There is an old maxim from a better time: “It is a poor workman who blames his tools.” The idea is, of course, that some people who fail at an effort in which they engage are more than likely to blame “circumstances” rather than themselves. I have found this maxim helpful in matters far more esoteric than mere physical labor for not every “tool” is material and concrete. However, to understand the nature of the “tool” under criticism it is necessary to seek the origin of that tool – that is, not only what it is, but how it came into being and for what purpose. To do that, one must also understand the history of the time in which it was created. Going forward, I now relate the foundation of my appreciation of this particular adage vis a vis the identity of the tool, my understanding of its usage and the knowledge I subsequently gained that permitted the old maxim to challenge the conclusions I had, up to that time, reached.

The background of my concern about the above matter is my life-long sympathy with and support of the efforts of eleven Southern States to leave the union created in the late 18th century, an effort that ended in the most sanguine war in the history of the United States before or since – and we’ve been in a lot of wars! Now, I am not going opine on the so-called “causes” of that war of which chattel slavery has been put forth as the most important. Neither will I write of the economic issues involved with the ongoing financial pillaging of those same Southern States through the use of tariffs instituted by the Federal Government in which the States of the South had by that time become a perpetual minority. Again, that is not the point under consideration. This article is not a matter of “why” what happened came to pass or even “who” was responsible but rather, “what” was the instrument used to perpetuate this injustice! The instrument most often blamed by those supporting the South, is, as noted, that same “federal government” created by the Constitution. Once that conclusion is reached, then the Constitution itself, our nation’s founding document that had replaced the Articles of Confederation, becomes the “tool” in question. Now, I do indeed believe that the federal government of 1861 was at the heart of this great tragedy, a tragedy that still persists even into the third decade of the 21st century. But to look at the matter intelligently we must also consider if, indeed, that government as it existed in 1861 truly represented what had been created by that Constitution! And this is paramount to the placing of blame in this instance.

With regard to the creation of the Constitution, it is well known that the convention called to “amend” the Articles of Confederation – the “guiding document” that had seen the thirteen colonies through the long years of the Revolutionary War – was, in fact, intended to produce quite a different document! For many believed that the new nation coming into being could not be built on the Articles no matter how much they were “amended.” And so, representatives of twelve of the colonies – Rhode Island did not attend – met in Philadelphia in May of 1787. Former Commander in Chief of the Continental Army, George Washington very reluctantly allowed himself to be called out of retirement to preside over the convention because all involved had absolute faith in the man’s honesty and integrity. Washington truly was the “indispensable man” fully deserving of the title “the Father of His Country!” The problem that arose after the Revolutionary War was that the “confederacy” of the original thirteen colonies under the Articles had simply failed to work during that war and few believed that it would work any better once the involvement of Great Britain – for good or ill – was no more. Indeed, Europe believed that the fractious colonies would soon tear each other apart now that British intervention had been removed and that it was only a matter of time before one of the great European powers returned to the New World and the foolish “colonies” found themselves once again subject, perhaps even to Britain itself!

It must be remembered that there was no government in the world at that time that did not have a king or an emperor at its head. Britain had a “constitutional monarch,” but nonetheless, though the king was no longer absolute in his power, he remained the recognized “head” of a huge and powerful empire and certainly did exercise a great deal of personal power. The thirteen newly freed colonies had nothing in the way of valid and useful government structure! They didn’t even have strong leaders within those same colonies! And this was nothing new! Indeed, it wasn’t until the rising oppression of Britain after the French and Indian War gave the colonies an external problem that could be condemned by all, did they respond in any kind of a concerted manner to existing difficulties! And even in the matter of the revolution, there were three “sides” to that response: those who were for independence from Britain, those who were faithful to the King and the majority who wanted it all to just go away so they could get on with their mundane lives.

The Articles of Confederation were created on November 15th, 1777, but were not ratified by all thirteen “states” until March 1st, 1781, four years later. The document created a loose confederation of “sovereign states” with the Continental Congress acting as a sort of “central government” though that body had no actual power. Everything determined under the Articles had to be unanimous and that proved difficult – indeed impossible – for any hard decisions to be made at least in a timely manner. The Declaration of Independence almost “wasn’t” because New York’s representative never heard from his own Colonial government regarding what he was expected to do! In the end, he decided to sign it in the name of that colony rather than have New York left out of a great moment in history. However, both Pennsylvania and Maryland had problems with disputes among those colonies’ representatives. And it only got worse during the war itself when the army fighting for the freedom of those same colonies had little or nothing and the Congress began to issue paper money without value because the Colonies/States refused to appropriate anything for the war being fought on behalf of their own freedom! If there was anything that proved to at least most of our Founding Fathers the need for a central government strong enough to actually govern, it was the Revolutionary War! But notice here, I say “most.”

Yet the fear of the rising of an American “king” that had remained throughout the war was not assuaged by the creation of the Constitution as that document established an “Executive Branch” whose leader, though called a “President” could, in fact, in the confusion of establishing a Republican form of government, make himself “President for Life” without there being any way to undo such an arrangement once the Constitution was ratified! There were no “term limits” included in that document and such limitations as might affect the office were still undetermined! Indeed, though all the delegates in the convention had signed the Constitution, there were three States claiming that they would not join the union thus created unless George Washington would be the new nation’s first President for having walked away from total power through his command over the military after the war, most Americans were content to believe that Washington would also walk away from civil power, and, of course, he did! But the Constitution proved itself to those who feared a “king,” when, after a much undesired second term, Washington relinquished that dangerous office to John Adams, the winner of the third presidential election while Thomas Jefferson, who came in second, became his Vice President as determined by that same Constitution. Of all the things that George Washington did in his unique life, the peaceful, legal and decorous ceremony in which one leader stepped aside for his duly elected replacement was unique certainly in the world at that time. This was the nature of the American Constitution with all its human failings. It did, in fact, work – depending, of course, upon those involved.

Now, let’s not forget something else in this equation. The “federal government” was not the only government in existence at that time. Each State had its own constitution though, of course, each was different. As colonies, they differed because, among other things, they were established differently. Virginia was a “royal colony” while Pennsylvania was established on land given to the Penn family by the Mother Country. From the beginning, there was very little cooperation among the colonies. In fact, there was considerable hostility, a matter that at least I believe, led to Britain being confident that overcoming the “colonies” in their quest for independence was a foregone conclusion. As for internecine problems, when Benedict Arnold and Ethan Allen captured poorly defended Fort Ticonderoga in 1777 without obtaining the “permission” of New York – the colony in which that fort was located! – there was a contretemps between New Hampshire, Allen’s base of operations, and New York regarding the failure of the former to alert the latter to that operation! Now, given that the British – the enemy of both colonies – held that fort, the only reason for such a reaction was the failure of any spirit of cooperation – much less union! – between New York and New Hampshire! And it is to be remembered that this happened after the opening of the War, illustrating the failure by those same colonies to act in concert for the good of all without any sufficiently powerful governing body assuring that cooperation!

As I noted, not having studied the Revolutionary era and being therefore ignorant of the circumstances surrounding the creation of the Constitution, I was more than willing to blame that document (that “tool”) on what happened some 50 or so years after it was ratified. I was wrong for I was blaming the tool rather than its users. This was brought to my attention through my involvement in the creation of a documentary, Searching for Lincoln for which I wrote the segment, “Lincoln and the Constitution.” In it, I pointed out that though Lincoln swore that all he did was “constitutional,” in the end, even he admitted that he had simply abandoned America’s Founding Document in order to prevent the perfectly constitutional secession of eleven Southern States from the union formed by that same Constitution. Surely, what we had at the time was a “workman” who has escaped blame for a war against those who were supporting what was “constitutional” – secession – by making the tool – the federal government duly created by that Constitution –blamed for what happened afterward. We see the same reaction today in those who want to “ban” guns! Guns, like documents, don’t “do” anything. For them to fulfill their function, someone must use – or misuse – them! Lincoln misused the Constitution much as a criminal misuses a firearm. Condemning the firearm is no more useful in preventing “gun crime” than condemning the Constitution for crimes committed by a government that had abandoned that very document despite continuing to present it as the law of the land. And this is the situation that has continued to exist even after the so-called Civil War!

But before addressing that time of trial that came to pass decades after the ratification of the Constitution and the forming of the nation whose government was a creation of that document, let us look at how well the tool was used by the first generation of American leaders, men with honored names like Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Madison and Monroe. If these glorious figures of history were not able to follow what was a fairly simple “ruling document,” we should not find it difficult to understand why those who followed, even further removed from the ordeals of the formation of that new nation, became more caught up in the trials and temptations of the new century and therefore tempted to practice what its very statutes forbade. Of course, Washington’s presidency was unique and, fortunately, he understood that. He knew that everything he did, every little gesture and action would come under ferocious scrutiny and would be used as a template for every other man who followed him into that office whatever their politics. And, God knows, the man did his best! Fortunately for America, that best was unique in its excellence. But it simply wasn’t enough to prevent other men, often with the best of intentions as with Jefferson and Hamilton, from losing the concept of the “checks and balances” prescribed in the Constitution in an effort to forward their own agendas. Good intentions do not always lead to good government!

Washington sounded the warning bell of such dangers as the Constitution could not prevent in many of his writings. To begin with, he eschewed any claim to prophecy when he said:

I claim to no uncommon prescience into futurity, and subsequently can’t attempt to choose, with sureness what might be its (the Constitution’s) definitive fate.

In other words, Washington did not harbor any deep belief that the Constitution would be able to overcome all human passions and prejudices. He also correctly pointed out:

Blessings can become curses when abused. Assuming a guaranteed decent ought to end in a sudden fiendishness, it would not be a singular illustration of disillusionment in this changeable reality. (Washington said something similar about the French revolution with regard its ultimate fate as compared to that of the revolution of the United States!) In case the gifts of Heaven showered thick aground us ought to be spilled on the ground or changed over to curses, through the issue of those for whom they were expected, it would not be the main occasion of indiscretion or backwards nature in childish mortals (in other words, it wouldn’t be the first time a good idea went wrong because men didn’t behave appropriately!). . . The Bible shows human degeneracy can ruin what is great. The favored Religion uncovered in the expression of God will stay a timeless and terrible landmark to demonstrate that the best Institutions might be mishandled by human evil; and that they might even, in certain examples be made compliant to the most disgusting of purposes. (Consider this nation’s present “morality” and see that the Father of that Nation predicted truly, alas!)

Washington then spoke directly to the treatment by Americans of the document itself:

The Constitution will be disregarded by power hungry legislators assuming languid citizens permit it. (Might), in the future, the people who are endowed with the administration of this administration, instigated by the desire of force and provoked by the Supineness or corruption of their Constituents, overleap the known boundaries of this Constitution and abuse the unalienable freedoms of humanity?

And finally, this man who oversaw its creation admitted that his beloved Constitution was neither perpetual nor eternal:

The Constitution is not eternal and will be destroyed by the lust for power aided by the people’s corrupt morals. It will only serve to shew, that no compact among men (however provident in its construction and sacred in its ratification) can be pronounced everlasting and inviolable, and if I may so express myself, that no Wall of words, that no mound of parchment can be formed as to stand against the seeping torrent of boundless ambition on the one side, aided by the sapping current of corrupted morals on the other. (Welcome to America in the 21st Century!)

Has anyone better expressed this nation’s present condition? I think not. The dangers that Washington foresaw for his nation and its Constitution, he also presented to his fellow countrymen in his Farewell Address, a document read annually in our present Congress though few even understand his use of the language much less the message he attempted to impart to his fellow Americans:

The unity of government which constitutes you one people is now dear to you. It is justly so, for it is a main pillar in the edifice of your real independence, the support of your tranquility at home, your peace abroad; of your safety; of your prosperity; of that very liberty which you so highly prize. But as it is easy to foresee that, from different causes and from different quarters, much pains will be taken, many artifices employed to weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth; as this is the point in your political fortress against which the batteries of internal and external enemies will be most constantly and actively (though often covertly and insidiously) directed, it is of infinite moment that you should properly estimate the immense value of your national union to your collective and individual happiness; that you should cherish a cordial, habitual, and immovable attachment to it; accustoming yourselves to think and speak of it as of the palladium of your political safety and prosperity; watching for its preservation with jealous anxiety; discountenancing whatever may suggest even a suspicion that it can in any event be abandoned; and indignantly frowning upon the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest, or to enfeeble the sacred ties which now link together the various parts. (Many have blamed the South for abandoning the Union against Washington’s pleas, but they fail to consider that those who used and misused that Section for financial and political gain were the first to abandon “(t)he unity of government which constitutes you one people (and) is now dear to you.” Had the South been seen as “dear” to the rest of the Union, the War of Secession would never have taken place!

Washington knew that enemies of America, both foreign and domestic, would seek to pull this nation apart and that only a people devoted to unity within it would support the peace and safety they so greatly prized. Further, that those enemies would work to devalue and divide the union created by the Constitution and that the division and alienation that has become the basis of so much of our society would be the destruction of more than the union, but also of our domestic tranquility itself. We are witnessing perhaps the final prescience of Washington’s warning, a warning that was also available in the middle of the 19th Century but ignored – to America’s destruction:

For this you have every inducement of sympathy and interest. Citizens, by birth or choice, of a common country, that country has a right to concentrate your affections. The name of American, which belongs to you in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of patriotism more than any appellation derived from local discriminations. With slight shades of difference, you have the same religion, manners, habits, and political principles. You have in a common cause fought and triumphed together; the independence and liberty you possess are the work of joint counsels, and joint efforts of common dangers, sufferings, and successes. (Washington’s admonitions would have, of course, stopped, negated and prevented the financial manipulation of the Federal Government for the benefit of some States at the expense of others – that is, the States of the South! That the government was misused for this purpose shows that Washington’s fears regarding both dishonest government and national unity were already at work.)

What Washington, the Virginian who was not all that welcomed as a leader by the New England militias at Cambridge during the Boston siege, feared most of all was a division of America by geographic section:

In contemplating the causes which may disturb our Union, it occurs as matter of serious concern that any ground should have been furnished for characterizing parties by geographical discriminations, Northern and Southern, Atlantic and Western; whence designing men may endeavor to excite a belief that there is a real difference of local interests and views. One of the expedients of party to acquire influence within particular districts is to misrepresent the opinions and aims of other districts. You cannot shield yourselves too much against the jealousies and heartburnings which spring from these misrepresentations; they tend to render alien to each other those who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection.

He then speaks of the “centrality” of the federal government established by the Constitution. Remember, he was speaking to a people who had never known such a government and certainly had never known any government to which the people could look for support and justice. In other words, to Washington, the federal government established by the Constitution was The People’s government; it was not an agent of “special interests” or a tool of ambitious and greedy men:

The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their constitutions of government. But the Constitution which at any time exists, till changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people, is sacredly obligatory upon all. The very idea of the power and the right of the people to establish government presupposes the duty of every individual to obey the established government.

Here he speaks of “using” – or more to the point misusing – the government formed by the Constitution for the benefit of individuals and factions, how this could be done and what the result would be for “We the People” if that were to come about:

All obstructions to the execution of the laws, all combinations and associations, under whatever plausible character, with the real design to direct, control, counteract, or awe the regular deliberation and action of the constituted authorities, are destructive of this fundamental principle, and of fatal tendency. They serve to organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force; to put, in the place of the delegated will of the nation the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community;

Washington also writes here of his own personal demon – political parties! And we know, by the 1860s, what role that particular “institution” played in the destruction of the government created by that same Constitution and the aftermath of that destruction:

The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty. 

Now let us go to that period of time in the (relatively) new nation in which this profound “constitutional crisis” called the Civil War took place. For those who believe that newly elected President Abraham Lincoln, the man who initiated that war, acted or intended to act according to the United States Constitution as he had sworn to do upon taking the oath of office, and therefore, his actions were legitimized by that document, let us look and see if those beliefs are valid.

Although I am not addressing causes of the war that was to come, Lincoln made it his business to provide, in advance, what he was going to use as at least one such agency should he be forced to go to war to keep the revenues of the South. For on June 17th, 1858, Lincoln gave a speech at the State Capitol in Illinois in which he gave a warning regarding the state of the nation at that time. Quoting The Bible, a Book in which he did not believe, Lincoln stated:

“A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free…It will become all one thing or all the other.”

Taking what was said at face value, it appears that Lincoln was warning against the “slaveocracy” of the South taking control of the government and spreading slavery into the rest of the Union, an idea that terrified Northerners! Bringing “the African” into what were then virtually all-white states and territories was the greatest fear of most of the people outside of the South. But the South, geographically isolated by that institution itself – and therefore unable to “grow” into the new territories – was politically impotent having long since been overtaken in representation in the federal government by new States entering the Union. And so, the Southern States were no more able to impose their will upon the rest of the Union than they were able to free themselves of Northern political and economic hegemony.

Now, it was true that by Lincoln’s time the government created by the Constitution could not long endure the way that matters then stood. However, the problem was not slavery, but, rather, two diametric and irreconcilable concepts of nationhood, a problem that had become ever more divisive since the establishment of that Union. And it was this “division” that Lincoln wanted most desperately to “cure” with his viewpoint being triumphant, of course. In other words, in the eyes of Lincoln and others who wished to join European powers along with Great Britain in the building of Empires, nothing, could be allowed to weaken what was supposed to be the “constitutionally limited” federal government and that included secession. Whatever had to be done to prevent or cure such an action must be done, the Constitution be damned!

Now we know that the original signatories to the Constitution had accepted the concept of subsequent secession because three States, New York, Rhode Island and Virginia had added secession language to their ratification documents and those documents had been accepted while containing that language. Virginia’s document stated:

WE the Delegates of the people of Virginia, duly elected in pursuance of a recommendation from the General Assembly, and now met in Convention, having fully and freely investigated and discussed the proceedings of the Federal Convention, and being prepared as well as the most mature deliberation hath enabled us, to decide thereon, DO in the name and in behalf of the people of Virginia, declare and make known that the powers granted under the Constitution, being derived from the people of the United States may be resumed by them whensoever the same shall be perverted to their injury or oppression, and that every power not granted thereby remains with them and at their will: that therefore no right of any denomination, can be cancelled, abridged, restrained or modified, by the Congress, by the Senate or House of Representatives acting in any capacity, by the President or any department or officer of the United States, except in those instances in which power is given by the Constitution for those purposes: and that among other essential rights, the liberty of conscience and of the press cannot be cancelled, abridged, restrained or modified by any authority of the United States.

Anyone familiar with contract law will state unequivocally that any right held by a signatory to a contract is held by every other signatory. The Constitution was a contract and, hence, if Virginia or Rhode Island or New York could secede, so could any other State that had signed and ratified that document, period. No question here. No mystery. No one was ignorant of the right of States to secede from the Union! It was known when New England considered the matter during the War of 1812 when a Virginian was in the White House. No threats of armed invasion or punishment were made to those member States at the Hartford Convention. That those States did not secede changes nothing! They had a recognized right to do so even during a war!

And so, when Lincoln refused to accept the secession of any State from the constitutionally created Union, he was in direct violation of that formative Constitution! Is this not a case of people blaming the Constitution for what was, in fact, the fault of those who allowed that “tool” to be misused? And as noted, some Southern States rightly believed that the federal government as comprised at that time had rejected the constraints placed upon it by the original Constitution and expanded its powers far beyond its “enumerated limits.” The simple fact was that the majority of the people of the South, having left the British Empire because of the tyranny of the King, concluded after a long series of political and economic crises, that the federal government as it existed in 1861 had become king in all but name – and for that reason, they were determined to exercise their right to remove themselves from its control via secession! However, by doing so, they were not committing treason as indeed they had in the Revolution years earlier, but merely making use of a duly recognized recourse under that same Constitution they had ratified so many years before.

But Lincoln and his Party along with those who had profited from the economic bondage of the Southern States for many years, understood that they had to do more than just defeat secession to maintain the economic and political status quo. They had to conquer and subjugate the people of the South and establish a new “constitutional order” in place of the old — an order in which the Federal Government’s powers moved from being constitutionally limited and enumerated to one in which that government was perpetual, indivisible, dominant and exalted. Thus, the aim of the war—and we must remember that Lincoln began his presidency promising “civil war” upon any State attempting secession — was that Lincoln, acting as Chief Executive and Commander in Chief, would create a supreme National (not Federal) Government with the potential to exert virtually unlimited authority over what had previously been “sovereign” States.

But the South, unwilling to accept such an “unconstitutional” concept, determined to leave this “alien” nation and return to the original beliefs brought forth at the founding. Of course, this could not be permitted. The legitimacy of secession and independence was of no more interest to the New Empire in 1861 than it had been to the Old Empire in 1776! There were too many reasons in both instances, most of which were economic. However, as a political and social force within the nation, the doctrines of the South had to be destroyed, its culture demonized, its economy desolated and its political will broken so thoroughly that there would never again be any challenge to Federal domination over the States; indeed, over all the States and not just those South of the Mason-Dixon line. This is the reason today we see Lincoln’s war continuing in the destruction of Southern heroes, monuments and history.

The word “treason” was much used before, during and after the Civil War but few people even know the definition of treason as found in Article III, Section 3 of the Constitution:

“Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.”

As the definition of treason is “making war against them,” “them” being the States, let us hearken back to Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address. In it, he refers to those Southern States that had already seceded from the Union or were considering doing so:

“In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. . . You have no oath registered in heaven to destroy the Government, while I shall have the most solemn one to preserve, protect, and defend it”

Notice two things: Lincoln speaks of taking an oath to defend the government. But, rather, the oath found in Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution states as follows:

“…I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Nowhere does the word “government” appear in that oath! Lincoln swore to uphold the Constitution, not the “government” or at least not any “government” that violated that same Constitution! But in fact, he entered his office already prepared to sacrifice the Constitution in his effort to protect the government.

Then, Lincoln stated unequivocally that the result of secession would be civil war. But civil war is a war between two factions vying for control of a nation. The States of the South wished only to leave the old union and create a new one more favorable to the needs of its people, for by 1860, the Southern States were in permanent economic and political subjugation and being reduced yearly into greater and greater poverty despite producing more economically than most of the rest of the Union combined. This situation was identified by Missouri Senator Thomas H. Benton in 1828 three decades before the Cotton States acted to escape political and financial servitude. Benton, speaking on the floor of the Senate stated:

“Before the (American) revolution [the South] was the seat of wealth … Wealth has fled from the South, and settled in regions north of the Potomac: and this in the face of the fact, that the South, … has exported produce, since the Revolution, to the value of eight hundred millions of dollars; and the North has exported comparatively nothing. … Under Federal legislation, the exports of the South have been the basis of the Federal revenue …Virginia, the two Carolinas, and Georgia, may be said to defray three-fourths of the annual expense of supporting the Federal Government; and of this great sum, annually furnished by them, nothing or next to nothing is returned to them, in the shape of Government expenditures. That expenditure flows…northwardly, in one uniform, uninterrupted, and perennial stream. This is the reason why wealth disappears from the South and rises up in the North. Federal legislation does all this!”

But whatever the reasons for secession—and they were many—Lincoln saw them as an attempt to, in his words, “destroy the government” and the destruction of the government—not the nation or even the Union, becomes the mantra throughout the war—and even after. And it is to prevent the destruction of the government that all of Lincoln’s actions address. He promises—and initiates—war for that purpose. Lincoln’s motives do not change, neither do they mitigate his actions—that is, to wage war in the name of the “national government” upon the states of the South. And since the federal government is not a state but a creature of the Constitution which itself is a creation of the States and voted into existence by the States—upon some of whom Lincoln was now waging war—a more clear definition of treason cannot be found. However, we forget something in this matter; that is, not only were Lincoln and his government guilty of treason, but so was every person, and every State in the Union that bore arms giving aid and comfort to his treason.

Lincoln refused those restraints which the Constitution placed around and upon his “government” because to his mind the federal—now national—government was the repository of all power and answerable to no one, certainly not the States. And this mindset was never seriously contested by members of the other two branches of that same government. Thus strengthened, Lincoln went forth to initiate, sustain and triumph in the most bloody and brutal war ever fought by the United States and in so doing, his constitutional crimes were many and grievous:

  • As President-elect, he planned and carried out a “false flag” action against the government of South Carolina and the newly created Confederate States of America in violation of both the Constitution and the accord reached between former President Buchanan and South Carolina not to attempt to rearm and send troops and supplies to the federal forts in Charleston. His own Cabinet violently disagreed with the President’s intentions referable to Fort Sumter, stating that his actions would be correctly seen as a declaration of war by the Confederacy.
  • As President, he declared war on those States that had seceded from the Union. But the Constitution gives the power to declare war only to the Congress! Article I, Section 8 states that Congress is able: “To declare War…; To raise and support Armies. . .; To provide and maintain a Navy; … according to the discipline prescribed by Congress…”
  • He suspended habeas corpus, another power relegated to Congress alone in Article I; Section 9 on the duties of the Legislative Branch. Habeas corpus can be suspended, but only by Congress. Needless to say, Congress was not consulted on the matter.
  • He used the military to control the election of 1864, sending soldiers to vote where they did not reside and using them at the polls to intimidate voters, something facilitated by the use of colored ballots indicating the voter’s intentions before his vote was cast. Gen. “Spoons” Butler telegraphed Lincoln from New York City declaring that not one Democrat had voted there.
  • He established martial law in States within the Union and in areas that were not in a war zone. He suspended civil rights to what he termed “military necessity” in a letter of August 9th, 1864: “Nothing justifies the suspending of the civil by the military authority, but military necessity, and of the existence of that necessity the military commander … is to decide.” This is not a constitutional act and therefore we cannot cast blame on that document for its enactment.
  • He authorized the trial of civilians by military tribunals in areas that were not war zones; this practice was continued even after the war. Consider the trial of his assassins which was military in nature, though none being tried were in fact in the military or charged with acting as members of the military.
  • He gave his blessing to the waging of war contrary to those rules of war in place at that time in the “civilized world,” a strategy that intentionally targeted civilians and non-combatants and involved the destruction of the enemy’s way of life, his culture, his history and his identity; that is, what is called “cultural genocide” and, sad to say, it continues even to today.
  • He created the State of West Virginia, from territory legally part of the State of Virginia contrary to the constitutional requirement of the approval of the State, from which territory is taken to make any new State.

And these are only a few of the actions taken by Lincoln that were contrary to both the spirit and the letter of the Constitution and thus rendered that document null and void not only in those states of the South but in those that remained within the Union! Indeed, between what Lincoln did during the war and what his government did after, the Constitution has never recovered.

Under Lincoln, the entire First Amendment was virtually rendered null and void. Of course, the Amendment speaks to laws created by Congress. But whether by Executive Order or by duly established law, it is forbidden for the Government in, by and/or through any of its branches, to restrict religious observance, freedom of speech, freedom of the press or the right of peaceful assembly and petition. Yet all of these were effectively suspended by Lincoln and those who were considered to have violated that suspension were prosecuted by a tyrannous government acting in direct violation of the Constitution.

As was usual with Lincoln, any newspaper that dared to challenge his war or criticize his actions was shut down and its editor arrested and imprisoned without charge. The grandson of Francis Scott Key, Francis Key Howard, editor of The Exchange Newspaper of Baltimore, was arrested on the morning of September 13th, 1861, and taken to Fort McHenry. He later wrote:

“When I looked out in the morning, I could not help being struck by an odd and not pleasant coincidence. On that day forty-seven years before my grandfather, . . . then prisoner on a British ship, had witnessed the bombardment of Fort McHenry. When . . . the hostile fleet drew off, defeated, he wrote the song so long popular throughout the country, the Star Spangled Banner. As I stood upon the very scene of that conflict, I could not but contrast my position with his, forty-seven years before.”

Howard was correct. The tyranny against which Americans had fought in 1776 had merely changed in person and place from a tyrant 4,000 miles away to a duly elected tyrant in their own backyards. However, that cannot be blamed on the Constitution but, rather, on the failure of those duly elected to obey that document in good faith.

And what about Lincoln and his Administration’s effect on religion? Well, there are countless stories of clerics who were ordered – not asked – to pray for the President and not just for his health or his immortal soul, but for the furtherance of his war. This was demanded by the military of religious leaders both in the North and in the South and when it was not forthcoming – especially in occupied areas in the South – the pastor was arrested and the church closed. Worse, during the war, the churches in the South were a particular target for destruction as a means of inflicting cultural death upon the section. The buildings were used as stables and then burned or razed; church records were burned; cemeteries were rifled, graves looted and vandalized and grave markers destroyed as a means of obliterating public records. This crusade – fully as awful as any waged by the Ottoman Turk or the Nazis and Communists of the last century – must stand as proof that Lincoln violated even this militarily neutral section of the First Amendment. Indeed, freedom of any kind was in short supply during the War of Secession. There was a pervasive malignant atmosphere of suspicion and betrayal that silenced even the most benign dissent by the most honorable of dissenters. Indeed, one may rightly imagine the fate of George Washington should he have lived at that time. Certainly, he would not have been treated any differently by Lincoln and his Congress than by George III and his Parliament!

Here are some quotes from Lincoln referring to the Constitution. While many sound orthodox, his sentiments – like his much vaunted General Order 100 – are filled with caveats and admissions that, in the end, prove he would do whatever he considered necessary rather than what was demanded by the Constitution.

“Don’t interfere with anything in the Constitution. That must be maintained, for it is the only safeguard of our liberties.”

Lincoln’s only concern was that the Constitution would interfere with him and hence, he was determined to ignore it from the outset despite his apparent “promise” to do otherwise.

“We the people are the rightful masters of both Congress and the courts, not to overthrow the Constitution but to overthrow the men who pervert the Constitution.”

Here Lincoln speaks of himself in terms of the royal “we,” but he alone is “master” which he proved by virtually nullifying the other branches of government. And while Lincoln assures his listeners that he only intends to “overthrow the men who pervert the Constitution,” he neglects to point out that he, himself, is chief among them.

“Must a government, of necessity, be too strong for the liberties of its own people, or too weak to maintain its own existence?”

In a rhetorical question, Lincoln sets up a false dichotomy, validating his treason by presenting it as the only means by which the country can be saved. Of course, in the end, the country was not saved, but for all intents and purposes, lost – as we are now seeing in our own time. Some disasters take considerable time to reach their conclusion.

“The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.”

Lincoln sees the Constitution as “inadequate” for the “stormy present”—a present he had made stormy—and validates his chosen course by speaking about “disenthralling ourselves” – that is, throwing off the yoke of constitutional limitations.

The statement below was made in his December 1st, 1862 Annual Message to Congress. It is Lincoln’s version of Orwell’s “double speak.”

“Can this government stand, if it indulges constitutional constructions by which men in open rebellion against it, are to be accounted, man for man, the equals of those who maintain their loyalty to it?”

Again, Lincoln excuses the unconstitutional acts of the creation of West Virginia and its admission into the Union by calling into question the patriotism of those who oppose it. He points out that those who support the government – again, not the Constitution – are “loyal” while those who disagree are “rebels” and “insurrectionists” intent upon destroying that government. But the Constitution says nothing about motives or the government. An act is constitutional or it is not; it stands or falls by no other criteria.

In writing to Reverdy Johnson in July of 1862, Lincoln states:

“…I must save this government if possible. What I cannot do, of course, I will not do; but it may as well be understood, one for all, that I shall never surrender this game leaving any available card unplayed.”

That is, he assures Johnson that he will not to do what the Constitution forbids him doing—but then he turns around and assures Johnson that he intends to do whatever he has to do to “save this government.” Part B clearly revokes Part A.

Lincoln’s intention to abandon the Constitution was confirmed in a letter to Albert G. Hodges on April 4th, 1864:

“Was it possible to lose the nation, and yet preserve the constitution? By general law life and limb must be protected; yet often a limb must be amputated to save a life; but a life is never wisely given to save a limb.”

In other words, the nation cannot be saved through adherence to the Constitution and therefore that document must be “amputated” to achieve the desired goal. Thus, Lincoln embraces the Hobbesian philosophy that the ends justify the means. Of course, in the loss of the Constitution, the nation as founded in 1789 was also lost.

In a letter of July 12th, 1863, Lincoln addressed concerns about the many arrests and imprisonments of those who disagreed openly with his actions. To a New York Democratic Convention he wrote:

“The resolutions quote from the constitution, the definition of treason; and also the limiting safe-guards and guarantees therein provided for the citizen, on trial for treason, and on his being held to answer for capital or otherwise infamous crimes…But these provisions of the constitution have no application to the case we have in hand, because the arrests complained of were not made for treason—that is not for the treason defined in the constitution…nor yet were they made to hold persons to answer for any capital, or otherwise infamous crimes; nor were the proceedings following, in any constitutional or legal sense, ‘criminal prosecutions’. The arrests were made on totally different grounds, and the proceeding following, according with the grounds of the arrests.”

This is a rather spectacular example of Lincoln’s ability to parse words. He assures the Convention that nobody was being arrested for real treason as defined in the Constitution, but the arrests and all that followed had been made “on totally different grounds”—grounds that Lincoln then refuses to identify. This has the same moral, ethical and legal value as a fairly recent President’s response to another difficult question: “It all depends upon what the meaning of ‘is’ is.” And we can be sure, that both statements were made for the same purpose; to obscure, protect, excuse and justify criminal activities by a President and his government.

Going back to his First Inaugural we look again at Lincoln’s attempt to establish the concept of government perpetuity using both the Constitution and his own personal invention, “universal law” to justify his actions.

“I hold, that in contemplation of universal law, and of the Constitution, the Union of these States is perpetual. Perpetuity is implied, if not expressed, in the fundamental law of all national governments.

If Lincoln had not been a lawyer or had been unfamiliar with the Constitution, perhaps some excuse could be made for this statement, but as he was both, the only conclusion we must reach is that his ambition was greater than his honesty. For four centuries prior to the Constitution, English common law held that there was no such thing as a contract in perpetuity. True, the Articles of Confederation spoke of a “perpetual union,” but the Constitution deliberately did not—and neither was it implied. Therefore, any contract – which is what the Constitution was and is – cannot be considered perpetual, simply by adding that word – as in the Articles – or the phrase “implying same,” as did Lincoln. One can call a bull a butterfly, but that doesn’t make it so.

In conclusion, Abraham Lincoln came into office with an agenda involving a total restructuring of the government of the United States, a restructure that would forever remove the concept of “the consent of the governed.” Obviously, such an agenda required a total disregard of and for the Constitution. From the time of his election, he was in contact and actively working with, among others, General of the Armies, Winfield Scott concerning any military response available to the government referable to the secession of the Southern states. He was asking—and receiving—advice on his options once he assumed the office of President and, as we have seen by his sentiments expressed in his first inaugural address, those actions included a plan to initiate war against any state that attempted to leave the Union—a clear act of treason!

Finally, let us look at such “blame” as might be placed upon the founding document of the United States, that is, our Constitution. First and foremost, we must admit that it is, after all, only a tool! It has no sentience or consciousness. It is a document. How it is administered depends upon those administering it. Let us look at the Constitution in the same light as the Holy Bible. This, too, is a document. It is written down. It can do nothing in and of itself, but depends wholly upon those who read it to fulfill its tenets and instructions wisely and in good faith. And despite its age and its claimed Authorship, it can do nothing in and of itself. As with the gun or the Constitution, the Bible requires the actions of men to give it “life.” Those who mean well, do their best to fulfill the tenets of both documents, but being human, sometimes they fail. Meanwhile, those who do not mean well can – and do! – bring about chaos, bloodshed and destruction all in the name of the document being “administered;” that is, the tool being misused by them.

So, having seen what this country was before the Constitution (and giving thanks as did George Washington to the Almighty for the miracles He provided to our ancestors in permitting our country to actually form!) I no longer believe that it was our Constitution that brought blood, suffering and death in 1861. Had the tool been well used from the beginning, it is probable that the evils following would never have taken place. So let us not blame the tool for the sins of those who misused it – for to do so damns the great sacrifice and suffering undergone by our Founding Generation and anyone who is able to reason understands that those mighty heroes are the next target of the present global elites in their ongoing deconstruction of the United States of America.

Valerie Protopapas

Valerie Protopapas is an independent historian and the former editor of The Southern Cavalry Review, the journal of The Stuart-Mosby Historical Society.


  • Paul Yarbrough says:

    When I read well-structured historical summaries like this, then hear the casual readers/teachers of “comic book” history (Limbaugh, Kilmeade, Levin et al, along with the television collection of historical blather: Brinkley et nonsense) I wonder and wonder and wonder and wonder how such God-given creations with minds formed by that same God could misdirect themselves to such untutored madness that they spit out and spew daily. Certainly, God does not make trash. He does not make liars or fools either. They make themselves.
    Nice article Ms. Protopapas.

    • Billy P says:

      Add Dennis Prager and Glenn Beck to that list of “conservatives” who sell us out on a daily basis, too. They choose the safe approach and always blame the South. They do not exhibit the ability to think critically. It’s the coward’s approach, it takes no guts to denigrate dead men who were far greater than they will ever be. Despite their alleged brain power, they exhibit loads of determined ignorance.
      Lincoln was a tyrant; he was evil, and his savior myth is a lie. The South was right, still is.

      • Paul Yarbrough says:

        The list of their sort is long. The so-called “Fair and Balanced” channel is far from either (fair or balanced) and are the worst of the bunch. At least the rest of such ilk don’t pretend to be something they are not.

    • Gordon says:

      Rush Limbaugh doesn’t belong with the rest. I never – not once – heard him condescend to Southerners when he didn’t have tongue firmly in cheek. The same with rare praise for Lincoln. It was his business to gain a wide audience but he did it without selling out good people to leftists. Marxists considered Rush similarly as they did Confederate statues.

      No doubt, he was friends with Bush’s and Cheney’s. I’m embarrassed thinking I voted for them but still don’t see that there was any alternative at the time. That was then and I don’t imagine Rush would be less than outraged at treatment of J6’ers in this day.

      • Paul Yarbrough says:

        I mildly disagree. But I simply believe Rush Limbaugh was influenced by conservative pretenders like William Buckley.

        • Gordon says:

          Is there any consensus on who IS a conservative? I’ve seen Pat Buchanan accused as a sellout and don’t even mention Ronald Reagan – evidently he’s responsible for all evil because of a single piece of 40 year old, non-binding immigration legislation.

          Is there any consensus on WHAT is a conservative?

          • Paul Yarbrough says:

            I don’t know if there is or if there isn’t. But I don’t believe Buckley was one, except when he pretended to be one for the attention.

  • Mike M says:

    In my not so humble opinion, John Wilkes Booth didn’t kill the hypocritical Communist traitor Dishonest Abe Lincoln soon enough. Too bad for the South and indeed the world that Dishonest Abe didn’t go to meet his father the devil 5 years before he did.

  • Frank Natola says:

    You knocked it out of the park again! Thank you for another of your well researched, thoroughly documented essays. Keep up the good work.
    Deo Vindice!
    Frank Natola

    • Valerie Protopapas says:

      Thank you, but I take no credit. My new interest in George Washington brought all of this to light for me. I too blamed at least the government believing that the Constitution had been (and was!) misused. But I’m sorry to say that even from the beginning there were those who had a vision of what they wanted for that new nation and believe me, seeing what Washington went through as President proved to me that there should have been a million men like him for this concept of a Republic of, by and for the People to survive.

  • scott Thompson says:

    ….You have no oath registered in heaven to destroy the Government….i guess at the time abe said this he was in a govt, and lo and behold another govt was formed not far way. sounds like fission, ie, more governments, not destruction.

    • Valerie Protopapas says:

      Lincoln forcibly equated the secession of the Southern States with the “destruction” of the federal (limited) government. Of course that would not have happened. On the other hand, what Lincoln did, actually resulted in the destruction of the original, limited Federal government and replaced it with what we have today.

      • Lee Vail AKA Kalev Efrayim says:

        Sadly, 99% of self-professed conservatives don’t see the truth in that comment.
        This is an excellent article, I look forward to more such articles you write.

  • Lee Vail AKA Kalev Efrayim says:

    Excellent article, I will be sharing it with friends not subscribed to Abbeville Institute.

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