A  Companion  site  for  the  C-SPAN  series  airing  Sunday  nights  at  8pm & 11pm ET 


Advanced Search
May 25, 2008
Thomas DiLorenzo
Program Details
Watch Program
More Information

Info: Thomas DiLorenzo teaches economics at Loyola College in Baltimore. As a Civil War buff, he decided to combine his two interests by looking at Abraham Lincoln from an economics point of view. The result has been two books over the last six years. The first was "The Real Lincoln." The more recent title is "Lincoln Unmasked." DiLorenzo not only criticizes Lincoln's handling of the war, he also criticizes current day historians who, he says, belong to the "church of Lincoln." Those include James McPherson, Harold Holzer, Harry Jaffa, Eric Foner, and Doris Kearns Goodwin. DiLorenzo also contends that academic historians critical of Lincoln have difficulties getting university level jobs.

Uncorrected transcript provided by Morningside Partners.
C-SPAN uses its best efforts to provide accurate transcripts of its programs, but it can not be held liable for mistakes such as omitted words, punctuation, spelling, mistakes that change meaning, etc.
BRIAN LAMB: Thomas DiLorenzo, when did you first get interested in Abraham Lincoln?

THOMAS DILORENZO: Probably in the late ’90s. When I was a I was a Civil War buff and I started reading a lot about the Civil War, and I took courses at the Smithsonian, I went on field trips, it was just a hobby of mine. And I’m an economist by training. I’m an economist professor at Loyala College in Baltimore. And I started thinking of how I could combine my profession, economics, with Civil War history, and I thought writing about Lincoln was the way. And I think the economic side of the story of Lincoln and the Civil War has been under developed, under told, and so that’s how I got into it.

LAMB: When in the late ’90s, how did you personally at that time feel about Abraham Lincoln? How much did you know about him?

DILORENZO: Well, I grew up in Pennsylvania. And I played in baseball in Thaddeus Stevens middle school and I remember singing the Battle Hymn of the Republic in elementary school almost every day and so I was educated like most Americans were about it, and, you know, I thought he was the savior of the union and the man who freed the slaves. But there was always something that sounded kind of fishy about that story to me, even when I was a school child.

So after I educated myself, I started educating myself some more about it, and I sort of changed my mind, as you know, about Lincoln.

LAMB: How would you describe your feeling about him today?

DILORENZO: Well, I think, I in some of my writings, I talked about the church of Lincoln and he’s been deified a great deal. I think it’s a very healthy unhealthy thing for society to deify any politician whether it’s Abraham Lincoln or George Washington even. There’s nothing wrong with praising them for the good things they’ve done but, I think, it’s dangerous to deify a politician. And I mention in my writings that politicians of all parties, even the Communist Parties USA have tried to attach their agenda to the martyred Abraham Lincoln and have used him and his words and his deeds for all sorts of purposes, some good and some not so good. And so I think it’s I don’t know, like a really high opinion.

And, I guess, one of the things that really bothered me when I started looking into this was when I found out that all of the other countries of the world that ended slavery in the 19th century did it peacefully, and that included New England and Ohio and Pennsylvania and Indiana, the northern United States. And as an economist, I started thinking, well why was this not an alternative for America? Why was it only in America where there was a war attached to the ending of slavery? And that’s why the subtitle of my first book, ”The Real Lincoln” is includes the words ”An Unnecessary War.” I think it could have been possible for us to do what England and Spain and France and Denmark and other countries did, end slavery peacefully.

So what was the purpose? And I’ve concluded that the purpose of the invasion of the southern states was what Lincoln said it was, was to destroy the secession movement and he called it, ”saving the Union.” But all of the death that was attached to that is the thing that sort of haunts me that, you know, was it really necessary for some 650 million 650,000 Americans to have died. And, you know, if you standardize that to today’s population, which is 10 times higher than it was in 1860 you’re talking the equivalent of five or six million people dying, you know, standardizing a much larger society than we have today, and so that is what really hit me hard of why that all of that death was necessary just to save the union. And on top of that, I argue that the union wasn’t saved because the union was voluntary. The union of the founders was voluntary, and it was no longer voluntary after 1865.

LAMB: When did you write your first either essay or book on Abraham Lincoln?

DILORENZO: I guess my first essay was in a journal called The Independent Review in ’96. It’s a peer reviewed academic journal published in California. And after a couple years of continued research on this topic I decided that each section of that paper could be expanded to tell a longer story. And so I did that, I published the book called ”The Real Lincoln” in 2002. And it’s kind of interesting, I had all ready I had just finished this, and my publisher who called me commercial publisher and said, ”I read your article and I liked it a lot. Would you be interested in expanding this into a book?” And I had the book sitting right there in front of me, and so I didn’t need to hire a agent or shop around the manuscript. That was Prima Publishing Company and they were bought out by Crown Forum about a year later, after the book came out.

LAMB: And this book I have in my lap, ”Lincoln Unmasked” is Crown Forum.


LAMB: And how do your books sell, how well?

DILORENZO: Well, ”The Real Lincoln” sold very well. I was interviewed the person who wrote the forward to ”The Real Lincoln” is Walter Williams, a syndicated columnist. He’s a professor at George Mason University, not too far from here in Fairfax, Virginia, and he was a guest host of the Rush Limbaugh show one day and he called me up and at 7:00 a.m., and he said, ”Rush Limbaugh is ill. I’m his guest host, would you like to come on and talk about your boon?”, you know, every author’s dream and they kept me on for an entire hour and my Amazon.com sales rankings went to number two the next day. I think Montel Williams’ diet book was the only one that beat me out on that one day. So for a while it sold very well and created tremendous controversy as I’m sure you know.

LAMB: Why, from your perspective, do you think that people are deifying him unnecessarily?

DILORENZO: Well, there’s sort of an interesting history of that. After the war, after Lincoln was assassinated, the New England clergy began with the deification. I have in my files, in my research files, an old magazine article that has a picture of Abe Lincoln with angel’s wings ascending into the sky in an open tomb at the bottom of the picture and this was the sort of thing that went on in the immediate years after the Civil War. And I think that sort of led to the deification of the presidency, of the American presidency and it aided this idea that some people call American exceptionalism, that Americans are exceptional people. There was a new birth of freedom after during the Civil War, the story goes.

And, I think, a lot of Americans sort of attach their own sense of morality to the whole story of Lincoln. And so, I think that’s one reason why I get attacked a lot for trying to criticize certain things that Lincoln has done.

LAMB: Who attacks you?

DILORENZO: Well, I’ve had quite a few debates with the academics who have had careers in sort of deifying Lincoln in their writings. And so, I’m an economist and I’m used to a lot of back and forth debates and criticisms. For 20 years before I wrote the Lincoln book, I was an economics professor and I would go to meetings, academic meetings and that’s what we do, we criticize each other, and it’s usually constructive criticism. It’s not just show boating or trying to attack somebody.

But then I found that this part of the history profession when it comes to Lincoln you can criticize. Thomas Jefferson, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Franklin Roosevelt, but you can’t criticize Lincoln, apparently, in the history profession. And I thought that was very unscholarly and unprofessional and close minded of a sort of an attitude on the part of some segments of the history profession, which is a big part of the history profession. And so I see no reason why you can’t take a look at Lincoln just was you’d look at any other president and look at the good and the bad as far as that’s concerned.

And there’s plenty of bad. You know, Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus and the mass arrest of tens of thousands of northern civilians and his shutting down of hundreds of opposition newspapers. These are things that most Americans never heard of. I’ve given public speeches about this. People are dumbfounded. They accuse me of being a liar because they were never taught this in school. And, of course, it’s all documented, it’s not a secret. But it’s just one of these things that the historians know about all of this, but the average American doesn’t seem to know unless he reads my books, I guess, and the books of a few others.

LAMB: Where did you get your education?

DILORENZO: I got my Ph.D. at Virginia Polytechnic Institute. Back then they called it VPI when I was in school. Then it turned into Virginia Tech. Once they got a good football team it sort of changed, so that’s where I got my Ph.D. And I was a student of James Buchanan and Gordon Tullock, I mean they are who are now at George Mason right down the road from here once again. And they were sort of pioneers in the field called public choice that combines economics and political science. And so that’s one of the reasons why I got interested in sort of analyzing a historical figure like Lincoln, drawing on both economics and politics at the same time.

LAMB: Where did you get your undergraduate work?

DILORENZO: I went to Westminster College in Pennsylvania, a small liberal arts college in western Pennsylvania.

LAMB: And Loyola of Baltimore is what kind of a school?

DILORENZO: Loyal College in Baltimore, it’s a liberal arts college. It’s associated with the Jesuits just like Georgetown is and Notre Dame. They have about 3,500 undergraduate students. We have an engineering school but the emphasis is on liberal arts. And we have a big graduate business program and education program.

LAMB: How long have you been there?

DILORENZO: I’ve been there since 1992.

LAMB: And what happened once you started writing what would a lot of people would say would be somewhat anti-Lincoln stuff what happened to your life? How did it change?

DILORENZO: Well, I’ve been in quite a few debates as far as that goes. And just last October I was in a debate in Chicago in front of 600 people with a local lawyer who’s quite a Lincoln fan and, I think, in fact his law firm has the word Lincoln in it, the Lincoln law firm. And he’s a big shot in the republican party in Illinois. And so I went into the belly of the beast and had a debate on was Lincoln a friend or foe of freedom. And so I never would have thought when I was working on my Ph.D. in economics some day I would be going to Illinois and debating whether Lincoln is a friend or foe of freedom but so that certainly was a huge change.

I’ve enjoyed the second book that you have in your lap there, the reason I wrote that was after the first book came out, ”The Real Lincoln” there were all sorts of lots of responses by academics and others and I kept responding and I kept coming up with new material and I learned that I had sort of an army of researchers all around the world that would keep sending me material that they had dug up, graduate students and others and so I gathered so much more information that I decided, well, I have a new book, I have enough for a second book on this. And that again, I never anticipated I would be writing two books on Abraham Lincoln after spending 20 years writing articles for academic journals and economics, public finance, things like that.

LAMB: Let me read something that you wrote just a couple of years ago ”A Plagiarist’s Contribution to the Lincoln Idolatry.”


LAMB: And you wrote it for LewRockwell.com which I see you write a lot for. Who is Lew Rockwell?

DILORENZO: Lew Rockwell is a friend of mine who started a think it’s not really a think tank. It’s an educational institution in Auburn, Alabama where Auburn University is. And it’s devoted to putting on programs of study of a free market Austrian School of Economics. Probably the best known Austrian economist is Friedrich Hayek who won the Nobel Prize in 1974. And so there’s a whole long tradition that started out in Europe and Hayek and his mentor Ludwig von Mises both came to the United States, Mises right during World War II and his student Hayek later years.

And so this organization in Auburn, Alabama, carries forward their work in economics. And so and Lew has a Web site, LewRockwell.com that is it’s separate from the Mises Institute which is his institute in Auburn but it’s it deals more with political issues as well. A lot of economic policy issues are covered, but political and historical issues and even health. People write articles on alternative methods of health maintenance all of the time on there.

LAMB: If you’re a Hayek follower, what does that mean? What do you believe?

DILORENZO: You believe that private property is the essential ingredient of a free society and a sound economy. You believe that markets tend to allocate resources better than governments. And you probably believe that governments are sort of destined to do very poorly at just about anything they do whether it’s waging war or solving poverty, things like that.

And Hayek was a very learned scholar. He has adherence all over the world. And so and if you want to study markets and understand how markets in a commercial world works that’s how I was attracted to it. I thought that these people like Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises and Milton Friedman, the late Milton Friedman, all really understood had a deep knowledge of how the commercial world works and they were all good writers. They did not concentrate on math as much as your typical economist does, but they wrote for the people, for a broad audience, as well as their fellow academics, and I always found that very attractive.

LAMB: What would Abraham Lincoln have thought of a Friedrich von Hayek had he been alive back in his time?

DILORENZO: Well, Lincoln was a I call him the political son of Alexander Hamilton in my book. And Hamilton, when he was treasury secretary, he advocated, essentially, bringing the British Mercantilist system to America and this mercantilist system, it’s kind of a tongue twister of a word, it was basically a system of policies that benefited primarily politically connected businesses at the expense of everyone else, at the expense of consumers and other businesses. They were government sanctioned monopolies in England, for example. There were barriers to international trade as part of it. There were what we today would call corporate welfare or subsidies to political favored businesses and Hamilton favored all of this.

And after his death, the mantel for this movement to sort of bring British Mercantilism to America fell to the Wig Party and Henry Clay and then to the Republican Party. And Abraham Lincoln always said that ’”Henry Clay was his political role model. He called him the ”beau ideal of a statesman” in one of his speeches. And so and this, by the way, is one of the reasons I got interested in writing a book on Lincoln is that he spent 28 years of his off andon political involvement before becoming president, advocating what Henry Clay and Hamilton called the American system of high protectionist tariffs, a central bank run by politicians in the nation’s capital, and government subsidies to corporations. And the Whig Party thought this would be the key to perpetual political power, have a bank that could print money, tariffs that would block competition so you would have all of the big corporations, mostly in the north, on your side as the Whig Party.

And so and Lincoln picked up that mantel as the republican nominee and then president. And one of the stories I tell in my book ”The Real Lincoln” is that there was a political battle over these economic policies for about 70 years. And the wigs and the old federalists of Hamilton’s day had very little success in getting any of this done over this time, but it was all put into place during the Lincoln regime. Tariffs went up 45 percent to 50 percent and stayed there until Woodrow Wilson became president in 1913.

The central bank, the National Currency Acts that I write about in my writings, that was sort of a resurrection of Hamilton’s central banking idea. And, of course, the railroad subsidies, the big subsidies to the railroad corporations that started during the Civil War and thereafter. And so that’s and Hayek would have been opposed to every bit of that. That’s all interventionist, anti-free market, big government economic policy. And so there are a lot of historians who don’t understand much about economics and they look at these things, and they tend to judge these policies by the intentions of the people who advocate them. They’ll say, ”Well, I think, Abraham Lincoln was a great man. He advocated these things, therefore they must have been good ideas,” that’s essentially the argument that is made.

Well, you can agree that he was a great man and he had good intentions, but these were bad policies, nevertheless, I think, bad for America.

LAMB: I still want to come back to what you wrote, but I want to ask you something you said. Was he a great man?

DILORENZO: He was when you consider that he had less than one year of formal education and he became one of the top lawyers in the United States self taught, he certainly had greatness. I think he was brilliant. I think he was a genius. And I think a great a tragedy for America, however, is that he uses genius to essentially manipulate the South Carolinians into firing the first shot at Fort Sumter and plunging the whole nation into a war. And then, invading his own country after, you know, at Fort Sumter, as you know, no one was killed or hurt, but the response was a full scale invasion of the entire southern states.

And so, I think, he used his genius in a way that in my latest book ”Lincoln Unmasked” I write about how wouldn’t it had been great had he used this genius to be more statesmen like and end slavery peacefully like the British and the Spaniards did and then do other things for America, as opposed to a four year war that killed 650,000 Americans?

LAMB: How did he trick the South Carolinians?

DILORENZO: Well, he promised he would not send war ships to Fort Sumter, certainly, when he did. And then in my book, I quote him a letter from Lincoln to his naval commander, Commander Fox, Gustavus Fox thanking him for his assistance in getting the outcome that they desired, and the outcome that they desired was getting the South Carolinians to fire on Fort Sumter because he guessed correctly that the people of the north would rally behind the flag and support the war that he wanted to get into.

And at the same time, you had the confederates had sent peace commissioners to Washington to offer to pay the south’s portion of the national debt and to pay for federal forts like Fort Sumter. Napoleon III of France offered to broker some sort of compromise, but Lincoln refused to speak to any of them. He wouldn’t see any of them. He was determined to go to war, which he did.

LAMB: Why was he determined to go to war?

DILORENZO: Well, I think, he came up with this idea of the mystical union. He in one of his speeches he talked about the mystic cords of memory that of the union. But up to that time, a great deal of Americans, I would argue most Americans understood that the union was voluntary and that it would be an atrocity if any state left to march an army into that state and kill some of inhabitants just to keep it back into the union.

In my book, ”The Real Lincoln”, I ran across a big two volume set of books called ”Northern Editorials on Secession” by a man named Howard Perkins and it’s just reprinted northern newspaper editorials in 1859, 1860, 1861 about this whole issue of secession and some other topics. And he concludes that the majority of the newspaper from New York to Cincinnati to Vermont, Wisconsin in the north were in favor of letting the south go peacefully because they believed in the old Jeffersonian dictum that the union was voluntary. In the declaration of independents when governments derived their just powers from the consent of the governed. And when the northerners saw the south saying, we no longer consent to be governed by Washington, D.C. most of them said, OK, well let them go. Horace Greeley, really the famous newspaper man, he’s often quoted as saying this, he might have thought they were mistaken or wrong headed, but let them go and maybe we can persuade them to come back into the union at some future date seemed to be the attitude of a lot of these newspaper people.

LAMB: Let me read, finally, this what you wrote in LewRockwell.com.


LAMB: You say, ”Doris Kearns Goodwin is a museum quality specimen of a court historian. An intellectual or pseudo-intellectual who is devoted to pulling the wool over the public’s eyes by portraying even the most immoral, corrupt and sleazy politicians as great, wise, and altruistic men.” What’s behind that statement?

DILORENZO: Well, well as you know, if read my article, you know, I went through all of the research from the Internet on how Doris Kearns Goodwin essentially admitted plagiarism. And she was taken off the air. You know, she was the usual commentator on the presidency on network television for years. And she was taken off the Pulitzer Prize Committee because of the plagiarism. And she laid low for a couple of months and then she’s back on television telling us who we should vote for president and pontificating about all of these sorts of issues.

And so, that’s one of the reasons why I thought this was sort of odd. And she had just written this big book on Lincoln called ”Team of Rivals” I think it’s a 960 page book. You probably have interviewed her. But I’ll give you one example of what I mean there.

When Lincoln was inaugurated, in his first inaugural address, he pledged to support for a constitutional amendment that it all ready passed the House and the Senate that would have forbidden the federal government from ever interfering in southern slavery. And not only did he support that, it’s right there in his first inaugural address. But he orchestrated the whole thing. After he was elected he got William Seward who would become his Secretary of State to get this through the Senate. And Doris Kearns Goodwin writes about this as I do.

I look at these facts that Lincoln was willing to see slavery exist, enshrine it in the Constitution and it had never been explicitly in the Constitution, long after his own lifetime as far as he knew and I thought that was an immoral act. I think that’s not only is it an amoral act, but it’s one of the things where it’s been kept from Americans. I still get e-mails from people challenging me to show them where this amendment is. It’s called the Corwin Amendment named after a member of Congress.

Doris Kearns Goodwin writes about the same thing and praises Lincoln for it because he she claims it helped him keep the republican party together by doing this. And the theme of her whole book is what a clever, political manipulator Lincoln was and it kept the party together.

My view of that is that a clever political manipulator can be a horribly dangerous thing. How do you get to be a clever political manipulator? Well, you’re an expert liar and conniver, that’s my view of it. And so people who write books about liars and connivers and politics and praises them I’m a little dubious of their reputations. I don’t think they deserve the respect that they sometimes get in their profession or in the public.

LAMB: Were there other people that wrote about you felt that he has

DILORENZO: Well, she’s written about Lyndon Johnson who she worked and you can say a lot of good things about Lyndon Johnson and of course he’s had his share of criticism too. But, I thought she kind of pulled her punches. And all of the things she wrote about Lyndon Johnson and the Kennedys seemed to me to be idol worship as opposed to analysis. And she claims that part of her expertise is in a field that I discovered when I started becoming more interdisciplinary in writing on Lincoln, it’s called psychohistory and not psycho in a crazy psycho but sort of a it seems to be people who study history and gain enough knowledge maybe in their graduate training like Doris Kearns Goodwin did at Harvard about psychology to claim to be sort of amateur psychologists in analyzing the motives of man like Abraham Lincoln or Franklin Roosevelt or the Kennedys.

And I’ve read a good bit of this psychohistory. And it seems to me that they take actions by a lot of these politicians and just dream up excuses. There’s sort of armchair psychology that they use, and they dream up excuses or rationales for things that they did. And the whole enterprise sounds very dubious to me in psychohistory and that’s what Doris Kearns Goodwin claims her Ph.D. was in at Harvard and is the basis of her books on the Kennedys and Roosevelt and or Lyndon Johnson, rather and other people.

LAMB: I want to break down the first sentence a little bit more, what’s a ”museum quality specimen court historian” you write about court historians a lot?

DILORENZO: Well, a court historian is somebody who’s sort of on the payroll of the king so to speak and so writes in support provides intellectual support for what the king wants to do. Of course, we don’t have a king, we have a president, and a congress. But that’s what a court historian is meant, somebody who writes sort of propaganda to prop up the state to make the state look a little better than it really is.

LAMB: Who are some of the others?

DILORENZO: Well, I think, when I write about the church of Lincoln, a lot of what motivates, I think, a lot of the so called Lincoln scholars is using the whole Lincoln legend to prop up their version of the state. In my book ”Lincoln Unmasked” I mention Eric Thorner (ph) who’s a well known Columbia Historian Columbia University Historian, been on television a lot on Civil War wars.

And I quote him in an article in 1991 in ”The Nation” magazine where he opposed the breakup of the Soviet Union and the title of the article was ”Lincoln’s Lesson” he had basically argued that Gorbachev was a softy. He allowed the Soviet Republics to secede peacefully but our Abraham Lincoln would not have done that. And he was apparently upset about that. And so he’s using, sort of the Lincoln legend to promote his agenda of big centralized government. He’s a self described Marxist among historians. And as a Marxist he’s probably not a fan to decentralized government.

And so and then on the right, of course, there’s a lot of people on the right like Newt Gingrich, for example, had an article in the he’s a historian, a Ph.D. in history, an article in the ”Wall Street Journal” online a couple of years ago advocating that we, Americans, invade Iran, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Syria and North Korea, and I think the title of the article was ”Lincoln and Bush.” And he started out with a quotation of Abraham Lincoln and, again, he was trying to attach the reputation of Lincoln to his agenda, Newt Gingrich’s agenda of invading all of these countries with a military occupation.

And so you have people on both sides of the political spectrum that I’ve written about that I call court historians that try to use history, the history of Lincoln, in particular, to try promote their own particular agenda whatever it is, left and write.

LAMB: In another column you wrote for LewRockwell.com, you said, ”I’ve also learned that there is only one genuine Lincoln scholar in America, David” you don’t use his middle name but David Herbert Donald, ”and he’s retired,” retired from Harvard. ”The rest are all Lincoln cultists and court historians.” Why are you so and I actually listened to the speech you gave on the Web where you said the same thing about David Donald, what is it about David Donald you like?

DILORENZO: Well, you know, I’ve read quite a lot of these so called Lincoln scholars and they’re everywhere. And you can’t there’s not enough time in one man’s life to read all of the books that come out about Lincoln. And you really get a distinct difference in David Donald’s books that the and for someone like who’s been an academic for 28 years, I can tell when I’m ready a book by a scholar if this person is really pursuing the truth, if that’s what motivates this person to pursue the truth or if he has some sort of agenda he’s trying to promote in twisting the truth.

And just of all of the Lincoln scholars I’ve read David Donald is my favorite mainstream scholar. You learn a lot from him more than any of the others, I think. You know, you read other books about Lincoln, they’ll take one 700 word speech and write an entire book about it, and that in itself sounds kind of dubious to me because what’s usually done is they’ll take it sentence by sentence and then interpret for you what you should think about this sentence. And, you know, that may or may not be useful. My experience has been it’s being a big waste of time to read books like that.

But you never get any of that with someone like David Donald. And so I’m a big fan of his work as far as all of the mainstream historians are concerned.

LAMB: What do you think is driving most of the, and there depending on what trigger you use Andrew Ferguson wrote about you in his book ”Land of Lincoln” where he said, ”There are some 14,000 books written about Abraham Lincoln”


LAMB: What’s the motivation? And how much of it is making money?

DILORENZO: Of all of these books? Well, there’s a you know, there’s a whole group in the academic world, you know, there are Lincoln book awards. If you want a career as a historian, as an academic historian and you want to write books and give book contracts from big publishers, whether it’s a big university publisher or commercial you’ll get loads of recommendations to do that from all of the big shots in the Lincoln world, if you are a, what I call, a member of the church of Lincoln.

But if you’re a dissenter you cannot have a career you cannot have a career as an academic historian if you’re a critic of Abraham Lincoln. You won’t get a job. No one will hire. Maybe you can teach high school somewhere but you can’t if you get a Ph.D. in history doing research that is critical of Lincoln you can write a dissertation that’s critical of Thomas Jefferson, of George Washington, of any other president but not Abraham Lincoln. And when my book first came out, rather than arguing with me a lot of academics started personally attacking me

LAMB: What did they say about you?

DILORENZO: ”He’s lying.” ”He made this up, made this or that up.” I’m not that foolish that I know I’m publishing a book on Abraham Lincoln to get away with something like that, not that I would ever try to get away with fabricating these things.

But what they didn’t like was I a lot of the facts of the Lincoln’s life and experience such as suspending habeas corpus and having the military mass arrest tends of thousands of northern citizens I just laid that out and left it there. I didn’t make any excuses for it. I didn’t say he was forced into it. The devil made him do it, I didn’t say any of that. And that really, really upset a lot of the Lincoln scholars.

One of the things I found out is the way to become a Lincoln scholar is to take something like this, this sort of atrocious attack on civil liberties in the northern states and make and dream up some excuses for it, think of why he had to do it and if you do that you’re a Lincoln scholar, and I didn’t play that game. I just laid out there and either said nothing or said the obvious that this was an atrocious infringement on freedom. And of course, the Supreme Court even on this topic agreed with me. In 1866 there was a statement that the Supreme Court said about the suspension of habeas corpus, they said, essentially that it’s especially important to enforce the Constitution during war time because Lincoln and others have given made the statements that, ”Well, we need to suspend constitutional liberty at war time and we’ll return it to normalcy after the war,” but even the courts disagreed with them after the Civil War was over.

And so I think that’s what sort of drew a lot of dislike of me. When my book first came out in ’02, ”The Real Lincoln”, I had an e-mail from a syndicated columnist Paul Craig Roberts who wrote a blurb for the back of the book. And he said, ”You’re destroying their human capital, that’s why they’re attacking you.” And what he meant human capital is a word we economists use for sort of your body of knowledge, your education, your skills and so forth. And so you have a lot of people who have spent careers writing books and articles sort of deifying Abraham Lincoln and then the skunk at the garden party shows up, me.

LAMB: Are you the only one around?

DILORENZO: No, there are other critics. I know you have interviewed Lerone Bennett Jr., who’s a big critic of Lincoln. You can find articles in academic journals. There’s Professor Clyde Wilson from the University of South Carolina, Donald Livingston at Emory University are also academic Lincoln critics.

I just got a paper from a young man who published a journal in ”The Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association” his name is Phillip Magness who wrote a very critical article of Lincoln in his so-called colonization idea. He had this fetish, almost, about colonizing free black people and sending them to Liberia, Africa, anywhere but here. And Lincoln’s idea actually about equality, he said it many times that he didn’t believe that black people could actually be equal in America. Back in their, what he called their native clime, Africa or Haiti or some place like that, Lincoln said, they could be equal but not here.

And so this young man, Phillip Magness who sent me the article essentially showed that almost up to his dying day Lincoln was working on this, he was working on what to do with the freed slaves after the war. And he was wondering, do we have enough ships to send them to deport them, essentially, to some other place. And during his presidency, he did, actually allocate several million dollars to send some free black people to Liberia in Africa. But the man he put in charge of it turned out to be an embezzler and so nothing came of that, nothing much came of that.

And he held a meeting of some free black men in the White House during his administration urging them to lead by example and leave the country and go to Liberia, again. And these men wisely said, no thanks. And so there’s research of that sort the young I’m pleased to see young scholars like the man I mentioned are starting to look into the truth. And you don’t have to be an attacker of Lincoln to write about the truth about what he did. I think American adults can take it.

LAMB: In another one of your columns you said, ”Lincoln was personally corrupt as well.”

DILORENZO: Yes. Well, one example is there’s an old book that was published in the ’20s and recently reprinted called ”Lincoln and the Railroads” and Lincoln was an attorney for all of the main railroads in the Midwest. He was offered the job of general counsel of the New York Central Railroad, and that, of course is not corrupt, that’s a perfectly legitimate thing.

But one of the things that I found in this book was that Lincoln bought a bunch of land in Council Bluffs, Iowa in 1957 and around the same time he was offered the job of the general counsel of the New York Central Railroad at a pay of $10,000 a year which was a very princely sum in those days, 1857 and he turned it down. And then, a few years later after he got elected president, he one of the first things he did was to call a special session of Congress and the war had started, to get the ball rolling on the Pacific Railroad bill. And the bill passed about a year or so later and the bill gave the president the right to determine the eastern terminus of the transcontinental railroad and guess where he chose? He chose Council Bluffs, Iowa. And so he must have made a killing on that.

And there was another instance written about in this book where Lincoln worked for his client, the Illinois Central tax case which he won and he presented them with a bill for $5,000 and that was an enormous bill. And the vice president of the Illinois Central that he was dealing with said, ”My board of directors will not pay a $5,000 bill to a country lawyer from Illinois.” So he sued. He sued the Illinois Central. And then, when he went to court, the lawyers for the Illinois Central did not show up and he won the $5,000 by default. And the author of this book John W. Star, he can’t prove that there was some sort of corrupt deal between this vice president of Illinois Central and Lincoln but he strongly suggests there was something, and I think there probably was. By the way, the vice president was George B. McClellan and I’ve read about this and I kept reading it over and over and thought, surely this is not the George McClellan the general, but it was. It was the same man that he was dealing with at the time who would become the commander of the army of the Potomac four years later after this whole episode happened.

So and I have a speech in Springfield, Illinois last year and I visited Lincoln’s home and he lived on a place now in Springfield that’s called old aristocracy row and he lived in the biggest house in old aristocracy row and his law offices are still there, Lincoln and Herndon law offices are about 100 paces from the old state capital building in Springfield and so he was essentially a lobbyist, the way we would think of him today, for the railroad companies. And that in itself is not corrupt, but I think he did demonstrate some corruption in his career.

LAMB: What do you think of the bicentennial 200 year celebration on his birth?

DILORENZO: Well, it’s going to be quite a big party, I guess. I know there’s a commission with all of the big shot Lincoln scholars on the commission and they’ve all ready begun publishing things and putting on television shows about it.

You know, people ask me since I’m sort of a big Lincoln critic, people ask me if I think he should be on Mount Rushmore? And I tell them, I don’t think anyone should be on Mount Rushmore because of what I said earlier, that I think it’s unhealthy for society of deify politicians even the ones I like, like Thomas Jefferson, I think it’s just unhealthy to deify politicians like that.

And so this whole 200th anniversary is sort of like that. It’s most celebration of the American state. I don’t think it’s the people on this commission are so in love with Abraham Lincoln or the government that is funding it, there’s a lot of government money going into it, I think it’s sort of a celebration of itself, with regard to the government, the federal government that’s putting all of this money behind this celebration. And so and a lot of the people will go on with this, I think that’s unhealthy for society.

LAMB: If you were invited to serve on that commission, what would you tell them?

DILORENZO: Well, I would I don’t think they would listen to me. But, I would tell them to try to be a little more realistic in that believe it or not there are two sides to everything, every political debate, even the debate over the legacy of Abraham Lincoln. And, I doubt that they would listen to me but that’s what I want to urge on them.

LAMB: And have you gone to most of the Lincoln sites around the country?

DILORENZO: Sites, what sites do you mean?

LAMB: You know, like Ford Theater and the Peterson House, and the Lincoln Memorial and all of that.

DILORENZO: Ford’s Theater, oh yes, the Lincoln Memorial I’ve been there quite a few times.

LAMB: Should there be a Lincoln memorial like that?

DILORENZO: Well, why not? I’m there should be a Lincoln memorial, I think we’re all with that, if the people want to memorialize one of their presidents. But the memorial itself, though, is quite a spectacle. It sort of looks like a Greek temple to me. And so of course Washington, D.C. is one big city of memorials and memorials are all to the state, it’s not necessarily my interpretation is they’re not necessarily memorializing George Washington or Abraham Lincoln or FDR. It’s the government itself that is memorializing itself with all of these monuments here in Washington, D.C.

And so and I’m a libertarian, I’m a Ron Paul libertarian politically. And so you could probably sense where I’m coming from that I think when I say this is unhealthy for society, that’s why, I think. I believe in the old Jeffersonian dictum that bigger government means less freedom, in general. And so and this is all promoting bigger government, all of these memorials and monuments to our politicians.

LAMB: Have you ever been invited to speak to the American Lincoln Association Springfield or the Lincoln Forum that’s put on by Frank Williams and Harold Holzer?

DILORENZO: No. No, I’ve never been invited to speak there.

LAMB: What would you do if you were invited?

DILORENZO: Well, it depends on the ground rules. I’ve been around some of these Lincoln scholars before and I’ve had some experiences that were sort of appalling. For example, the History Channel, one of your competitors, they interviewed me for about an hour-and-a-half on not live. And then they used about 20 seconds of the interview, and they somehow managed to make me appear to say exactly the opposite of what I actually said in the interview. And so it was a real set up, sort of a hatchet job and they had to have some academic advisors advising them on how to go about doing this.

LAMB: What was their point do you think?

DILORENZO: What was their point?

LAMB: No, what were they trying to get at and what was the documentary like?

DILORENZO: Well, the documentary was it talked about they had a series on American presidents and they talked about there’s several presidents, not all of them maybe five or six before Lincoln and they had almost nothing good to say about any of them. And the point was to make Lincoln seem even bigger, even better than we think of him even now because the others were so bad. And so they interviewed me and I must have been totally contrary to that theme that they apparently wanted to put out there. And so I don’t know why they used any of my interview. I mean they used about 20 seconds of it, but I think, it was just to sort of needle me, to aggravate me because they actually twisted my words around to make me say the opposite of what I actually said about Lincoln during the interview. But anything else, certain parts of what I was doing and so that’s probably what motivated it, very dishonest.

And so if I were to be invited, I would insist on knowing the ground rules of any kind of debates, rather than being a sort of set up.

LAMB: Andrew Ferguson wrote about a meeting you had in Richmond, what was that?

DILORENZO: In Richmond? Well, we had the after my book came out it created quite a I had a lot of fan mail, thousands and thousands of e-mails from all over the world and it created a lot of controversy and I’ve been in a couple of debates with some well known Lincoln scholars. And so we put on an academic conference in Richmond, we thought it would be a good thing to do and we had six or seven academics talking about different aspects of Lincoln. And we put it on at a hotel in Richmond. It was a very low cost event. It was at the old John Marshall Hotel in downtown Richmond which was being renovated at the time.

We had over 300 people attendance on a beautiful spring day in April on a Saturday.

LAMB: What year?

DILORENZO: This was I guess this was I think it was ’04, I’m pretty sure it was ’04. And so we had a big attendance. And we had, I think, seven academics gives speeches, give talks, and then we had a 90 minute question-and-answer session at the end. And I thought it was all very educational and very stimulating. A lot of people from Washington, D.C. drove down to Richmond to see this event and Andrew Ferguson wrote about it. I was kind of disappointed in him though he said almost nothing about the substance of what was said in our conference but he did mention it in his book.

LAMB: Now did you try to balance your conference out? Or did you do the same thing you accuse the others of doing?

DILORENZO: No, our conference is the balance.

LAMB: The whole conference?

DILORENZO: Yes. When we opened it up, there was an open question-and-answer session after each presentation and there were 300 people in the audience. And then we left an extra hour-and-a-half at the end just to ask any question of any of the speakers. And so I’ve never been to a conference dominated by the Lincoln scholars that did that. They never seemed to let people like myself have an hour-and-a-half to interrogate them about their views. And so, I thought, that would be our way of doing this. And I personally I was the organizer of the conference along with two or three other people. But, I didn’t have much of a taste for inviting many of these people after they had treated me so shabbily like the History Channel example is one.

I was at another event in Richmond, it was panel discussion with the well known Lincoln scholar who has identified himself as the president of a committee, the head of committee that gives the Lincoln book award out every year. And

LAMB: Is this the Mr. Borat, the

DILORENZO: No, no, it was somebody else who is much less known than Gabor Borat but anyway during the course of this panel discussion this man stands up and says things like, ”no private property was ever stolen from the southern household by Sherman’s army,” and this is Richmond and I’m astounded at the statement like that. I’ve read you can go to any Barnes and Noble this afternoon and pick up books on Sherman’s March and read the exact opposite about that whole episode. And I got to wondering, well why would a man like this stand up and say such an obvious falsehood? And the impression I got was that he was just trying to make me out to be saying falsehoods because he was the Lincoln scholar. I’m just an economist who picked this up as a hobby. That’s what he seemed to be saying but he’s the real expert.

And so he made statements like that. Another statement he denied the killing of civilians by Sherman’s army, Sherman’s march and I was astounded at that too. He said Lincoln never killed any civilians, you know, as the commander-in-chief. Well, of course, he never pulled the trigger and killed anybody but there have been quite a few books about James McPherson, one of his books said there were about 50,000 southern civilians who just disappeared by the end of the war, killed, died, one way or another and so you don’t have to be a Lincoln critic, like me, to recognize that there was a lot of civilian deaths in the southern states during the Civil War. And here’s this man denying this. And I’d think, why would he say such a strange thing? And I think it was just to make me out to be you know, I’m spreading falsehoods because I’m just an economist, he’s the expert. And that’s how some of the Lincoln people have behaved.

LAMB: Did Lincoln free the slaves?

DILORENZO: Well, the 13th amendment freed the slaves, to be sure. Lincoln late in his term did support the 13th amendment. And so when the states ratified the 13th amendment, that’s what freed the slaves. During the war, a lot of slaves freed themselves as two huge armies went through and created anarchy and chaos, a lot of them freed themselves.

And of course, the Emancipation Proclamation, who anyone could read online or off-line, specifically exempted all of the areas of the United States that were in control of the union at the time. It was even so specific as to mention each parish in Lewisiana where the Union Army was in charge at the time of the Emancipation Proclamation. And so it didn’t apply to what was called ”rebel territory,” and so it literally didn’t have the ability to free anybody. And besides that, the president at this time didn’t have the ability to end slavery. There would have been a constitutional amendment, which is what happened eventually. But that’s one of the great myths of American history, I think. And I was surprised, by the way, I went to the new Lincoln presidential museum in Springfield, Illinois which is really a remarkable technological feat. It’s a beautiful museum. And they have the face of an ex-slave on a big screen and a voice-over saying what I just said to you saying that, you know, calling Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation a sham because it didn’t free anybody. And I was frankly shocked that they would put this up in the Lincoln museum because I’ve gotten all kind of criticism from merely stating the obvious. And at the time, there were newspapers in Europe and America that were saying this. There were abolitionists in the north who were condemning Lincoln because they thought this was a fraud. They thought, you know, he says he wants to emancipate the slaves, but look at the document, it doesn’t emancipate anybody. It just it only applies to rebel territory where they had no ability to emancipate anyone.

LAMB: If you could get everybody that you call the Lincoln cultists or people who are members of the church of Lincoln in front of you, and we don’t have a whole lot of time left, but if you were going to tell them what you think they ought to do, tell them what they ought to change, tell them just tell them what you think about them, what would you say to them?

DILORENZO: I think they need to get back to pursuing the truth of history in their careers. One of the debates I was in with another Lincoln scholar, he said at one point in a debate that was printed it was published, eventually that, uh, well this debate ended over secession, states rights, with the war. And so what was the point of all of this, he was saying, what was the point of bringing this up again? And my answer was, well, the pursuit of truth in history is the point of it. Might doesn’t make rights. Yes, military might was use to prove, so to speak that secession is illegal and unconstitutional, but might doesn’t make right. And so, sort of pursue the truth is what I would tell them. And maybe, I might embarrass a few of them into changing their ways.

LAMB: How would you embarrass them do you think?

DILORENZO: Well, I think, some of the more thoughtful people might look at what they’ve been doing in terms of their work and maybe reevaluate because it is sort of a closed society, this whole Lincoln what I call the Lincoln cult. And when you only are around other people who think alike, and not only that, who pressure you to think alike and punish you professionally if you don’t think like everyone else, then it’s sort of incestuous and that’s not good for the expansion of knowledge and for the generation of ideas and learning. And I think there are some thoughtful people in the history profession who would get away from that and start considering alternative ways of looking at Lincoln and the Civil War.

LAMB: Is there a leader of the cult?

DILORENZO: Well there are probably several people who like to think of themselves as cult leaders. Harry Jaffa is one person who seems to be the most cult leader-like. He has a number of arguments that he has come up with over the years and he has a number of followers who repeat all of these arguments, and they tend to attack, personally attack people who disagree with their arguments. And the arguments are all basically Lincoln’s arguments; the states were never sovereign, for example. It was Lincoln’s argument in his first inaugural address the union created the states, the states didn’t create the union, which I think is just historically untrue. But that was sort of the mantra of actually it began with Alexander Hamilton. And so a person like Jaffa repeats these old Lincoln arguments, and he has a number of followers who do this.

LAMB: Is he still at Claremont College?

DILORENZO: He’s I think he’s retired from Claremont College. I think he’s still associated with something called the Claremont Institute out in California.

LAMB: Who else on your list?

DILORENZO: Well, James McPherson would be up there. He always

LAMB: Princeton.

DILORENZO: Princeton, yes. I was this debate I mentioned with another historian, it was published in ”North and South” Magazine a few years ago. And I was told to meet him, back and forth, we want back and forth several times and I thought it was very good debate and I was confident that I did well in the debate. And when the magazine came out, we did the debate online, the magazine comes out and I open it and there’s a little article by James McPherson in the middle taking my opponent’s side. And I was not informed of that, and I was not invited to respond to McPherson on that. And so he seems to have his fingers poked in everything that has to do with Lincoln and the Civil War. And I thought this was a very dishonest way of conducting himself and the ”North and South” magazine, I think it was a discredit to them to do that as well.

LAMB: Is there one more? We’re going to

DILORENZO: One more Lincoln cultist? I might as well throw Harold Holzer in there as far as that goes.

LAMB: And why him?

DILORENZO: Well, he’s no different, in my book, than Jaffa and the rest. I guess, I would I would put him in there as someone who doesn’t seem to tolerate any dissent over and no right to have a conversation on it is my impression about these things. He was invited to be on a radio show with me and he canceled. And so I think they’re not really willing to have a conversation about these things. They know the truth and anybody who challenges the truth, in capital letters, is not to be debated but criticized or attacked or ignored something like that.

LAMB: Who in your life had the most impact on your besides the people you mentioned back in your early life that may have gotten you down this road towards libertarianism?

DILORENZO: Probably my early education when I started reading Milton Friedman when I was a freshman in college and I ran a little magazine called ”The Freeman” published by the Foundation for Economic Education in New York, and it had a lot of articles by Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises, Ayn Rand, Milton Friedman, and all of these people who were sort of torchbearers of what used to be called classical liberalism or libertarianism today. So, I guess, as an 18-year-old, I started educating myself in this whole tradition and that’s I ended up sticking with it for several decades.

LAMB: And you’ve been at Loyola for how many years?

DILORENZO: I’ve been there for 16 years now.

LAMB: Loyola Baltimore.

DILORENZO: Loyola College teaching economics.

LAMB: One quick last question, another book coming out?

DILORENZO: I have a book coming out in October of ’08 called ”Hamilton’s Curse.” And the subtitle is ”How Jefferson’s Arch-Enemy Betrayed the American Revolution.” There’s a book by John Steele Gordon called ”Hamilton’s Blessing” about the public debts Hamilton once called the debt public blessing. I take a look at Hamilton’s mostly his economic ideas and conclude that they are uniformly bad ideas even though we’ve adopted all of them in America and that’s the theme of that book.

LAMB: Thank you, Thomas J. DiLorenzo, we appreciate it. The author of the most recent book he’s written called ”Lincoln Unmasked.” Thanks for joining us.

DILORENZO: Thank you very much.


C-SPAN  ·  American Writers  ·  American Presidents · Booknotes  ·  Book TV
Capitol Hearings  ·  Students & Leaders