That Dirty, Rotten Racist...Abraham Lincoln

In Stalin's Russia, genetics and cybernetics were treated as the cat's paw of imperialism and officially branded as "whores."  But it was another branch of Soviet science, history, that was a far more deserving candidate to bear that not exactly honorific moniker.  Russian historians loyally served the regime, meeting its propaganda needs in full compliance with a thesis propounded by the titular head of the Soviet school of history, Mikhail Pokrovsky: "History is the present telescoped into the past."  Some American liberals have been faithfully following Pokrovsky's precept, reinventing the past in keeping with the progressive view of the world.

 

The Founding Fathers are being torn down by the progressives from their honorable place in the annals of America's history for one overriding reason: almost all of them were slave-owners.  Their entire service to the country, their sacrifices, the enormous risks they consciously took for the sake of freedom -- all of this, in the progressive view, pales into insignificance next to the Founding Fathers' deadly sin of racism.

 

Granted, they might have treated their slaves well, and some of them even set them free.  But what good was it, considering that they viewed blacks as inferior beings?  And even though their racist views were the only fare in the marketplace of ideas of the day shared by 100 percent of their contemporaries, the progressives refuse to recognize it as a mitigating circumstance.  The court of history appropriated by its present-day progressive avatars has passed its harsh verdict on the Founding Fathers: guilty!

 

If rational arguments are incapable of persuading the implacable foes of racism on the Founders, maybe they might succumb to their own twisted logic.  Why not use their racial yardstick on a hero from the progressive Pantheon -- say, the man who has gone down in history as the Great Emancipator?  Let's put Abraham Lincoln under the progressive microscope.

 

On September 22, 1862, President Lincoln published the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring that as of January 1, 1863, all slaves would be set free...in the 10 states of the Confederation which were "in rebellion against the United States."  The slaves in the states that, willingly or unwillingly, were not part of the Confederacy, such as Kentucky, Maryland, or Delaware, were to remain in chains.  The hypocrisy of the Emancipation Proclamation was so blatant that even Lincoln's loyal secretary of state, William Seward, sarcastically observed, "We show our sympathy with slavery by emancipating slaves where we cannot reach them and holding them in bondage where we can set them free."

 

Moreover, if, according to the progressive version of history, abolition of slavery was the cause of the Civil War, why didn't Lincoln free the slaves right off the bat?  Why did he wait for many months -- and do it only when the war took a bad turn for the Union, and, more important, when the superpowers of the day, Great Britain and France, were about to recognize the Confederacy and come to its aid?  Viewed realistically, abolition of slavery was by any measure a stratagem in pursuit of a purely pragmatic goal: to win over British and French public opinion and scare away the Confederacy's potential allies, whose assistance might have had a crucial effect on the outcome of the war.  It was a brilliant and highly successful tactical move.

 

As a matter of fact, the president never tried to hide his real objective.  He wrote: "I view the matter [Emancipation Proclamation] as a practical war measure, to be decided upon according to the advantages or disadvantages it may offer to the suppression of the rebellion."  And here is another confession of the Great Emancipator: "I will also concede that emancipation would help us in Europe, and convince them that we are incited by something more than ambition."  Lincoln had every reason to fret over the Europeans' suspicions of his intentions.  The Old World largely (ironically, with the exception of that bastion of reaction, Russia) sided with the Confederacy, which was viewed as a victim of a predatory North driven by greed.

 

At that time, the U.S. federal budget was fed exclusively by excise taxes and tariffs.  The only two items profitably exported by the United States were cotton and tobacco, cultivated almost entirely in the states of the Confederacy.  Meanwhile, the Southerners chafed under the punitive tariffs introduced by Washington to protect America's fledgling manufacturing industries, which were unable, without government support, to compete with the far more advanced European producers.  And so, to add insult to injury, while supporting the federal treasury, the Southerners were forced to buy domestic manufactured goods of inferior quality at exorbitant prices.

 

To let the South go would have meant serious financial troubles for the North.  That's the primary reason why Lincoln was obsessed with keeping the rebellious South within the Union.  He was quite candid about it.  In August 1862, he responded to Horace Greeley, the influential editor of the New York Tribune, who published an open letter to the president, calling on him to free the slaves in order to weaken the Confederacy.  In his letter, Lincoln stated in so many words that his main goal was to preserve the Union, and he was prepared to take any course of action with respect to slavery which would be conducive to achieving the sought-for outcome, whether freeing all, some or none of the slaves.

 

"I would save the Union. I would save it the shortest way under the Constitution," wrote Lincoln.  It is difficult to imagine a clearer statement of his priorities than this: "My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy slavery."  While in principle against slavery, Lincoln, smart politician that he was, never allowed his personal views to interfere with his political interests or idealism to triumph over expedience.  When two of his generals freed slaves in some Southern areas, the president reimposed slavery.

 

G.K. Chesterton with his customary wit described the dichotomy of Lincoln's views: "He loved to repeat that slavery was intolerable while he tolerated it, and to prove that something ought to be done while it was impossible to do it[.]"

 

OK, so Lincoln was an astute master politician and did whatever his political objectives demanded.  But what about his personal attitude toward the blacks?  Alas, he left no doubt as to his disdain for the slaves and his firm belief in the inferiority of the black race.  Here is his famous quote from a debate with Sen. Steven Douglas, from "The National Park Service website's "Lincoln Home Historical Site's Page," entitled "Fourth Debate Charleston Illinois":

 

I will say then that 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 forever 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.

 

Sounds pretty unambiguous to me.  And so it did to Lerone Bennett, Jr., executive editor of Ebony and author of several books on African-American history.  He scathingly criticized Lincoln in 1968 in an article he published in his magazine titled ''Was Abe Lincoln a White Supremacist?''  "His answer was a resounding Yes," ruefully writes The New York Times.

Lincoln believed blacks inferior to whites, Bennett insisted; he supported segregation in the North, told darky jokes, and used the N-word in public and private.  He reluctantly embraced Emancipation halfway through the Civil War only after Congress enacted it and slaves voted with their feet for freedom by escaping to Union lines, and he persisted to the end of his life in the belief that ''deportation'' of blacks was the best solution to the race problems that would follow.

 

To sum it up, Lincoln was an out-and-out racist.  Actually, as the flagship mouthpiece of the liberal left put it, quite correctly, he "did share the racial prejudices of his time and place."  But so did the Founding Fathers, didn't they?  And if liberals view them as bigoted miscreants and want to put them on trial for the crime of racism, Lincoln definitely merits a prominent place in the dock.  Otherwise, the accusers would be guilty of another grave sin in their own playbook: disparate treatment.

 

In Stalin's Russia, genetics and cybernetics were treated as the cat's paw of imperialism and officially branded as "whores."  But it was another branch of Soviet science, history, that was a far more deserving candidate to bear that not exactly honorific moniker.  Russian historians loyally served the regime, meeting its propaganda needs in full compliance with a thesis propounded by the titular head of the Soviet school of history, Mikhail Pokrovsky: "History is the present telescoped into the past."  Some American liberals have been faithfully following Pokrovsky's precept, reinventing the past in keeping with the progressive view of the world.

 

The Founding Fathers are being torn down by the progressives from their honorable place in the annals of America's history for one overriding reason: almost all of them were slave-owners.  Their entire service to the country, their sacrifices, the enormous risks they consciously took for the sake of freedom -- all of this, in the progressive view, pales into insignificance next to the Founding Fathers' deadly sin of racism.

 

Granted, they might have treated their slaves well, and some of them even set them free.  But what good was it, considering that they viewed blacks as inferior beings?  And even though their racist views were the only fare in the marketplace of ideas of the day shared by 100 percent of their contemporaries, the progressives refuse to recognize it as a mitigating circumstance.  The court of history appropriated by its present-day progressive avatars has passed its harsh verdict on the Founding Fathers: guilty!

 

If rational arguments are incapable of persuading the implacable foes of racism on the Founders, maybe they might succumb to their own twisted logic.  Why not use their racial yardstick on a hero from the progressive Pantheon -- say, the man who has gone down in history as the Great Emancipator?  Let's put Abraham Lincoln under the progressive microscope.

 

On September 22, 1862, President Lincoln published the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring that as of January 1, 1863, all slaves would be set free...in the 10 states of the Confederation which were "in rebellion against the United States."  The slaves in the states that, willingly or unwillingly, were not part of the Confederacy, such as Kentucky, Maryland, or Delaware, were to remain in chains.  The hypocrisy of the Emancipation Proclamation was so blatant that even Lincoln's loyal secretary of state, William Seward, sarcastically observed, "We show our sympathy with slavery by emancipating slaves where we cannot reach them and holding them in bondage where we can set them free."

 

Moreover, if, according to the progressive version of history, abolition of slavery was the cause of the Civil War, why didn't Lincoln free the slaves right off the bat?  Why did he wait for many months -- and do it only when the war took a bad turn for the Union, and, more important, when the superpowers of the day, Great Britain and France, were about to recognize the Confederacy and come to its aid?  Viewed realistically, abolition of slavery was by any measure a stratagem in pursuit of a purely pragmatic goal: to win over British and French public opinion and scare away the Confederacy's potential allies, whose assistance might have had a crucial effect on the outcome of the war.  It was a brilliant and highly successful tactical move.

 

As a matter of fact, the president never tried to hide his real objective.  He wrote: "I view the matter [Emancipation Proclamation] as a practical war measure, to be decided upon according to the advantages or disadvantages it may offer to the suppression of the rebellion."  And here is another confession of the Great Emancipator: "I will also concede that emancipation would help us in Europe, and convince them that we are incited by something more than ambition."  Lincoln had every reason to fret over the Europeans' suspicions of his intentions.  The Old World largely (ironically, with the exception of that bastion of reaction, Russia) sided with the Confederacy, which was viewed as a victim of a predatory North driven by greed.

 

At that time, the U.S. federal budget was fed exclusively by excise taxes and tariffs.  The only two items profitably exported by the United States were cotton and tobacco, cultivated almost entirely in the states of the Confederacy.  Meanwhile, the Southerners chafed under the punitive tariffs introduced by Washington to protect America's fledgling manufacturing industries, which were unable, without government support, to compete with the far more advanced European producers.  And so, to add insult to injury, while supporting the federal treasury, the Southerners were forced to buy domestic manufactured goods of inferior quality at exorbitant prices.

 

To let the South go would have meant serious financial troubles for the North.  That's the primary reason why Lincoln was obsessed with keeping the rebellious South within the Union.  He was quite candid about it.  In August 1862, he responded to Horace Greeley, the influential editor of the New York Tribune, who published an open letter to the president, calling on him to free the slaves in order to weaken the Confederacy.  In his letter, Lincoln stated in so many words that his main goal was to preserve the Union, and he was prepared to take any course of action with respect to slavery which would be conducive to achieving the sought-for outcome, whether freeing all, some or none of the slaves.

 

"I would save the Union. I would save it the shortest way under the Constitution," wrote Lincoln.  It is difficult to imagine a clearer statement of his priorities than this: "My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy slavery."  While in principle against slavery, Lincoln, smart politician that he was, never allowed his personal views to interfere with his political interests or idealism to triumph over expedience.  When two of his generals freed slaves in some Southern areas, the president reimposed slavery.

 

G.K. Chesterton with his customary wit described the dichotomy of Lincoln's views: "He loved to repeat that slavery was intolerable while he tolerated it, and to prove that something ought to be done while it was impossible to do it[.]"

 

OK, so Lincoln was an astute master politician and did whatever his political objectives demanded.  But what about his personal attitude toward the blacks?  Alas, he left no doubt as to his disdain for the slaves and his firm belief in the inferiority of the black race.  Here is his famous quote from a debate with Sen. Steven Douglas, from "The National Park Service website's "Lincoln Home Historical Site's Page," entitled "Fourth Debate Charleston Illinois":

 

I will say then that 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 forever 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.

 

Sounds pretty unambiguous to me.  And so it did to Lerone Bennett, Jr., executive editor of Ebony and author of several books on African-American history.  He scathingly criticized Lincoln in 1968 in an article he published in his magazine titled ''Was Abe Lincoln a White Supremacist?''  "His answer was a resounding Yes," ruefully writes The New York Times.

Lincoln believed blacks inferior to whites, Bennett insisted; he supported segregation in the North, told darky jokes, and used the N-word in public and private.  He reluctantly embraced Emancipation halfway through the Civil War only after Congress enacted it and slaves voted with their feet for freedom by escaping to Union lines, and he persisted to the end of his life in the belief that ''deportation'' of blacks was the best solution to the race problems that would follow.

 

To sum it up, Lincoln was an out-and-out racist.  Actually, as the flagship mouthpiece of the liberal left put it, quite correctly, he "did share the racial prejudices of his time and place."  But so did the Founding Fathers, didn't they?  And if liberals view them as bigoted miscreants and want to put them on trial for the crime of racism, Lincoln definitely merits a prominent place in the dock.  Otherwise, the accusers would be guilty of another grave sin in their own playbook: disparate treatment.

 

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