Just when you thought Adams couldn’t get more inane, we get to this chapter in which he purports to criticize Lincoln’s logic.
Adams “considers” the Gettysburg Address.
He first discusses the beginning of the speech, in which Lincoln says, “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation … ”
Adams writes, “By simple arithmetic that would be 1776, when the Revolutionary War started and the Declaration of Independence was signed. That declaration was written with ‘decent respect for the opinions of mankind,’ to explain the reasons for the separation of the thirteen colonies from Great Britain. It contained no endowment of governmental power and created no government.” [pp. 193-194] Adams apparently doesn’t understand what the words, “Declaration of Independence” mean. He must not have read this part: “We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” We have to also understand a little bit of 18th Century English. A nation that was a collection of states was referred to in the plural because grammatically it was a collective noun, and in English grammar usage collective nouns were referred to in the plural. Eventually American English evolved away from that usage and in American English collective nouns are today referred to in the singular. So to fully understand this document you have to read it in the language in which it was written, 18th Century English. So in this document our Founding Fathers did indeed establish a new nation. It was governed by the Second Continental Congress. Adams’ history is as poor as ever. Oh, and by the way, the Revolutionary War didn’t start in 1776. Lexington and Concord were in 1775.
Adams continues, “The federal compact among the former thirteen colonies, the new ‘sovereign states,’ as expressed in the Articles of Confederation in 1781, was not a nation as that term was then and is normally used. That was recently explained by Carl N. Degler, professor of American history at Stanford University, in a memorial lecture given at Gettysburg College in 1990: ‘The Civil War, in short, was not a struggle to save a failed union, but to create a nation that until then had not come into being.’ ” [pp. 194-195]
As usual, Adams succeeds only in proving he is unreliable and incompetent as a scholar of any type. He completely misrepresents what Degler was saying. Degler made the claim that the Union wasn’t a nation but rather a vehicle to move toward nationhood, that a nation was united in purpose, that the secession of the confederate states showed the United States was not yet a nation, and that it was the result of the Civil War that established a nation in the United States. This is a minority opinion among scholars. It also runs afoul of the Supreme Court, who ruled in McCullough v. Maryland, Fletcher v. Peck, Gibbons v. Ogden, and in Cohens v. Virginia that the United States was a nation.
Adams writes, “Some years ago, while I was living in a British colony, we Americans got together on the Fourth of July for a barbecue and one of my older English friends asked me what the celebration was all about. I took the bait and told him it was to celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence. He replied, ‘Wasn’t that document kind of a farce? All that verbiage about equality of all men and liberty when over a million black people were in bondage for life, and their children and children’s children?’ Of course I had no answer.” [pp. 195-196] Of course Adams had no answer, because he doesn’t know enough about his own country’s history and doesn’t have the intellectual ability to analyze the Declaration of Independence.
That phrase in the Declaration was a promise that men would be treated equally under the law. Jefferson was talking about free men, not just white men. Lincoln’s vision was to end slavery and thus bring to all men in the United States the promise of the Declaration of being equal before the law.
Adams next talks about Lincoln’s statement, “Now we are engaged in a great civil war … ” except that in his incompetence he doesn’t know what the actual wording is. He calls it, “Today we are engaged in a great civil war.” Adams shows more ignorance in writing, “Actually, it wasn’t a civil war as that term was then, and is now, defined. A civil war is a war that breaks out in a nation between opposing groups for control of the state.” [p. 196] Webster’s Dictionary defines a “civil war” as “a war between groups of people of the same country.” Adams again has no credibility.
Adams lets his racism and historical dishonesty out for a stroll again: “It was, if you get down to the nuts and bolts of it, a war of conquest by the North to destroy the Confederacy and to establish a new political leadership over the conquered territories. Illiterate slaves were given the vote, and the rest of the Southern society, the ruling groups, were not permitted to vote. The poor, illiterate blacks were then told by Northern occupation forces to vote as directed, and they did so, infuriating the conquered people and creating a zeal for white supremacy that is only in our time losing its grip on Southern society.” [p. 196] We’ve already considered this garbage in our discussion of Chapter Twelve.
Adams next looks at the phrase, “testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and dedicated, can long endure.” He says, “That comment seems to presuppose that the South was out to conquer the Northern federation.” [p. 197] This is again Adams’ incompetence. It recognizes, as Thomas Jefferson recognized, that if a state could simply break up the Union because it didn’t like the results of an election, no representative government can possibly exist and last. That Adams doesn’t understand this simple fact shows he can never be relied on as an authority for anything. It underpins the rest of his commentary on the Gettysburg Address.
Adams favorably quote H. L. Mencken, who wrote, “The Union soldiers in the battle [of Gettysburg] actually fought against self-determination; it was the Confederates who fought for the right of their people to govern themselves.” [p. 199] To Mencken and Adams, only white folks matter. The confederates were fighting to continue to deny self-determination for 40% of their population, and neither Mencken nor Adams cares. In addition, they both don’t know what they’re talking about. “Slaveholding aristocrats who established the Confederacy, believed untold unionists, posed a direct threat not only to the long-term success of the American republic but also to the broader future of democracy. Should armies of citizen-soldiers fail to restore the Union, forces of privilege on both sides of the Atlantic could pronounce ordinary people incapable of self-government and render irrelevant the military sacrifices and political genius of the Revolutionary fathers.” [Gary W. Gallagher, The Union War, p. 2]
Adams claims Clement Vallandigham “was a candidate for governor, giving a political speech at a Democratic rally.” [p. 200] As usual, Adams shows incompetence. Vallandigham wasn’t a candidate for governor until after Lincoln released him from jail.
He repeats some of his previous lies with which we’ve already dealt, such as his previous false claims about Fort Sumter.
Adams claims that, “The horrors of Andersonville, that most notorious of Southern prisons for Union soldiers, can be blamed on Grant and Lincoln when they refused to send medicines and to exchange prisoners.” [p. 209]
The blame for ending the exchanges properly belongs to the confederates who cheated on the exchange system by putting paroled men back into battle before they had been properly exchanged and, more egregiously, refusing to treat captured black Union soldiers as proper POWs eligible for exchange.
Adams talks about Lincoln’s approval of the execution of slave trader Nathaniel Gordon [Adams spells the first name, “Nathanial”]. Then he writes, “Later, when another slave trader was caught, Lincoln went to the other extreme and granted a pardon.” [p. 209] As usual, Adams gives no other information. He doesn’t name this alleged slave trader and gives no citation for his assertion.
Adams next claims, “Lincoln also participated in the execution of thirty-nine Sioux Indians. The Sioux had rebelled at the starvation they had been experiencing when the government, as usual, breached its promises to them. And with no means of support, the Indians–men, women, and children–were starving to death. Lincoln had the rebellious Sioux executed in one grand hanging of all thirty-nine at one time, the only mass hanging on such a scale ever to take place in American history. Even to this day, the descendants of those executed hold Lincoln and his government responsible for this barbaric execution.” [p. 210] Yet again, Adams proves he is a liar of the lowest character with no integrity whatsoever.
The Dakota Sioux Uprising of 1862 has been well documented, even though Adams provided no source for his lies–and after all, how could he provide a source for something he lies about? The Dakota engaged in murder and rape, massacring many settler families in the process. Adams doesn’t want his readers to know that. He also doesn’t want his readers to know that 303 Dakota were condemned to be executed by the trial court. Lincoln reviewed all the death sentences, trying to ascertain which were the ones who were actually guilty of being ring leaders and of perpetrating the murders. He commuted the sentences of all but 39, and one more later had his sentence commuted, so as a result thirty-eight Dakota, instead of three hundred three Dakota, were executed. Because of Lincoln, two hundred sixty-five Dakota lived who would otherwise have been executed. But the truth isn’t part of what Adams would like anyone to know.