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I grew up in the deep South, but my male ancestors were Union officers. I find the web letters posted here objectionable in their strange combination of sloppy history, crazed libertarianism and fits of hysterics. I also notice that the authors of these letters did not read Professor Foner's article. Lincoln was not a "fervent racist" and he did not give orders that Southern women and children be assaulted.

Mr. Lingenfelser seems not to have heard of the famous system of checks and balances and the three branches of government. If what he writes were true, why would the founders have bothered to establish an executive branch? Revolutionary France just had an assembly.

In fact, the power of the states relative to the federal government was a matter of dispute from the get-go. The Constitution involved compromises. The decision of each state to join the union was not revocable; it was a commitment. Georgia and South Carolina didn't have to join; they decided to.

One of the major founders warned that if the states did not form a strong union, they would be fighting wars against one another just as European states had done for so many centuries and at the cost of so many lives.

Coonfederate forces fired on Fort Sumter. The Confederate Army marched on Washington, fighting at Manassas and Bull Run, which is why the Union Army went south. The South did not simply secede; it also attacked.

Mr. Banta is delusional in his belief that "the Constitution was created to limit federal authority." In fact, the country already had the Articles of Confederation, which loosely bound the states together. Those who attended the Constitutional Convention considered the Articles of Confederation too weak to meet the needs of the new nation.

Why don't people like Mr. Banta and Mr. Lingenfelser, who hold President Lincoln, President Obama, American history (and my ancestors) in such contempt--and the South in such high esteem--just move to Alaska? It's a huge state with plenty of room for all the disaffected, resentful, right-wing libertarian secessionists in the country. I think they'd be happier there, back in the nineteenth century.

Carol V. Hamilton

Pittsburgh, PA

Feb 13 2009 - 2:11am

Web Letter

The first thing Obama did was to raise a billion dollars, with much of it coming from individuals (think: working poor). Then, like every politician before him, he gave that money to people who make their living selling personalities and, in this particular case, a personality whose promise was "change."

What would it have cost anyone for Obama to have promised nothing except to double the amount of wages (think: political power) that the working poor could make without having that money be taxed? It wouldn't even need to be said by such a candidate that he'd sign no bill meant to "adjust" the wealthy to their rightful place in the status quo. We'd all know for certain whether the tax breaks that are the only thing separating the powerful from the powerless are as desirable and necessary and worth maintaining as the rich have always claimed them to be.

Such a candidate would not only enable folks born enslaved to the wealthy to have a stake in their country (and in the candidate himself) but would afford them the means of finding for themselves what once we called a "grub stake," or "forty acres and a mule."

Cameron Jones

Indiana, PA

Jan 12 2009 - 6:22am

Web Letter

Okay, I'm getting fed up with articles that praise Abraham Lincoln. He was, without a doubt, the worst president in the history of this country; he was even worse than "W." Don't chalk this up to a redneck who's still fighting the Civil War. My wife and I are originally from Michigan. We moved to Mississippi almost four years ago, after I retired from Ford Motor Company.

Lincoln is the worst because he completely changed, forever, the founding fathers' vision, and intent, of the executive branch. He's the reason George W. Bush got away with every violation of our Constitution that he claimed he needed; having an egregiously complicit Congress didn't hurt, either. After all, Lincoln was a "war president" and so was "W." And, they both started their repective wars. How's that for greatness?

Our founders intended a strong union of states that would have power and control over the executive branch. Thanks to the North winning the war, the federal government usurped the powers of the states. After fighting off King George, the founders were not about to give so much power to another executive. To this day the Electoral College, which represents the states, elects the president and vice-president, not the people.

Lincoln didn't give a damn about slavery; in fact, he thought the black man was inferior to the white man. The Emancipation Proclamation didn't free one single slave. It was a ploy to get sympathy for the Union. Every other civilized society, of that era, abolished slavery without going to war with itself. The sad fact is that secession was never in question by constitutional scholars of the time. There had been other attempts at secession, by states, that had not been met with violence.

The states voluntarily joined the union and they could voluntarily secede. By invading the South, Lincoln killed almost one-million of his own countrymen, women and children, counting the Reformation. The absolute worst part is he established the indisputable power and control of the federal government over the states. And, as evidenced by the last eight years, we're still living under the draconian hand of Washington.

Lincoln suspended habeas corpus. That action was unconstitutional, as was Bush's power grab, under the Military Commisions Act. He terrorized the Northern newspapers by closing any that disagreed with him, jailing their editors and threatening to execute some. He was a war criminal, just as Bush is. He sanctioned Sheridan's bloody march through the Shenandoah Valley, and Grant's march to the sea, which included the shelling of civilians in Vicksburg, Jackson and Atlanta.

Any American who dearly loves what little freedom we have remaining, should not think of Abraham Lincoln as "Our Greatest President."

Charles Lingenfelser

Brandon, MS

Jan 10 2009 - 11:25pm

Web Letter

Lincoln clearly despised slavery, while, as you note, he was a fervent racist. However, to suggest that he started a war to end slavery is disingenuous at best. Slavery played a part in the genesis of the war, but it was indirect.

Fort Sumter was not a slave market, it was a tax office. That is an essential key in understanding why Lincoln chose war to prevent the South from exercising their indisputable right to secede from the Union.

The Founding Fathers went to great lengths to develop a political framework that protected the dramatically conflicting interests of small states vs. large states, and of agrarian states vs. industrial states. Unfortunately it was impossible to maintain that balance as the industrialized North attracted immigrants fleeing European poverty and oppression.

The ever-increasing imbalance was especially evident in the House of Representatives, where the power to initiate federal spending programs resides. By the 1830s the imbalance resulted in the beginning of oppressive taxation of the South (the only taxes permitted to fund the federal government were those imposed on exports). The only significant export at the time was Southern cotton, representing 80 percent of the federal revenue.

Federal spending was almost exclusively focused on Northern "internal improvements" (railroads, canals, highways, etc.) despite Southern arguments that during the War of 1812 the British attacked from the South, where there was no federal spending to improve defenses.

The only hope for the South to regain balance in the House was to expand the population that supported Southern sentiments (constitutional rule, small federal government; i.e., states' rights). The only opportunity to do so was to expand into the opening West. This opportunity was denied Southerners through the clearly unconstitutional prohibition against the expansion of slavery into the new territories.

By the election of 1860, the imbalance was so great that the President was elected solely on the basis of Northern votes, convincing the South that there was no hope to influence the new President or to restore balance to the Congress.

Increasing the probability of injustice was the fact that the new president, Abraham Lincoln, was a life-long and aggressive supporter of federally funded "internal improvements," despite the fact that virtually every project he ever supported failed to produce tangible results (beyond the benefits to the original investors). A major source of Lincoln's income came from representing railroad interests even as railroad interests were raping the American revenue system.

Given Lincoln's acknowledgment that slavery was constitutional, and since, despite his personal abhorrence of it, he admitted that he had no legal right and no intention to interfere with it, the South had little concern in that regard. He hated the abolitionist as much as the slaver, and saw the former as a greater threat to the public tranquility.

From 1828, each succeeding Congress increased the oppression and exploitation of Southern interests until the South was powerless to prevent Congress from doing anything they chose to do. Taxation of the South was the golden goose for the federal government. That was the primary influence to encourage the South to secede. That is why Ft. Sumter was so important.

When we look at Lincoln's legacy it is imperative to understand that he chose to go to war rather than allow sovereign states to exercise their indisputable right to secede. His motivation was not to free an enslaved people; it was to protect his sacred taxes, essential to fund his cherished "internal improvements." The result was the death of over 600,000 Americans and the maiming of tens of thousands more. It should also be recognized that for the first nine months of Lincoln's war, the Northern forces initiated every battle.

During the conduct of his war, Lincoln closed over 3,000 Northern newspapers, and imprisoned their editors and publishers solely for the crime of disagreeing with his war. He encouraged his generals (Grant, Sheridan and Sherman) to make war on unarmed Southern women and children, employing scorched-earth tactics, rape and plunder of personal wealth to deny helpless civilians the basics of survival. Lincoln used federal troops to prevent constitutionally elected Northern and border state governments from meeting, for fear that they would adopt resolutions against his war.

As you noted, the Emancipation Proclamation did not free any slaves under the control or authority of the Union; it was aimed solely at slaves still on Southern farms in the hope that they would rise up against the women and children left on the farms, as had happened years before during a murderous slave uprising in Haiti, well known to all Americans of the day. Lincoln publically stated, in his visit to Richmond on the day it fell, that the Emancipation Proclamation was a war measure that could be easily canceled after the war was concluded.

As modern politicians evoke the memory of Lincoln, we should be wary from the realization that Lincoln subverted the Constitution whenever it suited his purposes. He did so in order to create a domineering and unaccountable federal government unencumbered by the Constitution's specific limitations on the power of the federal government, created in order to prevent the federal government from becoming abusive of the inalienable rights of citizens.

We are now faced with a federal government that is engaging in myriad activities that have no constitutional authorization, support or justification. We should be mindful that, according to the Constitution, the primary responsibility of the president is to "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States." We should be mindful that every federal officer takes the same solemn vow prior to being eligible to hold their office. Any federal officer who fails to honor their solemn oath of office should be removed without delay.

The Constitution was created to limit federal authority, not to define citizen rights. The only hope for America to survive is for the sovereign citizens to restore the Constitution as the sole basis of our federal government. Following Lincoln's example does not lead in that direction.

Frank D. Banta

Newnan, GA

Jan 9 2009 - 10:53am