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Ed Driscoll

Interview: Rich Lowry on Lincoln Unbound

June 11th, 2013 - 12:01 am

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Rich Lowry, the editor of the biweekly print version of National Review magazine, dubs our 16th president “the foremost apostle of opportunity in American history” in our 24-minute long interview to discuss his new book, Lincoln Unbound: How an Ambitious Young Railsplitter Saved the American Dream — and How We Can Do It Again, which is now available from Amazon.com and your local bookseller. As Lowry recently wrote at National Review: 

[Lincoln's] economics of dynamism and change and his gospel of discipline and self-improvement are particularly important to a country that has been stagnating economically and suffering from a social breakdown that is limiting economic mobility. No 19th-century figure can be an exact match for either of our contemporary competing political ideologies, but Lincoln the paladin of individual initiative, the worshiper of the Founding Fathers, and the advocate of self-control is more naturally a fellow traveler with today’s conservatives than with progressives.

In Lincoln Unbound, I make the positive case for Lincoln, but here I want to act as a counsel for the defense. The debate over Lincoln on the Right is so important because it can be seen, in part, as a proxy for the larger argument over whether conservatism should read itself out of the American mainstream or — in this hour of its discontent — dedicate itself to a Lincolnian program of opportunity and uplift consistent with its limited-government principles. A conservatism that rejects Lincoln is a conservatism that wants to confine itself to an irritable irrelevance to 21st-century America and neglect what should be the great project of reviving it as a country of aspiration.

During our interview, Rich will discuss:

● How politicians “Get right with Lincoln,” and why in 2008, it was the left that seemed more comfortable with Lincoln than many on the right.

● What did William F. Buckley think of Lincoln?

● In modern terms, what was Lincoln’s political worldview?

● Lincoln and the Civil War.

● What would Lincoln think about today’s Tea Party and Barack Obama’s myriad scandals?

● And what made Howard Dean attack Lowry personally late last month?

And much more. Click here to listen:

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Top Rated Comments   
I disagree with Mr. Lowry to this extent. Just as soon as mechanized farming became a reality, slavery would have died a natural (and well deserved) death. The informed self interest of the big land holders would have functioned as market forces do, and human chattel is a hell of a lot more expensive to use than steam and iron.

The need to force the issue was rabid impatience in the crusaders coupled with the reactionary in every politician. I don't fault Lincoln's motive to preserve the Union. Nonetheless, I agree with those who say he was NOT a federalist, nor should he have used force to preserve the Union. A decade of horror and 150 years of political strife could have been avoided. Steam power and traction engines were coming into general use late in the 19th century. With the patience to wait 10 or 20 years the bloodiest war in American history, one that tore apart families and friends, could have been avoided.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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All Comments   (36)
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"The South had a close affiliation with the nation's founding, and held up the Founding Fathers in high regard."

They ignored the Founders' opinion that slavery was a shameful thing, and should fade away through manumission and ill regard. Before they betrayed the law and constitution through secession, they ignored the Founder's wishes.

"South Carolina expicitly listed a supposed non-enforcement of these laws as reasons for their secession, though not sure it was actual non-enforcement or fear of non-enforcement."

The power of juries in the North to nullify the slave codes of the South, whenever they sat for the question of whether a person accused was a thief--for the supposed crime of having escaped with themselves--was a reason for the tortured and obviously unconstitutional Dred Scot decision. There, a Supreme Court determined the whole of the United States was slave soil, including the whole of the North, whether the Congress would enact a federal slave code or not.

It was the SCOTUS ignoring the constitution which made certain there would be a civil war--because no law, not even the constitution, would be permitted to stand against the slavocracy of the South--and Taney lit that fuse.

Not Lincoln. All Lincoln did was win an election fair and square.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The colonists did not secede until they felt that British actions were intolerable. On the other hand, no one had done a single thing to the South when they seceded; the President was one of their own. Lincoln hadn't taken office yet.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
What is everyone talking about? Lincoln was not a radical abolitionist. In the terms of the politics of the day (except possibly for New England) that would be like bombing abortion clinics. He did not attack the South until they fired on our men. It was the South that was paranoid.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"By then slavery was dead, for all practical purposes, in the South."
Not true, slave states were being created.
When you fight a war, you destroy your opponent. Something we have forgotten since WWII.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Lincoln wanted to destroy States' rights, and that was his motivation. There was no need to attack the South and force a war that he was unwilling to end, even by Gettysburg, when the South wanted to negotiate an end. By then slavery was dead, for all practical purposes, in the South. He refused to even hear appeals from Southern delegates. He wanted all resistance destroyed, completely, and it caused 750,000 American deaths, and 100 years of hate in the South.
Lincoln is lauded by the University elites who wrote the victor's history, in the light of 20th Century mores. Slavery was common in the North when the war began, and most of the slave trade was conducted by Northern citizen ship-owners, but since one in three residents in the States was a negro, there was no great demand for their services in the U.S., and the slave ships worked the Brazilian and Caribbean slave market.
Motions to make secession unlawful continually failed at the Constitutional Convention, and New York was strongly against. Pennsylvania was the last State to sign, about six months after the other 12.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"Lincoln wanted to destroy States' rights, and that was his motivation."

Having already exploded like idiocies below, I feel no more reply to you is needed, than to wearily suggest you name even one such.

"Motions to make secession unlawful continually failed at the Constitutional Convention, and New York was strongly against."

No such amendments were proposed, and the explicit language adopted forbids it--the power of the President unilaterally to call out the militia to execute the laws when required, and the supremacy clause. That's the actual law signed onto by the states, without any secession conditions in it.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I'm sorry, who fired on Fort Sumter? Lincoln?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Lowry is right. The idea that a state even could have a constitution that makes illegal or unethical a civil war is absurd. Wars are extra legal events by definition. The Founders believed in a right to revolution. You have to win those. There is no right to an uncontested revolution. Uncontested revolutions aren't revolutions at all. It is the dumbest thing I've ever heard, and that folks insist on repeating this uncritically is amazing.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
this is why I hate the Rich Lowry's of the world - they actually believe the stupid tripe they spew.

Lincoln wasn't a hero, he was a tyrant and despot, and he didn't give a damn about the slaves, slavery was on it's last leg and would have been abolished without turning our government into our Master.

fools!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Slavery would have lasted a full generations' span longer at least, because the South of the Confederates had staked their whole economy and sense of honor and rectitude on preserving it. They could no more give it up than they could profane Christ--and they even made the argument, many of them, that God in the Bible had ordained their slaveholding. It was going no where any time soon, and might well have lasted until today, apartheid for example holding on longer than it had any right to.

Lincoln used no means Jeff Davis feared/failed to, and to a far better purpose--the preservation of the American Revolution and the its constitutional republic. He was no tyrant.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Someone should have told the people at the time, then. All of the poilics revolved around whether a territory would be free or slave.

And then why did the paranoid south need to secede? Lincoln hadn't even taken office yet. He didn't threaten slavery or State's rights. The idiotic Southern States fired on Federal territory. They started the war, not us.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
i'm sick and tired about hearing about the greatness of lincoln. lincoln's greatness is a myth. lincoln pretty much threw out the constitution before and during the civil war. lincoln was responsible for more american soldiers deaths than soldiers killed in all of america's wars combined.
lincoln said the negro would never be equal to whites and he wanted negros deported.
the civil war had everything to do with taxation of the south, eliminating states rights, money and politics, and very little to do with slavery. i thank lincoln for the mess our country is in today. lincoln the legend? no lincoln the myth.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Name one way Lincoln through the constitution out. Just one.

And suspension of habeus corpus for sedition when at war is an accepted power and law still on the books.

Just to head you off at the pass.

"[strike]lincoln[/strike]Davis and Lee were responsible for more american soldiers deaths than soldiers killed in all of america's wars combined."

Fixed that for you.

"lincoln said the negro would never be equal to whites and he wanted negros deported. "

Puts him in good company, since the CSA wanted them owned.

"the civil war had everything to do with taxation of the south"

Tariffs are perfectly constitutional, and some claim they prefer them today as opposed to income taxes.

"eliminating states rights"

Lincoln never did, never proposed, and never under constitution would have considered eliminating so much as one power or "right" of the states.

"money and politics"

Absolutely, whether it was theft be damned, the South wanted to keep it's stolen wealth and pre-eminince in politics. The slavocrats wanted to stay the biggest fish in their pond by making the pond smaller. The CSA is no better or prettier than that.

"very little to do with slavery"

Every to do with slavery. The South admitted that a half dozen times, and explicitly endorsing slavery is one of the few differences between the CSA and USA constitutions. Slavery had everything to do with it.

" i thank lincoln for the mess our country is in today"

Nope, it's all Wilson and FDR's fault, Lincoln literally had not one thing to do with it.

'Lincoln the legend? no lincoln the myth"

Seems to me like the Lincoln in you head is all myth and Legend. You haven't said one true and relevant thing about him.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I disagree with Mr. Lowry to this extent. Just as soon as mechanized farming became a reality, slavery would have died a natural (and well deserved) death. The informed self interest of the big land holders would have functioned as market forces do, and human chattel is a hell of a lot more expensive to use than steam and iron.

The need to force the issue was rabid impatience in the crusaders coupled with the reactionary in every politician. I don't fault Lincoln's motive to preserve the Union. Nonetheless, I agree with those who say he was NOT a federalist, nor should he have used force to preserve the Union. A decade of horror and 150 years of political strife could have been avoided. Steam power and traction engines were coming into general use late in the 19th century. With the patience to wait 10 or 20 years the bloodiest war in American history, one that tore apart families and friends, could have been avoided.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Then the South should have waited, shouldn't they have? They fired the cannon, they forced the issue.

They got force back, which was what they bargained for.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Lincoln didn't force the issue; the Southern States did. He wasn't even in office yet.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"Just as soon as mechanized farming became a reality, slavery would have died a natural (and well deserved) death."
Except that, "hind sight is 20-20". No one knew that at the time.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Far too rosy a view. Machinists and mechanics both can be slaves, if their children's eating depends on it. And they will be held such, if those who can feel it upholds their honor to do it.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Exactly. He was a lawyer, not a science fiction writer. They were fighting in out over whether finance was OK, for heaven's sake.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I have to split this into multiple posts. Part 1:

I’m no neo-confederate, but I have serious issues with Lincoln as a conservative role-model. If I may:

“There wasn’t a right to secede. The Constitution said nothing about it.”

There was no British document stating such a right either, but we still declared our independence. The contractual obligation argument was shattered throughout the early 19-century as secessionists – both in the North and South – pointed out that the federal government had failed to uphold the Constitution. Secessionist belief was simple: ‘By what right must the states be contracted to a document that the federal government refuses to adhere?’ It is for this reason that secession is such an important issue now.

“[H]e was, in the context of his day…an activist…. [H]e wanted to provide government support to canals and railroads. He favored a protective tariff to foster industry. And he favored what some people pejoratively called government banking.”

Lincoln’s economic policies can hardly be called conservative, nor would it be wise to call them such. “[G]overnment support to canals and railroads” sounds a lot like ‘government support for the automobile, real estate and banking industries’ – which has not please most conservatives. Remember protective tariffs were a big issue in several presidencies, with the federal government regularly propping up failing Northern industries by taxing goods in the South. Once again, we see this issue today: ‘By what right must taxpayers be forced to pay for poor business practices?’ (And believe me, corruption was just as much a problem then as is now.)

“[O]ur founding fathers were secessionists. No they weren’t. They were revolutionaries.
And you have a right to revolution, if your cause is just, if your fundamental natural rights are being violated.”

I’m not sure that many of the founders would appreciate the title of “revolutionaries.” When independence was declared, yes, “unalienable rights” were noted, but prior to independence, the founders stated their grievances as British citizens. The founders approached independence using a British model, viewing the decision to break away as a last resort reserved for a government that refused to adhere to its own system.

“Without the union we never would have had any states, because the states didn’t come to exist — into existence until after the Declaration of Independence. Prior to that, they were colonies with a higher sovereign above them in the form of Britain.”

That’s bad history. An example:
South Carolina declared its independence on March 15, 1776
The Continental Congress declared independence on July 4, 1776.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"There was no British document stating such a right either, but we still declared our independence."

Of course we did. We did so as an act of rebellion against the laws of England and the British Crown, on the justification the King wasn't obeying the laws anyway, and we had no say in them besides.

The CSA can point to no abuse of them by the North or failure to respect the South's electoral rights or privileges, which can justify their rebellion to the just law in or writ under the Constitution.

"canals and railroads"

The Founders were mercantilist. This was written into the Constitution in the form of the patent and post road clauses, as well as the tariff power, among likely others. Clay, as did Lincoln, frankly had more the view of the Founders than the South's political elite had come to have by 1860. I prefer a flat rate or single bracket income tax to a tariff myself.

"And he favored what some people pejoratively called government banking"

Which since it was gold money, and the Congress is empowered to issue debt instruments, the Constitution provides for it.

The CSA simply had no moral or legal leg to stand on.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Part 2.

I'll stop nitpicking here.

The problem I have with Lincoln is that he is a president whose entire character (in our collective memory) is built upon moral outrage – if slavery is bad then Lincoln is good. To me that’s too simplistic. Lincoln was not an ardent abolitionist or a believer in racial equality. Morality has always been touchy in regard to legislation and we must remember that Lincoln’s views on slavery were not based on morality. (For example, if the Emancipation Proclamation was drafted as a moral stance against slavery, why did it only apply to those areas of which he had no control? It went to great lengths to exempt slavery in US controlled areas.)

It is for this reason that I cannot look at him as a moral crusader; I look at him as a politician. As a politician, he ran on a platform that called for high tariffs (namely, the Morrill Tariff) and limiting slavery from new states out west (remember, Lincoln went to great lengths to say he wouldn’t touch slavery where it already existed). When several Southern states declared independence because of these issues, Lincoln called for an army of 75,000 to forcibly prevent their removal. Doing so resulted in even more states declaring independence.

He made an already tense situation worse. Having the opportunity to settle the situation peaceably, he instead opted to hold Charleston hostage and cried foul when the Confederacy forcibly removed the city’s garrison. As a historian, I have no doubt that slavery would have been removed with or without Lincoln, but a war was not necessary. Slaveowners were a small percentage of the American South, and even then, few slaveowners felt entirely comfortable with the ‘peculiar institution.’ (It’s continuance was based on economic necessity – which was rapidly changing.)

So, I guess my question is this: do the ends justify the means? Slavery, along with the ‘right of secession,’ was removed by extraordinary measures from the federal government. The founders were not monolithic in their beliefs so do not turn to them for an answer – James Madison and Alexander Hamilton are quite prominent in this interview, but not Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry. The actions of FDR and LBJ have long sucked the taxpayers dry, but today they are heralded as heroes for their acts. Let me suggest that morality not be your sole guide to answering this question: LBJ may have signed the Civil Rights Act and Barry Goldwater may have opposed it, but it is quite clear that LBJ was no saint and Goldwater was no racist. When I think of Lincoln, I think of burned cities, shelled civilians, 600,000 dead, and an exponentially larger federal government following his presidency – most of which called on Lincoln’s example of using the federal government to achieve the ‘greater good’ – I have to weigh the costs. What did Lincoln achieve? He saw the end of slavery, established a precedent that the federal government held dominion over its states, and forever destroyed the notion that an American state could leave on its own accord. Abolition was, in my opinion, his only real success. Yet, I cannot credit him with that when I look at his motivations and methods and compare them to Great Britain’s William Wilburforce (an infinitely better man). In that regard, I cannot help but feel that the ends do not justify the means. (And I would add that, in my experience, conservatives who feel otherwise generally are not conservative.)
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I'll bite. I do not, in fact, have a moral problem with slavery, but racism is something else. One of the main differences between Lincoln and Douglas in the debates was that Lincoln insisted that the Declaration declared racial equality - not in a social or even legal sense, as Lincoln did not dare question the extreme segregationist laws of Illinois - but in a philosophical sense, which ran square into the Dred Scott decision, in which the Supreme Court declared that the laws did not apply to Blacks, even if they were free.

The South seceded when there were no actual grievances to secede against, just suspicions. It was the South that fired on Federal territory; Lincoln didn't start it.

May I also point out that not only Lincoln, but the viciously racist, pro-choice Douglas gave his life for the union. People took these things seriously.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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