FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Frauds of the Gettysburg Address

by KIRKPATRICK SALE

Tomorrow is the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, perhaps the most famous speech in American history, and a towering example of how that never-truthful man used fraud and deception to promote the dangerous and ultimately destructive causes of his Presidency. His language was so eloquent, and the speech so short, that few people then or now were aware of the three monstrous frauds he perpetrated.

First, what Lincoln did at Gettysburg was to create a brand new purpose for the war that the North was fighting against the Confederacy. No longer was it to be for the preservation of the union, as he had declared many times in the previous two years, nor for the restoration of forts and armories and customhouses, as he declared in his declaration of war, but now it was to be for the banners of equality and liberty that he has unfurled eleven months earlier in the cause of black emancipation.

He began his transformation of purpose with a distortion of history that claimed that the United States had been committed to equality and liberty in its original form and the present conflict was to preserve a nation “so conceived and so dedicated.” For this purpose he had to invent the notion that the nation began “four score and seven years ago”—that would be 1776—which is rank and utter nonsense. There was no nation when the colonies issued a Declaration of Independence to explain their rebellion and there didn’t become one until the Constitution was ratified thirteen years later.

Moreover, that Constitution, and the nation that it created, had nothing to do with being “dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal,” a complete absurdity, for in fact it makes no mention of equality at all—and indeed explicitly endorses the institution of slavery, permits the slave trade for another two decades, and demands the return of fugitive slaves.

The preamble does make a slight passing reference to “secure the blessings of liberty,” though of course not for the black population, and nowhere in the document are there any articles or enumerated powers relating to liberty in any guise. Indeed the aristocratic Founding Fathers would have thought the idea of governmental machinery dedicated to liberty, much less equality, would be ludicrous—neither of them can be legislated—and they had no intention of setting up a nation that would try to achieve those undefinable and unachievable goals.

Second, furthering his distortion, Lincoln declared that the cause for which the Union soldiers “gave their last full measure of devotion” was “a new birth of freedom,” when we can be sure that this was the farthest thing from their minds, since no one had ever suggested before that was why they were fighting and dying. They certainly weren’t fighting for the freedom of the North, since that was never threatened. They were obviously not fighting for the freedom of the South, since that is precisely what they were against. They were not even fighting for a new birth of freedom for the slaves of the South, since that too had not previously been declared a cause for the war, not even after the publication of the Emancipation Proclamation back in January. They were presumably fighting for the Union, or because they had been ordered to, but they were all white men and they had no notion of giving their lives for a world of free blacks.

Third, as for the idea with which Lincoln ended his speech—that ours was a government of, by, and for the people—I’m afraid that too would have seemed a peculiar idea to the Fathers. The government they created was very careful to limit the powers of “the people,” making sure that the senior house, the Senate, was not to be elected by the general populace, of whom they tended to have a very dim view, but by the state legislatures. And even the voters for the House of Representatives were limited according to state regulations, in which a majority of the states had various property requirements, as they did for candidates to the Electoral College.

We may get some idea of how the Fathers regarded “the people” from an 1813 letter that Jefferson, one of the most democratically inclined crafters of the Constitution, wrote to John Adams. He hoped, he said, that “the natural aristocracy” of this country, of which he considered himself a part, “may safely and advantageously reserve to themselves wholesome control over their public affairs,” and hoped that “the mobs of great cities” and “the class of artificers as the panderers of vice” never have a say in those matters. Government was certainly not, and not meant to be, of or by the people, though it was surely for them, as any natural aristocracy would provide.

An entirely fraudulent address, then, that Abraham Lincoln created, and especially important because it served not only to give the war a new direction and purpose (and a new high moral ground from which to unsheathe a “terrible swift sword” against the South) but also in a sense to give the nation that he was hoping to create, which was to be centralized and Washington-centered as never before, a central purpose. I suspect few with any knowledge of the intervening 150 years would think it wise to have set this land on a course for 150 years of trying to achieve equality, an impossible abstract that requires an ever-more-powerful government to try to accomplish, and to do so by depending not on the states but on an amorphous thing called “the people.”

Of course that didn’t stop Obama from proclaiming exactly that as the goal of his second term. But as we know, his goal was not really equality but a continued expansion of an already bloated government.

Kirkpatrick Sale is the author of After Eden: The Evolution of Human Domination and eleven other books.  This essay is adapted from Sale’s recent book: Emancipation Hell: the Tragedy Wrought by the Emancipation Proclamation. He is the director of the Middlebury Institute.

Kirkpatrick Sale is the author of twelve books over fifty years and lives in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina.

More articles by:
May 30, 2016
Ron Jacobs
The State of the Left: Many Movements, Too Many Goals?
James Abourezk
The Intricacies of Language
Porfirio Quintano
Hillary, Honduras, and the Murder of My Friend Berta
Patrick Cockburn
Airstrikes on ISIS are Reducing Their Cities to Ruins
Uri Avnery
The Center Doesn’t Hold
Raouf Halaby
The Sailors of the USS Liberty: They, Too, Deserve to Be Honored
Rodrigue Tremblay
Barack Obama’s Legacy: What Happened?
Matt Peppe
Just the Facts: The Speech Obama Should Have Given at Hiroshima
Deborah James
Trade Pacts and Deregulation: Latest Leaks Reveal Core Problem with TISA
Michael Donnelly
Still Wavy After All These Years: Flower Geezer Turns 80
Ralph Nader
The Funny Business of Farm Credit
Paul Craig Roberts
Memorial Day and the Glorification of Past Wars
Colin Todhunter
From Albrecht to Monsanto: A System Not Run for the Public Good Can Never Serve the Public Good
Rivera Sun
White Rose Begins Leaflet Campaigns June 1942
Tom H. Hastings
Field Report from the Dick Cheney Hunting Instruction Manual
Weekend Edition
May 27, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
Silencing America as It Prepares for War
Rob Urie
By the Numbers: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are Fringe Candidates
Paul Street
Feel the Hate
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
Basic Income Gathers Steam Across Europe
Andrew Levine
Hillary’s Gun Gambit
Jeffrey St. Clair
Hand Jobs: Heidegger, Hitler and Trump
S. Brian Willson
Remembering All the Deaths From All of Our Wars
Dave Lindorff
With Clinton’s Nixonian Email Scandal Deepening, Sanders Must Demand Answers
Pete Dolack
Millions for the Boss, Cuts for You!
Gunnar Westberg
Close Calls: We Were Much Closer to Nuclear Annihilation Than We Ever Knew
Peter Lee
To Hell and Back: Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Karl Grossman
Long Island as a Nuclear Park
Binoy Kampmark
Sweden’s Assange Problem: The District Court Ruling
Robert Fisk
Why the US Dropped Its Demand That Assad Must Go
Martha Rosenberg – Ronnie Cummins
Bayer and Monsanto: a Marriage Made in Hell
Brian Cloughley
Pivoting to War
Stavros Mavroudeas
Blatant Hypocrisy: the Latest Late-Night Bailout of Greece
Arun Gupta
A War of All Against All
Dan Kovalik
NPR, Yemen & the Downplaying of U.S. War Crimes
Randy Blazak
Thugs, Bullies, and Donald J. Trump: The Perils of Wounded Masculinity
Murray Dobbin
Are We Witnessing the Beginning of the End of Globalization?
Daniel Falcone
Urban Injustice: How Ghettos Happen, an Interview with David Hilfiker
Gloria Jimenez
In Honduras, USAID Was in Bed with Berta Cáceres’ Accused Killers
Kent Paterson
The Old Braceros Fight On
Lawrence Reichard
The Seemingly Endless Indignities of Air Travel: Report from the Losing Side of Class Warfare
Peter Berllios
Bernie and Utopia
Stan Cox – Paul Cox
Indonesia’s Unnatural Mud Disaster Turns Ten
Linda Pentz Gunter
Obama in Hiroshima: Time to Say “Sorry” and “Ban the Bomb”
George Souvlis
How the West Came to Rule: an Interview with Alexander Anievas
Julian Vigo
The Government and Your i-Phone: the Latest Threat to Privacy
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail