason on the part of much of the population.
As preparation for his political career Lincoln read the Bible (which he mocked) over and over (along with Shakespeare and various books on rhetoric and speech making). He cynically used Biblical language to make political points, sometimes insinuating that his policies were the will of God, and at other times absolving himself from all responsibility for them, saying, for example, that all the death and destruction of the war was the work of God, and that he had nothing to do with it. That was the theme of his Second Inaugural Address. The war just “came,” he said, and was God’s punishment of America’s sins (pretending to know what is in the mind of God). (Boritt claims that Lincoln’s speeches had “no touch” of self-righteousness!).
“Much of what Lincoln said [in the Gettysburg Address] carried the sounds of the Bible,” writes Boritt. It was “the music of the ancient Hebrew turned into King James’s English.” For example, “Four score seven years ago” is similar to Psalm 90: “The days of our years are three score years and ten.” When he wrote that our forefathers “brought forth” a new nation, he knew that that was how the Bible announced a birth, including the birth of Jesus. The Israelites are also said to have been “brought forth” from slavery in Egypt. “Hallowed ground” is from the story of Moses, not 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The phrase “shall not perish” is from John 3:16 in the New Testament. The word “consecration” also has a biblical lineage.
So what was the purpose of Lincoln’s insincere, voodoo religion? Why did he so cleverly portray the platform of the Republican Party as literally the work of God? It was to explain “why the bloodletting must go on,” says Boritt, admitting that he did not even mention slavery in the speech. Boritt gives the main reason for this in the first paragraph of his Newsweek article, where he cites an anonymous “soldier” as supposedly saying that, after the battle, it was “The Glorious Fourth [of July] and we are still a Nation . . .”
Boritt here is alluding to what Lincoln would say four months later regarding how the founders supposedly “brought forth” a “new nation” in 1776. This was part of the ongoing propaganda campaign that commenced with Alexander Hamilton and the Federalists, then the Whigs, and finally the Republican Party, to rewrite the American founding as having created a consolidated “national” government, and not a compact among the sovereign states. It is patently false. The founders did not create a “nation.” They created a compact among the states that agreed to delegate a few selected powers to a central government that would serve as their agent, mostly in the areas of foreign policy and war. As historian Carl Degler of Stanford University once explained, “The Civil War . . . was not a struggle to save a failed union, but to create a nation that until then had not come into being.”
The word “nation” here really means a centralized government that would pursue the path of empire – precisely the kind of government the American revolutionary generation seceded from. It was instituted by the Lincoln regime not by a constitutional convention or by any other peaceful and legal means, but by killing one out of four adult males in the Southern states who resisted being part of Lincoln’s “new nation.” This is why the Northern “peace Democrats,” denigrated as “copperheads” (i.e., snakes in the grass) by the Lincoln regime, lived by the slogan, “the Constitution as it is; the Union as it was.” Lincoln idolaters like Gabor Boritt continue to write happy-faced books cloaking this abominable mass murder in religious language because that’s how Lincoln excused himself from all responsibility for it.
What Lincoln’s “Biblical style” implies, Mel Bradford wrote in A Better Guide Than Reason (p. 190), and what it conceals, is that Lincoln was “assuming the role of a Joshua, whose authority is such that he need only speak the command of the Lord for it to be obeyed.” The final result, wrote Bradford, was “sacrilege by submerged metaphor: a ‘new testament’ out of a phony ‘old,’ with dead soldiers for a bridge.”
Nearly every one of Lincoln’s major claims in the Gettysburg Address is not only false, but exactly the opposite of the truth. That is no doubt why his defenders, whose books always read like a defense brief in “The War Crimes Trial of Abraham Lincoln,” are still trying to cloud the public’s understanding of it with 300-page books about a 272-word speech. That’s about 300 words of excuse making, speculation, and rationalizing for every word in the actual speech.
A “new nation” was not created in 1776, the year of the Declaration of Independence. For that matter, the Declaration was a secessionist document, declaring America’s secession from the British empire. Lincoln absurdly claimed that there was such a thing as a ‘right of revolution” but not a right of secession, a distinction without a difference if ever there was one. His idolaters continue to repeat this silly slogan to this day.
The Declaration also clearly defines the states as “free, independent and sovereign,” and concludes that, as sovereign states, they have the right to raise taxes and even wage war. Indeed, the Revolutionary War was waged by the sovereign states, not a “nation” called “the United States.” King George, III of England signed a peace treaty with each individual, sovereign state, not the American “nation.” None of the founding documents – the Declaration, Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution – uses the words “united states” in the singular, which would connote a unitary, consolidated government. It is always in the plural, signifying that the sovereign states are united in forming a compact.
Nor were “we” engaged in “a great civil war,” as Lincoln stated. A civil war is a battle between two factions over control of the nation’s government. But Jefferson Davis did not want to run the government in Washington, D.C. any more than George Washington wanted to run the government in London. It was a war of secession, not a “civil war.”
The notion that democracy – government of the people, by the people, for the people – would perish from the earth if peaceful secession were permitted was by far the most outlandish nonsense in the Gettysburg Address. The Confederates posed no threat to British democracy, or French Democracy, Dutch democracy, New England democracy, or any other democracy. Lincoln’s argument was “just plain nonsense,” wrote Jeffrey Hummel in Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men.
Exactly the opposite was true: It was the Confederates who no longer consented to being governed by Washington, D.C., and Lincoln waged total war to deprive them of government by consent. As H.L. Mencken once wrote, “The Union soldiers in the battle [of Gettysburg] actually fought against self determination; it was the Confederates who fought for the right of their people to govern themselves.”
As for Lincoln’s Jeffersonian “all men are created equal” language in the Address, it is important to keep in mind that Lincoln was a master politician and that the address can be considered to be the first speech of the 1864 presidential campaign, a campaign that he thought he had little chance of winning, at the time. Lincoln “hated Thomas Jefferson as a man and as a politician,” said his longtime law partner and friend, William Herndon. Lincoln was a Hamiltonian centralizer, the very opposite of a Jeffersonian. But a politician so cynical as to invoke Scripture in his speeches despite being an atheist himself would not flinch at quoting Jefferson to advance Hamiltonian policies. Michael Lind seems to have figured this out in his book, What Lincoln Believed (p. 103) where he writes that “In his support for a strong federal government . . . Lincoln, like Clay, followed Hamilton, not Jefferson. However, he sought to appeal to voters whose political culture was Jeffersonian, so it was politic to quote Jefferson for Hamiltonian ends.”
Lincoln of course did not believe in equality of the races at all. He clearly stated his opposition to it many times, spent his entire adult life advocating “colonization” or deportation of blacks; and supported the Illinois Black Codes and other laws that would deny blacks any semblance of citizenship. He also was behind the “Corwin Amendment” to the Constitution that would have enshrined slavery in the Constitution forever. His ever-so-slick position was that “the Africans,” as he called them (as though they were aliens from another planet) could be equal all right, but only back in “their native clime,” as he put it, i.e., in Africa, Haiti, or some other place. Not in the U.S.
Boritt lets the cat out of the bag toward the end of his Newsweek article where he waxes eloquent about the real meaning of the voodoo “religion” in the Gettysburg Address. He claims that woven into the speech is “the conclusion of Daniel Webster’s reply to South Carolina’s Robert Hayne in the Senate, denying that the U.S. government was a creature of the states. It was ‘the people’s government,’ Webster said, ‘made for the people, made by the people, and answerable to the people.” Sound familiar?
James J. Kilpatrick was certainly right, however, when he wrote in The Sovereign States that “the delusion that sovereignty is vested in the whole people of the United States is one of the strangest misconceptions of our public life.” The “whole people” never had anything to do with the enactment of the Constitution or the Articles of Confederation. James Madison himself wrote in his Notes on the Constitutional Convention that the Constitution was ratified “by the people composing those political societies [of the states] in their highest sovereign capacity.” There was never any general election over the Constitution and even if there was, women – who did not have the right to vote until 1920 – would not have participated. Webster’s “whole people” would have excluded more than 50% of the population.
The Preamble of the first draft of the Constitution did not read “We the people” but “We the people of the States of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New-York, New Jersey,” etc. because it explicitly recognized the fact of state sovereignty. As mentioned above, all of the founding documents refer to the “free and independent” states, not the “whole people.”
Webster’s nationalist myth was always nothing but a Soviet-style re-writing of American history for the purpose of promoting a consolidated, monopolistic form of government. Today’s statists continue to echo this Big Lie, and to cloak it in religious rhetoric, as Lincoln did, in a continued attempt to fool the public into supporting their political agendas.
December 8, 2006
Thomas J. DiLorenzo [send him mail] is professor of economics at Loyola College in Maryland and the author of The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War, (Three Rivers Press/Random House). His latest book is Lincoln Unmasked: What You’re Not Supposed To Know about Dishonest Abe (Crown Forum/Random House).
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