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Abraham Lincoln: Pro-Capitalist

by John Spritzler

February 12, 2024

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Abraham Lincoln famously opposed chattel slavery, but that doesn't mean he opposed capitalism, which is rightfully called wage-slavery. To see this, I call your attention to a speech Lincoln gave on March 6, 1860 that is quoted in the book, Abraham Lincoln and the Working Class, by Herman Schleuter (page 31-2); Lincoln said:

"I am glad to see that a system of labor prevails in New England under which laborers can strike when they want to, where they are not obliged to work under all circumstances, and are not tied down and obliged to labor whether you pay them or no . I like the system which lets a man quit when he wants to, and wish it might prevail everywhere. One of the reasons why I am opposed to slavery is just here. What is the true condition of the laborer? I take it that it is the best for all to leave each man free to acquire property as fast as he can. Some will get wealthy. I don't believe in a law to prevent a man from getting rich; it would do more harm than good. So while we do not propose any war upon capital, we do wish to allow the humblest man an equal chance to get rich with everybody else. When one starts poor, as most do in the race of life, free so- ciety is such that he knows he can better his condition-he knows that there is no fixed condition of labor for his whole life. I am not ashamed to confess that twenty-five years ago I was a hired laborer, mauling rails, at work on a flatboat-just what might happen to any poor man's son. I want every man to have his chance-and I believe a black man is entitled to it-in which he can better his condition when he may look forward and hope to be a hired laborer this year and the next, work for himself afterward, and finally hire men to work for him. That is the true system."

This stated view of Lincoln's is the classic defense of capitalism: that it enables a person, even a poor laborer, who works hard and smart to get rich and become a capitalist. This is essentially the view known today as "Equal Opportunity" (to get rich) that pundits such as Robert Reich use to justify capitalism. Thus Robert Reich (as I write about here) limits his criticism of current capitalist society to the ways it might discriminate against some people to deny them Equal Opportunity, while at the same time he writes:

"Charles and David Koch should not be blamed for having more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of Americans put together. Nor should they be condemned for their petrochemical empire. As far as I know, they’ve played by the rules and obeyed the laws." --Robert Reich, in his blog article (See a screen shot of it here also.)

In a capitalist society, during the time of Lincoln as well as today, money is power; people with more money have more power, and inevitably some capitalists have MUCH more money and power than ordinary people. This is class inequality. And Lincoln defended it.

Abraham Lincoln and the American Indians

One horrible aspect of American class inequality at the time of Lincoln is that slave-owners--the class of people who ruled the Confederacy during its existence--were among the most prominent individuals who led and carried out genocide of American Indians. Ordinary white people in the South during the Confederacy HATED these slave-owners, as I show in great detail here. As I discuss here, this genocide of American Indians benefited the slave-owning (and other upper class) Americans and enabled them to control and oppress the have-not Americans. Lincoln as president was squarely on the side of those carrying out the genocide of American Indians.

During Lincoln’s presidency, tribal matters generally took a back seat to his all-consuming management of the Civil War and push to end slavery. While humanistically well intentioned, Lincoln was largely uninformed and reactionary on Native American issues and defaulted to policies set by his predecessors, writes University of Texas historian Thomas Britten. That meant making and breaking treaties, confiscating ancestral lands, forcing removal, pushing cultural assimilation—and, at times, turning a blind eye to acts of genocide committed by the military on the western frontier. Among the bitterest pills served to Native peoples during his administration: Lincoln signed laws that gave away millions of acres of tribal land to support white westward expansion, and he approved the hanging of 38 Dakota Sioux warriors, the largest mass execution in U.S. history.

“Lincoln’s acceptance of U.S. Indian policy indicated he conformed to the general social attitudes toward Native Americans in his time,” writes historian Christopher Anderson in the Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association. “He continued to view them as a foreign people that would need to be removed through purchase or conquest.” [source: ]

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