When I initially picked up Walter Donald Kennedy’s “Rekilling Lincoln,” I managed to get through the first page of the Preface and read the two lines at the top of the next page. Those 29 lines of text were headlined in bold capital letters:
NEWS FLASH, Washington, D.C.
Included in those lines was an announcement that the Writ of Habeas Corpus had been suspended by the president. Also in the announcement were other statements – one especially provocative — that “disloyal newspapers, journals, and TV and radio stations giving aid and comfort to terrorist elements within the United States shall be placed under the control of federal guardians.” [Kennedy, Pg. 7] Continuing on through that provocative paragraph, I read that “citizens found guilty of disloyal activity shall have their property confiscated, sold, and used to promote the general welfare of the United States; all said cases will be tried by military courts; once incarcerated, disloyal citizens shall not be allowed the use of an attorney.” [Kennedy, Pg. 7]
The final sentence of the preface begins near the end of the page: “The President assures the nation that these acts are necessary to defend the rights and freedom of the bulk of Americans and protect our Constitution and Bill of Rights.” [Kennedy, Pgs. 7-8]
And, so I carefully placed the book on a shelf thinking there was no way I could read Kennedy’s book. Yet, its very presence was a constant reminder and so my questions regarding the content continued until I finally decided to really look at his book. Surprise. It isn’t about present-day events. Instead Kennedy quickly moves the reader back in time – approximately 154 years – to the antebellum and Civil War years.
On Page 9, the author points out that an American president “Who disregarded the Constitution and suspended the writ of habeas corpus, used military police and courts to arrest political opponents, had a leading political opponent banished from the United States for speaking against his policies in Congress, shut down newspapers that opposed his political agenda, opened and read private mail and telegrams, confiscated the property of “disloyal citizens, denied “disloyal citizens from obtaining and using an attorney to defend themselves from charges of being “disloyal,” threatened any incarcerated “disloyal” citizen with additional charges for attempting to obtain an attorney for his defense, and used the military to seize and try all citizens charged with being “disloyal.”
Kennedy is talking about President Abraham Lincoln’s activities as the Civil War began. The author continues his attack on Lincoln then moves to the present day in upbraiding current President Obama’s statements with regard to “disloyal citizens if they were giving aid to terrorist organizations.” [Page 11]
By Page 12, the author points out that there are two schools of thought and also indicates the American Civil War should be “referred to by its more correct name, the War for Southern Independence.” Now that was an interesting revelation and I definitely recognized those four words. Back in 1861, eleven Southern states decided dividing our country was more important than losing ownership of approximately three million slaves. Definitely understandable of course, considering that those three million slaves were a larger investment than all the United States banks, railroads and factories in place at that time. Strangely enough, those Southern states and the Civil War they instigated cost the south almost half a million men killed or wounded, around three million slaves, and close to five billion dollars in treasure. So, does anyone know exactly why the South decided to attack its sister states? Or, has the “exact” reason faded into the mists of time?
The author has divided his text into three parts:
Part I: Exposing the Myths includes five chapters which the author indicates covers “five myths . . . that have grown up around Lincoln, all of which tend to either excuse his excesses or cast aspersions upon those who opposed his politics.” (Pg. 19)
In Part 1, Kennedy “exposes” Lincoln’s war against the seceded southern states and concludes that “slavery was never the primary incentive for pursuing military action against the seceded states” (Pg. 19). Kennedy fails to see that pursuing military action against the seceded states actually might have had something to do with the South’s unprovoked attack on the small garrison at Fort Sumter.
President Lincoln took the opportunity presented by those eleven seceded Southern states and their determination to bathe our country in blood to free thousands of folks of all ages from constant toil and mistreatment with the Emancipation Proclamation. Incidentally, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 — Kennedy makes no effort to examine why the president waited so long after those eleven seceded states brought our country into war. He also fails to adequately discuss the thousands of lives lost – as well as, children who became orphans and women who became widows — so a few slaveholders could continue to own another person.
According to Kennedy, Lincoln’s viewpoint re: the American Union “condemn[ed] nearly 1 million Americans to death . . .” Presumably, Kennedy is talking about the Civil War which began on April 12, 1861. In the process, Kennedy believes that President Lincoln “. . . gut[ted] the Constitution.” One wonders whether the author understands that those eleven Southern slave-holding states — the ones that seceded from the Union and ordered their soldiers to attack the small garrison of soldiers at Fort Sumter – might have had something to do with starting the war that “condemn[ed] nearly 1 million Americans to death. Exactly who “gut[ted] the Constitution” – those who introduced the war or those who fought to defend the Union of all the states?
In Chapter 3, Kennedy points out that Lincoln “trampled upon every right secured “ by the Constitution. This reader questioned whether Lincoln’s actions was trampling on the rights secured by the constitution or possibly was causing concern and perhaps some guilt for some men and women who owned and often mistreated slaves. Possibly Kennedy sees no difficulty in ignoring the rights of African Americans being held as slaves. Perhaps he thinks the Constitution guaranteed those Southern men and women the “right” to own another human being.
President Lincoln’s life as a “Christian is examined in Chapter 4 and purports to “expose a rather different man than most evangelical Americans have been taught to venerate.” According to Kennedy, Chapter 5 exposes “the real Lincoln” – not the caring Civil War president but instead a cold and calculating man.
On Page 147, Kennedy includes a statement, supposedly quoting President Lincoln’s friend Ward Hill Lamon, who “ . . . testified that Lincoln “never told anyone that he accepted Jesus as the Christ.” And points out that Lamon concludes that Lincoln used religious terms because they fit “within Lincoln’s religion – not Christian views . . .” In today’s world, does it really make a difference if Lincoln “accepted” Jesus? Kennedy continues through the chapters excoriating a President, long deceased, yet revered by many thousands – and not just Americans but folks across the world.
On Page 120, Kennedy brings William Rawle, and his 1825 textbook, to the forefront to point out that Rawle had included an entire chapter devoted to how and why states could secede from the Union. Kennedy’s second section of “Rekilling Lincoln” contains five chapters falling under the title “Witnesses Against Mr. Lincoln.” The author begins with C. L. Vallandigham, continues with Abel P. Ushur, and the above mentioned William Rawle. He continues with St. George Tucker’s views on States Rights and concluded this section with Francis Key Howard’s views on tyranny. Interesting choices.
Kennedy’s third and concluding segment of Rekilling Lincoln discusses the “. . . defense of the South” and their understanding that Southerners “were the real defenders of the Union and Constitution”; yet, Kennedy indicates that the “’Southern Apologia’ began as soon as the men of the South surrendered their martial weapons.” (Pg. 274) Exactly what were they apologizing for – owning literally thousands of other human beings, mistreating their slaves, going to war, starting a war that killed thousands of fellow Americans . . . One wonders.
Kennedy concludes that his primary reason for this book was to “. . . present to the reader a completely different view of the 16th president of the United States.” In that regard, this reviewer can attest that he succeeded in telling a very different story though one wonders just where he obtained much of his information.
Kennedy (Page 286) basically repeats his earlier statement that “the rekilling of Lincoln (had) nothing to do with an attempt to re-enact that most unfortunate event at Ford’s Theatre.” The author attributes the effects of John Wilkes Booth’s gun on that fateful night at Ford’s Theatre with the impossibility of any real reemergence of State’s Rights. Kennedy also indicates that without “States Rights” we – as Americans – are no longer able to be secure from the abuse of an all-powerful central government and questions how we could rebuild the government we had – presumably the government we had before the American Civil War. If “States Rights” gave some Civil War era Americans the “RIGHT” to own another human being, and other Civil War era Americans the “RIGHT” to direct bullets onto a small squadron of soldiers at Fort Sumter, and across hundreds of Civil War battlefields, do we need a “reemergence of States Rights?”
Instead, perhaps we — the people of this great nation — should look at the war that developed from “States’ Rights” and the loss of over 600,000 men during the Civil War. Oh, and let’s not forget how well “States’ Rights” cared for the thousands of slaves forced to toil – many throughout their entire life — for their masters. Perhaps we should check into just how beneficial the “help” Civil War widows and orphans received from those “States’ Rights” governments, before we look at a return to Antebellum and Civil War era life.
Walter Donald Kennedy’s book – “ReKilling Lincoln” – is an interesting history of the American Civil War but perhaps more importantly, it is a wake-up call to what could happen again in this country or in other countries across the world.
Title: ReKilling Lincoln
Author: Walter Donald Kennedy
Publisher: Pelican Publishing Company
-Courier book review by Carol Campbell
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