What the textbooks don’t tell you about Lincoln and the War

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Dr. Joel McDurmon

One thing that has become clear to me while writing and reviewing all of this slavery and Civil War history stuff is that there sure are a lot of myths and lies in the old history textbooks! For real tho.

It is, of course, exactly as you have heard and probably experienced yourself: the textbooks never tell you the whole story. They leave out how the North was racist, how Lincoln bent the Constitution, how the North didn’t go to war to free the slaves, and how the Emancipation Proclamation was a huge fraud that actually freed no one—that is, not a single slave.

Thankfully we have in recent years encountered several scholars who not only point out these deficiencies, but supply us with the rest of the story. Men like Tom Woods, Thomas DiLorenzo, John Dwyer, George Grant, Steve Wilkins and Douglas Wilson, Clyde Wilson, Charles Adams, and many others like them have pulled back the curtains on the PC establishment narratives and told us the rest of the story.

Here are some of the juicier truths they have related to us that the PC gatekeepers have kept hidden from us all these years, and which you’ll never hear in a PC establishment school or textbook:

1. Lincoln/the North didn’t go to war to free the slaves

Our truthful men tell us:

Lincoln . . . had given repeated assurances to the men of the South that he would not disturb the institution in their states, and that he was even in favor of the execution of the Fugitive-Slave Law of 1850, the violation of which by the Personal-Liberty acts of the Northern states was the one real grievance of the South.1

Even if slavery had been the primary cause, the South had the right to secede: “the right to revolt, if the South thought it had just cause, is beyond argument.”2

Again, “Lincoln’s priorities were always clear. Much as he might have liked to free the slaves [personally], his first job was to save the Union.”3

Radical abolitionists had tried to get Lincoln to back their cause, but he would not budge:

Abraham Lincoln had long been under pressure to make the war into a crusade against slavery. But he had resisted. To Horace Greeley, whose newspaper strongly criticized him for not freeing the slaves, Lincoln had written in August 1862:

My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy Slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could do it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that. What I do about Slavery and the colored race, I do because it helps to save this Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union.4

Our writers explain,

At the very outset, Lincoln was obliged to declare publicly that he was not fighting to free the blacks. . . . Lincoln insisted repeatedly—even though undercutting his moral high ground—that his paramount purpose was to save the Union at all costs. Thus the war began not as one between slave soil and free soil, but one for the Union—with slaveholders on both sides and many proslavery sympathizers in the North.5

2. Lincoln was the real tyrant

But Southern secession put Lincoln in a real bind when it came to saving the Union. It forced him to get creative with the Constitution. Not even northerners liked this.

Lincoln’s greatest political problem was the widespread popular opposition to the war, mobilized by factions in the Democratic party. The Peace Democrats (or, as their enemies called them, “Copperheads”) feared that agriculture and the Northwest were losing influence to industry and the East and that Republican nationalism was eroding states’ rights. Lincoln used extraordinary methods to suppress them. He ordered military arrests of civilian dissenters and suspended the right of habeas corpus (the right of an arrested person to receive a speedy trial). At first, Lincoln used these methods only in the border states; but in 1862, he proclaimed that all persons who discouraged enlistments or engaged in disloyal practices were subject to martial law. In all, more than 13,000 persons were arrested and imprisoned for varying periods.6


If [Lincoln] had to bend the Constitution in order to save the Union, he would do so. . . . He imposed martial law in Maryland, suppressed newspapers, arrested civilians, and even refused to let them appear before civilian judges to hear why they were being held. This is called suspending the writ of habeas corpus. . . . When Chief Justice Taney issued a writ of habeas corpus for a secessionist named Merryman, the military commander of the area refused to free the man. Taney then issued an opinion that the President had no right to suspend the writ of habeas corpus, only Congress could do that. Lincoln believed that he must act to save the Union—even if he had to break the law to do so. So he ignored Taney’s decision.7

Wow, you don’t hear that anywhere else: Lincoln broke the law!

And of course, let’s not forget the never-mentioned economic aspects of banking, etc. “The first income tax in our history had been passed in August 1861.”8 The face of the real Lincoln is now clear.

3. The Emancipation Proclamation didn’t free ANY slaves

Only after the war progressed and the slavery issue became an expedient lever did Lincoln find it useful:

As the war progressed, the North seemed slowly to accept emancipation as a central war aim; nothing less, many believed, would justify the enormous sacrifices of the struggle. As a result, the Radicals gained increasing influence within the Republican party—a development that did not go unnoticed by the president, who decided to seize the leadership of the rising antislavery sentiment himself.

On September 22, 1862, after the Union victory at the Battle of Antietam, the president announced his intention to use his war powers to issue an executive order freeing all slaves in the Confederacy. And on January 1, 1863, he formally signed the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared forever free the slaves in all areas of the Confederacy except those already under Union control: Tennessee, western Virginia, and southern Louisiana. The proclamation did not apply to the border slave states, which had never seceded from the Union and which were not, therefore, subject to the president’s war powers.

The immediate effect of the proclamation was limited, since it applied only to slaves still under Confederate control.9

In fact, one goes on to say, “Neither in this early warning [1862] nor even in the Emancipation Proclamation itself, which was issued on January 1, 1863, did Lincoln free a single slave.”10

Never ones short on a little rhetorical jab, these guys could really let Lincoln have it:

The presidential pen did not formally strike the shackles from a single slave. Where Lincoln could presumably free the slaves—that is, in the loyal Border States—he refused to do so, lest he spur disunion. Where he could not—that is, in the Confederate states—he tried to. In short, where he could he would not, and where he would he could not. Thus the Emancipation Proclamation was stronger on proclamation than emancipation.11

4. The North was just as racist as the South

Far from caring about freeing the blacks, the North was just as racist as the South:

Many Northerners, of course, were against the expansion of slavery because they hated the “peculiar institution.” But many others opposed its spread into the territories not so much because they disliked slavery as because they did not want to live near or compete with blacks. Several midwestern states such as Illinois and Indiana had even put in their constitutions a ban against blacks moving into their states. These restrictions were seldom enforced. Northerners would have been willing to guarantee slavery where it already existed in order to be sure they would never run into blacks—slave or free—in the western territories.12

Of course, precious few dare, like our writers do, to quote Lincoln’s own racist views:

Lincoln expressed his views on the relation of the black and white races in 1858, in his first debate with Stephen A. Douglas:

“I, as well as Judge Douglas, am in favor of the race to which I belong, having the superior position. I have never said anything to the contrary. . . . I agree with Judge Douglas he is not my equal in many respects—certainly not in color, perhaps not in moral or intellectual endowment. . . .”13

Likewise, many Northerners were displeased over the Emancipation Proclamation because they had not signed up for any freeing of any black slaves; “they wanted to fight only for the Union.”14

Only these fellas will tell you the whole truth:

But in 1863, after volunteering had slackened off, Congress passed a federal conscription law for the first time on a nationwide scale in the United States. . .

The draft was especially damned in the Democratic strongholds of the North, notably in New York City. A frightful riot broke out in 1863, touched off largely by underprivileged and anti-black Irish-Americans, who shouted, “Down with Lincoln!” and “Down with the draft!” For several days the city was at the mercy of a burning, drunken, pillaging mob. Scores of lives were lost, and the victims included many lynched blacks. Elsewhere in the North, conscription met with resentment and an occasional minor riot.15

So now you see more of the whole story—the stuff the textbooks won’t tell you.


Except, the textbooks did tell you. It is a veritable truth that you’ve been lied to—but not so much by the textbooks. I’m sad to report this fact, but every single quotation and “rest of the story” you just read above is not from Woods, DiLorenzo, Wilson, or anyone like them in any way. Every single one of the quotations is from one of a few of the standard American History textbooks most widely used in the U.S. (cited below).

That’s right: every bit of the “rest of the story that the textbooks never told you” is contained right there, plain as day, in the textbooks themselves. Lincoln and the North were just as racist. They did not go to war initially to free the slaves. Lincoln stretched or even broke the Constitution, defied the Supreme Court, suspended habeas corpus, and imprisoned private citizens for speaking against the war. And the Emancipation Proclamation didn’t free a single slave.

Now, none of the is in any way meant to take anything away from the works of men like Woods and DiLorenzo, nor is it any kind of endorsement for the mainstream textbooks. But it certainly does work as a corrective to an attitude very pervasive among many southern-partisans and neoconfederate enthusiasts—that is, this mythology that “we’ve been lied to” by brainwashing liberals and we need to retrench in strongly pro-southern revisions of the history.

Except, we haven’t, really, been lied to. I don’t see a single major point in the works of these favorite authors that did not already appear in some of the most popular and widely used textbooks. That leads me to wonder what, actually, is so different in these men’s emphases that some southern partisans give them such laudatory praise.

When I stand back and look on this whole phenomenon from a larger perspective, the most glaring difference I see is one major aspect of the thesis: the work of these men is usually used to support the thesis that slavery was not the central or even a major cause of the war. No, it was tariffs, the economy, banks, Marxism, godlessness, states’ rights, or a hundred other causes except the great Problem of Slavery in Christian America. And now, allegedly, that you know the rest of the story about Lincoln and the racist North, and the true nature of the Proclamation, you can see that.

Except those truths were already openly told in the original establishment narratives, too. And yet those narratives all still concluded that the South’s insistence on slavery and its extension into the territories was the major issue and virtually sole cause of the war.

Of course we have already covered those issues here and here as well. Even if these points were still debatable, we would nevertheless now have to admit that the allegedly omitted parts of the story were nevertheless already there in reality to begin with. And yet while the textbooks do in fact contain those points, they don’t change the rest of the history that still shows slavery to be the central problem. No amount of retelling the story and blaming liberals for lying about it will change that. In the end, all you accomplish is to expose who the real dishonest historians are.

Works cited:

Daniel J. Boorstin and Brooks Mather Kelley, 1992. A History of the United States, Annotated Teacher’s Edition. Needham, MA and Edgewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Alan Brinkley, 1993. The Unfinished Nation: A Concise History of the American People. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1993.

David M. Kennedy, Lizabeth Cohen, and Thomas A. Bailey, 2001. The American Pageant: A History of the Republic, 12th Ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.

David Saville Muzzey, 1911. An American History. Boston, New York, Chicago, and London: Ginn and Co.

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