Thomas DiLorenzo is the author of Lincoln Unmasked: What You're Not Supposed to Know About Dishonest Abe. Following are excerpts from a C-SPAN interview with the historian-economist.
You can criticize Thomas Jefferson. Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Franklin Roosevelt, but you can't criticize Abraham Lincoln, apparently, in the history profession.
I thought that was very unscholarly and unprofessional and closed-minded on the part of some segments of the history profession -- a big part of the history profession. I see no reason why you can't take a look at Lincoln, just as you'd look at any other president, and look at the good and the bad.
There's plenty of bad: Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus, the mass arrests of tens of thousands of Northern civilians, and his shutting down of hundreds of opposition newspapers. There are things that most Americans never heard of. I've given public speeches about this, and people are dumbfounded. They accuse me of being a liar because they were never taught this in school. It's all documented; it's no secret. Historians know about all of this, but the average American doesn't seem to know it unless he reads my books and the books of a few others.
I grew up in Pennsylvania. I played baseball at Thaddeus Stevens Middle School, [which is named for a leading Lincoln-era abolitionist], and I remember singing the Battle Hymn of the Republic in elementary school almost every day. I was educated like most Americans were: I thought [Lincoln] 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. I started educating myself some more about it, and it changed my mind about Lincoln. . . .
In some of my writings, I talk about the "church of Lincoln." He's been deified a great deal. I think it's a very unhealthy thing for society to deify any politician, whether it's Abraham Lincoln or George Washington. There's nothing wrong with praising them for the good things they've done, but it's dangerous to deify a politician. Even the Communist parties [in the] USA have tried to attach their agenda to 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.
One of the things that really bothered me was when I found out that all of the other countries of the world that ended slavery in the nineteenth century did so peacefully, [as did] New England and Ohio and Pennsylvania and Indians, the northern United States. 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? . . .
The purpose of the invasion of the Southern states was what Lincoln said it was, to destroy the secession movement -- as he called it, "saving the Union." But all of the death that was attached to that is the thing that haunts me. Was it really necessary for some 650,000 Americans to die? If you standardize that to today's population, which is ten times higher that it was in 1860, you're talking the equivalent of five or six million people dying. That is what hit me hard, that all of that death was necessary just to save the Union. I argue that the Union wasn't "saved" because the Union of the Founders was voluntary. It was no longer voluntary after 1865. . . .
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. He was brilliant; he was a genius. A great tragedy for America, however, is that he used [his] genius to manipulate the South Carolinians into firing the first shot at Fort Sumter and plunging the whole nation into war. Then, [after] invading his own country at Fort Sumter -- no one was killed or hurt -- his response was a full-scale invasion of the entire Southern states.
Wouldn't it have been great had he used this genius to be more statesman like and end slavery peacefully like the British and the Spaniards did, and do other things for Americans, as opposed to [conducting] a four-year war that killed 650,000 Americans?