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Tobin: Lincoln cared about taxes, not slaves

Wednesday, Feb 9, 2011 - Posted by Rich Miller

* Jim Tobin of the National Taxpayers United Illinois apparently despises Abraham Lincoln with a passion. And since Lincoln’s birthday is coming up, Tobin has been sending out tirades against the former President. Here’s some of Part 2, which was sent out today

Lincoln’s real priority was not the slaves but the collection of revenue. He knew that a low-tax independent South would attract far more European trade to its relatively duty free ports like Charleston, Savannah and New Orleans, and that goods could easily be smuggled from there across the long border the U.S. would share with the Confederacy. Lincoln’s mercantilist plans would be foiled, and Lincoln was a true mercantilist. He believed in increasing a nation’s wealth by government regulation of all of the nation’s commercial interests. […]

Rather than wish Lincoln a Happy Birthday, perhaps we can celebrate the birth of William Henry Harrison (February 9, 1773). Having died only a month into his first term as President, Harrison did not live long enough to do nearly as much damage as Lincoln.

Look, Lincoln was no saint or demigod. But to flat-out say that he fought a spectacularly bloody civil war to preserve tax receipts is so far beyond the pale that the pale can’t be seen.

* Part 1 is here. A brief excerpt…

Was Lincoln a great emancipator? Lincoln’s words in the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation tell
us his goal. Slaves were freed only in “States and parts of States…in rebellion against the United

Anybody with half a brain knows that Lincoln could not legally, on his own, free the slaves in states which weren’t in rebellion. To do that required a constitutional amendment, which was subsequently passed.

Tobin gets a lot of local media coverage for his frequent anti-tax crusades throughout the state. Maybe now some reporters and editors will see what the guy is really like. I mean, that crack about Harrison is truly appalling.


  1. - train111 - Wednesday, Feb 9, 11 @ 2:59 pm:

    Ah yes, everything in the country would come up spades if only the south had one. More revisionist rubbish!!
    I used to read Tobin’s newsletters and had contact with his organization. The more he goes on with nonsense like this, the less relevant he gets.

    True, President Lincoln had his flaws just like all the other men (normal humans) who have been chief executive, but stuff like this is over the top.


  2. - aaronsinger - Wednesday, Feb 9, 11 @ 3:05 pm:

    what a nut and what nonsense.

  3. - Coach - Wednesday, Feb 9, 11 @ 3:08 pm:

    Tobin is nuts - that’s clear to anybody who has observed him for just a moment in action. Now it’s clear he’s also a dimwit and a jerk.

    The WHH comment is way out of line. Maybe Tobin’s donors, if he has any, will reflect on that before handing over another penny, and then we’ll have to hear from Tobin no more.

  4. - Downstate Illinois - Wednesday, Feb 9, 11 @ 3:09 pm:

    Thankfully we don’t study Lincoln for economic policy, but for his character and fortitude during the Civil War. That he was one of the state’s top trial lawyers we try to forget. Also, his role in passing the original Internal Improvement Act would make him a great fit with today’s appropriators in the General Assembly. Tobin’s right that Lincoln economic policies were wrongheaded, but his rants make him look like a loon.

    Lincoln was the right person at the right time for America For that he gets our gratitude, a state holiday, the penny, the $5 bill and a permanent place in the quartet on Mount Rushmore.

  5. - Captain Angrypants - Wednesday, Feb 9, 11 @ 3:14 pm:

    The man’s a nut, and I think giving him any extra coverage only keeps him in the light of the media - where he wants to be. The most effective thing you can do, Mr. Miller, is to not cover him at all…

  6. - Carl Nyberg - Wednesday, Feb 9, 11 @ 3:15 pm:

    I met one of Tobin’s NTPU supporters (a board member, I think) at a candidate forum organized by Tobin’s daughter.

    The guy was all for eliminating income tax completely and shifting it all to property taxes.

    People who follow Tobin are radicals, far outside the mainstream on policy.

  7. - OneMan - Wednesday, Feb 9, 11 @ 3:17 pm:

    I think the sales rank of the book the dude references says it all

    Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #742,130 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

  8. - Rich Miller - Wednesday, Feb 9, 11 @ 3:20 pm:

    ===The most effective thing you can do, Mr. Miller, is to not cover him at all… ===

    Why? So other media outlets that regularly use him aren’t shamed into admitting they’re nuts? Please. The Egyptian state media passes on stuff like this, perhaps. I don’t.

  9. - just sayin' - Wednesday, Feb 9, 11 @ 3:24 pm:

    Wow, yeah, who hasn’t been saying that Lincoln’s been getting too much of a pass. He never made any sacrifices as a public official…..oh that’s right.

    Stupidest battle chosen, ever.

  10. - ANON - Wednesday, Feb 9, 11 @ 3:26 pm:

    Lincoln was a major driving force in passage of the 13th Amendment, so much so that he signed it when it passed congress…even though he didn’t need to.

    This nut is part of the entire Southern groupthink that the Civil War was not about slavery, but economics. This, of course, completely ignores the episodes such as Bloody Kansas and controversy over the fugitive slave act that were catalysts to the whole thing. It also ignores the Southern States’ own words and reasoning for their secession, which are about 95% about keeping the right to own slaves.

  11. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Feb 9, 11 @ 3:34 pm:

    –Tobin’s right that Lincoln economic policies were wrongheaded, but his rants make him look like a loon.–

    Which ones? The Transcontinental Railroad? The Homestead Act? Land Grant Colleges? Tariffs to protect nascent industry? Establishment of a national currency?

    In the midst of war, Lincoln took enormous steps to build a modern, capitalist society that benefited millions.

  12. - The Captain - Wednesday, Feb 9, 11 @ 3:34 pm:

    The anti-government crusaders are at least consistent.

  13. - RMW Stanford - Wednesday, Feb 9, 11 @ 3:38 pm:

    Yea he is right that Lincoln was merchantilist, as were most former Whigs and many early Republicans, and many of his economic policies were terrible. Very few people admire Lincoln for his economic, trade or tax policy. To say that taxes were the cause of Civil War is just stupid. The writing of sessionist leading up to the Civil War make it quit clear that slavery was the core issue and the one issue in their mind that they could be no compromise with.

  14. - Jake From Elwood - Wednesday, Feb 9, 11 @ 3:42 pm:

    Perhaps Tobin is peeved that his image does not appear on the penny. It is a shame really because his logic and the penny are equally debased.

  15. - Ghost - Wednesday, Feb 9, 11 @ 3:45 pm:

    On a side note, Tobin glosses over that part of the reason taxes were low in the south is they used slave labor to build infrastructure etc.

  16. - Poisoned Punch Bowl - Wednesday, Feb 9, 11 @ 3:47 pm:

    If you enjoyed his trashing of Ol’ Honest Abe, you’ll surely be entertained by Tobin’s defamation of his other bete noir, FDR. He puts new gloss on the old slur concocted by New Deal Haters–the ludicrous and long-discredited claim that FDR conspired in Japan’s bombing of Pearl Harbor. Truly breathtaking!

  17. - Captain Angrypants - Wednesday, Feb 9, 11 @ 3:47 pm:

    No, it’s like the media outlets that report each new incideniary bit of rhetoric that Rush Limbaugh comes up with when he’s been out of the papers for a little while. There comes a point in the life of someone who’s seen the media spotlight when all they want is to keep being in the spotlight. At what point is what he says news, and at what point is it a plea for someone to cover him…?

  18. - Publius - Wednesday, Feb 9, 11 @ 4:02 pm:

    I wonder what Adam “Super Abe” Andrzejewski thinks, as he “earned” Tobin’s endorsement in the last election.

  19. - Small Town Liberal - Wednesday, Feb 9, 11 @ 4:06 pm:

    - No, it’s like the media outlets that report each new incideniary bit of rhetoric that Rush Limbaugh comes up with when he’s been out of the papers for a little while. -

    Umm, Rush doesn’t really need “the papers”, he kind of has the largest radio audience in the United States. Thankfully Tobin doesn’t have that kind of audience, and if journalists like Rich make people aware that he is a nutjob, he never will.

  20. - Phineas J. Whoopee - Wednesday, Feb 9, 11 @ 4:10 pm:

    I watched the film Glory last night. It is truly a great movie.

    In it, Morgan Freeman makes a speech to Denzel Washington about the misuse of the N-word and all the sacrifices Union Soldiers were making to end slavery. It is one of the most powerful speeches in one of the most powerful movies I’ve seen.

    My point is, not only is Tobin denigrating Lincoln, but also the hundreds of thousands who also died as the result of a war they new had to be fought.

    Morgan Freeman needs to have a talk with Jim Tobin.

  21. - Captain Angrypants - Wednesday, Feb 9, 11 @ 4:15 pm:

    “Umm, Rush doesn’t really need “the papers”, he kind of has the largest radio audience in the United States. Thankfully Tobin doesn’t have that kind of audience, and if journalists like Rich make people aware that he is a nutjob, he never will.”

    This is true, and any idiot with a microphone can get people to agree with him just by screaming loud enough, but you can’t tell me that even in Rush’s own mind his viewpoints aren’t more validated when NBC does a bit on him on the NBC Nightly News than when fifteen racist yokels call in and say, “Yeah, what you just said!”

  22. - Rail Rider - Wednesday, Feb 9, 11 @ 4:21 pm:

    I’m appalled by his choice of William Henry Harrison.

    I remain convinced that Grover Cleveland, the last of the Bourbon Democrats, was our greatest President!

  23. - Arlington - Wednesday, Feb 9, 11 @ 4:22 pm:

    Tobin is silly. Is he trying to sell a book?

    Rich, is it true that US Senator Webb of Virginia is retiring?

  24. - dupage dan - Wednesday, Feb 9, 11 @ 4:39 pm:

    Rail Rider,

    Grover Cleveland? Nuts! My vote goes for Millard Fillmore.

    Tobin is expecting what, here? Debate? Maybe a congressional decree that Lincoln was anti-capitalist? Removing Lincoln’s holiday?


  25. - Excessively Rabid - Wednesday, Feb 9, 11 @ 4:41 pm:

    I’m not sure he’s all that far beyond the pale, considering that the pale now includes such large helpings of demagoguery, hucksterism, and paranoia.

  26. - Emanuel Collective - Wednesday, Feb 9, 11 @ 4:45 pm:

    Despite what some radicals seemingly believe, disputes over tax policy aren’t something you’d engage in a 5 year war that destroys a nation for. South Carolina didn’t secede from the union shortly after Lincoln’s inauguration because it thought the President might ask congress to impose higher tarriffs.

  27. - Emanuel Collective - Wednesday, Feb 9, 11 @ 4:47 pm:

    But I won’t try to further argue all the flawed logic in this report because 1-I don’t have all night and 2-incomprehensibly bizzare reports like this are put out to get attention, not to be a serious argument. See: Palin, Sarah

  28. - jaranath - Wednesday, Feb 9, 11 @ 5:16 pm:

    Captain Angrypants:

    “When others do a foolish thing, you should tell them it is a foolish thing. They can still continue to do it, but at least the truth is where it needs to be.”

    I can understand the notion of ignoring people like Tobin and Limbaugh if they are true nobodies with no influence on public opinion or policy.  But speaking as a big-s Skeptic, I can tell you that ignoring nuts with followers is generally a bad idea.

    People tend to believe what they’re told. That isn’t just an adage, it’s actually a conclusion from evidence in psychology and neuroscience. All things being equal, if someone makes a confident assertion, most people’s default response is to believe it. This is why debating tactics like the Gish Gallop exist; named after famous creationist Duane Gish, the Gallop involves making a rapid-fire string of claims, each of which can be refuted with evidence and explanation, but each of which would take substantial time to do so.  As such, the Gallop puts opponents in a debate at a disadvantage as they’ll never have time to refute all the claims, and some of them will likely “stick” with the audience.

    I agree that there’s some threshold below which cranks are best ignored, and personal attacks are rarely helpful in any case.  But if a false or misleading idea is gaining traction, ignoring it isn’t going to make it go away.  You have to put the truth out there, as often and as thoroughly as possible, and it will usually take a lot more effort to do so.

  29. - Capitol View - Wednesday, Feb 9, 11 @ 5:24 pm:

    I happen to concur that the political fractions leading up to the Civil War were not about slavery as much as state rights versus a strong federal government.

    The reason the Gettysburg Address was so significant is that it was a clear expression of us all being one nation, unified. Not a number of semi-autonomous states under a common weak central government. That address, combined with the three US Constitutional Amendments that occurred at that point in time, changed us from a state government dominated system of government to a national one.

    This was no little issue at that time. Even the State Seal of Illinois got caught up in the argument. The then Secretary of State wanted the Seal to state: “State sovereignty, national union”, but he got undercut by the then General Assembly that passed a resolution making the phrase “National union, state sovereignty”. The state Seal, to this day, features the slogan as the legislature insisted, but the banner in the mouth of the eagle puts the second half of the slogan above the first, reversing the order of the slogan read by most observers.

    The slavery issue was a moral issue that gave support to the nationalists (and urban interests) ahead of the parochial state interests. Political interests of the urban states versus the agricultural south wasn’t very sexy — but throw in slavery as a moral issue as to all US residents having unalienable individual rights, and you had a principle worth fighting for.

  30. - amalia - Wednesday, Feb 9, 11 @ 5:39 pm:

    oh well, at least he’s not Cong. Lee, R NY, who just resigned because of…another sex scandal. incredible.

  31. - Just the Facts - Wednesday, Feb 9, 11 @ 6:12 pm:

    Tobin repeats a popular anti-business myth about the railroads. The truth is, Lincoln used an ingeneous scheme to incent private business to build a transcontinental railroad without having to invest any tax dollars.

    Lincoln knew he could not afford to subsidize or construct a railroad across the nation, especially in a time of war. Instead, he took the federal government’s vast holdings of land that were worthless at the time (since there was no access) and arranged to share the profits that would result once the railroads created the infrastructure and access that made the land marketable.

    The railroads (private sector) paid for everything and in return received a portion of the adjacent land that they could then sell to pay off the cost of their investment. The federal government kept an equal share of the land, which also skyrocketed in value once the infrastructure was in place.

    Ultimately, both railroads and government determined it was more profitable to use most of the land to attract homeowners and businesses by offering it at little or no cost and then collecting shipping fees and taxes from the new owners.

    Without having to spend tax dollars, Lincoln unlocked the hidden value of the west and used it to build wealth and prosperity for the entire nation. The model he used for the transcontinental railroad was repeated time and time again until the entire west and midwest were developed. Sadly, Lincoln did not live to see the completion of the transcontinental railroad, but his ingenious plan helped make the United States the wealthiest and most successful nation on earth.

    It is almost ridiculously ironic that a supposed defender of the taxpayers would be so ill-informed as to repeat the myth that has been fostered for more than a century by anti-capitalists.

  32. - Living In Oklahoma - Wednesday, Feb 9, 11 @ 9:09 pm:

    Wow. What an idiot. I have interviewed Tobin several times, but Lincoln bashing? Really, I mean, really? Its like a mini Glen Beck. Get a life Tobin. What a nut case.

  33. - park - Wednesday, Feb 9, 11 @ 9:19 pm:

    Well, of course, we all know that Lincoln was one of the founding members of the Trilateral Commission. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

    Really, I’m trying to get my head around this silliness. Like Lincoln, moving from Kentucky to Indiana to Illinois, stopping along the way to develop his philosophy of ‘mercantilism’.

    Or getting together with Stephen Douglas before their historic debates….”hey Steve…before we go on, did you hear about those guys in England, you know, Marx and Engels….and how about that Hegel theory of the dialectic? Forget the slaves, we’ve got to develop a new economic model”.

    Or his first draft of the Gettysburg Address: “87 years ago, before our forefathers ever got around to supply-side economics….”

    No, just not working for me Mr. Tobin. Paraprhasing a Peggy Noonan column, “it’s not that Lincoln was a great man, and Jim Tobin is a nincompoop, though both those are true….”

    Went to the Lincoln Museum couple weeks ago. Anyone who loves words should re-read the 1st and second inagural addresses and the Gettysburg Address. No one in history has ever laid out so many great ideas so clearly or succinctly.

    Jim, try your ideas out on a less-educated audience.

  34. - Northsider - Wednesday, Feb 9, 11 @ 10:51 pm:

    Capitol View @ 5:24,

    Sorry, but I’m calling bull bagels on your “state’s rights vs. strong national government” argument, which is a refuge of the southern nationalist and Confederate apologist.

    First, it’s hypocritical since the south sure didn’t mind a strong national government when Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act, which was signed by the southern-sympathetic President Fillmore and affirmed by the southern-controlled Supreme Court.

    More importantly, what “state’s right” did the south secede to save? Which “state’s right” pervades several secession ordinances, including Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas?

    Which “state’s right” is enshrined in the Confederate constitution — its acceptance required as a condition of membership in the Confederacy?


    The “right” of one human to own another as property.

    Try as hard as they might, southern apologists cannot escape that fact.

  35. - Smitty Irving - Wednesday, Feb 9, 11 @ 11:42 pm:

    Tobin has his history just plain wrong.

    Yes, there was a dispute between the North and the South over tax policy … but it wasn’t the Civil War - it was the Nullification Crisis in 1832. Southerners disliked the import tax policy, but weren’t willing to fight (and die) over that issue. They WERE willing to fight (and die) over racial supremacy - anyone who doubts that is what the South was fighting for should read Confederate Vice-President Alexander Stephens “Cornerstone Speech” - the Cornerstone of the Confederacy was slavery … .

  36. - hisgirlfriday - Thursday, Feb 10, 11 @ 12:04 am:

    Not only is Jim Tobin an idiot. He’s an unoriginal idiot.

    What I would ask all no-tax/no-restrictions-on-trade/no-regulations-on-business folks is if the South’s economic system of low taxation, small government, no minimum wage for labor, unmitigated free trade is so superior that we should choose to emulate it (and sadly we have been on that path ever since the advent of Reaganomics) then why did they lose the war to a “mercantilist” like Lincoln who supported trade policies that benefitted American workers and business owners more than other nations, cared more about the laborers than those that held the capital in society and provided government money toward public education and transportation infrastructure?

  37. - You Can't Stop What's Coming - Thursday, Feb 10, 11 @ 6:12 am:

    Tobin has finally lost it. Time for him to wear a tin foil hat.

  38. - Rail Rider - Thursday, Feb 10, 11 @ 6:51 am:

    Rich, I guess the undisputed Lincoln and Mencken quotes were too much for you or your readers; so be it, it’s your blog.

    The period of 1861-1865 (some would say 1854 to 1880) was the most traumatic in American history; arguably we have never gotten over it. The participants on both sides were not simpletons. The millions on either side cannot have all of their thoughts and arguments reduced to slogans simple enough for us to understand today. Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, there were substantive arguments on both sides.

    That said, Tobin is clearly far outside the Illinois political mainstream. I don’t know the man, but I haven’t read that he is clueless (like Andy Martin), so I assume that he is doing this for effect, and you are obliging. He is clearly trying to be “in your face” on this Lincoln’s birthday weekend. And you are using his gimmick to give your readers and commenters their “two minute hate”.

    Nevertheless, some of your readers value the truth, which thankfully in the age of the internet search engines is closer than ever.

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