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A. Lincoln, Socialist?

Claude Fischer, professor of sociology | April 6, 2011

A while ago, I was dumbstruck by a comment a Republican party insurgent in Utah made about her former governor, Jon Huntsman, Jr., a Republican politician who received strong kudos from the libertarian Cato Institute. “‘On a good day,  a socialist,’ said Darcy Van Orden, a co-founder of Utah Rising . . . .  ‘On a bad day, he’s a communist’.” And, of course, people like Ms. Van Orden consider it obvious that Barack Obama is a socialist, if not worse. David Koch, one of the brother team of conservative financial angels, commented, for example, that Obama’s “father was a hard core economic socialist in Kenya . . . [and Obama] was apparently from what I read a great admirer of his father’s points of view.”

Abraham LincolnIt is striking how the term “socialist” has been redefined so that almost any policy and anyone can get that label. Indeed, many a past president would qualify by these standards — surely FDR, Truman, and Democrats through Clinton — but so would Republican presidents. By the standards of people such as Ms. Van Orden and David Koch, Abraham Lincoln was surely an out-and-out “socialist-communist.”

Lincoln Socialism

Let’s consider the Lincoln record. During just one term (plus 45 days), Lincoln managed to do the following “socialist-communist” acts:

Taxed the Wealth Creators. In 1861, Lincoln signed a law enacting the nation’s first personal income tax. Eventually, those earning between $600 and $10,000 a year paid 3% and those making more paid a higher rate. This was the first move toward “progressive taxation” of individual effort and we still live with such taxes today.

Exploded Deficit Spending. When Lincoln took over from James Buchanan, the U.S. debt was $65 million; in 1865, it reached $2.7 billion — a 4000 percent increase!

Led a Federal Takeover of Currency and Banking. Lincoln’s Legal Tender Act of 1862 created “greenbacks,” Federal paper money that Americans had to accept in place of gold and silver coins. And then the banking laws of 1863 and 1864 established a system of federally-chartered banks that undercut state-chartered institutions, in disregard of the 10th Amendment.

Forced People to Work for the Federal Government. Lincoln instituted the first national conscription act, forcing American men to give up their farms and to follow the orders of his generals. Lincoln also allowed men to buy their way out of the draft with a $300 fee, exacting more money for the Federal government.

Indulged in Government Giveaways to Special Interests. Lincoln gave away huge chunks of valuable national property to vested interests:

(1) Colleges: In 1862, Lincoln signed the Land Grant act, previously vetoed by President Buchanan; it gave away 300,000 acres (or the cash equivalent) to northern states for each of their congressional representatives to be used to establish colleges that would teach agriculture, engineering, and military tactics. Today, universities like U.C. Berkeley exist on that gift, teaching subjects like sociology and Arabic.

(2) Railroads: The Pacific Railroad Acts of 1862 and 1864 signed by Lincoln authorized the federal government to give away land and to go into debt selling bonds in order to finance the first transcontinental railroad.

(3) Land-Grabbers: In 1862, Lincoln signed the Homestead Act, also previously vetoed by President Buchanan. It eventually gave away 420,000 square miles — 10% of all American land — to squatters. Moreover, the Homestead Act generated a lot of waste, fraud and abuse.

Expropriated Private Property for Redistribution. With the stroke of a pen and no constitutional authority, Lincoln expropriated about $4 billion worth of private property (in the form of human chattel), today equal in value to at least $100 billion, and handed it over to poor blacks (the human chattel themselves). Not even FDR was as redistributionist as that!

Who else?

If Lincoln turns out to be more of an activist “socialist/communist” than Obama, what Republican president can serve as a free-enterprise, small-government model for Ms. Van Orden, Mr. Koch, and their fellow activists?

Emancipation Proclamation graphicWhat about Teddy Roosevelt? Er, no. He went around “trust-busting” perfectly legitimate corporations; his pet “parks” project fenced off millions of acres of land from development by entrepreneurs.

Ike? No. Eisenhower came into office after 20 years of the New Deal and instead of trying to repeal all that socialist-style legislation, he largely left it in place. And he also left office with a blast against defense spending.

Nixon? You mean the guy who signed the EPA into law? Who started affirmative action programs? And who tried to establish a Scandinavian-style “guaranteed annual income”? No way.

Reagan, for sure! Well, when Reagan came into office, the national debt was 32% of the Gross Domestic Product and when he left it was 53% of GDP (here). He did sign the largest tax cut in American history in 1981, but then Reagan also signed largest tax increase in 1982. And Reagan approved a tax increase to “save” Social Security, the centerpiece of FDR’s New Deal, rather than repeal that piece of a European-style welfare state.

Then, George Bush, the younger? It’s true that he tried to move toward privatizing Social Security. But he quickly gave that up. More important, instead of attacking America’s version of socialized medicine  — the Medicare program — he actually expanded it more than anyone has by adding the drug benefit, making socialized medicine  for the elderly even more expensive!

It looks like there are few non-“socialist” heroes in the presidential list — Herbert Hoover, perhaps, but he actually started the Reconstruction Finance Corporation to subsidize loans in an effort to kick-start recovery during the Depression. Maybe the only clean hero left is Calvin Coolidge.


If you define “socialist” accurately and realistically, no major figure on the American political scene (except perhaps for Bernie Sanders) qualifies. Certainly not Barack Obama, much less Jon Huntsman. But if you consider virtually every action of government in the economy as socialist, then virtually everyone qualifies as “socialist” — notably, Honest Abe.

Cross-posted from Claude Fischer’s blog, Made in America: Notes on American life from American history.

Comments to “A. Lincoln, Socialist?

  1. The Republican President Calvin Coolidge exemplified the purest exemplar of free enterprise, small government leadership of any Executive from 1900 through the present time.

  2. There are schools of socialist thought that range from statist and authoritarian to anti-statist Libertarian: quite at odds with one another. Just look at the struggle between Marxists and Anarchists!

    The word Socialism has been expanded to the point of being completely devoid of meaning. You can only accurately label someone a “socialist” by identifying the particular school that they most closely represent.

    I wish the American people were educated enough to know these things.

  3. “These capitalists generally act harmoniously and in concert, to fleece the people.”
    — Abraham Lincoln, from his first speech as an Illinois state legislator, 1837

  4. “Moral

    If you define “socialist” accurately and realistically, no major figure on the American political scene (except perhaps for Bernie Sanders) qualifies”


    Bernie sanders would qualify as SOCIAL DEMOCRAT.

    Not a socialist by any means.

    And lincoln, apparently advocated for communism: “labour is independent of, and prior to capital” and subscribed to “those who run the mills should own them” -> however there is a certain level to which you can advocate for and move towards either of these in a society owned by concentrated wealth holders. And then he was shot at the theater.

    Its absurd to attribute this or that particular irrelevant act he did to his socialism.

    Bernie sanders also does things which seems contrasting his SOCIAL DEMOCRAT stance – like voting against an immigration reform bill. Why? because that one was bundled with clauses to allow slave-labor conditions for migrant workers.

    And similarly he voted for militaristic bills…. Why? because the people who push those stuff have ‘the foresight’ to bundle them up with critical things for the society – social expenses, social security, disability, other important programs.

    This wasnt different back in 19th century. You had to give the private interests something to be able to get something done. And lincoln’s #1 aim was abolition of slavery. he did whatever it took for that end.

    Similarly Mao – even Soviets. The holodomor famine happening is a VERY interesting incident – USSR has famine, but the western countries (mainly us, britain, france though) from which USSR wants to buy machinery to industrialize suddenly feel the need to BAN any trade involving soviets trading gold for machinery, but allow grain products. So, despite having heaps of gold and the west needing liquidity badly during great depression, suddenly USSR has to buy machines by exporting grain.

    Stalin administration faces a choice – delay industrialization in the wake of rising fascist threat in many neighboring countries (fascist constition of 1930 in poland is an example) or, export grain and buy machines. What to do.

    Reports tells the administration that the next harvest MAY be good, and if its good, there will be no problem. But if it turns out to be a bad harvest, there will be famine.

    Stalin Administration takes the gamble, and loses. And there is famine which impacts northern ussr WORSE than ukraine, judging from the harshness of food rationing in the north.

    The burden here does not lie on the shoulders of stalin administration, but on the establishments of the developed western countries who BANNED them from buying machinery with soviet gold, against the western countries’ own interest.

    But, we dont talk about that in the west. Those bits of history goes untold.

  5. I am not addressing any of the previous posts or not so much even the article. I’m only interested at this moment in pointing to a real situation that cannot be denied other than by flagrant lies.

    We are on the verge, if not beyond that, of becoming what I call, The Neo Third World. The race into Globalization has come too soon. The world needs to be more at peace or it will just come back and bite us, has it already has.

    There was a time, only about a generation ago, where we saw helping the world becoming more like us, even as we continued to improve. That has not happened, quite the opposite. Greedy people, under the cover as Corporations, are not letting us be the greatest. They are through with the American way. They do not make most of their wealth through us, our workers and great idea people, etc., but by betraying their trust by us and shipping jobs overseas for greater wealth to themselves and the hell with America.

    The small number that are not subjects of any country or its government, Internationalists, can live anywhere in closed communities where they can park their yachts, import all the good stuff, including the most desirable whores, men and women, and fuck the rest of us.

    I’m for everyone having a shot at a good life, but having more than all the generations they create can ever spend, is GREED. Greed is our common enemy. GREED is criminal.

    • Greed is definitely a trap.
      I don’t see what is good about globalization except to share with those who are motivated to become better and more independent.
      People should be local and independent for most of their food. Corporate farms are cruel, polluting and vastly inefficient to stuff like permaculture and aquaponic greenhouses.
      There is nothing wrong with countries being self sufficient. There is something wrong with us being dependent on huge corporations and banks who will eventually using stuff like greed and force seduce many into a cashless chipped society founded on worshipping the temporal.

  6. *** As Marx pointed out in his Presse article of March 26, 1862, the “considerable mass of military experience that emigrated to America” was of great help to the Union armies. Many immigrant officers recruited, organized, trained and commanded Northern troops. A considerable number of them attained high rank.

    Among the foreign-born officers who were breveted Union generals, there were at least ten Scots, six Canadians, five Hungarians and five French, and one each from Italy, Poland, Russia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. There were also twenty-four generals born in England and Wales, and twenty-seven in Ireland.

    But it was the Germans who contributed the largest contingent to the Union forces. Many of the German-born officers were radicals whom Marx knew personally. Among them were the Union colonels Friedrich Anneke, Friedrich Franz Hecker, and Joseph Weydemeyer — the latter, who commanded in St. Louis, Mo., an especially close friend of Marx.

    Among the generals whom Marx had known in their days as German revolutionists were Louis Blenker, who commanded a division in the Army of the Potomac; Alexander Schimmelfennig, who fought at Bull Run, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg; Carl Schurz, who commanded a division at Bull Run and an Army Corps at Nash¬ville; Franz Sigel, who saw service at Bull Run and in Missouri; and August Willich, who commanded a brigade in Ohio. Marx was later to become a comrade of the French-born General Gustave Paul Clusseret, a Paris Communard in 1871, who served under both McClellan and Fremont.

    Altogether, at least forty German-born officers, among them a number of German Jews, saw war duty on the side of the North and attained the rank of brevet general. – Karl Marx On America & The Civil War (pg. xxiv)

  7. You leave out one big thing in the overall equation. Who runs the house and senate under a President? For the most part it has been the democratic Party. Obama has been unbelievably bad, but Lincoln started it

  8. Wall Street is a confidence trick, a dazzling edifice built on paper promises, gambling, bets and rampant speculation. Wall Street doesn’t manufacture or produce anything. The Wall Street however attractive it may appear is built on paper.
    Modern day bank robbers are at Wall Street but they wear grey suits and not masks. Rampant speculators, propagandists and financiers of Wall Street are given some unfair advantage over the average consumers and taxpayers and the cumulative effect of the people watching selfishness prevail over the public interest has been an undermining of the public’s trust in the present US government. There’s no question the Wall Street is rigged against the average consumers and taxpayers. The Wall Street has a lot more information. Wall Street jerry-rig the system so that Wall Street always win. If the Wall Street loses trillions, the US Treasury will bail the Wall Street out so it can go back and do it again.
    50 trillion dollars in global wealth was erased between September 2007 and March 2009, including 7 trillion dollars in the US stock market, 6 trillion dollars in the US housing market, 8 trillion dollars in the US retirement and household wealth, 2 trillion dollars in the US individual retirement accounts, 2 trillion dollars in the US traditional defined benefit plans and 3 trillion dollars in the US nonpension assets. Greed, arrogance and incompetence created a massive meltdown, cost trillions, and still Wall Street comes out richer and more powerful.
    There are trillions dollars of new money taken again from Americans to make deals and hand out outrageous bonuses. And when these trillions run out Wall Street will come back for more until the dollar becomes junk. The value of the US dollar declined very significantly during the last 70 years. The value of the US dollar in 1940 was worth 2,000% more than the value of the US dollar now.
    Many big US manufacturers are outsourcing to Mexico and China to increase their profits, adding more unemployment in the USA. Manufacturing jobs in the USA declined 37% between 1998 and 2010. Since manufacturing industries declined in the USA, the US competitiveness in the global marketplace is also declined.
    Robust financial markets don’t imperil capitalism. In the early 1980′s Wall Street began to escape reasonable important regulations of the marketplace. The US government gradually adopted a “too big to fail” policy for the Wall Street, saving lenders to failing businesses from losses. The demise of Glass Steagall act helped spawn the credit crisis by allowing the Wall Street to create financial instruments that escaped reasonable limits, including constraints on speculative borrowing and requirements for the disclosure of important facts. The extremely liucrative hedge funds and other risk management derivatives including credit default swaps don’t fund or invest in successful growing businesses. The credit default swap market was the single biggest cause of the crash 4 years ago.
    The Wall Street’s suicidal capitalism built on rampant speculation eventually posed an untenable risk to the US economy—a risk that culminated in the trillions of dollars’ worth of the US government bailouts and guarantees that the US government scrambled starting in late 2008. But in 2008 the US government was compelled to replace private risktakers at the Wall Street with government capital so that money and credit flows wouldn’t stop, precipitating a depression. As a result, these Wall Street became impervious to the vital market discipline that the threat of loss provides. The Wall Street lenders to financial markets continue to understand that the US government would protect them in the future if necessary. This implicit guarantee by the US government harms capitalism and economic growth.
    The top 6 US banks had assets of less than one fifth of US GDP in 1995. Now they have two third of US GDP. The financial crisis was created by the biggest US banks to consolidate power. The big banks became stronger as a result of the bailout by the US Treasury. The big banks are turning that increased economic clout into more political power. Wall Street has undue influence on the US government policies and this situation reflects a failure of democratic representation for the other 99 percent Americans.
    Oligarchy is the political power based on economic power. And it’s the rise of the Wall Street in economic terms, that it’d turn into political power. And Wall Street then feed that back into more deregulation, more opportunities to go out and take reckless risks and capture trillions of dollars.
    Wall Street only has the lobbyists. Today more than 42,000 Wall Street lobbyists manipulate USA’s 537 elected officials with huge campaign contributions that fund candidates who support their agenda. It no longer matters who’s the President of USA.
    The political and economical leadership of the US has chosed to cartel profits and transformed the US economy to serve the colluding and unlawful oligarchy. The political and economical leadership of the US is bailing out failed paradigms with trillions of dollars while committing social injustice to its people. The political and economical leadership of the US including the US Congress have now become Wall Street’s “Trojan Horses”. The US banks are borrowing money at near zero interest from the US government, then lending it back to the US government at even mere fractions higher interest than they are paying. The net interest margin made by the US banks by lending the money back to the US federal government in the first 6 months of 2011 is 210 billion dollars.
    Due to the oligarchs’ rapacious looting and their purchase of a politically protected luxurious lifestyle, the people of the US are on the road to permanent serfdom under a police state. The democracy was not given to the people of the US on a platter. It is not theirs for all time, irrespective of their efforts. Either people of the US organize and they find political leadership to take this on or they are going to be in deep trouble.
    The failure of governance to address the current critical issues have already produced catastrophic consequences. Now we are experiencing a major global paradigm shift and it is still unfolding. Thirty-two US states including California, Illinois, Nevada, Arizona, Florida, New Jersey and Michigan are on the brink of insolvency as their tattered and fading economy is now more dire than ever. Inevitably in very near future the US government will order police or military to martial law which may lead to a second American revolution.

    • In 1998 they said GlassSteagall is no longer necessary but did not say why. I remember where I was when I heard it as traumatically as I remember where I was on 9/11/01. I thought — ‘They have the technology to set up a rigidly controlled government worse than Hitler could ever have dreamed of. Now they are going to put us under duress to control us’.
      Shortly after housing prices began to rise.
      The bail outs were so banal a wealth transfer. They never did what they claimed. They never stabilized housing nor could they. The banks did not have the toxic assets. They sold them to the money markets.
      Watching congress and the fed was like watching a bad play.
      If they wanted to slow the housing crash and stabilize it like they said they could have bought the toxic assets, 250 billion in failing sub prime loans at the time of the first bail out. Remortgage the failing loans at the low rates they gave banks, make them longer term and to sweeten therm up make them transferrable. Three or four of those bailouts of main street would have made much more sense.

  9. Lincoln indeed created a very powerful movement by forcibly making people to work for the government basically putting people on a treadmill and taking away our rights to do the things we loved. So many years have gone by and now people are starting to awaken to this slavery of the mind and causing us to break free from the brainwashing and control that took place so many years ago. He was less than perfect but what president has been. I think all that power and money goes to their heads and they find new ways to spend the money they are given or find new ways to take money by implementing required laws such as car insurance so that we are always under their control. They will always find a way to steal what they say we never owned like emanate domain. At the end of the day we must live like its our last day, because a saying I once heard was if we believe that something bad is going to happen and we are in fear we will still be here tomorrow and that is what they want us to be in Fear and it just does not matter. Or in the case that we wont be here tomorrow then it really doesn’t matter.
    — Long Island Seo

  10. Claude Fischer, I belive you mis the point. Conservatives, talk-radio, republicans and independants, and other parties, call Obama a socialist because he has limited cognative abilities, little to know accurate historical knowledge, and mis-read Karl Marx and his actions which results in epic failures creates the notion of this ideology.

    Paying taxes has nothing to do with Socialism, so your analysis of Linchon is incorrect. Underkingship, people pay taxes, in democracies people pay taxes, and under socialism, stimulus is set out to your cronies — which is exactly what Obama did — and he also had Bernake print and approve $14,000,000,000 in un-backed U.S. currency, almost sending Chinese leaders to declare war on the U.S.A. because they have stock in our debt. We found out that much of the stimulus packages went overseas to banks, including a Lybian bank, connected to a Japanese fishery. The AP hid this for over two years, but if finally came out and I have not heard one blog post about this from a cal perspective.

    Obama is a socialist because he gives waivors to his corporations that provide him election money, political money, and tout his pet projects. When Haliburton went up for oil – feild jobs in Iraq, Bush denied them the buisness — that makes Bush a non-socialist. Barak gives out tax exemptions to GE and 2/3 other corporations that contribute to his elections no taxes — that is socialism.

    You do not seem to understand what socialism implies. Mao Tse-tung, make the peasants produce food during the Great Leap Forward, then he confiscated the food, sold it to Austria, and other eastern European contries to pay-his public unions in the inner cities and this resulted in famim and mass-genocide death 30-45 million ( only a small portion is related to natural phenomenon). That is a socialist. Mao Tse-tung hated banks, all of them, especially the ones which would lend money for food warehouse creation for the poor, be believed it was imperialistic tool form the west — that is an idiot, otherwise known to conservatives as a socialist. Obama is a socialist, described by the right-wing because he is an imbicile thug, who is only interested in pay-out the U.S.A. collective taxes to 50% of the population that supports him — that is the definition and idea behind what republicans intend is a socialist.

    I’m perplex to where the hell you get your definition and claims of what is a socialist? I belive Cal at this time in its history is less than mediocre.

    • The thing about taxation is that the system employed by most countries is all wrong. As money leaves the presses, It flows through an number of government and private business structures, each taking a piece of it. It would be cheaper on everyone if we simply printed the money needed to run the federal government and allow much more money in the hands of consumers. The slight deflationary outcome will eventually not exist and the consumer spending will bloom our economy.
      Do the math.
      Our tax system is designed to allow some people to scam much of the take and so there is never enough to support the government and the people are hurt.

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