Rick Perry thinks Abe Lincoln was a closet secessionist

In footage released by American Bridge last week, Texas Governor Rick Perry, addressing the Strafford County, New Hampshire GOP’s Lincoln Day Dinner, said with a straight face that Abraham Lincoln was, in fact, a hard-line “states’ rights” advocate:

Abraham Lincoln read the Constitution, and he also read the Bill of Rights, and he got down to the Tenth Amendment, and he liked it. That Tenth Amendment that talks about these states, these laboratories of democracy… The Tenth Amendment that the federal government is limited, its powers are limited by the Constitution.

Here’s the video:

As noted by historian Josh Zeitz, writing in POLITICO, this is absurd.

Setting aside Lincoln’s vast expansions of federal power related to the Civil War, which was itself launched over the South’s concern that Lincoln and his big, bad federal government would mess with Southern states’ abilities to hold slaves, Honest Abe expanded federal authorities unrelated to the war effort:

Lincoln signed into law landmark bills opening federal land to homesteaders and funding the construction of a cross-continental railroad and federal land-grant universities. Historians disagree whether the Civil War era catalyzed the emergence of the modern state, but few disagree that Lincoln broadly (if perhaps temporarily) expanded the purview of Washington, D.C.

So we can file Governor Perry’s Lincoln appropriation under Just Because You Have New Glasses Doesn’t Mean You’re Smart.

rick perry brokeback

Rick Perry sporting his Brokeback Mountain jacket during the 2012 campaign.

But going beyond that, it doesn’t take a political historian to tell you that it’s absurd for members of either party to idolize leaders who shared the same affiliation before the Great Depression. That’s when the party realignment — the realignment that’s only now coming to completion  — began. Democrats and Republicans from before that time period bear almost no ideological resemblance to their modern-day counterparts. So, as Zeitz point out, it doesn’t make any sense to speculate as to where Abraham Lincoln would come down on modern-day issues like immigration or health insurance reform, but it makes even less sense to claim that he would have a home in today’s Republican Party.

And yet, dinners in honor of our partisan forefathers are a time-honored tradition on both sides of the aisle. Republicans have their Lincoln Dinners, and local Democratic chapters across the country bring in some of their biggest fundraising hauls at their respective Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinners.

Both parties have good presidents who bore their affiliation, and those parties have a vested interest in cashing in on those presidents’ good names, despite those presidents bearing little ideological resemblance to the modern-day versions of their parties.

So politicians like Perry, who speak at these dinners every year, may feel pressure to tie themselves to the events’ namesakes, but that only produces ham-handed history revisions like the one we saw from Perry last week. After all, whatever Perry says about Lincoln and the Tenth Amendment, we know exactly how our 16th president felt about Southern politicians justifying their place on the wrong side of history by attempting to litigate their state’s right to discriminate.

Hopefully, Rick Perry pushes up his glasses and puts his nose in a book before spouting off about American history again, but I won’t hold my breath.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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26 Responses to “Rick Perry thinks Abe Lincoln was a closet secessionist”

  1. Bill_Perdue says:

    The date 1869 is just a date in the long history of the robber barons who ran the SP (Central Pacific at the time) and the UP.

    All owners of business are thieves. All managers are slave drivers. Corporate lawyers are parasites.

  2. caphillprof says:

    The railroads were not even built across the plains in 1869 other than the one Golden Spike route. Your history is out of sequence.

    Owners of businesses are not all thieves, managers are not all slave drivers, corporate lawyers are useful and you yearn for a socialist world that has never anywhere at anytime existed.

  3. Sally says:

    More likely he’ll open it, stick his nose in it, and fall asleep.

  4. Badgerite says:

    He made this speech to try and keep the Southern slave holding states, who were already talking secession due to Lincoln’s election, from carrying out their threats to leave the Union.
    Lincoln was the most prominent Republican voice that advocated limiting the ‘institution’ of slavery to those original southern states and by law, preventing its spread to the new territories that would eventually become states. The south could easily foresee what Lincoln saw, that that would make the slave holding states a distinct minority of interest within the Union and it would eventually result in slavery being abolished by federal law at some point in the future.
    This particular issue was the main point of contention between Lincoln and Stephen Douglas during the famous Lincoln/Douglas debates. The Civil War had already begun informally in US territories such as Kansas ( see bloody Kansas) and Nebraska where the issue of whether they should enter the Union as slave or free states was what led to whole scale violence and killing among the settlers there. Lincoln was willing to delay the abolition of slavery in the southern states. But he was not willing to let that become the right of the states to enslave a race indefinitely. As he said, “A house divided against itself, cannot stand”. He was, of course, talking about slave versus free states. This is what the Civil War was fought over.
    The Fourteenth Amendment makes that clear. State’s Rights end where the state maintains that it has the right to deny basic rights guaranteed by the federal constitution, to any or all of its citizenry.
    To pretend that Rick Perry and his political positions have anything in common with those of Lincoln is like pretending the man who has a ranch he named “Niggerhead” has any political views in common with Martin Luther King. Doesn’t even pass the laugh test.
    No wonder they don’t like national history standards in Texas. They prefer to just make it up.

  5. Steve says:

    Lincoln may have been in the closet about something, but it wasn’t support of secession. Curious? Google his correspondence and relationship with Joshua Speed.

  6. Bill_Perdue says:

    you couldn’t be more wrong. The SP was run by robber barons who were ruthless with farmers and small towns on their route. So was the UP. Jay Gould became the effective owner of the UP after he and Fisk caused the market collapse on Black Friday, September 24, 1869.

    Owners of businesses are thieves. Managers are slave drivers. They’re as useful as corporate lawyers and scorpions.

  7. caphillprof says:

    Western railroads were generally different than eastern railroads in their histories. The “barons” we’re mostly in the east.

    Of course owners and managers are useful

  8. caphillprof says:

    Most of the land was publicly owned and the railroad often predates the farms and for the most part the railroads built on their own land selling off all but the right of way

  9. Demosthenes says:

    It appears the “smart glasses” aren’t working.

  10. BobInSD says:

    He must of got that out of those “history” books Texas is printing for the schools.


  11. perljammer says:

    I saw nothing in the linked video that referred to secession. States’ rights, yes. For Lincoln’s position on that subject, I refer you to Lincoln’s 1860 inaugural address, particularly the bit quoted below. He saw the Civil War as necessary to carrying out his oath to “preserve, protect, and defend” the Union, not to end slavery.

    “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.

    “Those who nominated and elected me did so with full knowledge that I had made this and many similar declarations and had never recanted them; and more than this, they placed in the platform for my acceptance, and as a law to themselves and to me, the clear and emphatic resolution which I now read:

    “‘Resolved’, That the maintenance inviolate of the rights of the States, and especially the right of each State to order and control its own domestic institutions according to its own judgment exclusively, is essential to that balance of power on which the perfection and endurance of our political fabric depend; and we denounce the lawless invasion by armed force of the soil of any State or Territory, no matter what pretext, as among the gravest of crimes.

    “I now reiterate these sentiments, and in doing so I only press upon the public attention the most conclusive evidence of which the case is susceptible that the property, peace, and security of no section are to be in any wise endangered by the now incoming Administration. I add, too, that all the protection which, consistently with the Constitution and the laws, can be given will be cheerfully given to all the States when lawfully demanded, for whatever cause–as cheerfully to one section as to another.”

  12. Bill_Perdue says:

    Colleges are useful. Railroad owners are the opposite.

    Railroad giveaways helped create the class of putrid robber barons who still rule the country. A publically owned and operated rail system would have been much, much better. The land that was ‘settled’ by the railroads was already settled by native nations who were killed off or conquered to make way for non-natives.

    Lincoln was progressive at times but his histroy as chief lawyer and sometimes lobbyist for the Illinois Central Railroad was not one of those times.

  13. UncleBucky says:

    “Just Because You Have New Glasses Doesn’t Mean You’re Smart.”


  14. EdA says:

    Do Republicans still have Lincoln dinners?? Given the domination of the party by representatives of the former slave states of the Confederacy, and that several of these former slave states celebrate Robert E. Lee’s birthday (in the same time frame as MLK Day), this is not really a rhetorical question.

  15. mf_roe says:

    Lincoln spoke to the common man, but he cut deals with the powerful. Those willing to be critical of Icons can also consider the fact that Lincoln was accused of being lax in punishing War Profiteers. Perry in no way matches Lincoln’s good qualities, but there is a shared willingness to placate the powerful.

  16. nofauxnews says:

    The speech in question was in NH.

  17. Naja pallida says:

    Transportation infrastructure may have been the incidental result, but that wasn’t really the goal of the giveaways. It was more about ceding huge amounts of public resources, and even privately owned land, to the private sector. It was an early form of trickle down economics; the Whigs believed that railways would automatically bring prosperity to any place a track was laid. Didn’t matter if they forcibly bisected a farmer’s fields, and put the onus on the farmer to keep his livestock off the tracks, or gave away whole sections of a town, or completely bypassing other settlements. One could argue the ultimate result until they’re blue in the face, but “ends always justified the means” policy rarely goes well with those people who get the shit end of the stick at the time.

  18. BeccaM says:

    He has reason to believe it’s true, that they really are that stupid.

  19. caphillprof says:

    I disagree that Lincoln’s “giveaway” to the railroads “stinks.” It was a similar giveaway to the land grant colleges. These giveaways gave us a transportation infrastructure and an educated citizenry. They settled half the continental United States.

    If anything it’s the later railroad bailouts which “stink.”

  20. caphillprof says:

    Perry’s stupid “base” is not limited to NH.

  21. nofauxnews says:

    All this shows is that Rick Perry thinks his “base” in NH is pretty damn stupid.

  22. Naja pallida says:

    Our progress in degeneracy appears to me pretty rapid. As a nation we
    began by declaring ‘all men are created equal.’ We now practically read
    it, ‘ all men are created equal, except Negroes.’ When the Know-Nothings
    get control, it will read, ‘all men are created equal, except Negroes,
    and foreigners, and Catholics.’ When it comes to this I should prefer
    emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving
    liberty—to Russia, for example, where despotism can be taken pure and
    without the base alloy of hypocrisy.”

    Most of the modern Republican party are the antithesis of what Lincoln worked to accomplish throughout his entire career, with the possible exception of the huge giveaways to the corporate interests that were expanding to the west, which were essentially used to buy votes. Ultimately though, Rick Perry makes George W. Bush look like an intellectual powerhouse. The sooner he is shuffled off to obscurity, to paint really crappy pictures of his dogs, the better for the entire country.

  23. mf_roe says:

    Where Perry and Lincoln are in agreement is a willingness to allow Corporations to use the power of the State to cheat the citizens out of their wealth. Lincoln’s giveaway to the Railroads stinks, along with title to the ground under the railroad the Rairoads were given a section on land along every mile of track. This was a goldmine given as an incentive for something the railroads would have done anyway, and were able to do on their own dime. Perry is equally eager to enrich Corporations at the expense of raiding the Public Treasury.

  24. 2karmanot says:

    “puts his nose in a book” WHAT? He can read?

  25. Mike_in_the_Tundra says:

    No one will ever accuse Rick Perry of being a brain trust.

  26. gratuitous says:

    Why would Rick Perry want to say anything accurate? He made his carefully-calibrated remarks to a receptive audience; trafficking in facts would have spoiled the whole thing, made some of the guests dyspeptic, and might have closed one or two checkbooks. Far better for Perry to just make up some shit and feed it to his coprophagic base.

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