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Let's put myths to rest


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Date published: 5/4/2003

ALTIMORE--There is a good reason why the Lincoln legend has taken on such mythical proportions: Much of what Americans think they know about Abraham Lincoln is in fact a myth. Let's consider a few of the more prominent ones.

Myth #1: Lincoln invaded the South to free the slaves. Ending slavery and racial injustice is not why the North invaded. As Lincoln wrote to Horace Greeley on Aug. 22, 1862: "My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and it is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it"

Congress announced to the world on July 22, 1861, that the purpose of the war was not "interfering with the rights or established institutions of those states" (i.e., slavery), but to preserve the Union "with the rights of the several states unimpaired." At the time of Fort Sumter (April 12, 1861) only the seven states of the deep South had seceded. There were more slaves in the Union than out of it, and Lincoln had no plans to free any of them.

The North invaded to regain lost federal tax revenue by keeping the Union intact by force of arms. In his First Inaugural Lincoln promised to invade any state that failed to collect "the duties and imposts," and he kept his promise. On April 19, 1861, the reason Lincoln gave for his naval blockade of the Southern ports was that "the collection of the revenue cannot be effectually executed" in the states that had seceded.

Myth #2: Lincoln's war saved the Union. The war may have saved the Union geographically, but it destroyed it philosophically by destroying its voluntary nature. In the Articles of Confederation, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution, the states described themselves as "free and independent." They delegated certain powers to the federal government they had created as their agent but retained sovereignty for themselves.


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