LINCOLN WITHOUT FILTERS

 

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I was looking through my notebook and found the following text from last year; I’m not sure which book it’s quoting ; in fact, I’m remembering now that this is from a webpage in which its author reviews and cites a book about Lincoln).

What’s important is the propaganda-free picture of Abraham Lincoln it gives us (often citing his own words). We have been fed nothing but nonsense about Lincoln about everything from his youth to his marriage to his execution. Only bits and snatches of the Truth (the bits he himself uttered or recorded for posterity) are clear but they are damning enough….

(next we’ll tell you some Truth about Gandhi…)

***********

“Judge Douglas has said to you that he has not been able to get from me an answer to the question whether I am in favor of Negro citizenship. So far as I know, the Judge never asked me the question before. He shall have no occasion to ever ask it again, for I tell him very frankly that I am not in favor of Negro citizenship.”—Abraham Lincoln (182)

“I have all the while maintained that inasmuch as there is a physical inequality between the white and black, that the blacks must remain inferior.”—Abraham Lincoln (182)

One reads everywhere or almost everywhere that Lincoln had to talk like a racist and vote like a racist because of the racist atmosphere of the time. This apology overlooks the relatively large number of White politicians who acted and voted for freedom despite racism. (198)

From all this, from Lincoln’s silence on slavery in Congress, his Jim Crow votes in the legislature, his demagoguery on the stump and his Charleston Confession, it is clear that Lincoln’s equivocal, equivocating prairie years were a dress rehearsal for his equivocal, equivocating performance as president. Based on this resume, a reasonably intelligent riverboat gambler would have given odds that this man as president would support slavery where it existed and oppose sudden and general changes in the status quo of slaves and Blacks. That’s precisely what Lincoln did, and it is curious that most Lincoln experts, with the benefit of 140 years of hindsight and the record of what he actually did, can’t tell us what role the Illinois Lincoln was rehearsing for.

Two authorities on Lincoln’s congressional career, Riddle and Reinhard H. Luthin,  were justifiably severe in their appraisal of this phase of Lincoln’s career, expressing from different perspectives the findings of this study. Riddle said Lincoln was an opportunist who used the slavery issue “to advance his own political standing.” Luthin said Lincoln “had drifted with the tide, and up to his election as President in 1860 he had left no record of achievement, except the quest for office.” (213-14)

The key word here is moral. Lincoln believed that deporting Blacks and creating an all-White country was a moral imperative.

“Let us be brought to believe it is morally right,” he said, “and, at the same time, favorable to, or, at least, not against, our interest, to transfer the African to his native clime, and we shall find a way to do it, however great the task may be. The children of Israel, to such numbers as to include four hundred thousand fighting men, went out of Egyptian bondage in a body.”

The relevance of the example was questionable, since it was extremely unlikely that the Atlantic Ocean was going to part, like the Red Sea, but Lincoln continued to his last days to try to form “a will—a public sentiment—for colonization.”

On July 17, 1858, he talked about almost everything in a long speech at Springfield, mentioning the Declaration of Independence, the extension of slavery, the “inferiority” of Black people, and the complicity of the presumably White God, who had given Black people “but little.”  It was only in the last few minutes that he mentioned apropos of nothing and apropos of everything: “What I would most desire would be the separation of the white and black races.” (229)

If Lincoln had had his way, in fact, the Civil War would have ended with slavery intact and slave-owners triumphant, at least on their plantations.

How, it will be asked, do you know all this? The answer is that I read Lincoln, who had such a horror of the sudden ending of slavery that he said out loud for all to hear and read that he feared success—Black freedom—more than he feared failure-Black slavery.

Here, as everywhere, there has been a major misunderstanding. Lincoln was no emancipationist;  Lincoln was scared to death of emancipation. What was he scared of? He was scared of Black economic competition, Black and White voters and officeholders, and Black and White sex—I’m quoting Abraham Lincoln, and if you don’t believe me, read pages 405, 407-9 and 541 of volume 2 and pages 146 and 234-5 of volume 3 of The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln. (247)

He said it at Ottawa, Illinois, on August 21, 1858, at the first Lincoln-Douglas debate:

“I will say here, while upon this subject, that I have no purpose directly or indirectly to interfere with the institution of slavery in the states where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.” (249)

One has to feel sorry for Lincoln retrospectively and prospectively. For he declared it and, to use his word, “re-declared” it. He quoted himself and “re-quoted” himself. Yet honest and dishonest men—then and now—continued to misrepresent him, despite the fact that he said it a hundred times:

“I have said a hundred times and I have now no inclination to take it back, that I believe there is no right, and ought to be no inclination in the people of the free States to enter into the slave States, and interfere with the question of slavery at all. I have said that always.”

If he said it a hundred times, he said it a thousand times to audiences in different states. (249-50)

To come right out with it, Lincoln didn’t want slavery to end if it meant free Negroes in the United States. Until somebody came up with a magic wand that would make slaves and Negroes disappear, he was content to support the Missouri Compromise, which served as a fence—his metaphor—to contain slaves and Negroes in the slave states. (251)

It was a litany: “We want them [the territories] for the homes of free white people.” When Senator Douglas argued that Lincoln and his supporters had no direct interest in what happened in the territories, Lincoln replied, “I think we have some interest. I think that as white men we have. Do we not wish for an outlet for our surplus population, if I may so express myself?”

Lincoln went on to charge in this and other speeches that the extension of slavery posed a direct threat to the economic position of White men. He stressed in particular the threat to White labor and was not above the demagoguery of warning White labor of the threat of all Black labor,  slave and free. If Northerners permitted slavery to spread to the territories, he said, “Negro equality will be abundant, as every White laborer will have occasion to regret when he is elbowed from his plow or his anvil by slave niggers.”
What was the best way to prevent this? The best thing to do, he said, was to keep the territories free of all Negroes, slave and free, whatever the spelling. “Is it not rather our duty to make labor more respectable by preventing all black competition, especially in the territories?” Notice that word: duty. We shall return to it again and again. Abraham Lincoln believed it was his duty to White people, that it was his obligation as a White man, to keep Black people in slavery and in subordinate positions.

Not the emancipation of the slaves, not the building of a rainbow nation, but the way to the White Dream was his main concern. (269-70)

All across the North now, as the future Gettysburg orator stuck his head in the sand along with other Whigs, men and women mobilized against the American government. And it is impossible to take his measure if we don’t compare him directly with White men who demonstrated more vision, more courage, and more morality in his own times and on his own terrain.

In Ohio in these years, Salmon P. Chase defended fugitive slaves, attended Black meetings, and created the ideological infrastructure of the political antislavery movement.
In Massachusetts, Charles Sumner helped inaugurate the struggle for integrated education.

In Illinois, Owen Lovejoy defied the state and the federal government and assisted every slave who came to his door. In a House speech, he told the nation: “Owen Lovejoy lives at Princeton, Illinois, three quarters of a mile east of the village; and he aids every fugitive that comes to his door and asks it …. Thou invisible demon of slavery … I bid you defiance in the name of my God.”

What was Lincoln doing all this time?

He was, as usual, sitting on the fence, telling everybody how much he loved the Declaration of Independence and expressing regrets that it was not unfortunately applicable to the real world or real Blacks in Illinois or South Carolina. (273)

 

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