Libertarians are continuing to attack President Abraham Lincoln. They claim he defended slavery and violated the Constitution. Lincoln understood the institution was protected in part by the Constitution; so some of his statements reflect that recognitgion. Others reflect the difficulty of doing away with the institution of slavery under the circumstances of the 1850s.
Lincoln recognized the practical difficulties, but it this never constituted a defense of slavery. Frederick Douglass understood this perfectly in his magnificent 1876 “Oration in Memory of Abraham Lincoln.” Douglass stated that Lincoln’s:
great mission was to accomplish two things: first, to save his country from dismemberment and ruin; and, second, to free his country from the great crime of slavery. To do one or the other, or both, he must have the earnest sympathy and the powerful cooperation of his loyal fellow countrymen. Without this primary and essential condition to success his efforts must have been vain and utterly fruitless. Had he put the abolition of slavery before the salvation of the Union, he would have inevitably driven from him a powerful class of the American people and rendered resistance to rebellion impossible. Viewed from the genuine abolition ground, Mr. Lincoln seemed tardy, cold, dull, and indifferent; but measuring him by the sentiment of his country, a sentiment he was bound as a statesman to consult, he was swift, zealous, radical, and determined.
The Libertarians also say “The Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court said Lincoln had no regard for the Constitution.” What they do not mention is that the Chief Justice was Roger Taney, a slave owner, and the author of the Dred Scott decision. It said slaves were not protected by the Constitution and could never be citizens of the United States.
Taney wrote the majority opinion which said the authors of the Constitution had viewed all blacks as “beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations, and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”
Abraham Lincoln reacted with disgust to the 1857 ruling and was spurred into political action, publicly speaking out against it. Lincoln had the correct interpretation of the Constitution, not the Chief Justice.
The Dred Scott case was so outrageous that Frederick Douglass said of it, “We welcome it.” He meant the case was such a rewrite of the Constitution and American history that it showed how far the slavocracy would go to push their position on the country. The slave states were not primarily interested in states rights. It was their ultimate goal to be able to take slaves anywhere they wanted in the U.S., including New York or Illinois.
Lincoln alludes to this in both his House Divided speech and in the Lemon case, which would have done precisely what the slave states wanted if it had been decided in their favor. Chief Justice Taney was hung in effigy in town meeting after town meeting in the free states.
Thomas Jefferson should have abided by his Declaration of Independence which said “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.” Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address said “our fathers brought forth a new nation…dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” Lincoln represented America’s most fundamental, profound, and idealistic value: equal justice for all.