Lincoln Leanings

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Our 16th POTUS, Abraham Lincoln, was rightly cast by alternative history novelist Harry Turtledove as a former Republican turned leader of the Socialist Party, which in Turtledove’s Southern Victory series is the other major party opposite the Democratic Party, the Republican Party drastically losing support after the Confederacy’s victory in the Civil War.  A large part of the reason for Lincoln’s switch was the increasingly right-ward shift of the Republican Party in support of the economic oligarchy clashing with his own radical leanings.  Were there to be a Second Coming of Lincoln, he would undoubtedly make the same call in real life as his fictional counterpart did in Turtledove’s novels. 

To illustrate his real leanings vis-à-vis the Fourth Branch of the U.S. government—the most important (at least since the early 1980’s), the Corporate Branch—here are three quotes, either verified by other researchers or plucked from a federal government website.  Not what one might expect from the first person elected president from the Republican Party, especially considering the corrupted version of the second decade of the 21st century.

From a speech in the Illinois legislature, January 1837: 

“These capitalists generally act harmoniously and in concert to fleece the people, and now that they have got into a quarrel with themselves, we are called upon to appropriate the people's money to settle the quarrel.”

Sounds like what the Bush and Obama administrations did openly and secretly in the aftermath of global economic collapse of 2008 caused by the prolificacy of the finance bourgeoisie, i.e. banks, lenders, venture capitalists, stock brokers, etc. 

From his first State of the Union address, 3 December 1861:

“It is not needed nor fitting here that a general argument should be made in favor of popular institutions, but there is one point, with its connections, not so hackneyed as most others, to which I ask a brief attention. It is the effort to place capital on an equal footing with, if not above, labor in the structure of government. It is assumed that labor is available only in connection with capital; that nobody labors unless somebody else, owning capital, somehow by the use of it induces him to labor. This assumed, it is next considered whether it is best that capital shall hire laborers, and thus induce them to work by their own consent, or buy them and drive them to it without their consent. Having proceeded so far, it is naturally concluded that all laborers are either hired laborers or what we call slaves. And further, it is assumed that whoever is once a hired laborer is fixed in that condition for life. 

“Now there is no such relation between capital and labor as assumed, nor is there any such thing as a free man being fixed for life in the condition of a hired laborer. Both these assumptions are false, and all inferences from them are groundless.

“Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration. Capital has its rights, which are as worthy of protection as any other rights. Nor is it denied that there is, and probably always will be, a relation between labor and capital producing mutual benefits. The error is in assuming that the whole labor of community exists within that relation. A few men own capital, and that few avoid labor themselves, and with their capital hire or buy another few to labor for them. A large majority belong to neither class--neither work for others nor have others working for them. In most of the Southern States a majority of the whole people of all colors are neither slaves nor masters, while in the Northern a large majority are neither hirers nor hired. Men, with their families--wives, sons, and daughters--work for themselves on their farms, in their houses, and in their shops, taking the whole product to themselves, and asking no favors of capital on the one hand nor of hired laborers or slaves on the other. It is not forgotten that a considerable number of persons mingle their own labor with capital; that is, they labor with their own hands and also buy or hire others to labor for them; but this is only a mixed and not a distinct class. No principle stated is disturbed by the existence of this mixed class. 

“Again, as has already been said, there is not of necessity any such thing as the free hired laborer being fixed to that condition for life. Many independent men everywhere in these States a few years back in their lives were hired laborers. The prudent, penniless beginner in the world labors for wages awhile, saves a surplus with which to buy tools or land for himself, then labors on his own account another while, and at length hires another new beginner to help him. This is the just and generous and prosperous system which opens the way to all, gives hope to all, and consequent energy and progress and improvement of condition to all. No men living are more worthy to be trusted than those who toil up from poverty; none less inclined to take or touch aught which they have not honestly earned. Let them beware of surrendering a political power which they already possess, and which if surrendered will surely be used to close the door of advancement against such as they and to fix new disabilities and burdens upon them till all of liberty shall be lost.

From his letter to Col. William F. Elkins, 21 November 1864: 

“We may congratulate ourselves that this cruel war is nearing its end.  It has cost a vast amount of treasure and blood. . . .I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. Corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavour to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed. I feel at this moment more anxiety for the safety of my country than ever before, even in the midst of war. God grant that my suspicions may prove groundless.”

The last of these quotations first appeared to the wider public in Jack London’s 1908 dystopian future history novel, The Iron Heel.  Subsequent research by several scholars through Lincoln’s papers has proven its veracity.   

And yes, the author of White Fang and The Call of the Wild was an avid socialist, a member of the Socialist Labor Party, one of the founders of the Socialist Party of America, a strong supporter of the Industrial Workers of the World, a founder of SPA’s Intercollegiate Socialist Society, which became the League for Industrial Democracy, which was parent of the Student League for Industrial Democracy, which became Students for a Democratic Society in 1958.

Chuck Hamilton 


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