Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Was Lincoln A Racist?

  Short answer, yes. In my view Lincoln had a liberal attitude about race for his time when it is safe to say that most white people, North and South, were racist. Depending on your opinion of Lincoln, you can find anything you want, in the form of evidence, to prove your point of view. That is, if you are trying to make a case that he was racist. For example the following are quotes from Lincoln on race. "I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races, that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality ... I will add to this that "I have never seen, to my knowledge, a man, woman, or child who was in favor of producing a perfect equality, social and political, between negroes and white men". On the subject of the expansion of slavery in Kansas he said "There is a natural disgust in the minds of nearly all white people to the idea of indiscriminate amalgamation of the white and black races ... A separation of the races is the only perfect preventive of amalgamation, but as an immediate separation is impossible, the next best thing is to keep them apart where they are not already together. If white and black people never get together in Kansas, they will never mix blood in Kansas ..." Until the latter stages of his life he was in favor of shipping blacks back to Africa or settling them somewhere other than the United States. In the language of Mr. Jefferson, uttered many years ago, "It is still in our power to direct the process of emancipation, and deportation, peaceably, and in such slow degrees, as that the evil will wear off insensibly; and in their places be, pari passu [on an equal basis], filled up by free white laborers." He also said in his Address on Colonization to a Deputation of Negroes in Washington, D.C. on August 14,1862 . "You and we are different races. We have between us a broader difference than exists between almost any other two races. Whether it is right or wrong I need not discuss, but this physical difference is a great disadvantage to us both, as I think your race suffer very greatly, many of them living among us, while ours suffer from your presence. In a word we suffer on each side. If this is admitted, it affords a reason at least why we should be separated."On the equality of the races he said"I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and black races. There is physical difference between the two which, in my judgment, will probably forever forbid their living together upon the footing of perfect equality, and inasmuch as it becomes a necessity that there must be a difference, I, as well as Judge Douglas, am in favor of the race to which I belong having the superior position." Finally, he said the following, "Our republican system was meant for a homogeneous people. As long as blacks continue to live with the whites they constitute a threat to the national life. Family life may also collapse and the increase of mixed breed bastards may some day challenge the supremacy of the white man".

  Okay, we have established that he was a racist. However, Lincoln always hated the institution of slavery. Even though he and his father Thomas Lincoln had a rocky relationship, this is one of the reasons that he moved from Kentucky when Abe was little. Thomas also hated slavery and Kentucky was a slave state. The term abolitionist had a broad meaning. To be anti-slavery didn't mean that you were an abolitionist. It is safe to say that most whites in the North were anti-slavery men. In other words they hated slavery but they were Unionists. Preserving the Union was their primary goal. This was the category that Lincoln fell into. He hated slavery but he was willing to allow it to exist where it already existed. Lincoln wanted to contain slavery and did not want it to spread into the new territories that had been created by the Mexican war. Just like Truman, and every president until Ronald Reagan wanted to contain the spread of Communism. "Slavery is founded in the selfishness of man's nature -- opposition to it is in his love of justice. These principles are an eternal antagonism; and when brought into collision so fiercely, as slavery extension brings them, shocks, and throes, and convulsions must ceaselessly follow. Repeal the Missouri Compromise -- repeal all compromises -- repeal the declaration of independence -- repeal all past history, you still can not repeal human nature. It still will be the abundance of man's heart, that slavery extension is wrong; and out of the abundance of his heart, his mouth will continue to speak". --October 16, 1854 Speech at Peoria.  "I have always hated slavery, I think as much as any Abolitionist".--July 10, 1858 Speech at Chicago. "You think slavery is right and ought to be extended; while we think it is wrong and ought to be restricted. That I suppose is the rub. It certainly is the only substantial difference between us".--December 22, 1860 Letter to Alexander Stephens. Lincoln understood that he did not have the power to end slavery constitutionally. It would take a constitutional amendment to do that. This is one reason that he designed the Emancipation Proclamation the way that he did. It only affected those areas in the country that were in rebellion. The loyal slave states were not affected. 

  Abolitionists were a hated minority in the North. Even abolitionists were a diverse group. There were abolitionists who hated slavery because they didn't want to compete against free labor. Especially in the territories like Kansas. It was founded in economic self interest more than anything.. Then there were the abolitionists who opposed slavery simply on the immorality of slavery and they wanted it banned everywhere. Both groups of abolitionists were also racist and did not believe in the civil and social equality of the Black man. Finally, there was the egalitarian abolitionist like Pennsylvania congressman Thaddeus Stephens who opposed slavery based on it's immorality but were also in favor of the civil and social equality of the Black man. It was rumored that Stephens was in a common law marriage of 20 years with his Black house keeper Lydia Smith. Stephens was a radical Republican who helped Lincoln pass the 14th Amendment, that was designed to grant civil equality to the Black man. The thing that all three types of abolitionists had in common was that they didn't give a flip about the preservation of the Union as long as slavery existed. The Union wasn't worth saving while preserving slavery. This sentiment was expressed by William Lloyd Garrison in his abolitionist newspaper the Liberator. He called the constitution a "covenant with death and an agreement with hell."  "I am aware, that many object to the severity of my language; but is there not cause for severity? I will be as harsh as truth, and as un-compromising as justice. On this subject, I do not wish to think, or speak, or write, with moderation. No! no! Tell a man whose house is on fire, to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hands of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen; – but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest- I will not equivocate- I will not excuse- I will not retreat a single inch- AND I WILL BE HEARD". 

  Ultimately Lincoln had an amazing capacity to grow. His initial goal was to preserve the union while containing slavery. Not to eradicate it. As the opportunities to end slavery presented themselves, he took advantage of every possible opportunity until he was able to arm Black soldiers and express a desire to grant these soldiers and the well educated Black man with the right to vote. A very liberal idea for the time. He said this in a speech from the White House balcony, on the night of April 11, 1865, two days after Lee surrendered at Appomattox. These sentiments probably cost him his life. John Wilkes Booth heard this speech while standing on the front lawn that night. He turned to a fellow conspirator, Lewis Powell, and said, “That means nigger citizenship. Now, by God, I’ll put him through. That is the last speech he will ever make.” It is ironic that the three presidents that did more for Civil Rights than any others were all Southerners and racist in their personal life. Abraham Lincoln, Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson. Lincoln was born in Kentucky and heavily influenced by Southern culture. Truman and Johnson both used racial slurs on a regular basis and Truman once tried to join the Ku Klux Klan. However they all had an innate sense of fairness and justice that would finally win out in the end.   

   


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