There are those who insult Lincoln as America's Julius Caesar, who overthrew the Republic of Rome to make himself emperor, and accuse him of railroading America for his own fiendish purposes. They powerfully inveigh against his deconstruction of the Constitution, and the bloody war fought to satisfy his need to dominate the honorable men of the South. And those people are not defined by the fact they were raised Southern. They're dedicated Christians from all over the country.
You can find some of them here: http://www.theamericanview.com/
Just search for "Lincoln."
The argument is essentially this. America was formed as a union of sovereign states held together by a Constitution. In fact, the essential sovereign unit of American government was the state until Lincoln's power grab. When the South looked up and saw that their right to sovereignly rule themselves was being imposed upon by a self-important North, they resisted. They would not see the union, as orginally conceived, torn apart by Northern self-righteousness and arrogance. And Lincoln merely used those Northern vices in imposing his own power lust on the nation, and in sending many thousands of good American boys to their deaths.
The argument is disingenuous.
It ignores a handful of key points in building its airtight case. Actually, most arguments truly are airtight when seen from one perspective. The question, of course, is what one's perspective is, but that's the actual subject of this post and we'll get to it a little later. The history on this topic is of interest to me, so I'm going to carry on with it a little longer.
I was raised to believe that at times the American government was my enemy. I married a woman who sometimes believed the American government was our enemy. I buy food from a guy who believes the American government is sometimes our enemy. And I had immediate sympathy to this Lincoln as Caesar argument from the very first time I heard it back in the late '80's.
It was interesting to read an impassioned defense of this argument against Lincoln.
Then read 14 of Lincoln's speeches.
His arguments against secession went like this:
OK. Secede if you must. Just do it the right way. Don't do it by force of arms, but by force of election. The ballot formed the country, and only the ballot can splinter it.
Furthermore, it is right to give the entire country a vote on the secession of any part of the country, and that for several very good reasons. First, is there any contract which once formed can be broken by any one party at any time? The states have severally entered into contract together, and have profitably enriched one another in many ways. For the seceding states to take the wealth gained from the other states without compensation is theft. For the seceding states to close off the possible benefits of the contract from the remaining states is painful. They must honor their contract, even as they seek to end it.
Furthermore, there is no way to divide the nation that doesn't result in the overall impoverishment of each part. No matter how the country might be split, the states will have to deal with each other and the fallout of any separation. The final, resulting nations will be poorer for the division. So why divide with blood? If there must be division, why not equitable, legal, ballot-driven division.
Lastly, it is unthinkable that all of the states should decide to evict just one, and yet what is the difference between every state seceding from the one and every state agreeing to kick that one state out? The mean, selfish kind of a freedom demanded by the Southern states was an unjust freedom. The selfish acts of one member of a family have a depressing effect on every member. Sovereignty is not the same as freedom from obligation. When one member secedes from a marriage, it is not a simple and detached act of personal freedom; divorce is a devastating blow dealt to every member of even the extended families involved. The states are obligated to deal with the honest effects of their attempted secession.
These are reasonable arguments. To compare Caesar, who made himself Rome's destroying savior by marching his army into Rome and conquering the capital, against Lincoln who worked with the Congress and left the power of legislation in Congress' hands throughout the rebellion, is too much.
Lincoln made mistakes, and did things that caused questions in his time and ours. His suspension of Habeus Corpus is still talked about among people who talk about such things, but even at that it was only for a time and then Congress was given the reins. Lincoln was a man and not a god, and it showed in his mistakes. He was given a hard road to walk, and he walked it as honestly as I believe any man could. He took brave steps over and over and he saw the job through to its final stages.
But there are those who are not content for him to be a man. They need him to be an American Satan.
I believe it's because of their own desires. They desire their states to be free today in way they never will be again. Fair enough, but if they get their way in this will they be done? Or will they then want sovereign counties, and cities, and homes? (I'll tell you one thing. They'll love quoting that question within their own contexts.)
These are big questions. Where to place the dividing line between personal sovereignty and community good is contentious.
What I find interesting is that in 1861 this line was drawn by men who wanted to hold other men as slaves. The cry is loud and long that slavery was never the issue, and I hear that cry, but I cannot respect it.
In the end, Lincoln did not fire the first shot of the Civil War. The secessionists fired first on Fort Sumter. Lincoln had promised that he would not march on the South, and he never broke that promise. He proposed compromise after compromise, but the South would have none of it. They wanted the right to do what they wanted to do, and it cannot escape me that what they wanted to do was inarguably evil.
The first intended use of the lofty freedom for which those men of the South died was the continuance of a great evil.
And I believe I find a pattern in that. We are most usually willing to "fire the first shot" when we are protecting our right to do some evil after which we lust.
Having read Lincoln and his detractors, I am more impressed with Lincoln's character, courage and ideals than ever before.
My point of view has moved a lot in the last several years.
I'm about to take a bit of leap, so be sure to come with me.
I believe this was my mistake in trying promote the home church. It was not enough for me to want to see the church done differently. I needed the steeple-churches to suffer demolition. Following Luther's example, I wanted to secede from all Christian organizations and I wanted their hierarchies blown to smithereens.
My point of view has moved a lot on the church, too.
I find myself wondering how many of the men manning pulpits under gaudy steeples are men for whom I'd have the utmost respect, if I only knew their story. Instead, I only know them by a single doctrinal stand they've taken somewhere along the line, and that as framed by their enemies.
May the Lord forgive my ignorance. And may He bless the men who stand for Him as well as they know how.