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Abraham Lincoln’s “House Divided” Speech

When we examine the history of Western civilization in the 19th-20th centuries, it will appear that virtually all of the wars that had taken place, during the course of this historical period, were instigated by politicians who never ceased promoting the concept of military confrontation as the ultimate solution to seemingly irresolvable problems, while explaining their warmongering stance by their dedication to the ideals of morality, civility, and tolerance. Why were British colonists given a carte blanche to indulge in genocidal practices against native Indians in the 19th century? This is because these colonists genuinely believed that they were “morally ordained” to treat Indians as subhumans – after all, it was them who had a mission of bringing the light of civilization to savages. Why had the population of Native Americans been almost completely wiped out by White Protestants around the same time? This is because these Protestants believed that they were the “people of Israel”, and as we all are aware of – Biblical God Jehovah explicitly calls for the physical extermination of all the “pagans” that stood in the way of his “chosen people”. Why does the American Civil War of 1861-1965 continue to be considered as the bloodiest event that had taken place on American soil, throughout the history of this country’s existence? This is because, prior to the outbreak of this war, many American politicians, such as Abraham Lincoln, had convinced the progressive half of America’s citizens that their slave-owning brethren in the South were nothing but a bunch of rednecks, whose political opinions should not have been taken into consideration.

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Nowadays, Abraham Lincoln’s famous “A House Divided” speech, delivered to the delegates of the Illinois Republican Party Convention in 1858, is being commonly praised as such that had created objective preconditions for America’s unification within the constitutional framework of a Federation. For example, in his book “Lincoln: A Very Short Introduction”, Allen Guelzo refers to the ideas, contained in this particular Lincoln’s speech, as such that were utterly beneficial for the well-being of 19th century’s American nation: “Lincoln did not mean that the divided halves would need to resort to violence to resolve the division; what was needed, though, was a national decision that slavery was right or wrong, and then the taking of whatever gradual steps were consistent with that conclusion, especially concerning the territories” (Guelzo 2009, p. 77). However, the author never bothers to mention that “A House Divided” speech had set America on the path of a civil war. Despite the fact that throughout his career Abraham Lincoln never ceased proclaiming his adherence to the principles of democracy, he was incapable of tolerating political opinions that differed from his own. And, the reason for this is simple – Lincoln used to assess surrounding reality through the lenses of Christian dogmatism. This is exactly the reason why Lincoln’s speech contains referrals to Biblical fables: “A house divided against itself cannot stand”, etc. Apparently, Lincoln believed that these referrals would substantiate the validity of his speech’s foremost argument, which can be articulated as follows: Slavery is wrong; therefore, the concept of popular sovereignty does not apply to Southern settlers’ right to own slaves in Nebraska.

What made Lincoln believe that slavery was wrong, especially given the fact that the “holy book” fully condones this practice? “A House Divided” speech does not provide us with the answer to this question – apparently, Lincoln had simply assumed that his stance on the issue could not be argued with. In the same manner, it never occurs to contemporary American politicians that their promotion of the policy of multiculturalism in America causes this country a great deal of harm – those who raise voices against the process of America turning into the Third World slum, are being automatically branded as “racists”, “sexists” and “male chauvinists”. Therefore, “A House Divided” speech should be referred to as to what it really is – an example of well-meaning but utterly meaningless political demagogy, aimed at intensifying political tensions within American society of the time, so that individuals like Lincoln, could go about realizing their personal ambitions at the expense of plunging the whole country into a civil war.

In his article “Lincoln, Calhoun, and Cultural Politics”, John Burt makes a perfectly good point while suggesting that it was namely this Lincoln’s speech, which had deprived America of a chance to get rid of slavery in a peaceful manner: “Lincoln, to serve his own political ambitions, undermined the credibility of the last politician who may have been able to resolve the slavery crisis short of war” (Burt 2003, p.143). At the time when Lincoln came up with “A House Divided” speech, more and more Southern planters were beginning to realize that they had no choice but to stop relying upon slave labor, in order for their agricultural enterprises to remain competitive. Therefore, Stephen Douglas’ endorsement of the “popular sovereignty” doctrine, criticized in Lincoln’s speech, was not aimed at the preservation of slavery as its main objective, but at the preservation of America’s unity in a time when this country was undergoing political tribulations.

Nowadays, many historians suggest that, even without the outbreak of a Civil War, it would only take another ten years for the slavery in Southern states to be completely abandoned – but no, Lincoln and industrialist tycoons behind him actively strived for war, simply because just about any war presents capitalist sharks with the opportunity to make huge money by the mean of supplying warring parties with arms. Today, the American Civil War of 1861–1865 is being commonly regarded as the event that had brought about the liberation of African-Americans from slavery, which is why the majority of Americans consider this war as such that was dialectically predestined to occur – after all, no sober-minded person would argue in favor of slavery. However, not many citizens realize that the abolition of slavery, was not a true motivation behind American Civil War, but only an excuse Northern politicians had resorted to, in order to legitimize their pro-war stance.

It is important to understand that the Civil War of 1861-1865 did not bring about the abolition of slavery in the South de facto, but only de jure. In fact, it is named after having been “liberated” in 1865 that African-Americans had realized themselves being deprived of even those illusionary rights and freedoms they were endowed to, while under slavery. This explains why the Reconstruction era in the South, is now being often considered as the nadir (lowest point) of America’s Black history, despite the fact that this period followed the abolition of slavery. During the course of this time, it became a common practice for African-Americans to be indiscriminately lynched and murdered by Southern Whites, simply because these Whites considered African-Americans as the actual instigators of a Civil War, even though it could not possibly be the case.

Moreover, it is because the liberation of African-Americans came as the result of Southern and Northern Whites having indulged in a bloody bacchanalia against each other, during the time of Civil War, that even today the majority of White Americans are being instilled with genetically predetermined animosity towards the Blacks – this explains the existence of racially secluded “White suburbias” in just about every American city. Therefore, the actual outcome of Lincoln’s political activities should not be considered the abolition of slavery – slavery would have been abandoned even without Lincoln’s “valuable” contribution to the process of slavery becoming economically unfeasible, but 650.000 dead Americans. So much for Lincoln’s proclaimed goal of preventing the “house” from being divided.

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American Civil War can be compared to the Battle of Berlin in the spring of 1945, when the Soviet Army had lost 350.000 in casualties, within a matter of two weeks, while attacking the doomed city, simply because Stalin wanted to enter Berlin before the Allies. Yet, Soviets could have simply laid a siege around Berlin – the starved city, in which remaining residents considered cats and dogs a delicacy, would have surrendered within a matter of a month. The lives of hundreds of thousands of Soviet soldiers would have been spared. In a similar manner, had Northern states subjected Southern states to an economic embargo, while demanding the abolishment of slavery, their agenda would have been eventually achieved without the lives of 650.000 Americans being sacrificed on Civil War’s bloody battlefields. However, Lincoln wanted war in 1861 under the pretext of “abolition of slavery”, just as Roosevelt wanted war in 1941 under the pretext of “protection of democracy”, just as Bush wanted war in 2001 under the pretext of “elimination of weapons of mass destruction”. The truth is – it is only Plutocratic moneybags who benefit from wars, not the ordinary citizens. And, since ordinary citizens do not benefit from war, their nation cannot benefit from war either, simply because the nation is nothing but a multitude of ordinary citizens, united by the same interests and by the same cultural affiliation.

In his article “The Union: Worth a War?”, Doug Bandow provides us with insight into the actual outcome of Lincoln’s political stance, articulated in his speech: “Over 600,000 dead; hundreds of thousands of hungry refugees; mass destruction of agriculture, community, and property in the South; extensive violations of civil liberties in the North; and centralization of national power that has steadily intensified over the succeeding century. The sole genuine benefit of the war — the destruction of slavery — was partially overturned after Reconstruction… Abraham Lincoln’s role in history may be memorable, but it is not praiseworthy. His most important decision — to plunge the nation into civil war — was wrong” (Bandow 1996).

As the famous saying goes – the road to hell is made out of good intentions. There is little doubt as to the fact that most of the ideas, contained in Lincoln’s “A House Divided” speech can be best referred to as truly admirable. The same can be said about Marxist ideas – after all, they are based on the idea of people’s equality. However, the problem begins when politicians’ “admirable ideas” are being implemented practically. In order to enforce equality in Russia, after the Communist takeover in 1917, Commies could not come up with anything better than deciding to physically exterminate the representatives of the bourgeoisie en masse. In a similar manner, in order to preserve the unity of the American nation, Lincoln could not have come with anything better than encouraging America’s Southerners and Northerners to start hating each other with utter passion. And, as we are all aware of – the legacy of Lincoln’s “uniting efforts” lives on even today, with “yokels” and “Yankees” continuing to treat each other with an unmasked animosity.

References

Bandow, D. (1996). The union: Worth a war? The Future of Freedom Foundation. Web.

Burt, J. (2003). Lincoln, Calhoun, and cultural politics. Raritan. 23(2), 142-161.

Guelzo, A. (2009). Lincoln: A very short Introduction. Oxford, Oxford University Press.

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