Abraham Lincoln saved the Union and freed the slaves, but President Obama Thursday night claimed an achievement for the great man almost as dear to the hearts of liberals: That he began the modern era of big government.
Here’s what Obama said:
We all remember Abraham Lincoln as the leader who saved our Union. Founder of the Republican Party. But in the middle of a civil war, he was also a leader who looked to the future — a Republican President who mobilized government to build the Transcontinental Railroad — (applause) — launch the National Academy of Sciences, set up the first land grant colleges. (Applause.) And leaders of both Parties have followed the example he set.
Well, if only it were true that leaders of both Parties – including Obama – had actually followed the example Lincoln set!
Unlike the programs of the New Deal, the Great Society, and the trillions in new debt Obama himself has racked up, the Transcontinental Railroad did not cost the government a cent, because it was financed by bonds that the railroads paid back, with interest. It may even have saved the government substantial amounts of money by reducing the cost of postal service.
The establishment of the National Academy of Sciences hardly represents an epiphany on the part of Lincoln that government should be “mobilized” on any kind of grand scale. And Lincoln agreed to it at least in part to spur the development of inventions to be used in the Civil War effort.
Sounds more like something Dick Cheney would do.
Similarly, the land grant colleges were to be established in part to teach military tactics. Though this was not their primary purpose, it surely offered some inducement for Lincoln to sign the bill creating them. And the legislation provided for a grant of federal land to the states, empowering the states to sell land to fund their own universities. It was hardly an expansion of federal power.
To suggest from these examples that Lincoln envisioned anything like the role of the federal government we have today is, at best, misleading.