Jon Stewart had libertarian Judge Andrew Napolitano on a couple of nights ago, and the two debated Lincoln and the Civil War. I have been reading and listening to a lot of hard libertarians lately, and I have learned that they tend to be highly critical of Abraham Lincoln — and in truth, they have several good arguments concerning Lincoln’s behavior. He did not fight the war to free the slaves; he promised in his First Inaugural Address to retain slavery in the states that had it, and to return fugitive slaves to those states; he suspended the writ of habeas corpus and imprisoned his critics; he fought a brutal war; and he attacked states that had exercised their long-understood right to secede from the Union.
That said, his war did have the effect of freeing slavery. And Lincoln’s atrocities — like Nelson Mandela’s in a different struggle for equality and human rights — tend to be overlooked by most historians who prioritize the greater good of freedom.
It all makes for an interesting debate, but that’s not the point of this post.
The point of this post is to rag on Jon Stewart and his entourage of pointy-headed professors for getting the facts wrong. In particular, Napolitano made the point that U.S. Marshals were used to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act, dragging slaves back to their owners in the South. Napolitano went so far as to say that this ugly use of federal force continued even after the War Between the States had started!
STEWART: “So even they had banned it, people were still using people as property, and isn’t that what the war was about?”
NAPOLITANO: “The president used — forgive me, Abe — the president used federal marshals to chase down slaves that had escaped and returned them to the south during the Civil War.”
PROF. FONER: “That’s not true!”
PROF. SINHA: “That’s not true! Absolutely not.”
STEWART: “Point of order! Point of order! How is that not true?”
PROF FONER: “Didn’t happen.”
PROF. OAKES: “Because it’s not true. Didn’t happen.”
NAPOLITANO: “Do you know how difficult it is for a judge to be judged?”
LINCOLN: “If I may say –”
STEWART: “Yes, I’m sorry, Mr. Lincoln.”
LINCOLN: “That answer is crazier than my wife. Hello.”
STEWART: “Ladies and gentlemen, that is all the time we have left for the Weakest Lincoln. We’ll be right back.”
So there was general mockery all around at Judge Napolitano’s expense. The experts had spoken: Napolitano was wrong. I spent some time trying to research this issue last night and came up empty. The U.S. Marshal’s web site confirmed that marshals enforced the Fugitive Slave Act, but the site does not tell the reader when the marshals stopped enforcing the horrid and immoral law. Web searches yielded sites that seemed mostly uninformed on the timing of it all.
But guess what? It turns out that Napolitano was right. Tom Woods sets the record straight:
Please do take the time to actually watch the Woods video. He is a great communicator and I listen to his podcast every day. (I recommend you subscribe!) He has an engaging manner and makes his arguments with facts and dignity — my kind of guy.
Woods cites passages from a scholarly work that establishes that U.S. Marshals were used to arrest slaves and return them to slave owners in the border states, such as Kentucky and Maryland. Napolitano was right, and Stewart’s panel of so-called experts was wrong.
The best the professors could argue, I suppose, is that the states to which slaves were returned — states like Kentucky and Maryland — were border states that had remained “loyal” to the Union (even if the reasons were not always rooted in “loyalty,” as evidenced by the fact that, for example, Lincoln’s imposition of martial law is what prevented Maryland from seceding).
But Napolitano did not say that U.S. Marshals had returned slaves to “the Confederacy” or to “the deep South.” Rather, he said that U.S. Marshals had returned slaves to “the South.” And Kentucky is undoubtedly part of the South. (For that matter, so are West Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware.) If that is not immediately obvious to you, and for some reason you require proof, I will point you to the U.S. Census, which includes in its classification of “the South” states such as Kentucky, Maryland, Delaware, and West Virginia — all border states that, while not part of the Confederacy, permitted slavery and benefitted from the actions of U.S. Marshals who scooped up those poor runaway slaves and returned them to their “rightful owners.”
And I will note further that the professors did not say:
Hold up, there’s a nuanced objection to your argument! If one twists the definition of “the South” to exclude states like Kentucky, or if one redefines your statement concerning “the South” to apply instead to the “deep South” or “the Confederacy,” then you are not 100% accurate!
No, that’s not what they said. What they said was: “Not true! Absolutely not! Didn’t happen! Nyaah nyaah!” (OK, they said almost all of those. Three out of four ain’t bad.)
And from what I can tell, they were wrong. All three of them.
I’d like to end this post by saying: I’m not done. My next step is to write the professors (and Stewart) and request that they correct the record, or dispute Woods’s evidence. Those professors are:
And in coming days, I want to do a post about the strange way the interview was edited. I both TiVoed it and watched it online — and it turns out that Napolitano was kicking Stewart’s rear end in a passage that curiously got omitted from the TV version.
But that’s another post . . .
P.S. The first video in this post was obtained using the services of an excellent site called Grabien.com. If you see anything on TV and want to get a clip of it, contact them and they will take care of it. That’s what I did. I am in regular contact with one of the founders and he is a great guy and very accommodating. I recommend the site highly.
UPDATE: It is worth noting that Lincoln was absolutely anti-slavery on a personal level. He was just more interested in saving the Union than in abolishing slavery.