Libertarians for Lincoln!

Well, maybe not all of them. But while working on the “Lincoln and Race” series, I came across a remarkable set of webpages. Thanks to John McKee Barr at Loathing Lincoln,  I have discovered at least one libertarian who is moved by facts and not ideology.

In John’s post, which takes on the anti-Lincoln agenda at the Washington Post, he mentions the name of Timothy Sandefur, who works as a Principal Attorney for the Pacific Legal Foundation. I clicked and found Mr. Sandefur’s blog Freespace. What I found there was a description of why secession was unconstitutional that is pretty much as good as any I’ve read. Those posts (“Springtime for Jeff Davis and the Confed’racy”) are here, here, and here.

Moreover, Sandefur has provided a link to a paper he wrote called “How Libertarians Ought to Think About the U.S. Civil War,” which argues that libertarians should support Lincoln, the Union, and the Civil War as instruments of liberty, rather than castigate them as agents of tyranny. What makes this analysis so intriguing to me is that Sandefur uses John Locke’s idea of natural rights to show, not merely why secession was not a legitimate revolution, but that the entire concept of a nation built on slavery is antithetical to libertarian philosophy.

I’ve not looked at much of the rest of Timothy Sandefur’s website. I don’t know how he feels about Teddy Roosevelt and the National Parks, or FDR and the New Deal, or the rights of indigenous Americans—and at this point I don’t need to. It’s just refreshing to find writing on the Civil War from a libertarian that is guided by principle, and not blinded by ideology. That’s an idea we should all be able to agree on.


About Christopher Shelley

Christopher Shelley teaches American history and American Indian history at Portland Community College. He is fond of border collies, and bleeds Dodger-blue. Any and all opinions expressed here are those of the expressors themselves, and in no way represent the views of Portland Community College.
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5 Responses to Libertarians for Lincoln!

  1. jarretr says:

    This is certainly refreshing. It’s always interesting to try and explain libertarian interpretations of history. I think part of the problem is that no society in the past has ever been, or could have been, organized around libertarian beliefs, so they often have no “choice” but to impose those beliefs on the past. Kudos to Mr. Barr for trying to buck that trend.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Andy Hall says:

      I think part of the problem is that no society in the past has ever been, or could have been, organized around libertarian beliefs, so they often have no “choice” but to impose those beliefs on the past.

      Libertarianism (and its crack-addled, incestuous cousin, Objectivism/Randism) works a lot better on paper than it does in the real world, where human societies are messy, pulled by conflicting motivations, and people habitually behave in non-logical and sometimes self-defeating ways. There are a lot of specific issues where I take a Libertarian approach, but as a general organizing principle, fallible and contradictory human society will undermine it every time.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. jarretr says:

    Correction, not Mr. Barr, but Mr. Sandefur.


  3. donsalmon says:

    Any more clues from anyone on how to understand the motivation of libertarians would be most welcome. Just a few weeks ago, Mike Lee came out with “Our Lost Constitution.” I did a little research, and came up with Skousen, who evidently had a major influence on Lee. I knew about William Buckley’s influence in the early 50s with his writings, and the infamous “Powell” memo in 1971 which led to the establishment of several extremist think tanks, but it looks like the man with the most influence on our current crop of crazy presidential wannabees might be Skousen.

    It should be “our lost country”!


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