I consider lincoln to be one of the great presidents in american history. He was not a statist tyrant, & his actions in a war of rebellion are no different than any president's actions in any war to protect the nation.
The central argument against lincoln seems to be a tariff. This is also a simplistic view of the cause of war. Tariffs were very common in those days, by all governments. The tripolitan wars that Jefferson waged were basically over tariffs, or tribute. This was with a non existent army, a fledgling navy & a new branch of service: The marines. Any marines are probably humming, 'to the shores of tripoli', even now. Back then, if you wanted to do business, you paid the piper. ALL govts extorted money from wealthy traders. The traders saw it as part of doing business, & paid the tribute, tariff, or whatever other 'fee' that came up.
I am not arguing any morality or right or wrong of tariffs, just laying the foundation for the current climate of the day.
Washington had the first tariff.. 1789. 'Protection for infant industries', was how it was described & justified. In essence, it was to 'protect' the 'new' industries in america, & allow them to compete (with cheaper finished goods) with european imports. This was the very beginning of the industrial revolution, & the us was primarily an exporter of raw materials. Cotton & tobacco were significant exports. We imported finished goods.. manufactured items, from europe. That is the reasoning behind it, & the motivations for tariffs.
The north was beginning to manufacture more, & liked the protectionism. The south, in general, was an exporter of raw materials, & the import tariffs raised the price of the european finished goods. There were also the claims, as now, of artificial lowered prices.. subsidized exports. Britain did this, like china does now. The american manufacturers were seeking a level playing field. The south was not as affected by manufactured goods tariffs, & feared european reprisals, making their goods harder to export.
Here's a simplified timeline of tariffs:
1824- 30% on products like glass, lead, iron and wool
1828- 'tariff of abominations' over 60% on some items!
1861- 26%, after a period of declining protectionism.. a raise. Under Buchanan.
Civil war- fluctuated, up as much as 40% during the war.
Tariffs were down, historically right before the war. During the war, they were raised to pay for the war. Tariffs then was the major source of revenue for the federal govt. There was no income tax. I would also like to point out a significant factor: In the early years of american presidency, vetoes were primarily for questionable items of constitutionality. A president did not wield veto power like he does today.. it was not as much of a tool of negotiation back then. If the congress passed a law or bill, the president almost always signed it. John Adams & Jefferson had NO vetoes. Madison, Jackson, & Tyler had 5, 5, & 6, respectively. Lincoln continued that tradition, with 2. It was not until later that the presidential veto was employed as a policy tool.
The point of this is that congress had more power, then, & made policy. Tariffs were passed by congress. A president only rubber stamped them.. sometimes without approval.
Here is a table of tariff rates in us history:
Now, were tariffs a significant factor in the civil war? Of course. They were argued & debated for years before & since. Since the 1940's we have been in a time of declining global protectionism. Free trade is promoted. But just because we are used to free trade practices now, should not make us condemn what was commonplace in other times. Were they THE Central Reason for the civil war? Of course not. There were many factors, & slavery was a major one. There were radical anti slavery people, then, & everyone knew about it. It was a point of contention in the nation. John Brown & bleeding kansas are clear references to the times.
Now look at the body of lincoln's work. His writings & speeches were along the same line of individual freedom & limited govt as the founders.
My wife's great grandfather lived in those times. He went with his brothers to california during the gold rush of the 1850's. Evidently, they didn't strike it rich, & returned to Illinois, where their parents had migrated from pennsylvania a generation before. Henry married & pioneered to kansas.. emporia. The year was 1860. This was 'bleeding kansas' times. Raiders crossed the border from missouri, sometimes killing the free state kansans. But things got worse. In july 1862 missouri raiders were causing trouble, & henry had to flee in the night with his young children on a lumber wagon, going up through nebraska to avoid conflict. The next day after arriving back home to illinois, he enlisted. After the war, he returned to kansas.
I'm a mix. My father's side were southerners.. tennesee & kentucky, during those times. Some owned slaves. They were fighting 'The War of Northern Aggression'.
These were not people who watched reality tv all the time, or played on their ipods. They were aware of the times & the political climate, even though communication & news was slow. I have a lot of family on both sides, who enlisted. This war was brutal, but it was not forced upon an unwilling people, & the govt did not have the propaganda machine it does now. They tended to reflect the views of the people, not mold them. The press was very independent, & reflected a lot more variety.