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Being Dishonest About Abe

Article by Paul Gottfried.
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In what may be described as the Dell comic-book version of “the Civil War’s true beginning,” Allen C. Guelzo, seated as Henry R. Luce Professor of the Civil War Era at Gettysburg College (I’ll bet my hat that the neocons are paying for this oddly named chair), explains in the New York Post what really happened at Fort Sumter 150 years ago. According to Guelzo, the Great Emancipator maneuvered the Southerners into taking the federal fort in Charleston Harbor in order to push us into a morally redemptive war made necessary because the Southern “slave states” were a threat to democracy everywhere:

The newly minted Confederacy was only worried about preserving slavery and the stiffly ranked society slavery created—but in Lincoln’s mind the issue was larger: Secession was anarchy—and no friend of democracy.

Apparently Lincoln was agonizing over democracy’s future in general. He knew full well that in Europe “struggles for democracy had been snuffed out by kings, emperors and dictators of various sorts.” To make matters worse, allowing the South to leave the Union would strengthen anti-democracy in the Old World:

If the American democracy shattered itself because seven states weren’t willing to abide by the outcome of the presidential election, then every one of those kings, emperors and dictators would be able to say to their nations, “See what democracy gets you? Instability. Disorder….”

Let’s see if I understand Guelzo’s picture of nineteenth-century history: Victoria in England, Victor Emmanuel in the nascent Italian kingdom, Franz Josef in Austria, and all their fellow monarchs were just waiting for the South to win its independence in order to shout to their subjects: “We told you so! That’s what democracy gets you.” Somehow Lincoln’s more gruesome accomplishments after he created a casus belli at Sumter—such as getting 636,000 young Americans mowed down in battle and many more permanently maimed and signing off on Sherman’s deliberate devastation of Georgia and South Carolina—would serve to dispel any lingering doubt about democratic government’s beneficence. All the carnage would prove to everyone in Europe that democracies are peaceful and that their subjects get along swimmingly well.

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