8/01/2019

Was Lincoln Really Into Marx?

"To return to Lincoln’s own formulation — namely the assertion that labor is prior to capital, and capital derives from labor — we find that he is simply paraphrasing what he likely read from Wayland and Mill. By borrowing upon the Milwaukee address in 1861, Lincoln intended only to present his earlier rebuttal of Hammond’s slave-based economic hierarchy before Congress, using the contrasting positions to frame the competing economic philosophies of the two belligerents in the now-raging Civil War. Marx is neither necessary for understanding Lincoln’s arguments, nor is a proprietary Marxian spin on Lincoln’s terminology supported by the available evidence.


The rest of Lincoln’s passage, omitted from Brockell’s rendering, actually repudiates the state of conflict that Marx posited between the owners of capital and the proletarian class. “Capital,” Lincoln explained, “has its rights, which are as worthy of protection as any other rights.” Indeed, the American president saw little value in such firm lines of division. They did not reflect the “mixed” state of economic reality, where “a considerable number of persons mingle their own labor with capital; that is, they labor with their own hands and also buy or hire others to labor for them.”"