In Michael Hart’s controversial book, The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History, Abraham Lincoln was one of ten to receive an honorable mention, joining Marie Curie, Benjamin Franklin and Leonardo DaVinci.[i] Hart referred to Lincoln as “one of the most famous and most admirable political leaders that this country – or any country – has ever produced.”[ii] Hart gives Lincoln full credit for “the freeing of some 3,500,00 slaves . . . [and] holding the United States together in the face of the secession of the southern states.”[iii] The World Book Encyclopedia called Lincoln, “one of the truly great men of all time.”[iv] Pulitzer Prize winner, David Herbert Donald, explained that his widely acclaimed biography, Lincoln, “is based largely on Lincoln’s own words . . . . It seeks to explain rather than judge.”[v] Yet, only a few lines later, Donald calls Lincoln, “the greatest American President.”[vi] At the other end of the spectrum, a minority of historians have portrayed Lincoln as a racist and one of this nation’s worst presidents, responsible for the destruction of state rights, and the creation of the kind of oppressive, powerful central government that the Founding Fathers so desperately wanted to avoid.[vii] One social historian, Lerone Bennett, has even argued that racism was “the center and circumference” of Lincoln’s very being and that he was not only a racist but a major supporter of slavery and a champion of ethnic cleansing.[viii]
A legion of historians have written countless volumes expressing their view on whether Lincoln was a great emancipator or a racist.[ix] Those on each side have accused the other of distorting facts, providing tortured explanations for Lincoln’s actions, and disregarding facts that contradict their judgments. Some of those most critical of Lincoln have judged him from the moral perspective of the twenty-first century, without making any effort to consider the radically different social and political circumstances of the mid-nineteenth century. And some of Lincoln’s admirers have intentionally overlooked the plain meaning of his words as well as some of his actions. It is a subject that has evoked strong emotions, and uncommonly harsh criticisms have been exchanged between opposing groups of scholars.[x]
This paper emerges from the contradictions and sharp debates that have raged over Lincoln since he was elected America’s sixteenth president, an act that caused eleven southern states to secede from the United States to form their own government. Its objective is to examine Lincoln’s attitude toward Negroes in the context of the world as it existed during his lifetime, and determine whether history should judge him a racist, or a humanitarian who led his nation to abolish slavery. In order to judge Lincoln fairly, it is essential to carefully examine the social, cultural and political setting in the United States prior to his election as President.
I. The Social, Political and Cultural Setting
Thomas Jefferson was just completing his second term as President when Lincoln was born in Kentucky on February 12, 1809. The United States of America was twenty-one years old but slavery in America was 190 years old.[xi] At the time of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, slavery was legal in all thirteen colonies. By the time Lincoln was born, there were approximately 1.4 million African Americans in the United States, 1.2 million of whom were slaves.[xii] Although the Constitution prohibited the importation of slaves after 1808, by 1830, the United States contained more than 2 million slaves.[xiii] By the time Lincoln was elected President in 1860, the United States had 4 million slaves, representing nearly half the population of the Southern states.[xiv]
By 1819, with the admission of Alabama as a state, there were eleven slave states and eleven free states in the United States, which equally divided the United States Senate and created an uneasy balance of power between slave and free states. At that time, the Missouri territory consisted of all the Louisiana Purchase except the state of Louisiana and the Arkansas territory. Both Missouri and Maine petitioned for statehood, which led to the Missouri Compromise of 1820. Missouri was admitted as a slave state and Maine as a free state, temporarily keeping the delicate balance in place.
In 1828, while Lincoln was still a teenager, a political battle erupted over a tariff passed to help the industrial economy of the North. John C. Calhoun, a southerner and then Vice-President under John Quincy Adams, exploded in protest because he (and other southerners) believed it would cause a decline in the demand for Southern cotton by European buyers.[xv] Calhoun argued that each state had a right to nullify the tariff act if it determined the act was unconstitutional.[xvi] In 1832, he resigned as Vice-President, was elected as a senator of South Carolina, and caused South Carolina to pass an ordinance prohibiting the collection of the tariff. Calhoun argued that, as a last resort, a state could even secede from the Union if it found national policy unacceptable. Calhoun’s political battle was being fought for much larger stakes than a tariff; it was to protect slavery, the very foundation of its agrarian economy. The Southerners feared the Northern majority in Congress would someday abolish slavery, destroying the Southern economy and plantation society, and forcing the Southern states to secede.[xvii] Although, Calhoun’s secession theory gained only minor support at the time, it would ultimately become the basis for the Southern states, led by Calhoun’s South Carolina, to secede in 1860.[xviii]
On August 22, 1831, a Virginia slave named Nat Turner organized a small band of slaves who went on a murderous spree killing 55-60 whites in twenty-four hours. The response by an infuriated white population was both swift and brutal. The Virginia militia and other white citizens indiscriminately murdered scores of innocent blacks and hanged or deported the rebels.[xix] Although the duration and extent of the Turner rebellion was short, its impact on racial relations was not. It increased the division between the North and the South on the issue of slavery because the South feared that more rebellions would follow with black slaves rising up to rape and murder their white masters. An emotional debate in Virginia even led to a number of proposals to abolish slavery which, although defeated, would continue to surface until Lincoln was elected President thirty years later. But always present in the emancipation dialogue was the fervent belief that the slaves would have to be removed from the United States if they were ever set free.
In 1836, Texas won its independence from Mexico and promptly began petitioning the United States for annexation, which ultimately led to the Mexican War in 1846. The passionate debate focused on slavery and reached a crescendo with the introduction of the Wilmot Proviso in 1846, which proposed to ban slavery from Texas. The debate over the Wilmot Proviso for the right of each state and territory to determine whether slavery should be allowed within its borders foreshadowed the war between the North and South. The Northerners wanted the territories populated with white, non-slave labor because they believed that slavery took jobs away from white workers and, to a lesser extent, because slavery violated the noble egalitarian principles upon which the nation was founded. The Southerners argued that the issue of slavery was a matter of states’ rights which should be left to the settlers of the new states or territories, and should not be determined by an intrusive federal government – simply put, citizens should be allowed to manage their own affairs.[xx] Both sides believed they were defending the legacy of the Revolution and each viewed the other as subversive.
The end of the Mexican War in 1848 brought the United States vast new territories including much of what is now California, Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado, which raised the stakes in the debate over whether the new territories should be free from slavery and heightened tensions between the North and South. When the gold rush of 1849 accelerated the migration west and California sought admittance to the Union in 1849 as a free state, the crisis worsened as the Southern states threatened to withdraw from the Union altogether. In addition to allowing slavery in the territories, the South wanted Congress to pass stronger fugitive slave laws.
Stephen A. Douglas, with the help of Daniel Webster, brought the North and South together with the Compromise of 1850, which provided for (I) the admission of California as a free state; (ii) the organization of New Mexico and Utah territories without mention of slavery, which would allow the citizens of those territories to decide the issue for themselves; (iii) the prohibition of the slave trade (although not slavery itself) in the District of Columbia; (iv) a much more strict fugitive slave law; and (v) the settlement of Texas boundary claims.[xxi]
Although many thought the Compromise of 1850 was a final solution to the issue of slavery in the territories, the debate resurfaced only a couple years later when Congress tried to organize a new western territory. The Whig and Democratic parties became so bitterly divided over the issue that it led to the founding of the Republican Party on July 6, 1854.[xxii] On January 4, 1854, after four attempts to organize the territory had been defeated, the Kansas-Nebraska Act was introduced by Stephen A. Douglas, chairman of the Senate Committee on Territories. The Act allowed the question of slavery to be decided by the territorial settlers under the principle of popular sovereignty, which Douglas had introduced four years earlier during the debate on the Compromise of 1850. The Act also provided for the creation of two territories, Kansas and Nebraska. Both the South and the North found the measure acceptable because they each thought one territory would be slave and the other free. As Jay Monaghan explains, Douglas “concocted the measure to end political turmoil over slavery, making him the leader of a reunited Democratic Party and, perhaps, President of the United States. His bill’s panacea was simple: Quit discriminating against slaveholding pioneers; open all territories to settlers from both North and South, and let them decide by vote whether to exclude or countenance slavery. What could be fairer than that?”[xxiii] Both sides agreed and the Kansas-Nebraska Act was signed into law on May 30, 1854.[xxiv]
Once again, all hopes that the Kansas-Nebraska Act would be a long-term solution to the territorial slavery issue evaporated shortly after it became law. Both the slavery and free soil groups tried to gain control of Kansas by various means including paying citizens to relocate there, stuffing ballot boxes, having unqualified people cast votes and, ultimately, through violence, intimidation and murder, which helped cause the territory to become known as “bleeding” Kansas and serve as a dress rehearsal for civil war.
In 1857, the United States Supreme Court rendered its decision in the Dred Scott case and held that neither slaves nor free blacks were citizens of the United States and, therefore, could not bring suit in federal court. The Court went on to hold that slaves were property and, therefore, no state could deprive a slave owner of his property without due process of law.[xxv] In defense of the Court’s now infamous ruling, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney wrote:
“[The Negroes] had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations; and so far inferior, that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the Negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit. He was bought and sold, and treated as an ordinary article of merchandise and traffic, whenever a profit could be made by it. This opinion was at that time fixed and universal in the civilized portion of the white race. It was regarded as an axiom in morals as well as in politics, which no one thought of disputing, or supposed to be open to dispute; and men in every grade and position in society daily and habitually acted upon it in their private pursuits, as well as in matters of public concern, without doubting for a moment the correctness of this opinion.
And in no nation was this opinion more firmly fixed or more uniformly acted upon than by the English Government and English people. They not only seized them on the coast of Africa, and sold them or held them in slavery for their own use; but they took them as ordinary articles of merchandise to every country where they could make a profit on them, and were far more extensively engaged in this commerce than any other nation in the world.
The opinion thus entertained and acted upon in England was naturally impressed upon the colonies they founded on this side of the Atlantic. And, accordingly, a Negro of the African race was regarded by them as an article of property, and held, and bought and sold as such, in every one of the thirteen colonies which united in the Declaration of Independence, and afterwards formed the Constitution of the United States. The slaves were more or less numerous in the different colonies, as slave labor was found more or less profitable. But no one seems to have doubted the correctness of the prevailing opinion of the time. The legislation of the different colonies furnishes positive and indisputable proof of this fact.”[xxvi]
The Supreme Court held that Congress did not have the authority to restrict slavery in the territories, which made further compromise on slavery difficult if not impossible. If the constitutional property rights of slave owners had to be respected by every state in the Union, then slavery had to either be universally accepted or abolished. The Supreme Court’s decision moved the nation yet closer to civil war.[xxvii]
The Abolitionist Movement
Although there was some opposition to slavery from the very inception of the United States, the emancipation movement did not really begin until 1817 with the formation of the American Colonization Society, which had a distinguished membership that included James Monroe, James Madison, John Marshall, Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, Francis Scott Key, and John Randolph.[xxviii] The Colonization Society was primarily interested in removing the black population from the United States and, in furtherance of that goal, proposed relocating freed slaves to Africa.[xxix] This was a plan originally proposed by Thomas Jefferson and later adopted by Lincoln.[xxx] The Colonization Society acquired land in West Africa in 1821 and shipped the first freed slaves there a year later to prove the feasibility of the plan. In 1847, these settlers declared their independence and established the Republic of Liberia.[xxxi]
A few abolitionist organizations were established beginning in 1831, the most notable being the American Anti-Slave Society. But for the most part these were fringe groups with very little popular support.[xxxii] Between 1851 and 1852, Harriet Beecher Stowe published Uncle Tom’s Cabin serially in National Era magazine and then in book form in 1852.[xxxiii] The book was an astonishing success, selling over 300,000 copies in its first year, and helped to raise awareness of the tragic plight of the slaves, stimulating an already heated debate on the evils of slavery.
Partly because of the work of abolitionists like Harriet Beecher Stowe, Henry David Thoreau, and Ralph Waldo Emerson, there is a popular misconception that blacks were treated better in the northern states than the southern states.[xxxiv] In fact, blacks faced widespread racial discrimination, segregation and hostility everywhere.[xxxv] There were many who opposed slavery and simultaneously despised and hated all blacks.[xxxvi] Leon Litwack described the situation in the free states at the time:
“In virtually every phase of existence, Negroes found themselves systematically separated from whites. They were either excluded from railway cars, omnibuses, stagecoaches, and steamboats or assigned to special ‘Jim Crow sections; they sat, when permitted, in secluded and remote corners of theaters and lecture halls; they could not enter most hotels, restaurants, and resorts, except as servants; they prayed in ‘Negro pews’ in the white churches, and if partaking of the Lord’s Supper, they waited until the whites had been served the bread and wine. Moreover, they were often educated in segregated schools, punished in segregated prisons, nursed in segregated hospitals, and buried in segregated cemeteries. Thus, one observer concluded, racial prejudice ‘haunts its victim wherever he goes, – in the hospitals where humanity suffers, – in the churches where it kneels to God, – in the prisons where it expatiates its offenses, – in the graveyards where it sleeps the last sleep.’
To most northerners, segregation constituted not a departure from democratic principles, as certain foreign critics alleged, but simply the working out of natural laws, the inevitable consequence of the racial inferiority of the Negro. God and Nature had condemned the blacks to perpetual subordination. Within the context of ante bellum northern thought and ‘science,’ this was not an absurd or hypocritical position. Integration, it was believed, would result in a disastrous mixing of the races. ‘We were taught by our mothers,’ a New York congressman explained, ‘to avoid all communications with them’ so that ‘the theorists and utopians never would be able to bring about an amalgamation.’”[xxxvii]
Numerous northern states passed laws that discriminated against blacks long before the Civil War. The only northern states where blacks were permitted to vote were Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine but only 6% of the “free” blacks in the North lived in those states so 94% of the free blacks in the North were denied the right to vote at the start of the Civil War.[xxxviii] “Free states” like Illinois, Indiana and Oregon amended their state constitutions to “prohibit the emigration of blacks into the state.[xxxix] These amendments were approved by public referenda with a margin of more than two to one in Illinois, almost three to one in Indiana, and eight to one in Oregon.”[xl] The federal government prohibited blacks from voting in the territories before the Civil War.
Indiana not only prohibited blacks from coming into the state, it fined any white person who even encouraged a Negro to come into the state. Indiana laws provided that: (I) any contract signed by a Negro was void as a matter of law; (ii) no Negro or mulatto who was one-eighth part Negro could marry a white person and any person encouraging interracial marriage was subject to a fine of $1,000; (iii) no Negro or mulatto could testify in court against a white person; (iv) no Negro or mulatto could hold any public office; and (v) Negroes and mulattos could not send their children to public schools.[xli] Similar laws existed in several other Northern states prior to the Civil War including Illinois, Iowa, Ohio, Oregon, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Connecticut.[xlii]
The deep and pervasive prejudice against blacks in the Northern states is reflected in a myriad of newspaper editorials published just prior to the Civil War. The Philadelphia Daily News wrote, “It is neither for the good of the colored race nor of our own that they should continue to dwell among us to any considerable extent. The two races can never exist in conjunction except as superior and inferior.”[xliii] The Niles, Michigan Republican wrote, “this government was made for the benefit of the white race . . . and not for the Negroes.”[xliv] The Daily Chicago Times wrote, “send [the slave] back to his master where he belongs.”[xlv] The Providence Daily Post wrote, “We have no more right to meddle with slavery in Georgia, than we have to mettle with monarchy in Europe.”[xlvi] The Concord (New Hampshire) Democrat Standard wrote, “The proposition that the Negro is equal by nature, physically and mentally, to the white man, seems to be so absurd and preposterous, that we cannot conceive how it can be entertained by any intelligent and rational white man.”[xlvii] And the Boston Daily Courier wrote, “we believe the mulatto to be inferior in capacity, character, and organization to the full-blooded black, and still farther below the standard of the white races.”[xlviii]
During the first half of the nineteenth century, had a politician of either party expressed support for the abolition of slavery, he would have alienated the entire South; had any politician supported abolition without simultaneously proposing colonization, he would have alienated most of the North; and any politician that supported Negro equality or interracial marriage would have been defeated in nearly every political district in the United States. With respect to national politics, ten of the first twelve presidents of the United States owned slaves. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, John Tyler, James Polk, and Zachary Taylor all owned slaves while they were president.[xlix] Martin Van Buren and William Henry Harrison owned slaves prior to being elected president.[l] Only John Adams and his son, John Quincy Adams, did not own any slaves.[li] It is this social and political setting that Lincoln, the politician, formulated and expressed his views on slavery and Negroes.
II. Lincoln’s Views on Slavery
In 1848, Illinois, Lincoln’s home state, in clause-by-clause voting approved by voters by more than 2 to 1, amended its Constitution to read: “The General Assembly shall, at its first session under the amended constitution, pass such laws as will effectually prohibit free persons of color from immigrating to and settling in this state; and to effectually prevent the owners of slaves from bringing them into this state for the purpose of setting them free.” This provision led to the Illinois Black Code of 1853, which extended a complete prohibition against black immigration into the state.[lii] The law applied to every person “who shall have one-fourth Negro blood.” The penalty imposed against black immigrants who remained in Illinois for more than 10 days was a fine of $100 or more. If the blacks were unable to pay the fine, they were sold into indentured servitude at public auction. This allowed Illinois to practice slavery upon free blacks who entered the state without officially being a slave state, and because the servitude was as a “penalty” for breaking the law, Illinois was able to circumvent the Northwest Ordinance’s prohibition against slavery.[liii]
Lincoln had little personal exposure to slavery because the strong racial prejudice that existed in his home state throughout his political career kept most blacks out of the state. On the other hand, Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd, came from a prominent slave-holding family in Kentucky, although she was well known for treating her slaves well and for being philosophically opposed to slavery.[liv] Lincoln’s views on slavery and his attitude toward Negroes can be distinguished., although they are often lumped together and misunderstood. Garry Wills has stated, “Lincoln was accused during his lifetime of clever evasions and key silences. He was especially indirect and hard to interpret on the subject of slavery.”[lv] But most historians would disagree. Lincoln was consistently opposed to slavery since his earliest days.[lvi] The confusion arises because Lincoln was not an abolitionist. He stated on numerous occasions that he believed the Constitution protected slavery and, therefore, could only be abolished by an amendment to the Constitution.[lvii]
Lincoln believed slavery was wrong for, at the very least, two reasons: “one should not own human beings and one should not be in the position of king over human beings.”[lviii] Lincoln tried to explain his position without offending his often highly racist audiences by arguing that they could either believe in the Declaration of Independence or slavery, but not both.[lix] Garry Wills cites the following two examples.[lx] In a debate with Stephen Douglas in 1858, Lincoln argued:
I, as well as Judge Douglas, am in favor of the race to which I belong, having the [socially] superior position. I have never said anything to the contrary, but I hold that notwithstanding all this, there is no reason in the world why the negro is not entitled to all the natural rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence, the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. [Loud cheers.] I hold that he is as much entitled to these as the white man.”[lxi]
And in a speech given in Illinois in 1857, Lincoln stated:
“I think the authors of that notable instrument [the Declaration] intended to include all men, but they did not intend to declare all men equal in all respects. They did not mean to say all were equal in color, size, intellect, moral developments, or social capacity. They defined with tolerable distinctness, in what respects they did consider all men created equal – equal in ‘certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’ This they said, and this they meant.”[lxii]
According to Wills, “Americans at the time were reverent toward (prejudiced in favor of) the Declaration of Independence; yet many of them were also prejudiced in favor of slavery. Lincoln kept arguing, in ingenious ways, that they must, in consistency, give up one or the other prejudice. The two cannot exist in the same mind once their mutual enmity is recognized.”[lxiii]
One of the reasons Lincoln has been accused of being inconsistent on the slavery issue is because he divided the issue into three jurisdictional categories: (1) Northern states where slavery was prohibited; (2) Northern and Southern states where slavery was protected by the Constitution; and (3) territories and states newly admitted to the United States where the status of slavery had not yet been determined. Lincoln had a different position on slavery for each of these jurisdictional distinctions, but his overall attitude toward slavery is reflected in a speech given on March 6, 1860, in New Haven, where he explained his view on slavery by analogy:
“To me it seems that if we were to form a government anew, in view of the actual presence of Slavery we should find it necessary to frame just such a government as our fathers did; giving to the slaveholder the entire control where the system was established, while we possessed the power to restrain it from going outside those limits. [Applause.] From the necessities of the case we should be compelled to form just such a government as our blessed fathers gave us; and, surely, if they have so made it, that adds another reason why we should let Slavery alone where it exists.
If I saw a venomous snake crawling in the road, any man would say I might seize the nearest stick and kill it; but if I found that snake in bed with my children, that would be another question. [Laughter.] I might hurt the children more than the snake, and it might bite them. [Applause.] Much more, if I found it in bed with my neighbor’s children, and I had bound myself by a solemn compact not to meddle with his children under any circumstances, it would become me to let that particular mode of getting rid of the gentleman alone. [Great laughter.] But if there was a bed newly made up, to which the children were to be taken, and it was proposed to take a batch of young snakes and put them there with them, I take it no man would say there was any question how I ought to decide! [Prolonged applause and cheers.]
That is just the case! The new Territories are the newly made bed to which our children are to go, and it lies with the nation to say whether they shall have snakes mixed up with them or not. It does not seem as if there could be much hesitation what our policy should be!” [Applause.][lxiv]
Wills explains that, “Lincoln was very careful in framing these parallels . . . . He does not speak of Southerners as belonging to different states, but as ‘neighbors’ with whom one has a solemn agreement. Nor does he palliate the evil of slavery – it is a snake no matter where one finds it, and it endangers the Southerners’ children.”[lxv]
Slavery in the Northern States
With respect to the Northern states where slavery was prohibited, the principal controversy that raged at the time involved runaway slaves – whether the free states were legally and morally required to return the runaways to their lawful owners. Lincoln supported the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which provided that the federal government would use its resources to return runaway slaves, which helped maintain slavery in the South. Lincoln has been criticized for his support of the Fugitive Slave Act because, as Thomas DiLorenzo claims, “If it weren’t for the Fugitive Slave Law, many more thousands of slaves would have escaped through the underground railroad, quickening the institution’s demise.”[lxvi]
In 1859, while campaigning for president, Lincoln wrote Salmon P. Chase and, in response to Chase’s opinion that the Fugitive Slave Laws were unconstitutional, stated his opinion to the contrary and urged Chase not to raise the issue at the Republican National convention:
“Although I think congress has constitutional authority to enact a Fugitive Slave law, I have never elaborated an opinion upon the subject. My view has been, and is, simply this: The U.S. constitution says the fugitive slave ‘shall be delivered up’ but it does not expressly say who shall deliver him up. Whatever the constitution says ‘shall be done’ and has omitted saying who shall do it, the government established by that constitution, ex vi termini, is vested with the power of doing; and congress is, by the constitution, expressly empowered to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution all powers vested by the constitution in the government of the United States. This would be my view, on a simple reading of the constitution; and it is greatly strengthened by the historical fact that the constitution was adopted, in great part, in order to get a government which could execute it’s own behests, in contradistinction to that under the Articles of confederation, which depended, in many respects, upon the States, for its’ execution; and the other fact that one of the earliest congresses, under the constitution, did enact a Fugitive Slave law.
But I did not write you on this subject, with any view of discussing the constitutional question. My only object was to impress you with what I believe is true, that the introduction of a proposition for repeal of the Fugitive Slave law, into the next Republican National convention, will explode the convention and the party. Having turned your attention to the point, I wish to do no more.[lxvii]
In 1861, in Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address, as president he promised to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act:
“There is much controversy about the delivering up of fugitives from service or labor. The clause I now read is as plainly written in the Constitution as any other of its provisions:
‘No person held to service or labor in one State, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due.’
It is scarcely questioned that this provision was intended by those who made it, for the reclaiming of what we call fugitive slaves; and the intention of the law-giver is the law. All members of Congress swear their support to the whole Constitution—to this provision as much as to any other. To the proposition, then, that slaves whose cases come within the terms of this clause, ‘shall be delivered up,’ their oaths are unanimous. Now, if they would make the effort in good temper, could they not, with nearly equal unanimity, frame and pass a law, by means of which to keep good that unanimous oath?
There is some difference of opinion whether this clause should be enforced by national or by state authority; but surely that difference is not a very material one. If the slave is to be surrendered, it can be of but little consequence to him, or to others, by which authority it is done. And should any one, in any case, be content that his oath shall go unkept, on a merely unsubstantial controversy as to how it shall be kept?
Again, in any law upon this subject, ought not all the safeguards of liberty known in civilized and humane jurisprudence to be introduced, so that a free man be not, in any case, surrendered as a slave? And might it not be well, at the same time, to provide by law for the enforcement of that clause in the Constitution which guaranties that ‘The citizens of each State shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States?’
I take the official oath today, with no mental reservations, and with no purpose to construe the Constitution or laws, by any hypercritical rules. And while I do not choose now to specify particular acts of Congress as proper to be enforced, I do suggest, that it will be much safer for all, both in official and private stations, to conform to, and abide by, all those acts which stand unrepealed, than to violate any of them, trusting to find impunity in having them held to be unconstitutional.”[lxviii]
True to his word, as President, Lincoln did, in fact, take pains to see that the Fugitive Slave Act was enforced. It was not until he issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, that the Fugitive Slave Act ceased being enforced but, even then, only with respect to those areas of those Southern states in rebellion. Lincoln continued to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act for those states not in rebellion such as Missouri, Maryland, Kentucky and Delaware, and certain portions of Louisiana and Virginia.[lxix]
Several historians have convincingly argued that Lincoln had no choice but to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act. By May 1861, only two months after Lincoln was sworn in as President, eleven slaveholding states had seceded from the Union. Four slave states on the border – Missouri, Maryland, Kentucky and Delaware – had not yet seceded but there were strong pro-Confederate factions in all but Delaware.[lxx] Maryland was almost evenly split and Missouri went through “a miniature civil war” over the issue.[lxxi] Further, nearly half of the voters in the North were Democrats, “who supported a war for the Union but might oppose a war against slavery.”[lxxii] Allen Guelzo describes Lincoln’s predicament:
“Kentucky, with the largest slave population in the Border, decided to ‘take no part in the civil war, now being waged, except as mediators and friends to the belligerent’ and on May 20 proclaimed a ‘position of strict neutrality.’ One sharp jolt, one careless word, one idiot in newly made shoulder straps practicing ‘a little of the abolition system,’ and the whole Border might fall into Confederate hands, and that would be the end of it all, for Lincoln, the North, and the slaves. The Border states held the wheat, corn, meat and manufacturing that the cotton-bloated South lacked; they accounted for more than a third of the white population of the South; and they controlled the great inland rivers – the Ohio, the Mississippi, the Potomac – that were the highways of the American economy. Missouri, in fact, shared a lengthy river boundary with western Illinois that reached as far north as Iowa, and Maryland’s three boundaries with the District of Columbia meant that the moment secessionists gained control of the state house in Annapolis, Washington itself would be encircled by rebels. ‘I think to lose Kentucky is nearly the same as to lose the whole game, Lincoln wrote. ‘Kentucky gone, we can not hold Missouri, nor, as I think, Maryland. These all against us, and the job on our hands is too large for us. We would as well consent to separation at once, including the surrender of this capitol.’”[lxxiii]
Lincoln believed that he had to appease the Border states by enforcing the Fugitive Slave Act.[lxxiv] Any other course of action would have caused the Border states to join the Confederacy which would have altered the course and possibly the outcome of the Civil War.
Northern and Southern States Where Slavery Was Protected by the Constitution
With respect to Northern and Southern states where slavery was protected by the Constitution, Lincoln’s position was clear and consistent. In his famous Cooper Union speech on February 27, 1860, Lincoln expressed his agreement with the Founding Fathers that slavery is “an evil not be extended, but to be tolerated and protected only because of and so far as its actual presence among us makes that toleration and protection a necessity. Let all the guaranties those fathers gave it, be, not grudgingly, but fully and fairly maintained” where it already exists. “This is all Republicans ask – all Republicans desire – in relation to slavery.”[lxxv] In his First Inaugural Address he reiterated his position: “I do but quote from one of those speeches when I declare 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.’”[lxxvi]
To those critics that have claimed Lincoln wanted to preserve slavery, McPherson writes: “It was not that Lincoln wanted to preserve slavery. On the contrary, he said many times: ‘I am naturally anti-slavery. If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong.’ But as president, he could not act officially on his private ‘judgment [concerning] the moral question of slavery.’ He was bound by the Constitution, which protected the institution of slavery in the states.”[lxxvii] So rather than violate the Constitution and eviscerate the very foundation of the nation, Lincoln worked rigorously and skillfully to win congressional ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment, which clearly and unequivocally abolished slavery in the United States.
Territories and States Newly Admitted to the United States
With respect to territories and states newly admitted to the United States where the status of slavery had not yet been determined, Lincoln opposed any further extension of slavery into the new territories and hoped that, over time, slavery would die a natural death.[lxxviii] In a speech at Bloomington, Illinois, on September 26, 1854, Lincoln denounced the idea of popular sovereignty with respect to slavery for the federal territories:
“The principle that men or States have the right of regulating their own affairs, is morally right and politically wise. Individuals held the sacred right to regulate their own family affairs; communities might arrange their own internal matter to suit themselves; States might make their own statutes, subject only to the Constitution of the whole country; – no one disagreed with this doctrine. It had, however, no application to the question at present at issue namely, whether slavery, a moral, social and political evil, should or should not exist in territory owned by the Government, over which the Government had control, and which looked to the Government for protection – unless it be true that a negro is not a man; if not, then it is no business of ours whether or not he is enslaved upon soil which belongs to us, any more than it is our business to trouble ourselves about the oyster-trade, cranberry-trade, or any other legitimate traffic carried on by the people in territory owned by the Government. If we admit that a negro is not a man, then it is right for the Government to own him and trade in the race, and it is right to allow the South to take their peculiar institution with them and plant it upon the virgin soil of Kansas and Nebraska. If the negro is not a man, it is consistent to apply the sacred right of popular sovereignty to the question as to whether the people of the territories shall or shall not have slavery; but if the negro, upon soil where slavery is not legalized by law and sanctioned by custom, is a man, then there is not even the shadow of popular sovereignty in allowing the first settlers upon such soil to decide whether it shall be right in all future time to hold men in bondage there.”[lxxix]
DiLorenzo argues that Lincoln’s primary concern in opposing the expansion of slavery into the federal territories was not for the well-being of blacks but rather that it would “artificially inflate the congressional power of the Democratic Party. The three-fifths clause of the Constitution allowed five slaves to account for three persons for purposes of determining the number of congressional seats in each state . . . [which] Lincoln believed was ‘manifestly unfair’ to the Northern states.”[lxxx] In support, DiLorenzo cites Lincoln’s speech at Peoria, Illinois, on October 16, 1854, where he stated:
“[With respect to] control of the government – the management of the partnership affairs – [the Southern states] have greatly the advantage of us. By the constitution, each State has two Senators – each has a number of Representatives; in proportion to the number of its people – and each has a number of presidential electors, equal to the whole number of its Senators and Representatives together. But in ascertaining the number of the people, for this purpose, five slaves are counted as being equal to three whites. The slaves do not vote; they are only counted and so used, as to swell the influence of the white people’s votes. The practical effect of this is more aptly shown by a comparison of the States of South Carolina and Maine. South Carolina has six representatives, and so has Maine; South Carolina has eight presidential electors, and so has Maine. This is precise equality so far; and, of course they are equal in Senators, each having two. Thus in the control of the government, the two States are equals precisely. But how are they in the number of their white people? Maine has 581,813 – while South Carolina has 274,567. Maine has twice as many as South Carolina, and 32,679 over. Thus each white man in South Carolina is more than the double of any man in Maine. This is all because South Carolina, besides her free people, has 384,984 slaves. The South Carolinian has precisely the same advantage over the white man in every other free State, as well as in Maine. He is more than the double of any one of us in this crowd. The same advantage, but not to the same extent, is held by all the citizens of the slave States, over those of the free; and it is an absolute truth, without an exception, that there is no voter in any slave State, but who has more legal power in the government, than any voter in any free State. There is no instance of exact equality; and the disadvantage is against us the whole chapter through. This principle, in the aggregate, gives the slave States, in the present Congress, twenty additional representatives – being seven more than the whole majority by which they passed the Nebraska bill. Now all this is manifestly unfair.”[lxxxi]
DiLorenzo also argues that the other principal reason Lincoln opposed the expansion of slavery into the federal territories was so that they would “become a whites-only preserve.”[lxxxii] In support, DiLorenzo again cites Lincoln’s speech at Peoria, where he stated:
“Whether slavery shall go into Nebraska, or other new territories, is not a matter of exclusive concern for the people who may go there. The whole nation is interested that the best use shall be made of these territories. We want them for the homes of free white people. This they cannot be, to any considerable extent, if slavery shall be planted within them. Slave States are places for poor white people to remove FROM; not to remove TO. New free States are the places for poor people to go to and better their condition. For this use, the nation needs these territories.”[lxxxiii]
Although one of the early reasons Lincoln opposed the expansion of slavery into the territories is that “it threatened to limit opportunity for free white labor,”[lxxxiv] by 1860, when he delivered his Coopers Union speech, he had developed a far more sophisticated argument that was the product of careful research – “more than he had ever undertaken to write a political address” – and was based on the views of the Founding Fathers.[lxxxv] In his Coopers Union speech, Lincoln cites George Washington eight times, Thomas Jefferson twice, and Alexander Hamilton and Benjamin Franklin once each.[lxxxvi] Meticulously detailing the voting history of the Founding Fathers on the subject of prohibiting slavery in the federal territories, Lincoln showed that twenty-three of the thirty-nine Founding Fathers “left an irrefutable record of their conviction that slavery should be prohibited in the territories.”[lxxxvii] Although Lincoln’s reasons for opposing the expansion of slavery into the new federal territories may be questioned, there is no basis to deny that Lincoln steadfastly opposed the expansion of slavery throughout his political career.
Perhaps, the most succinct statement about Lincoln’s views of slavery is one of his own, which he expressed on several occasions, “You think slavery is right and ought to be extended; we think it is wrong and ought to be restricted.”[lxxxviii] Several historians have expressed their view that Lincoln did not fight the Civil War to end slavery, while others believe Lincoln fought it almost exclusively for that purpose.[lxxxix] Perhaps, the most insightful and accurate answer can be found in the words of Alexander Stephens, the vice president of the newly formed Confederacy, in his famous “Cornerstone” speech which he delivered in Savannah, Georgia on March 21, 1861, where he explained why the new Confederate government was formed.
Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition. [Applause.] This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. This truth has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science. It has been so even amongst us. Many who hear me, perhaps, can recollect well, that this truth was not generally admitted, even within their day. . . . With us, all of the white race, however high or low, rich or poor, are equal in the eye of the law. Not so with the negro. Subordination is his place. He, by nature, or by the curse against Canaan, is fitted for that condition which he occupies in our system.[xc]
So, even if Lincoln did not intend to fight a Civil War to abolish slavery, the war was clearly fought by the South to preserve slavery. Perhaps, historians, such as DiLorenzo, are correct when they argue that slavery was on the way out in the United States and that it would have ended in any case under the “sheer historical inexorability of commercial change, industrialization, [and] the impossibility of maintaining a slave system in a fully capitalistic economy.”[xci] But as a commentator recently noted, “nothing in history is less inexorable than the inexorable forces of history.”[xcii] He then reminds us of the scene from Stanley Kubrick’s “Spartacus,” where, after the crucifixion of Spartacus and his followers, the audience is told that Spartacus’ revolt signaled the beginning of the end of slavery – “with only an aside to remind us that it would take another two thousand years.”[xciii] We can only ponder how many more generations it would have taken for slavery to be abolished in the United States if Lincoln had not been willing to prosecute “the war through to unconditional surrender and to stick with emancipation come what may.”[xciv]
There are few subjects that have brought Lincoln more lavish praise and more bitter criticism than the issue of emancipation of the slaves. In biographies and textbooks, Lincoln is often referred to as the Great Emancipator and given credit for freeing the slaves in America through his Emancipation Proclamation. At the same time, Lincoln is sometimes excoriated for refusing to free slaves that fell under his jurisdiction and for not freeing slaves in the Northern states. But Lincoln’s position on emancipation was subordinated to his main priority to preserve the Union at all costs. As he explained to Horace Greeley shortly before he issued the Emancipation Proclamation:
“If there be those who would not save the Union, unless they could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them. If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them. My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union. I shall do less whenever I shall believe what I am doing hurts the cause, and I shall do more whenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause.”[xcv]
Lincoln was even willing to make slavery a permanent institution in the United States if it would avoid civil war, which he made clear in his First Inaugural Address. Referring to the Crittenden Amendment, which would have made slavery forever protected where it already existed, Lincoln expressed his support: “I understand a proposed amendment to the Constitution – which amendment, however, I have not seen, has passed Congress, to the effect that the federal government, shall never interfere with the domestic institutions of the States, including that of persons held to service. To avoid misconstruction of what I have said, I depart from my purpose not to speak of particular amendments, so far as to say that, holding such a provision to now be implied constitutional law, I have no objection to its being made express, and irrevocable.”[xcvi]
In addition, Lincoln believed he was constrained by the Constitution, which protected slavery in the Southern states. During his last debate with Stephen A. Douglas, Lincoln acknowledged that the federal government did not have the power to abolish slavery in the Southern states: “The legal right of the Southern people to reclaim their fugitives I have constantly admitted. The legal right of Congress to interfere with their institution in the states, I have constantly denied.”[xcvii]
At Coopers Union, after stating that any emancipation should be gradual and carried out in conjunction with a program of scheduled deportation, he went on to quote Thomas Jefferson:
“Mr. Jefferson did not mean to say, nor do I, that the power of emancipation is in the Federal Government. He spoke of Virginia; and, as to the power of emancipation, I speak of the slaveholding States only. The Federal Government, however, as we insist, has the power of restraining the extension of the institution – the power to insure that a slave insurrection shall never occur on any American soil which is now free from slavery.”[xcviii]
Even in 1864, after he had issued the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln maintained that Congress did not have the power to abolish slavery in the Southern states: “[I do not] see how any of us now can deny and contradict all we have always said, that Congress has no constitutional power over slavery in the states.”[xcix] In fact, Lincoln vetoed two attempts by Congress to free the slaves pursuant to Confiscation Acts, which treated the slaves as contraband and, therefore, subject to confiscation as enemy property, because he believed they were unconstitutional.[c] And when two Union generals proclaimed martial law and declared the slaves of all Confederate sympathizers to be free, Lincoln promptly revoked both military edicts and relieved one general of his command.[ci]
So, if Lincoln was so concerned about violating the Constitution, why did he do in the summer of 1862 essentially what his generals had done a short time before? Allan Guelzo argues that the “answer can be summed up in one word: time. It seems clear to me that Lincoln recognized by July 1862 that he could not wait for the legislative option – and not because he had patiently waited to discern public opinion and found the North readier than the [Border] state legislatures to move ahead. If anything, Northern public opinion remained loudly and frantically hostile to the prospect of emancipation.”[cii] Lincoln had spent more than a year trying to get the Border states “to cooperate with the mildest legislative emancipation policy he could devise” but they had refused his every overture.[ciii]
Lincoln was clearly caught between two opposing forces – the intellectual abolitionists who partly controlled Congress and the border states that were ready to rebel if he yielded to the abolitionist demands for executive emancipation.[civ] In addition to the Border states, shortly after the Civil War began, Ohio became the headquarters for the Copperhead movement, northern Democrats who opposed the war.[cv] Ohio and other states were greatly “concerned about rumors that the war was being fought to end slavery [because] they feared an exodus of former slaves into the state.”[cvi] Irish-Americans and German-Americans throughout the Midwest were vigorously opposed to emancipation because they believed they would lose their jobs to free Negroes.[cvii] In July, 1862, riots broke out in several Midwestern cities.
Despite the fires of rebellion burning around him in the Northern states, the threats of secession by the Border states, and the disappointing course of the war itself, Lincoln proceeded to issue his preliminary proclamation of emancipation on September 22, 1862. The preliminary proclamation provided for the renewal of the plan of compensated emancipation, voluntary colonization, military emancipation of all slaves in rebellious states on January 1, 1863, and compensation to loyal slave owners.[cviii] The reaction was swift. Newspapers throughout the Midwest and some in the Northeast denounced the preliminary proclamation as “a gigantic usurpation,” “fanatical,” “a blunder . . . fraught with evil,” and “another advance in the Robespierrian highway of tyranny and anarchy.”[cix] Although they maintained a majority in Congress, the October and November elections brought defeats to the Republicans in Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Lincoln’s home state of Illinois.[cx]
Undaunted by election defeats and calls for impeachment, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863.[cxi] One eminent historian declared that the Emancipation Proclamation “had all the moral grandeur of a bill of lading,”[cxii] while others have called it “the most revolutionary document in the country’s history since the Declaration of Independence.”[cxiii] There is validity to both descriptions. The proclamation’s language is dry and technical and appears to be crafted by Lincoln the lawyer, rather than Lincoln the statesman, but as Allen Guelzo has explained, Lincoln wanted to make it as politically inoffensive as possible because he knew that the majority of Northerners opposed emancipation.[cxiv] Lincoln admitted his concern that the people were not quite ready for it, and that he “must take care that [it] does not shipwreck the Country.”[cxv] Despite his fears, Lincoln’s proclamation “went further than anything Congress had done.”[cxvi] The Second Confiscation Act exempted loyal slave owners in the rebellious states, but Lincoln’s proclamation freed all slaves in those states, those of secessionists as well as loyalists.
Lincoln justified his Emancipation Proclamation “by citing his military powers as commander in chief in time of war to seize enemy property.”[cxvii] Lincoln also argued that sometimes a president must sacrifice a limited property right (slavery) in order to fulfill a greater constitutional duty to “preserve the nation’s life.”[cxviii] Some historians have argued that Lincoln’s invocation that the military needs of the nation justified the proclamation was merely “legal fiction” to conceal his genuine ideological commitment to freedom for all people.[cxix]
To criticism that Lincoln was not genuinely committed to emancipation, but rather issued the proclamation in a reluctant response to liberal criticism, Garry Wills notes that, in addition to the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln was so deeply committed to abolish slavery that he engaged in several secret and overt measures, including the following:
1. In 1861, Lincoln secretly helped draft emancipation plans for Delaware.
2. In March of 1862, he submitted to Congress his plan for gradual manumission, after working on it ‘all by himself, no conference with his cabinet.’ He told Wendell Phillips this message was meant to lead to slavery’s death, as a ‘drop of the crathur’ [creature] leads an Irishman back to drunkenness.
3. In July of 1862, he submitted a bill for compensating states that would emancipate their slaves.
4. In December, his annual message encouraged Congress to draft an amendment to accomplish that end.
5. Early in 1863, he collaborated with those trying to bring Louisiana back into the Union on the basis of emancipation.
6. As part of the Louisiana effort, he issued his Amnesty and Reconstruction Proclamation.
7. Meanwhile, he collaborated with General Frederick Steele to bring Arkansas back by way of emancipation. (These efforts made it harder to strike any deals for reunion without emancipation, in case Lincoln had not been re-elected in 1864.)
8. When Congress stalled its consideration of what became the Thirteenth Amendment to receive a Southern commission, Lincoln indulged in one of his ‘economies’ with the truth, telling Congress that no such commission was coming to Washington. (It was coming to Fortress Monroe, just outside the District.)[cxx]
Once Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation, he knew it could never be revoked “any more than the dead can be brought to life.”[cxxi] The platform upon which he ran for reelection called for “unconditional surrender” of the Confederacy and a constitutional amendment to abolish slavery. As James McPherson notes, “Lincoln never deviated from these terms.”[cxxii] Guelzo concludes that even if the proclamation was not Lincoln’s most eloquent writing, “it was unquestionably the most epochal,” and that although Lincoln was not “the most perfect friend black Americans have ever had,” the proclamation and his role in gaining congressional approval of the Thirteenth Amendment make him “the most significant.”[cxxiii]
III. Lincoln’s Attitude Toward Negroes
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines racism as: a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race; or racial prejudice or discrimination.[cxxiv] By that definition, or any other, Lincoln was a racist.[cxxv] Of course, at the time, as discussed earlier, nearly everyone in America was a racist. Because he believed that whites were fundamentally superior to blacks, Lincoln was opposed to Negroes serving on juries, holding public office, or voting. Lincoln also gave his support to an Illinois law that forbade marriage between whites and blacks.[cxxvi] One of Lincoln’s most representative public statements on the question of racial relations was given in a speech at Springfield, Illinois, on June 26, 1857, where he explained why he opposed the Kansas-Nebraska Act:
“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 . . .”[cxxvii]
Many people accepted the rumors spread by Douglas supporters that Lincoln favored social equality of the races. Before the start of the September 18, 1858 debate at Charleston, Illinois, an elderly man approached Lincoln in a hotel and asked him if the stories were true. Recalling his conversation before the crowd of 15,000 gathered for the debate, Lincoln stated:
“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, [applause] – 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 for ever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race. I say upon this occasion I do not perceive that because the white man is to have the superior position the negro should be denied everything.”[cxxviii]
Only a month later, Lincoln reiterated his position:
“‘Now, gentlemen, I don’t want to read at any great length, but this is the true complexion of all I have ever said in regard to the institution of slavery or the black race, and this is the whole of it; and anything that argues me into his idea of perfect social and political equality with the negro is but a specious and fantastical arrangement of words by which a man can prove a horse-chestnut to be a chestnut horse. I will say here, while upon this subject, that I have no purpose directly or indirectly to interfere with the institution in the States where it exists. I believe I have no right to do so. I have no inclination to do so. I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and black races. There is a physical difference between the two, which, in my judgment, will probably forever forbid their living together on 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.’ [Cheers, ‘That’s the doctrine.’] “I have never said anything to the contrary, but I hold that, notwithstanding all this, there is no reason in the world why the negro is not entitled to all the rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence – the right of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I hold that he is as much entitled to these as the white man. I agree with Judge Douglas that he is not my equal in many respects, certainly not in color – perhaps not in intellectual and moral endowments; but in the right to eat the bread without leave of anybody else which his own hand earns, he is my equal and the equal of Judge Douglas, and the equal of every other man.” [Loud cheers.][cxxix]
Some of Lincoln’s harshest criticism comes from his use of the word “nigger” which is used as additional evidence of his racism. It is true that at least one of Lincoln’s speeches is replete with the word “nigger.”[cxxx] But if the term “nigger’ was commonly used by all of Lincoln’s constituents, so much so that few in the audience or the media found it offensive, should Lincoln be criticized for using it because it became offensive some one hundred years later? Can one imagine the reaction today if a presidential candidate used the word “nigger” or some other socially unacceptable term? It would almost surely doom the candidate’s chance for election. The fact that the word was freely used by presidential candidates in 1860 demonstrates clearly that, at the time, “nigger” was nothing more than a commonly accepted word to describe a Negro.
Lincoln believed that racial separation, “must be effected by colonization [of the country’s blacks to a foreign land]. . . . The enterprise is a difficult one, but ‘where there is a will there is a way,’ and what colonization needs most is a hearty will. Will springs from the two elements of moral sense and self-interest. Let us be brought to believe it is morally right, 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.”[cxxxi] This was a theme that Lincoln would pursue almost to the end of his life.
In a speech delivered in Peoria, Illinois, on October 16, 1854, Lincoln stated:
“If all earthly power were given me, I should not know what to do, as to the existing institution [of slavery]. My first impulse would be to free all the slaves, and send them to Liberia, – to their own native land. But a moment’s reflection would convince me, that whatever of high hope, (as I think there is) there may be in this, in the long run, its sudden execution is impossible. If they were all landed there in a day, they would all perish in the next ten days; and there are not surplus shipping and surplus money enough in the world to carry them there in many times ten days. What then? Free them all, and keep them among us as underlings? Is it quite certain that this betters their condition? I think I would not hold one in slavery, at any rate; yet the point is not clear enough for me to denounce people upon. What next? Free them, and make them politically and socially, our equals? My own feelings will not admit of this; and if mine would, we well know that those of the great mass of white people will not. Whether this feeling accords with justice and sound judgment, is not the sole question, if indeed, it is any part of it. A universal feeling, whether well or ill-founded, can not be safely disregarded.”[cxxxii]
Four years later, in 1858, Lincoln repeated verbatim what he said in Peoria in his first debate with Stephen A. Douglas.[cxxxiii] True to his word, when he became president, Lincoln proposed and supported plan after plan to deport and colonize African Americans. Robert Gold has described Lincoln’s persistent and rather remarkable efforts to colonize them in Equador between 1861 and 1864.[cxxxiv] Paul Scheips has written of Lincoln’s efforts to colonize blacks in Panama.[cxxxv] Lincoln also supported colonization to Haiti and Liberia.
Lincoln’s support for deporting the entire Negro population has been the subject of harsh criticism and even equated with ethnic cleansing. But it can also be understood as a necessary stepping stone to emancipation. Proposing to free the slaves without addressing the deep concerns of the Northerners who feared that the freed slaves would flock to the North would only have delayed even further the emancipation of the slaves. G. S. Boritt has argued that Lincoln knew the colonization plan was unworkable but supported it as a necessary part of his long term plan to rid the United States of slavery. “One cannot escape the feeling that by 1862, even as the colonization fever was cresting, Lincoln began to allow himself a glimpse of the fact that the idea of large scale immigration was not . . . realistic.” For Lincoln, the idea served a purpose; it helped to allay his own uncertainties, and more importantly the fears of the vast majority of whites.”[cxxxvi]
So how should history judge Abraham Lincoln? He was clearly a racist like most of his fellow American citizens at the time but, in the words of Frederick Douglass, the escaped slave who became the leading black abolitionist of the period, Lincoln was “the first American president who . . . rose above the prejudice of his times.”[cxxxvii] On the other hand, Douglass also said, “In his interest, in his association, in his habits of thought, and in his prejudices, [Lincoln] was a white man. He was preeminently the white man’s President, entirely devoted to the welfare of the white man. He was ready and willing at any time during the first years of his administration to deny, postpone, and sacrifice the rights of humanity in the colored people, to promote the welfare of the white people of this country.”[cxxxviii]
Although the late Lerone Bennett, Jr. might not have treated Lincoln fairly in his articles and books over the years, he was right when he wrote, “Lincoln is a key, perhaps the key, to the American personality. . . . What we invest in him, and hide in him, is who we are.”[cxxxix] If we idealize Lincoln as the saintly emancipator who saved the United States, or if we demonize him as a racist who was opposed to emancipation, we diminish ourselves because both views are shallow and can hardly be supported as a fair judgment. It is only if we face the truth and see Lincoln with his blemishes, and his beauty, that we honor him and ourselves. It can serve no valid cause to exaggerate his flaws to diminish his stature, and we need not lie about Lincoln to make him great. An honest and fair assessment is what Lincoln deserves. It is also what this and future generations deserve.
In the final analysis, Lincoln was a racist by the standards of any generation. That is also true for nearly every American living in the nineteenth century. But that fact does not necessarily warrant a harsh judgment of Lincoln by today’s historians, or by future generations. Should we also issue a harsh judgment of the Founding Fathers for being sexist in denying women the right to vote? Is it not more appropriate to simply recognize that sexist attitudes were the prevailing norm in American society at that time and judge the Founding Fathers accordingly? In spite of Lincoln’s sincere belief that Negroes were inferior in nearly every respect, he spent a lifetime denouncing slavery and trying to limit it to the narrowest confines of the Constitution.
It is true that Lincoln spent much of his presidency trying to remove all Negroes from the United States because he believed they could never live in harmony with white Americans. Some, like Lerone Bennett, have considered Lincoln’s colonization plan a form of “ethnic cleansing,” but it is hardly fair to apply such a term to Lincoln when it carries today the image of wholesale murder and the extermination of a race. Lincoln’s colonization plan was merely a means to an end – the elimination of slavery. I doubt even Lincoln’s harshest critics believe that he would have worked so diligently on such a plan if he thought slavery could have been peacefully abolished without removing the Negroes from the United States.
Although it is true that Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation did not initially free a single slave, it was certainly a major stepping stone to the Thirteenth Amendment and the elimination of slavery (although not blatant racial discrimination – that would take more than another one hundred years). Was the elimination of slavery worth the cost of a civil war? I suppose that depends on whether one was black or white. Could it have been accomplished by other less costly means? Perhaps.
In the end, we return to our starting point – was Lincoln an emancipator or a racist? He was both but, simply because he was both does not mean both labels deserve equal weight on the scales of historical justice. His racism was of little consequence, but his efforts to eviscerate one of the most repugnant institutions ever devised – slavery – was of monumental importance. Lincoln deserves his place among the great men in history but, like all great men, he had human frailties, which shall always serve as inspiration for others to seek to diminish the magnitude and significance of his accomplishments. Perhaps, it is useful to be reminded that, in his last public address, Lincoln stated that, “I would myself prefer that [the right to vote] were now conferred on the very intelligent [Negroes], and on those who serve our cause as soldiers.”[cxl] “Standing in the crowd listening to the President that evening of April 11, 1865, was John Wilkes Booth. When he heard those words, Booth turned to a companion and snarled, ‘That means nigger citizenship. Now, by God, I’ll put him through. That is the last speech he will ever make.’”[cxli] As Professor James McPherson has suggested, “It is not far-fetched to state that Lincoln gave his life for the cause of black voting rights.”[cxlii]
Perhaps, the real judgment of history was made long ago in April 1865, when the first Union troops marched into Richmond, Virginia, the burning capital of the Confederacy. The troops were African Americans from the 29th Connecticut. “Double, quick march,” ordered the Colonel in charge, and the men “charged through the main street to the capitol and halted in the square. . . .” “A day later Lincoln came, too, holding the future and his twelve-year-old son Tad by the hand. Like the troops before, the president was greeted by a joyous crowd of black people. ‘Glory to God! Glory! Glory! Glory!’ At one point an old man with tears in his eyes stopped before the president, raised his hat, bowed, and called for God to bless him. In reply, an eyewitness reported, Lincoln ‘removed his own hat and bowed in silence.’”[cxliii] I doubt history will paint any better picture to render its judgment than that of a sitting president bowing before an elderly black man.
[i]. Michael H. Hart, The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History (Secaucus, N.J.: Carol Publishing, 1998).
[ii]. Ibid, 519.
[iii]. Ibid, 519-20.
[iv]. World Book Encyclopedia (Chicago: World Book, 1989), Vol. 12, p. 310.
[v]. David Herbert Donald, Lincoln (New York: Simon & Shuster, 1995), p. 13.
[vi]. Ibid, 14.
[vii]. Thomas J. DiLorenzo, The Real Lincoln (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2003).
[viii]. Lerone Bennett, Jr., Forced Into Glory: Abraham Lincoln’s White Dream (Chicago: Johnson Publishing Company, 2000). For a positive review of Bennett’s book, see Robed Stacy McCain, “Ebony Editor Calls Lincoln ‘Racist’ in a New, and Controversial Study,” Insight on the News,Vol. 16, No. 25 (July 3, 2000), 26. However, as Professor Holloway points out, “Bennett . . . is not a professional academic. While his works are carefully, if selectively, researched, they are not intended for college seminars and graduate courses. Instead, Bennett writes for a much broader public.” Jonathan Scott Holloway, “Reexamining the Racial Record of Abraham Lincoln,” The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, No. 29 (2000), p. 126.
[ix]. Although it is not clear how many books have been written about Abraham Lincoln, estimates range from 7,000 to 16,000. Winik, Jay and Dinesh D’Souza. “Revising Mr. Lincoln: A New Debate Bursts Out – Jay Winik and Dinesh D’Souza Assess It.” The American Enterprise, Vol. 14, No. 2 (March 2003): 26+; The Real Lincoln, p. 1.
[x]. The Real Lincoln, pp. 280-305. DiLorenzo spends twenty-five pages in an afterward detailing and answering the criticism directed at him and his work by numerous scholars.
[xi]. In August 1619, English settlers at Jamestown, Virginia, purchased the first twenty black slaves from Dutch traders. However, these were certainly not the first slaves to be brought to the “New World,” or what would become the United States. By 1619, more than one million slaves had been brought by the Spanish and Portugese to their Caribbean and South American colonies. George Brown Tindall and David E. Shi, America: A Narrative History (New York: W.W. Norton, 2004), pp. 31, 68-72.
[xii]. Third Census of the United States, 1810.
[xiii]. Article I, Section 9, of the Constitution states, in relevant part, “The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the year 1808, but a Tax or duty may be imposed on such Importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each Person.” Fifth Census of the United States, 1830.
[xiv]. The total population of the Southern states of the Confederacy was 9 million, four million of whom were slaves. America: A Narrative History, p. 521; Eighth Census of the United States, 1860. Reference to the “Southern states” throughout this paper refers to the eleven states of the Confederacy consisting of the original seven states – Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas – and the four states that subsequently joined – Virginia, North Carolina, Arkansas, and Tennessee. Reference to “Slave states” refers to the Southern states as well as Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, the Indian territory (Oklahoma), and the District of Columbia. (The Nebraska, Kansas, Utah, and New Mexico territories were all open to slavery.)
[xv]. Calhoun argued that tariffs would make it too costly for Americans to purchase European goods, which would cause the European manufacturers to purchase less raw materials such as cotton from the South. Margaret L. Coit, John C. Calhoun, American Portrait (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1950) pp. 160-191.
[xvi]. Manisha Sinha, “Revolution or Counterrevolution?: The Political Ideology of Secession in Antebellum South Carolina,” Civil War History, Vol. 46, Issue 3, 2000, p. 205.
[xvii]. Ibid. During the first half of the nineteenth century, the South was mostly a rural and agricultural society, heavily dependent upon free slave labor.
[xviii]. “Declarations of Causes of Seceding States – South Carolina,” written by C. G. Memminger, adopted December 24, 1860, reprinted in J.A. May & J.R. Faunt, South Carolina Secedes (Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 1960), pp. 76-81.
[xix]. For an excellent study on the subject see, Kenneth S. Greenberg, ed., Nat Turner: A Slave Rebellion in History and Memory (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003); also see Professor Brundage’s review – W. Fitzhugh Brundage, “Nat Turner: A Slave Rebellion in History and Memory,” Journal of Southern History, Vol. 70, Issue 2, 2004, p. 424+.
[xx]. For an excellent discussion of the impact that western expansion had on the debate over slavery and the events that led to the Civil War, see Michael A. Morrison, Slavery and the American West: The Eclipse of Manifest Destiny and the Coming of the Civil War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997).
[xxi]. Edwin C. Rozwenc, ed., The Compromise of 1850 (Boston: Heath, 1957). For a different perspective, see Mark J. Stegmaier, Texas, New Mexico, and the Compromise of 1850: Boundary Dispute & Sectional Crisis (Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1996). Most historians believe that the central issues in the Compromise of 1850 involved California statehood, the status of slavery in the territories, and the fugitive slave law. However, Stegmaier stresses the role of the Texas-New Mexico boundary dispute was important but “vastly underrated” he presents an account of the 1850 crisis from the vantage point of the Texas-New Mexico boundary dispute.
[xxii]. Andrew Wallace Crandall, The Early History of the Republican Party (Boston: Richard G. Badger, 1930); James D. Bilotta, Race and the Rise of the Republican Party, 1848-1865 (New York: P. Lang, 1992) (“Beginning with the formation of the Liberty Party in 1839 and . . . with that amorphous mass known as the Free Soil movement in the 1840′s, and its outgrowth, the Free Soil Party in 1848 and the Republican Party in 1854, the antislavery cause achieved political significance.”), p. xi; Richard Cavendish, “The Republican Party Founded: July 6th, 1854,” History Today, Vol. 54, Issue 7, July 2004, p. 54. Abraham Lincoln left the Whig Party and joined the Republican Party in 1856. For an excellent history of the Whig Party, see Michael F. Holt, The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party: Jacksonian Politics and the Onset of the Civil War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999).
[xxiii]. Jay Monaghan, Civil War on the Western Border: 1854-1865 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1984) p. 3.
[xxiv]. Michael Taylor describes the dilemma President Franklin Pierce faced: “When the bill was passed in both houses of congress, Pierce found himself in a political corner: to sign the bill meant estrangement from the North, while a veto meant the possible secession of the South. The quandary left to the President was to side with the faction that could do him the most political damage. Pierce signed the Kansas-Nebraska Act into law at his desk in the Executive Office on 30 May 1854.” Michael J.C. Taylor, “Governing the Devil in Hell: Bleeding Kansas and the Destruction of the Franklin Pierce Presidency,” White House Studies, Vol. 1, Issue 2, 2001, p. 185+.
[xxv]. Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. 393 (1856).
[xxvi]. Ibid, 407-08.
[xxvii]. Gabor S. Boritt, ed., Why the Civil War Came (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996); Bruce Collins, The Origins of America’s Civil War (New York: Holmes & Meier, 1981).
[xxviii]. For an excellent history of the colonization movement, see P. J. Staudenraus, The African Colonization Movement, 1816-1865 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1961).
[xxix]. Ibid, viii.
[xxx]. Paul Leicester Ford, ed., The Works of Thomas Jefferson, 12 Vols. ( New York: Knickerbocker Press 1905), Vol. IX, pp. 315-319, 373-375. It appears that Jefferson’s comments on the subject were first published in 1785 in his Notes on the State of Virginia. Life and Selected Works of Thomas Jefferson (New York: Modern Library, 1944), p. 255. Jefferson’s support for forced deportation of blacks is explored by Nathaniel Weyl and William Marina in American Statesmen on Slavery and the Negro (New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House, 1971), pp. 71-100.
[xxxi]. James C. Young, Liberia Rediscovered (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Doran & Company, 1934), p. 6. Although, these actions caused the establishment of the oldest independent black nation in Africa, by 1860, only about 15,000 blacks had migrated from the United States to Liberia, which represented less than 5% of the free blacks in the United States in 1860. America: A Narrative History, p. 521; Eighth Census of the United States, 1860.
[xxxii]. The most notable leaders were William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass, a runaway slave, who vigorously (and bravely) advocated emancipation for all blacks. For excellent biographies of each, see William S. McFeely, Frederick Douglass (New York: W. W. Norton, 1991); and Ralph Korngold, Two Friends of Man: The Story of William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips and Their Relationship with Abraham Lincoln (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1950).
[xxxiii]. Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin (New York: Penguin Books, 1991). The fictional character Uncle Tom is based on the life of Josiah Henson, an escaped slave who fled to Canada with his wife and children in the 1830′s. Henson’s autobiography was published in 1876, Uncle Tom’s Story of His Life. An Autobiography of the Rev. Josiah Henson (Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom”) From 1789 to 1876, with a Preface by Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe, and an Introductory Note by George Sturge, and S. Morley, Esq., M. P. (London: Christian Age Office, 1876).
[xxxiv]. Emerson wrote: “I think we must get rid of slavery or we must get rid of freedom . . . . If you put a chain around the neck of a slave, the other end fastens itself around your own.” Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essays, First Series, 1841. In July 1846, Henry David Thoreau, an avid abolitionist, spent a day in jail for refusing to pay a poll tax because a portion of it was to be used to fund the Mexican War, which Thoreau opposed because he thought it would lead to more slave states. As a result of his experience, he wrote Civil Disobedience in 1848, which was published in 1849 under the title “Resistance to Civil Government”by the Concord educator and activist Elizabeth Palmer Peabody in the first (and only) issue of her journal, Aesthetic Papers. It was not published again until after Thoreau’s death, when it was re-titled “On the Duty of Civil Disobedience.”
[xxxv]. During his 1830′s visit to the United States, Alexis de Tocqueville described the discriminatory practices in the Northern states: “It is true that in the North of the Union marriages may be legally contracted between Negroes and whites; but public opinion would stigmatize as infamous a man who should connect himself with a Negress, and it would be difficult to cite a single instance of such a union. The electoral franchise has been conferred upon the Negroes in almost all the states in which slavery has been abolished, but if they come forward to vote, their lives are in danger. If oppressed, they may bring an action at law, but they will find none but whites among their judges; and although they may legally serve as jurors, prejudice repels them from that office. The same schools do not receive the children of the black and of the European. In the theaters gold cannot procure a seat for the servile race beside their former masters; in the hospitals they lie apart; and although they are allowed to invoke the same God as the whites, it must be at a different altar and in their own churches, with their own clergy. The gates of heaven are not closed against them, but their inferiority is continued to the very confines of the other world. When the Negro dies, his bones are cast aside, and the distinction of condition prevails even in the equality of death. Thus the Negro is free, but he can share neither the rights, nor the pleasures, nor the labor, nor the afflictions, nor the tomb of him whose equal he has been declared to be; and he cannot meet him upon fair terms in life or in death.” (Democracy in America, Book I, Chapter 18, 1841).
[xxxvi]. The Real Lincoln, p. 25.
[xxxvii]. Leon F. Litwack, North of Slavery: The Negro in the Free States (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1961), p. 97.
[xxxviii]. The Real Lincoln, p. 28.
[xxxix]. For example, the Oregon Territory adopted the “Lash Law,” which denied property rights to blacks and ordered all free blacks to immediately vacate the territory. Those who did not were whipped publicly for as long as they remained. Article 6 of the 1857 Constitution for the newly formed state of Oregon contained harsh prohibitions against blacks: “No free Negro or mulatto not residing in the state at the time of the adoption of the Constitution shall come, reside, or be within the State, or hold any real estate or make any contracts in the State. No negro, Chinaman, or mulatto shall have the right of suffrage.”
[xli]. Ibid, 26-27. Article 13 of Indiana’s 1851 Constitution stated that, “No Negro or Mulatto shall come into, or settle in, the State, after the adoption of this Constitution” and ordered the legislature to appropriate funds for the colonization of free blacks abroad.
[xlii]. Ibid, 26-29.
[xliii]. Philadelphia Daily News, November 22, 1860, quoted in The Real Lincoln at p. 30 (citing Howard Cecil Perkins, Northern Editorials on Secession (Gloucester, MA: Peter Smith, 1964), p. 425).
[xliv]. Republican, March 30, 1861, quoted in The Real Lincoln at p. 30 (citing Northern Editorials on Secession, p. 499).
[xlv]. Daily Chicago Times, December 7, 1860, quoted in The Real Lincoln at p. 30 (citing Northern Editorials on Secession, p. 431).
[xlvi]. Providence Daily Post, February 2, 1861, quoted in The Real Lincoln at p. 31 (citing Northern Editorials on Secession, p. 441).
[xlvii]. Concord Democrat Standard, September 8, 1860, quoted in The Real Lincoln at p. 31 (citing Northern Editorials on Secession, p. 469).
[xlviii]. Boston Daily Courier, September 24, 1860, quoted in The Real Lincoln at p. 31 (citing Northern Editorials on Secession, p. 472).
[xlix]. For George Washington, see James Thomas Flexner, George Washington: Anguish and Farewell (Boston: Little, Brown,1969), p. 114; Fritz Hirschfield, George Washington and Slavery (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1997). For Thomas Jefferson, see John Bigelow, “Jefferson’s Financial Diary,” Harper’s. Vol. 70, No. 418, March 1885; John Chester Miller, The Wolf By The Ears (New York: Free Press, 1977); Thomas Jefferson Foundation,“Report of the Research Committee on Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings,” 2000. http://www.Monticello.org/plantation/hemings_report.html, downloaded 4/21/05. For James Madison, see Irving Brant, The Fourth President: A Life of James Madison (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1970); James Madison, The Papers of James Madison, William T. Hutchinson et al., ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1962-1977, vols. 1-10). For James Monroe, see James Monroe, The Writings of James Monroe (New York: Knickerbocker Press, 1903). For Andrew Jackson, see Andrew Jackson, Correspondence of Andrew Jackson (Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Institute of Washington, 1931); Marquis James, Andrew Jackson: Portrait of a President (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1937); Robert V. Remini, Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Empire, 1767-1821 (New York: Harper and Row, 1977); Robert V. Remini, Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Freedom, 1822-1832 (New York: Harper and Row, 1981); Robert V. Remini, Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Democracy, 1833-1845 (New York: Harper and Row, 1984); John Spencer Bassett, The Life of Andrew Jackson, 2 vols. (New York: Doubleday Books, 1911) . For John Tyler, see Lyon G. Tyler, The Letter and Times of the Tylers (Richmond: Whittet and Shepperson, 1884). For Zachary Taylor, see Holman Hamilton, Zachary Taylor: Soldier in the White House (Indianapolis: Bobbs Merrill, 1951).
[l]. Freeman Cleaves, Old Tippecanoe (Washington, NY: Kenninat Press, 1939); Dorothy Burne Goebel, William Henry Harrison: A Political Biography (Indianapolis: Historical Bureau of the Indiana Library and Historical Department, 1926); James A. Green, William Henry Harrison: His Life and Times (Richmond: Garrett and Massie, 1941); Donald B. Cole, Martin Van Buren and the American Political System (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984).
[li]. David McCullough, John Adams (New York: Simon & Shuster, 2001); Page Smith, John Adams (New York: Doubleday, 1962); John Quincy Adams, The Diary of John Quincy Adams (New York: Scribner’s Sons, 1951).
[lii]. Henry W. Farnam, Chapters in the History of Social Legislation in the United States to 1860 (Washington: Carnegie Institution, 1938), pp.219-20.
[liv]. Jean H. Baker, Mary Todd Lincoln: A Biography (New York: Norton, 1987), pp. 53-98.
[lv]. Garry Wills, Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America (New York: Simon & Shuster, 1992), p. 91. For an interesting critique of Wills’ book, see Rahe, Paul A. “Dishonest Abe?: Garry Wills on the Gettysburg Address.” Reviews in American History, Vol. 21, No. 2 (1993): 218-224.
[lvi]. Stephen B. Oates, With Malice Toward None: The Life of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Harper & Row, 1977), pp. 37-39.
[lvii]. From the formation of the United States until the Civil War, everyone recognized that it was pointless to propose an amendment to the Constitution abolishing slavery because it would require the approval of three-fourths of the states, whereas half the states were slave states.
[lviii]. Ibid, 99.
[lix]. Ibid, 100-101.
[lx]. Ibid, 100. Garry Wills abbreviated the two quotations. The complete quotations are contained in endnotes 54 and 55.
[lxi]. Abraham Lincoln, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume III, 1858-1860, Roy P. Basler, ed. (New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1953), p. 16, First Debate with Stephen A. Douglas at Ottawa, Illinois, August 21, 1858. The complete text of the section Wills cited follows: “Now gentlemen, I don’t want to read at any greater length, but this is the true complexion of all I have ever said in regard to the institution of slavery and the black race. This is the whole of it, and anything that argues me into his idea of perfect social and political equality with the negro, is but a specious and fantastic arrangement of words, by which a man can prove a horse chestnut to be a chestnut horse. [Laughter.] 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. I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and the black races. There is a 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. I have never said anything to the contrary, but I hold that notwithstanding all this, there is no reason in the world why the negro is not entitled to all the natural rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence, the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. [Loud cheers.] I hold that he is as much entitled to these as the white man. I agree with Judge Douglas he is not my equal in many respects – certainly not in color, perhaps not in moral or intellectual endowment. But in the right to eat the bread, without leave of anybody else, which his own hand earns, he is my equal and the equal of Judge Douglas, and the equal of every living man.”
[lxii]. Abraham Lincoln, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume II, 1848-1858, Roy P. Basler, ed. (New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1953), pp. 405-406, Speech at Springfield, Illinois, June 26, 1857. The complete text of the section Wills cited follows: “There is a natural disgust in the minds of nearly all white people, to the idea of an indiscriminate amalgamation of the white and black races; and Judge Douglas evidently is basing his chief hope, upon the chances of being able to appropriate the benefit of this disgust to himself. If he can, by much drumming and repeating, fasten the odium of that idea upon his adversaries, he thinks he can struggle through the storm. He therefore clings to this hope, as a drowning man to the last plank. He makes an occasion for lugging it in from the opposition to the Dred Scott decision. He finds the Republicans insisting that the Declaration of Independence includes ALL men, black as well as white; and forth-with he boldly denies that it includes negroes at all, and proceeds to argue gravely that all who contend it does, do so only because they want to vote, and eat, and sleep, and marry with negroes! He will have it that they cannot be consistent else. Now I protest against that counterfeit logic which concludes that, because I do not want a black woman for a slave I must necessarily want her for a wife. I need not have her for either, I can just leave her alone. In some respects she certainly is not my equal; but in her natural right to eat the bread she earns with her own hands without asking leave of any one else, she is my equal, and the equal of all others.
Chief Justice Taney, in his opinion in the Dred Scott case, admits that the language of the Declaration is broad enough to include the whole human family, but he and Judge Douglas argue that the authors of that instrument did not intend to include negroes, by the fact that they did not at once, actually place them on an equality with the whites. Now this grave argument comes to just nothing at all, by the other fact, that they did not at once, or ever afterwards, actually place all white people on an equality with one or another. And this is the staple argument of both the Chief Justice and the Senator, for doing this obvious violence to the plain unmistakable language of the Declaration. I think the authors of that notable instrument intended to include all men, but they did not intend to declare all men equal in all respects. They did not mean to say all were equal in color, size, intellect, moral developments, or social capacity. They defined with tolerable distinctness, in what respects they did consider all men created equal – equal in ‘certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’ This they said, and this they meant. They did not mean to assert the obvious untruth, that all were then actually enjoying that equality, nor yet, that they were about to confer it immediately upon them. In fact they had no power to confer such a boon. They meant simply to declare the right, so that the enforcement of it might follow as fast as circumstances should permit. They meant to set up a standard maxim for free society, which should be familiar to all, and revered by all; constantly looked to, constantly labored for, and even though never perfectly attained, constantly approximated, and thereby constantly spreading and deepening its influence, and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people of all colors everywhere. The assertion that ‘all men are created equal’ was of no practical use in effecting our separation from Great Britain; and it was placed in the Declaration, nor for that, but for future use. Its authors meant it to be, thank God, it is now proving itself, a stumbling block to those who in after times might seek to turn a free people back into the hateful paths of despotism. They knew the proneness of prosperity to breed tyrants, and they meant when such should reappear in this fair land and commence their vocation they should find left for them at least one hard nut to crack.”
[lxiii]. Wills, p. 100.
[lxiv]. Abraham Lincoln, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume IV, 1860-1861, Roy P. Basler, ed. (New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1953), pp. 17-18, Speech at New Haven, Connecticut, March 6, 1860.
[lxv]. Wills, p. 138.
[lxvi]. The Real Lincoln, at 51.
[lxvii]. The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume III, 1858-1860, p.386.
[lxviii]. The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume IV, 1860-1861, pp. 263-64, March 4, 1861.
[lxix]. Allen C. Guelzo, Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America (New York: Simon & Shuster, 2004), pp. 33, 294. For an interesting review of Professor Guelzo’s book, see Ronald C. White, Jr., “Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America.” The Christian Century, Vol. 121, No. 21 (October 19, 2004): 58+. For a scholarly and insightful review, see James M. McPherson, “Top Gun.” The Nation, Vol. 278, No. 23 (June 14, 2004), p. 36.
[lxx]. James M. McPherson, Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), p. 31.
[lxxi]. Ibid, 34.
[lxxii]. Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution, p. 31.
[lxxiii]. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America, p. 34.
[lxxiv]. Lincoln supposedly said that he would like to have God on his side, but he must have Kentucky. Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution, p. 31.
[lxxv]. Harold Holzer, Lincoln at Cooper Union (New York: Simon & Shuster, 2004), p. 267 (text of Lincoln’s address)(emphasis in original). Many historians consider Lincoln’s speech at Cooper Union his finest pre-White House speech. Holzer provides quotes from a collection of commentators at 226-228.
[lxxvi]. Ibid, 263.
[lxxvii]. Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution at 30-31 (citing The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Vol. V, p. 49; Vol. VII, p. 281.
[lxxviii]. Lincoln at Cooper Union, p. 9.
[lxxix]. The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume II, 1848-1858, p. 239.
[lxxx]. The Real Lincoln, p. 23.
[lxxxi]. Ibid, 23-24, citing Abraham Lincoln: His Speeches and Writings, ed. Roy P. Basler (New York: Da Capo Press, 1990), p. 307.
[lxxxii]. The Real Lincoln, p. 22.
[lxxxiii]. Ibid, 21-22, citing Abraham Lincoln: His Speeches and Writings, ed. Roy P. Basler, p. 306.
[lxxxiv]. Lincoln at Cooper Union, p. 30.
[lxxxv]. Ibid, 50.
[lxxxvi]. Ibid, 121.
[lxxxvii]. Ibid, 127.
[lxxxviii]. The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume IV, p. 152.
[lxxxix]. Charles Adams has argued that the cause of the Civil War had virtually nothing to do with slavery. Charles Adams, When in the Course of Human Events: Arguing the Case for Southern Secession (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2000).
[xc]. Henry Cleveland, Alexander H. Stephens, in Public and Private: With Letters and Speeches, Before During, and Since the War (Philadelphia: National Publishing Company, 1866), pp. 717-729 (reprint of a newspaper article in the Savannah Republican). Stephens made a similar speech on April 23, 1861 to the Virginia Secession Convention. George H. Reese, ed., Proceedings of the Virginia State Convention of 1861, February 13 – May 1, 4 vols. (Richmond: Virginia State Library, 1865), Vol. 4, pp. 361-390.
[xci]. The Real Lincoln, pp. 33-53. The quotation is from Adam Gopnik, “John Brown’s Body,” The New Yorker, April 25, 2005, p. 95.
[xcii]. Gopnik, p. 95.
[xciv]. Stephen B. Oates, Our Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln, John Brown, and the Civil War Era (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1979), p. 82.
[xcv]. The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume V, pp. 388-89.
[xcvi]. The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume IV, 1860-1861, pp. 270.
[xcvii]. The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume III, 1858-1860, p.334.
[xcviii]. Lincoln at Cooper Union, at 273-74.
[xcix]. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America, p. 23.
[c]. Ibid, 6.
[ci]. Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution at 82. General John C. Fremont, commander of the Union forces in Missouri, was relieved of his command and his proclamation of September 1861, rescinded. General David Hunter issued his proclamation in the spring of 1862 for South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. Although Lincoln rescinded the proclamation, he did not relieve General Hunter out of concern for the public backlash that might follow.
[cii]. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America, p. 6.
[ciii]. Ibid, 7.
[civ]. Lorraine A. Williams, “Northern Intellectual Reaction to the Policy of Emancipation.” The Journal of Negro History, Vol. 46, No. 3, 1961, p. 179.
[cv]. Sherman W. Jackson, “Emancipation, Negrophobia and Civil War Politics in Ohio, 1863-1865,” The Journal of Negro History, Vol. 65, No. 3, 1980, p. 250.
[cvii]. Frank L. Klement, “Midwestern Opposition to Lincoln’s Emancipation Policy.” The Journal of Negro History, Vol. 49, No. 3, 1964, pp. 170171.
[cviii]. Harry S. Blackiston, “Lincoln’s Emancipation Plan,” The Journal of Negro History, Vol. 7, No. 3, July 1922, p. 276.
[cix]. Louisville Journal, September 25, 1862; Chatfield Democrat, September 27, 1862; Indianapolis State Sentinel, September 24, 1862; (Canton, Ohio) Stark County Democrat, September 24, 1862.
[cx]. Blackiston, pp. 178-79.
[cxi]. Klement, p. 180.
[cxii]. Richard Hofstadter, The American Political Tradition and the Men Who Made It (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1957), p. 132.
[cxiii]. Winik, Jay and Dinesh D’Souza, “Revising Mr. Lincoln: A New Debate Bursts Out – Jay Winik and Dinesh D’Souza Assess It.” Stephen Oates called the Emancipation Proclamation, “the most revolutionary measure ever to come from an American president up to that time.” Our Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln, John Brown, and the Civil War Era, pp. 77-78, 80.
[cxiv]. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America, pp. 2-12.
[cxv]. Isaac Arnold, The History of Abraham Lincoln and the Overthrow of Slavery (Detroit: Negro History Press, 1970), p. 301.
[cxvi]. Our Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln, John Brown, and the Civil War Era, pp. 77-80.
[cxvii]. Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution at 107.
[cxix]. Herman Belz, Emancipation and Equal Rights: Politics and Constitutionalism in the Civil War Era (New York: Norton, 1978), pp. 44-45. Stephen Oates also makes a similar argument in Our Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln, John Brown, and the Civil War Era, pp. 77-80.
[cxx]. Ibid, note 32, at p. 287 (citing Lawanda C. Fenlason Cox, Lincoln and Black Freedom: A Study in Presidential Leadership (Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 1994). Of course, Lincoln also signed a law on June 19, 1862, that abolished slavery in all federal territories. John Hope Franklin and Alfred A. Moss, Jr., From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans (New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc, 1994), p. 277; With Malice Toward None: The Life of Abraham Lincoln, p. 299.
[cxxi]. The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume VI, p. 408.
[cxxii]. McPherson, “Top Gun.”
[cxxiii]. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America, p. 12.
[cxxiv]. Merriam-Webster Dictionary, (New York: Merriam Webster Publishing, 2004).
[cxxv]. Some historians have unconvincingly argued that Lincoln never “acknowledge[d] black inferiority; he merely concedes the possibility.” Dinesh D’Souza, “Lincoln: Tyrant, Hypocrite or Consummate Statesman?” American History Magazine, April 2005. This argument simply ignores the plain meaning of his speeches. Lincoln, like almost every white American at the time, believed that Negroes were an inferior race. But what separated Lincoln from most Americans is that he did not believe their inferiority was a proper basis for enslaving them or taking away their rights.
[cxxvi]. Benjamin Quarles, Lincoln and the Negro (New York: Da Capo Press, 1991), pp. 36-37; With Malice Toward None: The Life of Abraham Lincoln, p. 158.
[cxxvii]. The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume II, 1848-1858, pp. 405, 408.
[cxxviii]. The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume III, 1858-1860, pp. 145-46, Fourth Debate with Stephen A. Douglas at Charleston, Illinois, on September 18, 1858.
[cxxix]. Ibid, 249, Sixth Debate with Stephen A. Douglas at Quincy, Illinois, on October 13, 1858. Lincoln gave this same speech on several occasions both before and after the speeches cited here and in endnote 86. The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume III, 1858-1860, pp. 16, 401-02.
[cxxx]. Lincoln stated, in relevant part, “We suppose slavery is wrong, and that it endangers the perpetuity of the Union. Nothing else menaces it. Its effect on free labor makes it what Seward has been so roundly abused for calling, an irrepressible conflict. Almost every man has a sense of certain things being wrong, and at the same time, a sense of its pecuniary value. These conflict in the mind, and make a riddle of a man. If slavery is considered upon a property basis, public opinion must be forced to its support. The alternative is its settlement upon the basis of its being wrong. Some men think it is a question of neither right or wrong; that it is a question of dollars and cents, only; that the Almighty has drawn a line across the country, south of which the land is always to be cultivated by slave labor; when the question is between the white man and the nigger, they go in for the white man; when it is between the nigger and the crocodile, they take sides with the nigger. There is effort to make this feeling of indifference prevalent the country, and this is one of the things, perhaps, that prevents the sudden settlement of the question. Is it possible that a national policy can be sustained because nobody opposes or favors it? It may answer to serve the ends of politicians for a while, but it falls at last. There may be one way, however, to make it stand, and that is to make the opinion of the people conform to it; must be made to conclude that those who want slavery shall have it, and that it is simply a matter of dollars and cents. I do not believe a majority of the people of this nation can be made to take this view of it.
* * *
The proposition that there is a struggle between the white man and the negro contains a falsehood. There is no struggle between them. It assumes that unless the white man enslaves the negro, the negro will enslave the white man. In that case, I think I would go for enslaving the black man, in preference to being enslaved myself. As the learned Judge of a certain Court is said to have decided – ‘When a ship is wrecked at sea, and two men seize upon one plank which is capable of sustaining but one of them, either of them can rightfully push the other off!’’ There is, however, no such controversy here. They say that between the nigger and the crocodile they go for the nigger. The proportion, therefore, is, that as the crocodile to the nigger so is the nigger to the white man.” (emphasis added). The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume IV, pp. 4-5, Speech at Hartford, Connecticut on March 5, 1860.
[cxxxi]. Ibid, 409.
[cxxxii]. Ibid, 255-56.
[cxxxiii]. The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume III, 1858-1860, p. 15.
[cxxxiv]. Robert L. Gold, “Negro Colonization Schemes in Equador, 1861-1864,” Phylon, Vol. 30, No. 3, 1969, pp. 306-316.
[cxxxv]. Paul J. Scheips, “Lincoln and the Chiriqui Colonization Project,” The Journal of Negro History, Vol. 37, No. 4, October 1952, pp. 418-420.
[cxxxvi]. G. S. Boritt, “The Voyage to the Colony of Lincolnia: The Sixteenth President, Black Colonization, and the Defense Mechanism of Avoidance,” Historian, Vol. 37, 1975, pp. 620-629.
[cxxxvii]. The Lincoln Enigma, p. 18 (citing the speech delivered by Douglass at Cooper Union on June 1, 1865, Library of Congress, and National Anti-Slavery Standard, June 10, 1865).
[cxxxviii]. Frederick Douglass, “Oration Delivered on the Occasion of the Unveiling of the Freedman’s Monument in Memory of Abraham Lincoln,” in Washington, DC, April 14, 1876. Quoted in Nathaniel Weyl and William Marina, American Statesmen on Slavery and the Negro (New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House, 1971), p. 169; and in: Benjamin Quarles, ed., Frederick Douglass (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: 1968), p. 74.
[cxxxix]. Lerone Bennett, Jr., Forced Into Glory: Abraham Lincoln’s White Dream, quoted in Shenk, Joshua Wolf, “The Myth of Lincoln, Reconstructed.” The American Prospect, Vol. 12, No. 4 (February 26, 2001), p. 36.
[cxl]. The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume VIII, p. 403, Last Public Address on April 11, 1865.
[cxli]. McPherson, “Top Gun.”
[cxliii]. Ibid, 19 (citing Noah Andre Trudeau, Like Men of War: Black Troops in the Civil War, 1862-1865 (Boston: Little, Brown, 1998), pp. 754-755.
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