If a myth is repeated enough times, it may become widely accepted as a historical fact... and, as many know very well, “the first casualty of a war is … the truth”.

“DVDs of Lincoln will be distributed to all public and private middle and high schools in the U.S" [1],

Depicting one of the most traumatic period of the US, the film is, appropriately, borrowing its dramatic, predominantly night-set photography and scene compositions from the artworks born in similar - war ridden times – highly polarised, light and dark contrasting paintings of Italian and European Baroque masters such as Caravaggio and Rembrandt.

In the opening scene, Spielberg's "Lincoln" depicts a slaughter of dozens, mainly Confederate, “rebel-soldiers” in a fierce body-to body battle with the Unionist soldiers.

This scene is followed by the characteristic, side-lighted contrasting and TV news like close-up in which several Unionist soldiers explain to the camera (and their initially invisible listener) that they did not want to take Confederate prisoners and did not want them captured alive. The sympathetically smiling and all-approving listener was then shown to be none other than Lincoln, the great legislator president of the US, himself.The soldiers then strolled away into a quiet night repeating some of Lincoln's slogans about universal liberty and equality ... instead of being sent to a court-martial or war-crimes tribunal for effectively committing war crimes by killing rather than taking prisoners of war.

If this were the 20th or 21st century and a smaller country, a president of state whose soldiers commit such war crimes would have faced the International Court in Hague (or Nuremberg). Instead, Lincoln has been hailed as a hero (and his soldiers, too). A hero whose government had motives to wage the Civil War that resulted in 750,000 (others) children and fathers dead, cannot be understood without further background research.

I am afraid that the school classroom model hero-myth about the altruistic, near deity-like face on the 1 cent coin may have its own reverse side of the coin.

Slavery was a very substantial capital investment (4 million of slaves worth 3 billion of dollars[2]) that enabled high income and high return on investment to the Southerners from cotton and tobacco exports to Europe without adequate, sufficient taxes being collected by the Federal government. However, the Confederate secession and the American Civil War were not directly caused by Northerners' drive for the liberation of slaves... nor was the much later introduced drive for the liberation of slaves entirely driven by humanist idealism.

Several authors agree that it was either the newly imposed industrial import taxes or lack of tax relief that made the South angry enough to secede. Therefore, as much the American war for Independence started because of increase of taxes imposed by British Empire, the Southern states' independence movement started due to the imposition of new import taxes. For example, economics professor Thomas Di Lorenzo has been revising the history of Lincoln reign from a liberal economics point of view indicating that Lincoln was more interested in pursuing mercantilism and creating a strong, high tax-high spending Federal state than in pursuing altruism and liberation of black slaves[3].

Another sceptical author states that: "...as soon as Lincoln was elected and Congress assembled in 1861, they created new high import tariffs. Slavery wasn’t the problem – higher import taxes were. In his inaugural address Lincoln stated he would go (and) get the customs in the South even if there was a secession! [4]"

As the Leader of the opposition in the Congress in one film scene stated that “this [Civil] War was a war for the US” many other Northerners appeared happy to take-up the Confederate offer of peace and its return into the US, and, implicitly, to surrender its Southern markets open to the Northern industrial trade. Lincoln however appeared to be single-handedly refuting the peace offer until the 13th amendment for equality and freedom of black slaves was passed by the Congress later that year[5].

Did Lincoln then prolong the war single-handedly, driven by pure altruism for black slaves? Let’s have a look at some preceding chronology:

  • Sudden reduction in European imports of US foodstuff from its North-western states and both, the resulting recession and the 1857 Wall Street Panic (a financial crash) lead to a collapse of the real and financial economies of the Northern US states[6], not unlike the recent 2008 crash. The Southern economy based on cotton and tobacco exports to Europe was however relatively unaffected and remained prosperous.
  • Once elected, Lincoln's government introduced the additional import and export taxes with aim to open and protect the Southern markets for the Northern industry and balance the Federal budget.
  • The cotton-rich exporting states followed that decision with a rather familiar pattern: they refused to finance the 1857 recession-stricken parts of their larger union (not unlike some other federations in more recent years), the Northern states of the US in this case, and opted for their constitutionally guaranteed right to secession from the union.
  • If Lincoln and abolitionists had as their main aim to live in a slavery free state, they could have just accepted the secession of the slavery protecting Southerners – the remaining Northern states in the Union were predominantly slavery-free already.
  • What triggered the actual Civil War however, and the attack on Fort Sumter in 1861 remains unclear, for now at least. The Unionists had a clear interest in provoking the conflict by keeping their army units on the territory of the Southern states: forcing the Southerners back into the Federation by a military intervention for both the market and tax revenues.
  • It is also possible that some of mercantilist economic advisers and politicians (like Lincoln himself was) in the recession stricken North considered benefits of potentially boosting effects for their economy from (almost any) military intervention as an additional reason for starting the intervention in the South too[7].
  • In order to finance the Civil War effort and this fiscal-military expansion, in 1862 Congress approved the first progressive-private income taxation law in US, a war measure which remained in effect ever since.
  • Abolition of slavery as a goal of the Civil War and introduced for the first time in 1863, initially as a temporary war measure (as stated by Lincoln himself), whole two years already into the war. It was introduced in part as a pragmatic, political and public relations move to mobilise any free (or escaped) black people in the North and gain support of other slaves in the South, as well as that of many US abolitionists and the altruists world-wide for the cause of the Unionists[8].
  • The 13th amendment giving freedom to the slaves was passed in Senate in April 1864 and Congress in January 1865. However, by some accounts, it appears that Lincoln was prepared to give in on the amendment for freedom of slaves, referring to it as a temporary war measure, for Confederate surrender to the Union in the negotiations on the river boat in February 1865 which came to almost nothing.

Did Lincoln then prolong the war single-handedly as film and some historians try to depict it? Well, let’s be realistic - or, more to the point - let’s be rationally consistent. Despite his altruistic hubris, Lincoln’s government had introduced income taxation and had plans for creating a military and economically strong industrial state as Di Lorenzo claims.

However, slavery is not compatible with new industrial and strong state. Slaves are not free to take-up work, or to be later fired, they do not receive income and, what may be even more important, they cannot, and so do not, pay income taxes to the state. Another American economic historian, Charles Beard, also claimed that liberation of slaves was driven largely by economic interests of the Northern industrialists (Beard and Beard (1927) [9]).

That puts the (late into the war, introduced) official goal of the Civil War to abolish slavery and 13th amendment into less altruistic but a more pragmatic perspective: conquer the Confederate states and establish an economically stronger and a better funded federal state.

Lincoln and the Union generals led the war for integrity of the US to its full military victory and - although the sacrifice of 750,000 soldiers (and a great many civilians) for the war effort had to be given a more worthy cause, it nevertheless looks like the altruism behind the American anti-slavery war was in great part a drive for equality of black slaves in front of the laws of micro - and fiscal macro - economics.

In addition to the altruism, this may had been be in part so that they could take on paid employment and then, together with their former masters, pay taxes to the State which was starved for finances. Although segregation of the black people continued for another 100 years - well into late 1960’s - their income taxes were nevertheless collected in an egalitarian fashion (and a good value deal for their freedom it was, some may then also claim).

In the 2nd part we will be discussing some other potential reasons for the Civil War and its implications for Scotland and some other world-wide regions seeking independence nowadays.

Disclaimer: This text is written as a construction of possible reality on basis of references taken from internet but whose validity author could not check or guarantee and the resulting text above has no claim to accurately present real events or characters. Author apologises for any offence the text may cause – it was not intentional but purely coincidental and the main aim of the text was to entertain its reader with a partially fictional vision of an alternative (but plausible) reality.

[1] hollywoodreporter.com/lincoln-dvds-go-all-us
[2] See eh.net/the-economics-of-the-civil-war/
[3] " ...Thomas DiLorenzo calls for a complete rethinking of a central icon of American historiography. He looks at the actions and legacy of Abe Lincoln from an economics point of view to show that Lincoln's main interest was not in opposing slavery but in advancing mercantilism, inflationism, and government spending:... DiLorenzo shows that the high tariff pushed by the Northern industries, at the expense of Southern agriculture, was the main cause of the sectional conflict. Further, Lincoln's goal in preventing Southern secession was the consolidation of federal power and the collection of revenue, not the elimination of slavery. .... " from: store.mises.org/Real-Lincoln-The (also: store.mises.org/Lincoln-Unmasked)
[4] see marccpa.com/the-history-of-taxation-practices-taxes-slavery-and-the-civil-war
[5] DiLorenzo aims to explain, as he states" ...economic and political legacies of that of the real Lincoln, the man who waged total war on his own citizens, killing some 350,000 of them [750.000 soldiers by other accounts G.P.]; who shredded the Constitution and essentially declared himself dictator; who suspended Habeas Corpus and imprisoned political opponents by the thousands; who shut down opposition newspapers by the hundreds; who intimidated federal judges and deported an opposition member of Congress; who ignored how most of the rest of the world ended slavery peacefully; who destroyed the voluntary union of the founding fathers that was based on states’ rights and federalism; and whose regime introduced America to income taxation" Quoted from academy.mises.org/courses/lincoln , see also: store.mises.org/Hamiltons-Curse
[6] Huston, James: The Panic of 1857 and the Coming of the Civil War.
[7] Even early mercantilist economists that influenced Lincoln and his backers knew that that a war, or just a significant preparation for it, can be used as a business-boosting expansionary, fiscal policy measure aimed to cut the unemployment through military mobilisation and to facilitate the economy through the additional war production and supply at least. The government and its army then employs a major part of the army of the unemployed and gives them their new tools of trade: the weapons, uniforms and ammunition it ordered to be produced by those not sent for the front, thus, boosting the industry and the additional employment too.
[8] "President Lincoln and other Republicans were concerned that the Emancipation Proclamation, which in 1863 declared the freedom of slaves in ten Confederate states then in rebellion, would be seen as a temporary war measure, since it was based solely on Lincoln's war powers.", from : wikipedia.org/ThirteenthAmendmenttotheUnitedStatesConstitution
[9] See Charles and Mary Beard: The Rise of American Civilization (1927)