Long-time fans of Rush Limbaugh's provocative radio show experienced a shock in a recent program that focused on Abraham Lincoln. Despite his feisty defense of this American hero, Rush seemed taken aback by the vehemence of his callers' criticism of Lincoln — the first big-government liberal and a racist to boot, indifferent to the plight of the slaves. In short, no hero at all.
Rush finally threw up his hands in (presumably mock) exasperation and declared that he no longer knew what the Civil War was about: Tariffs? States' rights? Anything but the slavery he had always thought was the true cause.
The key to understanding this Dittohead revolt is to consider Rush's news hook for the discussion — director Steven Spielberg's proposed movie on Lincoln, which would reportedly portray him as a weakling, a racist, and a failure at the presidency. Many of Rush's conservative callers seemed eager to echo the liberal Spielberg and thus create a right-left conspiracy against Lincoln.
While romantic apologists continue to mourn the "lost cause" of the Confederacy, in fact the Southern view of America is the one that continues to be taught in universities and secondary education throughout the country, North and South. This Confederate view holds that the Declaration of Independence did not include slaves or their descendants and that it provides no guidance for how we Americans were supposed to govern ourselves. The phrase "all men are created equal" was not intended to affirm universal freedom and rights; the whole document was simply a good-bye to Great Britain. Therefore, the Civil War could not have been fundamentally about slavery.
Let Lincoln's own words refute the charge that he was a racist who was indifferent to the plight of the slaves. He opposed slavery for three main reasons — its corruption of the slave, its corruption of the master, and its corruption of self-government in the sense of constitutional democracy. But even more than a war to free slaves, the Civil War was ultimately fought to affirm freedom.
"If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong," Lincoln observed. Despite the intuitively obvious notion that slavery is evil, its criticism is required today, as it was in 1860. He once remarked, "although volume upon volume is written to prove slavery is a very good thing, we never hear of the man who wishes to take the good of it, by being a slave himself."
In this regard, we should consider the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery, as a great pro-family part of the Constitution. For one of the great abuses of slavery was the degradation of slave women by slaveholders and the ability of the slaveholder to break up slave families.
The institution of slavery also corrupted the master class in other ways. Lincoln claimed that his formidable opponent Stephen Douglas spoke the part of "the same old serpent that says you work and I eat, you toil and I will enjoy the fruits of it. Turn it whatever way you will — whether it come from the mouth of a King... or from the mouth of men of one race as a reason for enslaving the men of another race, it is all the same old serpent." Thus, Lincoln declared: "As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy. Whatever differs from this, to the extent of the difference, is not democracy."
One cannot advocate limited government without renouncing the unlimited government of slavery. "In giving freedom to the slave," Lincoln said, "we assure freedom to the free."
Finally, slavery undermined American self-government. Lincoln believed the founding principle of America is proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence. "I should like to know if taking this old Declaration of Independence, which declares that all men are equal upon principle and making exceptions to it — where will it stop."
In a most profound sense the Civil War was not fought over a particular race, it was fought to secure the principle of our self-government. Hence the war purposes: "The restoration of the Rebel States to the Union must rest upon the principle of civil and political equality of both races; and it must be sealed by general amnesty."
Lincoln saw the purposes of the war lying beyond the lifting of oppression. "In this great struggle, this form of Government and every form of human right is endangered if our enemies succeed," he said. "There is more involved in this contest than is realized by every one. There is involved in this struggle the question whether your children and my children shall enjoy the privileges we have enjoyed." And among the highest privileges we children of Father Abraham enjoy is the freedom to matriculate at the Limbaugh Institute, which so nobly advances the work of Abraham Lincoln.