H. L. MenckenH. L. Mencken, (1880-1956) American Journalist, Editor, Essayist, Linguist, Lexicographer, and Critic

H. L. Mencken Quote

“[T]he only thing wrong with Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address was that it was the South, not the North, that was fighting for a government of the people, by the people and for the people.”

H. L. MenckenH. L. Mencken
~ H. L. Mencken

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Editor, Liberty Quotes

Here is a link to the actual Gettysburg Address:

Anonymous, Reston, VA US

... and the only thing wrong with this quote is that it is also a deceptive untruth... the south was fighting for the continued enslavement of people by the powerful landowners... which echos today's battle where the radical religious right and powerful monopolists want to enslave people's rights to make their own choices about their bodies while we work as slave labor...

E Archer, NYC

By not correcting the flaws of the final version of the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution, hypocrisy has become a founding principle of American 'Independence'. The war between the States was not a war about slavery as Lincoln readily admits, but about forced federal unification. Yes, slavery was always wrong, and the Southern states would not sign the Declaration of Independence if the 'free the slaves' clause had been left in. None-the-less, the confederation of the independent and free states was voluntarily made and can be voluntarily broken. This seems to have been forgotten by many of today's citizens. We have a choice to alter or abolish our association -- or do we? History tells us "not without a fight".

Anonymous, Teaneck

Poor H L Mencken! Didn't he understand that self determination belonged to the entire people and not a part of the people? The Civil War was an insurrection and not an effort to self-determine a new nation into existence!

  • Reply
Chicago    5/22/05

Anonymous from Teaneck demonstrates the 'double-think' required to accept the notion that self-determination belongs to the people as a whole but not to individuals. The confederation of States into the United States was a voluntary association by mutual agreement. There is nothing in the Constitution that prevents a State from withdrawing from the United States. Quite the contrary -- in the Declaration of Independence, We The People declare "... whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."

Bill the Libertarian, Sarasota, FL

The power to self-govern includes the power to secede from associations and relationships. Lincoln and the statists in the Washington bureaucracy denied this power to the southern states, and in so doing, reduced the constitutional disagreement to force of arms. Could Abraham Lincoln have been the first purveyor of political double-speak, way before Bill Clinton's perjury (it depends on what the meaning if "is" is), George W. Bush's USAPATRIOT Act (suspending civil liberties to preserve the country) or even George Orwell himself? Bet you didn't learn this pont of view in the government-run school system ...

Mark, Hartford, CT

Mencken, as he nearly always is on such matters, is right again.

Johnson, Gainesville, FL

The industrial north was using its majority in Congress to take advantage of the southern economy. So the southern states withdrew their consent to be governed. But Lincoln decided that the government no longer needed the consent of the governed, it only needed the power of the army. From that moment, the army and not the people ruled America. Sure we had free speach and we could disagree with the government, but if we carried our disagreement to such a level that we removed our pocketbooks from out of the reach of the taxpayers, then, according to Lincoln's theory, the army would change our minds. We no longer had inalienable rights from our Creator, we had rights granted to us from an all-powerful government, to be swallowed back whenever the government saw fit by means of the military. In other words, by the invasion and occupation of the Confederate States, Lincoln established military dictatorship.

  • Reply
Anonymous    3/1/07

When the South first seceded, they were seven slave holding States. There were still eight slave holding States in the "Union" at that time. If the South was"fighting for continued enslavement", what was the North fighting against? The Emancipation Proclamation actually freed nobody. Why did not Lincoln free the slaves in Union controlled territory? The Cabinet actually laughed and boasted about the hypocrisy of the "Proclamation". As an aside, it is curious that the abolitionist New England States continued in the Slave trade for 10 more years after the War of Northern Aggression ended. Not one slave came to America under the flag of the CSA. The North discovered disposable labor (immigrants) to replace the Black slaves so they abolished slavery not over any love for the blacks. In fact New England abolished slavery and outlawed free blacks, so that they could "remove the stink of the black man" from their States. Sooner or later the "evil" planters would have done the same, as it is more efficient. You do not have to care for sick or aged immigrants as with slaves. As far as the boogeyman of the "religious right" trying to enslave you, put down the kool aid and start worrying about the enslavement of Godless socialism. Well over 120 million murdered in the name of socialism in less than a century, and billions enslaved.

Jefferson Davis, Richmond

"Any People, anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better. This is a most valuable and a most sacred right - a right which we hope will liberate the world. Nor is this right confined to cases in which the whole people of an existing government may choose to exercise it. Any portion of such People, that can may revolutionize and make their own of so many of the territory as they inhabit." -- Abraham Lincoln, January 12, 1848. The South was right!

PoetPatriot . com, ImagineAuburn . com WA

H. L. Mencken was far wrong. The South, fought for a government of SOME of the people, by SOME of the people and for SOME of the people." Lincoln was wrong to federalize but saving the union maintained a stronger country that fought off fascism, communism but now is succumbing to socialism, a government for SOME of the people.

Bruce, 'Bama

If peoples have the right to secede from territorial alignments at the drop of a hat I suggest that we would not be grouped into neighborhoods, cities, counties, states or nation at all. Every election day would bring a new wave of secession fever. Get over it people Massachusetts argued the secession question for years when the south had the upper hand in Congress. The question was argued right up until Appomatax Court House. Let us move on. Ain't nobody goin nowhere so lets get civilized, hey!

Mike, Norwalk

Words matter. The word 'United' was used in conjunction with States, NOT Union.

Bruce, 'Bama

Yes Mike words matter so what the heck are you trying to say in your last post. I agree that United was used with States as in "United States" it was not used with union as in "United Union" which would of course be superfluous and redundant. The idea of being "united" means we stick together even though we have differences. Secession is anathema to the idea of democracy or republican form of government in which every one has their say and has agreed to abide and compromise with each other. It is the equivalent of a child taking his ball and bat and going home.

Mike, Norwalk

Bruce, lol, pretty weak trying to join United and Union to then make an argument (I know, you're smiling). A United States or states united infers equal sovereign republics working together with limited interference (interstate, and united interests of the whole) from as small a third party presence as possible. A 'union' implies an independent superior to the collective; by way of example, The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Secession and compromise may be to a democracy an anathema, but not to a republic. Individual sovereign rights (life, liberty, & property) are absolute in a Republic. The sovereign's representatives only duties are to find the best way to protect those rights.

Bruce, 'Bama

Michael, Michael, Michael you said "The word United was used with the word States not with the word union, I agreed with you so what is your problem. United union is meaningless, United States and Union meant and still does the same thing to most people. The term United States existed and was used befrore the Constitution. The Union became stronger and caused a new loyalty or sypathy to occur. A loyalty, or sympathy for an entity greater than ones original colony. The USSR in its very name stresses the soverignity of the republics, that is what the word Soviet means. Thus the brake up of that "union" had little legal obstacles hindering it. Not so in the USA. The states are only soverign in the matters to which they have been given soverignity by the Constitution. They cannot leave the union. We are citizens of the union or United States Persons, American. We are not citizens of the State where we live but residents. Thus we can roam freely from state to state. They are not so soverign that they can keep us out or prevent us from leaving. We cannot roam freely between the soverign Nation of the United States/Union and other soverign nations. We have been there before Michael a republic is a democracy a democracy is a republic, (except in Plato's Republic it was the rule of the benificent few which philosophy was the harbinger of totalitarian communism).

Bruce, 'Bama

Mr. Davis, I don't agree that the south had its own best interests at heart in trying to retain slavery as an economic system but yes it was in agreement with Lincoln's quote. IT WASN'T RIGHT BUT IT HAD THE RIGHT UNFORTUNATELY IT DID NOT HAVE THE POWER.

Eric Engstrom, Wichita, KS

In the final analysis, had the South the military/industrial resources, they would have made good their escape from the Union. They did and still do have the right to secede, and their success or failure would still depend wholly on main force of arms. This perforce entails great hardships for the residents of any state, which I believe rightly tempers any rash Seccessionist feelings. That being said, should the central government indeed by its arbitrary and contrary actions to the civil good of a State and its residents - that State and its residents do indeed still have the right and means to effect their liberty. That is the beauty of our Republic, and the primary reason for individual ownership of small arms and the political reason for the existance of the National Guard. The National Guard is primarily the State's Military force-in-being, and is only a Reserve Component of the Federal military establishment. A great check and balance on our continued freedom and prosperity folks. A y'all that want to change this state of affairs in our Republic should well think twice, and then think again. Some things are best left the hell alone.

E Archer, NYC

Bruce, your sentiments have been spoken like a true carpet-bagger (which apparently you are since you are not from Alabama). 'Might makes right', that is all you have said while trying to justify the usurpation of federal power and the shift from the idea that the Constitution is a rule book for government to being a rule book for the People -- read all the amendments that have followed the Reconstruction Amendments (that were passed -- or in fact not even lawfully ratified -- by a Congress that had appointed the southern Senators that voted on the bills) and you will see a significant change in tone and context with a common phrase "The Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation." -- not 'Congress shall make no law abridging the right to vote', no, Congress SHALL make laws in order to ENFORCE the 'right' -- a complete corruption -- previously, the Constitution declared no rights, only what laws the Congress may make -- now they are declaring the rights of the people -- as if they didn't have them unless government had granted them. A fine point usually ignored during history class -- except in most southern states.

Mike, Norwalk

The State gets its sovereignty from the sovereign individuals, The States give sovereignty to their united expression. Not until the Union victors made dual citizenship by the 14th Amendment did the foundational sovereigns have other than state citizenship.

Jimmy Shirley, Palm Springs, Florida

The statement is correct. Slavery only blurs the issue. All Americans went into that war with liberty and came out of it with liberty lost. Ever since then, steady government encroachment upon our liberties has remained unabated. I guarranty this, that you take an American from 1930 and place him here today, he would not recognise his own country. Even more so with one from !907. For that matter, I do not recognise it from 1972. For the Patriot Act, we can thank ape lincoln. For much of the worlds troubles since 1900, we can thank the meddlin' yankees, their government and their victory at Appomatox Courthouse. Thanks a lot. As far as defeating facism, communism, etc. goes, no one knows how history would have been had the CSA gained its independence. We cannot presume history would have been the same, regardless.

Ronn H, Pittsburgh

History is always written by the victors, and the civil war is no different. Fortunately enough material exists for thinking people to evaluate what really transpired back then. Sure, slavery became the cause celebre, but not until long after deaths were mounting. IMO, this was a war over enshrining lobbyists. North East industrialists were hijacking the federal government re tariffs at the expense of southern states ability to trade freely with other nations, etc. Also, back then citizens viewed the state as their country (which is outside the U.S. interchangeable with the word "state."). These united states were individual mini nations who formed a voluntary union. Their loyalty was to their country, which was their state. They voted to join with the presumption that they could vote to leave. "Can the liberties of a nation be deemed secure when we have removed their only firm basis-a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God, that they are not to be violated without his wrath? Indeed, I tremble for my country (Virginia) when I reflect that God is just, that His justice cannot sleep forever..." That's Thomas Jefferson, 1783. Note the "My country Virginia" view of Virginia, a term also used by Robert E. Lee before and during the War.

Anonymous, St Louis

Sherman was way too easy on the South.

Chris, Texarkana

I completely agree with this quote.

Bob, Pittsburgh

There's more truth in Mencken than in Lincoln, but it shouldn't be forgotten that the Southern landowners were elected only by white males above a certain income. Women could not vote. Blacks could not vote. Poor white males could not vote. Incidentally, this is also true of the North. So who was fighting for who and for what? Who in government could properly be said to be representing the interests of the majority, that is, the females, the slaves, and the poor whites? No one. They all pretended to democracy. The Civil War was more about taxation and tariffs and British agent provocateurs, than about slavery. The title of one of the better books on the subject sums it all up: "Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men"

Mike, Pleasant Hill

History written by the victor for the victor, so much misinformation about the war of Northern aggression. The truth is out there but it is not the version so readily offered up by the government schools, you have to actively dig for it keeping an open mind.

Bob, Charlotte, VT

The President of the United States named Abraham Lincoln must be turning over in his grave.

Walter Clark, Fullerton CA

I read all of your comments. Some good thoughts there, most better than this Menkin quote. I give this one of Menkin a thumbs down. Since when did the South become recognized as being more "of the, by the, and for the people?"
The Civil War was wrong not because the south was right. The sacrificing of 620,000 lives in the Civil War was not in vain. Lincoln demonstrated with that sacrifice that the phrase right to alter or to abolish" implies an obligation on the part of the government to go to war with any group who claims that right. He went further. With the 620,000 deaths, he guaranteed that if you lose the war to alter or to abolish", you will get a 14th amendment and other acts which ratchets up the power of the government that needs altering or abolishing. War always gives more power to the government; even over the people on the side that wins.

cal, Lewisville, TX

Bob, Pittsburgh, women did not vote anywhere but in the state of Wyoming until 1920. Slavery had nothing to do with the Civil War. Better read Lincoln's writings. Out going president James Buchanan said it best when he spoke of how the federal government lacked any constitutional authority to force the southern states back into the union. And remember, northerners insisted that slaves were only 3/5ths of a man.

Mike, Norwalk

Anonymous without a city, extremely well said. Bruce, WHAT ? ? ? You must have attended a government seminary (school) If "united" and "union" means the same thing to most people, that would only strengthen the argument that most people went to government seminaries. Soviet means, what? (more closely, soviet would mean council; historically there was a Czar's Council of Ministers, today there is a Mr. Obamunist Goodwrench the assassin's ministers of soviet czars). A "union" infers a collective run or administered from the top down (in times past on this blog, I have explained ad nauseam the timely, specific and proper use of "union" as is correct with in the united States of America. "United" infers separate entities in agreement (an accurate nomenclature used during the war between the States - "Union" / Confederation). Further, for the government seminary graduates and drop-outs, there is a difference between a democratic process and a democracy. A democratic process references one man one vote while a democracy is purely mob rule. A democratic process can be utilized in many forms of practice (religion, sports, body politic(s) - monarchy, a free uniting of sovereigns, at natural law, at legal positivism, etc.). A democracy remains uniquely what it is, a despotic tyranny. As different as a democratic process is from a democracy so, a republican form of government differs from a republic. A republic is that form of government in which the administration of affairs is open to all the citizens. Though the inference would be a free State, even a democracy claims it is open to all though its administration is uniquely in place to enforce the majority's supposed will. A republican form of government means rights are administered by servants (such rights are held sacrosanct as inalienable to each sovereign).

z, la, ca
  • Reply
z, la, ca    1/29/15

Question: Did Lincoln experience a change of heart sometime between Wednesday, January 12, 1848 and Friday, April 12, 1861, the start of the American Civil War, when a number of the states from the South attempted to secede from the Union? In this portion of his speech to the House where Lincoln clearly echoes the views of the Declaration of Independence, it might suggest so. Or is he otherwise espousing his view that one has the right to secede however, in order to be successful, one must also have the power?

If the latter is the case, it seems to pose at least one interesting and contradictory implication, i.e. the necessity of power to successfully exercise an existing right as expressed in our Constitution.

E Archer, NYC

The full story about Lincoln is complex. There were many powers at work, not the least of which was the attempt by the European banking dynasty to break up the United States. Since the days of Andrew Jackson, the nation had been without a private central bank -- the scourge of any free nation that wishes to remain free. War is the tried and true method for bringing the banks onto the scene.

Looking at the big picture, the battle was for control of the money in the USA -- and the result demonstrates who the real victors were, in a fatal twist. At the time of Lincoln's Peoria speech, which is when he spoke out against slavery, the USA was growing and territories were wanting to join the Union. Slavery still existed throughout the old US, but one of the conditions for Statehood was a prohibition on slavery -- except for those states on the southern side of the line. The question was how far west to extend the slavery line. Lincoln was against it being extended all the way to California because it would expand slavery, not arrest the practice. In a time in which the country was rapidly expanding, Lincoln was very much interested in the continued growth of the United States, not the disbanding of it. Lincoln would do anything to keep the southern states within the Union. Foreign powers were trying to tear the country apart, and Lincoln saw it as his duty to stop it.

The evil of slavery is not eradicated merely because the slave-owners are sovereign from any crown or despot. Emancipation was inevitable, if America was ever to live up to its ideals. And what a tremendous cost the price of denial had been for so long. Lincoln ended up defending the Union from the foreign bankers, at the price of the southern states' sovereignty. But shortly thereafter Lincoln was assassinated, and the central bankers swarmed in again on less knowledgeable government stooges, like Johnson who followed. Garfield tried to break out of the bankers grasp as well, only to be also shot down.

Neither a war to end slavery, nor a war to defend state sovereignty, the civil war was for the control of the wealth and power of a nation -- the power of the issuance of currency. That was the REAL end of the republic, and all amendments that have followed have been to secure that power in the hands of foreign masters -- they certainly don't live in your state, and they lay claim to your property and your labors from cradle to grave.

Lincoln rolling in his grave? I do believe so.


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