Forced Into Glory: Abraham Lincoln's White Dream
Lerone Bennett, Jr. (1999, 2007)
No other American story is so enduring.
No other American story is so comforting.
No other American story is so false.
Abraham Lincoln was not "the great emancipator."
The testimony of sixteen thousand books and monographs to the contrary notwithstanding, Lincoln did not emancipate the slaves, greatly or otherwise. As for the Emancipation Proclamation, it was not a real emancipation proclamation at all, and did not liberate African-American slaves. John F. Hume, the Missouri antislavery leader who heard Lincoln speak in Alton and who looked him in the eye in the White House, said the Proclamation "did not ... whatever it may have otherwise accomplished at the time it was issued, liberate a single slave."
Sources favorable to Lincoln were even more emphatic. Lincoln crony Henry Clay Whitney said the Proclamation was a mirage and that Lincoln knew it was a mirage. Secretary of State William Henry Seward, the No. 2 man in the administration, said the Proclamation was an illusion in which "we show our sympathy with the slaves by emancipating the slaves where we cannot reach them and holding them in bondage where we can set them free." (6)
In the spring of 1862 ... Lincoln sat on the District of Columbia emancipation bill for two nights. Why did he do that? The answer, believe it or not, is that he had promised an old Kentucky friend that he wouldn't sign the bill until the friend could leave town with two of his slaves. (13)
Lamon, who was in constant attendance on Lincoln in Washington and who talked to him intimately on different subjects, said Lincoln had no intention of extending to Blacks the privilege of governing [italics in original] him and other white men" and that it was "as a white man, and in the interests of white men" that he opposed the extension of slavery. (37)
Reading and re-reading his speeches and private papers, one is struck suddenly by the unexpected fact that down to his last antithesis, down to his last but, he is the classic example of the cautious politician, known to every city hall reporter, who assails the extremists on both sides. Is it any wonder then that he is a god to trimmers who have never risked anything for freedom, and that anybody who says he was sad and eloquent and loved the North and the Southnot the slaveis immediately given the Pulitzer Prize? (67)
Speaking at Worcester, Massachusetts, in September 1848, he made an impromptu reference to the slain Elijah Lovejoy that shocked some people in the audience: "I have heard you have abolitionists here. We have a few in Illinois and we shot one the other day." (85)
Lincoln was as active as any racist of his time in perpetuating Negro stereotypes. The words n___r, darky and colored boy came easily to his lips. It appears from the admittedly incomplete record that Lincoln used the N-word at least as often as the Mark Fuhrmans of today. He might have used it even more, for unlike Fuhrman, who tried to hide his hand on official occasions, Lincoln used the word openly on public platforms and in the Illinois State House and the White House. Harold Holzer, who edited a collection of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, was surprised that Lincoln used the N-word twice in the first Lincoln-Douglas debate, which was held in the relatively progressive town of Ottawa, Illinois. Speaking to some fifteen thousand Whites, Lincoln denied that he wanted "to set the niggers and white people to marrying together" and said, in passing, that there was "no danger that the people of Kentucky will shoulder their muskets, and, with a young nigger stuck on every bayonet, march into Illinois and force them upon us."
Since there is a widespread tendency to ignore, excuse and deny testimony from Lincoln's own mouth, we are, as we indicated earlier, departing from our usual practice and printing Lincoln's words without elision. It is worth noting in this connection that Carl Sandburg, who spent decades researching Lincoln's life, denied that Lincoln used the N-word. In a letter to Paul M. Angle on July 16, 1929, Sandburg said of the Carlinville speech, quoted below, that "the use of the word 'Nigger' was never indulged in by Lincoln unless he was quoting somebody."
Lincoln wasn't quoting anybody when he denied before some fifteen thousand people at the sixth Lincoln-Douglas debate that he wanted a "nigger wife." Nor was he quoting anyone when he told a crowd of some four thousand White Illinois citizens at the last debate in Alton, Illinois, that he supported the notorious Fugitive Slave Law although he personally had "no taste for running and catching niggers" (96-7)
The N-word went to Washington with Lincoln. Lord Charnwood said congressmen and other officials "were puzzled and pained by the free and easy way in which in grave conversation he would allude to 'the nigger question'" or question, others said, whether it was advisable to "touch the nigger." Still others were pained by the free and easy way he interrupted official conferences to tell stories about "darky" preachers or "darky" arithmetic. (99)
Lincoln is theology, not historiology. He is a faith, he is a church, he is a religion, and he has his own priests and acolytes, most of whom have a vested interest in [him] and who are passionately opposed to anybody telling the truth about him. (114)
Members of the Feelgood School tell us that Lincoln said at Cincinnati that "there is room enough for us all to be free." They don't tell us that he said in the same speech that there was no room at all for slaves in the South to be free and that it was necessary to provide "an efficient fugitive slave law" to return to slavery fugitive slaves who believed there was room for us all to be free. (124-5)
When, in 1858, Senator Douglas told him and applauding crowds that he believed this government was made by Whites for Whites, Lincoln said: "In the course of his reply, Senator Douglas remarked, in substance, that he had always considered this government was made for the white people and not for the Negroes. Why, in point of mere fact, I think so too."
In point of mere fact, Lincoln thought America was a God-given Eden for free White people all over the world, and when he came, on Friday, October 15, 1858, in Alton, Illinois, to give his "I Have A Dream" speech, he said he was in favor of the new territories being in such a condition that white men may find a home." He was in favor of "this not merely ... for our own people who are born amongst us, but as an outlet for free white people everywhere the world overin which Hans and Baptiste and Patrick, and all other men from all the world, may find new homes and better their conditions in life" [Loud and long continued applause.] (Lincoln's italics).
This was his dream, and his faith.
"His democracy," Oscar Sherwin said, "was a White man's democracy. It did not contain Negroes."
Nor did it contain Native Americans or even Mexicans, whom Lincoln considered "mongrels."
Someone will say, as Lincoln apologists are always saying, that this was the nineteenth century, for goodness' sake. How could you expect the man to match Martin Luther King's magnificent exhortation of the twentieth century? The answer to that question is another question: What's time got to do with it? At least two of Lincoln's contemporaries, abolitionists Frederick Douglass and Wendell Phillips, matched King word for word and dream for dream, saying the same thing in the 1860s that King said in the 1960s. (147-8)
In one of the great scenes of the Death of a Salesman, Willy Loman deplored the morals of corporate leaders who sucked all the juice out of men and then threw them away like orange peelings. Arthur Miller may have gotten the line from Herndon who said, in a chilling phrase that nobody quotes, that ambition "eclipsed his [Lincoln's] better nature, and when he used a man and sucked all the uses out of him, he would throw away the thing as an old orange peeling." To make his meaning clearer, Herndon changed the metaphor and said, "He was a remorseless trimmer with men. They were his tools, and when they were used up, he threw them aside as old iron and took up new tools." (170)
If there's one thing twentieth-century schoolchildren know about Lincoln, it is that he was a warm-hearted man who felt the pain of the people.
If there's one thing most of his cronies are agreed on, it was that he was a cold, calculating, selfish man who never probably, in Herndon's view, loved anyone except himself. Herndon said, "Lincoln was not a social man, loved no man much, was more or less selfish." Lincoln's sister-in-law, Elizabeth Edwards, said he was "a cold man" who had "no heart."
The consensus among Lincoln's friends was that there was a deadness or, better still, a flatness in his psychic economy. John Todd Stuart, who had a good opportunity to observe him, deplored "his want of passionEmotionimagination." Judge Davis, who was the ring leader of the Eighth Judicial Circuit group, said the same thing in stronger language: "Lincoln had no spontaneitynor Emotional Natureno strong Emotional feelings for any personMankind or thing."
Former Congressman Isaac N. Arnold was one of Lincoln's most passionate supporters, but when Herndon told him, "I don't think Mr. Lincoln had a broad & Universal affection for men," Arnold agreed, saying only that he would change "the word 'universal' to 'generous.'" (172)
Judge Davis said, "Mr Lincoln was not a social man by any means; his Storiesjokes &c. which were done to whistle off sadness are no evidences of sociality." (173)
Like Frederick Douglass, like William Lloyd Garrison, young Abraham Lincoln escaped from his prison on a ladder of words, reading in the fields, in the forest, everywhere. Almost everything else they say about him is dross; but the self-made story is pure gold. (173)
"Judge Douglas has said to you that he has not been able to get from me an answer to the question whether I am in favor of Negro citizenship. So far as I know, the Judge never asked me the question before. He shall have no occasion to ever ask it again, for I tell him very frankly that I am not in favor of Negro citizenship."Abraham Lincoln (182)
"I have all the while maintained that inasmuch as there is a physical inequality between the white and black, that the blacks must remain inferior."Abraham Lincoln (182)
One reads everywhere or almost everywhere that Lincoln had to talk like a racist and vote like a racist because of the racist atmosphere of the time. This apology overlooks the relatively large number of White politicians who acted and voted for freedom despite racism. (198)
From all this, from Lincoln's silence on slavery in Congress, his Jim Crow votes in the legislature, his demagoguery on the stump and his Charleston Confession, it is clear that Lincoln's equivocal, equivocating prairie years were a dress rehearsal for his equivocal, equivocating performance as president. Based on this resume, a reasonably intelligent riverboat gambler would have given odds that this man as president would support slavery where it existed and oppose sudden and general changes in the status quo of slaves and Blacks. That's precisely what Lincoln did, and it is curious that most Lincoln experts, with the benefit of 140 years of hindsight and the record of what he actually did, can't tell us what role the Illinois Lincoln was rehearsing for.
Two authorities on Lincoln's congressional career, Riddle and Reinhard H. Luthin, were justifiably severe in their appraisal of this phase of Lincoln's career, expressing from different perspectives the findings of this study. Riddle said Lincoln was an opportunist who used the slavery issue "to advance his own political standing." Luthin said Lincoln "had drifted with the tide, and up to his election as President in 1860 he had left no record of achievement,except the quest for office." (213-14)
The key word here is moral. Lincoln believed that deporting Blacks and creating an all-White country was a moral imperative.
"Let us be brought to believe it is morally right," he said, "and, at the same time, favorable to, or, at least, not against, our interest, to transfer the African to his native clime, and we shall find a way to do it, however great the task may be. The children of Israel, to such numbers as to include four hundred thousand fighting men, went out of Egyptian bondage in a body."
The relevance of the example was questionable, since it was extremely unlikely that the Atlantic Ocean was going to part, like the Red Sea, but Lincoln continued to his last days to try to form "a willa public sentimentfor colonization. On July 17, 1858, he talked about almost everything in a long speech at Springfield, mentioning the Declaration of Independence, the extension of slavery, the "inferiority" of Black people, and the complicity of the presumably White God, who had given Black people "but little." It was only in the last few minutes that he mentioned apropos of nothing and apropos of everything: "What I would most desire would be the separation of the white and black races." (229)
If Lincoln had had his way, in fact, the Civil War would have ended with slavery intact and slaveowners triumphant, at least on their plantations.
How, it will be asked, do you know all this? The answer is that I read Lincoln, who had such a horror of the sudden ending of slavery that he said out loud for all to hear and read that he feared successBlack freedommore than he feared failure-Black slavery.
Here, as everywhere, there has been a major misunderstanding. Lincoln was no emancipationist; Lincoln was scared to death of emancipation. What was he scared of? He was scared of Black economic competition, Black and White voters and officeholders, and Black and White sexI'm quoting Abraham Lincoln, and if you don't believe me, read pages 405, 407-9 and 541 of volume 2 and pages 146 and 234-5 of volume 3 of The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln. (247)
He said it at Ottawa, Illinois, on August 21, 1858, at the first Lincoln-Douglas debate:
I will say here, while upon this subject, that I have no purpose directly or indirectly to interfere with the institution of slavery in the states where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so. (249)
One has to feel sorry for Lincoln retrospectively and prospectively. For he declared it and, to use his word, "re-declared" it. He quoted himself and "re-quoted" himself. Yet honest and dishonest menthen and nowcontinued to misrepresent him, despite the fact that he said it a hundred times:
"I have said a hundred times and I have now no inclination to take it back, that I believe there is no right, and ought to be no inclination in the people of the free States to enter into the slave States, and interfere with the question of slavery at all. I have said that always."
If he said it a hundred times, he said it a thousand times to audiences in different states. (249-50)
To come right out with it, Lincoln didn't want slavery to end if it meant free Negroes in the United States. Until somebody came up with a magic wand that would make slaves and Negroes disappear, he was content to support the Missouri Compromise, which served as a fencehis metaphorto contain slaves and Negroes in the slave states. (251)
It was a litany: "We want them [the territories] for the homes of free white people." When Senator Douglas argued that Lincoln and his supporters had no direct interest in what happened in the territories, Lincoln replied, "I think we have some interest. I think that as white men we have. Do we not wish for an outlet for our surplus population, if I may so express myself?"
Lincoln went on to charge in this and other speeches that the extension of slavery posed a direct threat to the economic position of White men. He stressed in particular the threat to White labor and was not above the demagoguery of warning White labor of the threat of all Black labor, slave and free. If Northerners permitted slavery to spread to the territories, he said, "Negro equality will be abundant, as every White laborer will have occasion to regret when he is elbowed from his plow or his anvil by slave niggers."
What was the best way to prevent this? The best thing to do, he said, was to keep the territories free of all Negroes, slave and free, whatever the spelling. "Is it not rather our duty to make labor more respectable by preventing all black competition, especially in the territories?" Notice that word: duty. We shall return to it again and again. Abraham Lincoln believed it was his duty to White people, that it was his obligation as a White man, to keep Black people in slavery and in subordinate positions.
Not the emancipation of the slaves, not the building of a rainbow nation, but the way to the White Dream was his main concern. (269-70)
All across the North now, as the future Gettysburg orator stuck his head in the sand along with other Whigs, men and women mobilized against the American government. And it is impossible to take his measure if we don't compare him directly with White men who demonstrated more vision, more courage, and more morality in his own times and on his own terrain.
In Ohio in these years, Salmon P. Chase defended fugitive slaves, attended Black meetings, and created the ideological infrastructure of the political antislavery movement.
In Massachusetts, Charles Sumner helped inaugurate the struggle for integrated education.
In Illinois, Owen Lovejoy defied the state and the federal government and assisted every slave who came to his door. In a House speech, he told the nation: "Owen Lovejoy lives at Princeton, Illinois, three quarters of a mile east of the village; and he aids every fugitive that comes to his door and asks it .... Thou invisible demon of slavery ... I bid you defiance in the name of my God."
What was Lincoln doing all this time?
He was, as usual, sitting on the fence, telling everybody how much he loved the Declaration of Independence and expressing regrets that it was not unfortunately applicable to the real world or real Blacks in Illinois or South Carolina. (273)
We are talking herelet us repeatabout White men and women who risked their careers and their lives by opposing the Fugitive Slave Law in the state of Illinois while Abraham Lincoln was doing everything he could to uphold that law and the institution of slavery in the South. (274)
Lincoln hungered and thirsted after Douglas's place. No doubt about that. But he was also energized by what he considered a threat to free White men and what he called "the white-man's charter of freedom."
That's not a paraphrase; that's what Abraham Lincoln called the Declaration of Independence. Two years before the Kansas-Nebraska controversy erupted, he warned in his Henry Clay eulogy against "an increasing number of men, who, for the sake of perpetuating slavery, are beginning to assail and to ridicule the white-man's charter of freedomthe declaration that all men are created free and equal.'" (303)
What are we to make of all this? What are we to say about a man who says in the same speech that Blacks are in and out of the Declaration of Independence at the same time? We are to say, among other things, that we are dealing with a very clever man who will end up with a Memorial on the Mall to which people who believe Blacks are in the Declaration and people who believe they are not in the Declaration will come in increasing numbers. (305)
Douglas said this country was made by White people for White people; Lincoln said "why, in point of mere fact, I think so too." Douglas said he was against Black people voting and serving on juries; Lincoln said he was against the same things. Douglas said he was against intermarriage; Lincoln said it was wrong to suggest that he was for "the niggers and white people ... marrying together." Douglas said he was in favor of Black slavery where it existed; Lincoln said he supported slavery where it existed and was for the Fugitive Slave Law as well.
What was left? Nothing really except the extension of slavery and the language to be used to justify racism. (306)
Lincoln continued the appeasement theme in his Inaugural Address, saying he had neither the power nor the desire to interfere with slavery in the Southern states. To doubters and naysayers of that day, and of this one, he provided what he called the most ample evidence," saying:
"Apprehension seems to exist among the people of the Southern States, that by the accession of a Republican Administration, their property [he meant their slaves], and their peace, and personal security, are to be endangered. There has never been any reasonable cause for such apprehension. Indeed, the most ample evidence to the contrary has all the while existed, and been open to their inspection. It is found in nearly all the published speeches of him who now addresses you. 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.'"
Frederick Douglass, among others, objected to the word inclination, which indicated once again that Lincoln had no disposition or desire to strike at slavery. Criticizing the "inhuman coldness," of the "double-tongued" address, and speaking for the slave, Douglass said Lincoln "has avowed himself ready to catch [slaves] if they run away, to shoot them down if they rise against their oppressors, and to prohibit the Federal Government irrevocably from interfering for their deliverance."
Underlining that point, the man who gained some fame by saying that a half-slave, half-free nation could not endure permanently announced to the world that he was in favor of a proposed thirteenth amendment that would have made America permanently half slave and half free:
"I understand a proposed amendment to the Constitution .... 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."
This amendment, the first thirteenth amendment, was passed by Congress and sent to the states for ratification. Two statesOhio and Marylandactually ratified the amendment before the firing on Fort Sumter short-circuited the process. (The second thirteenth amendment, never approved by Congress, was the first of three amendments Lincoln proposed for buying and deporting native-born African-Americans.)
If there was any doubt, then and now, about the policy of the administration with no policy, Secretary Seward set the record straight, telling the United States ambassador to France in an official communique that "the condition of slavery in the several states would remain just the same whether it [the rebellion succeeds or fails" and that it "was hardly necessary to add to this incontrovertible statement the further fact that the new President has always repudiated all designs, whenever and wherever imputed to him, of disturbing the system of slavery as it has existed under the constitution and laws." (339-41)
On the same day, with almost the same breath, General McClellan issued the following proclamation to the people of West Virginia:
"Notwithstanding all that has been said by the traitors to induce you to believe that our advent among you will be signalized by interference with your slaves understand one thing clearlynot only will we abstain from all such interferences, but we will, on the contrary, with an iron hand crush insurrection on their part." (344)
Lincoln usually expressed his opposition to emancipation in a troubled but polite tone, but he could be pushed across the border of politeness. When Edward L. Pierce urged the president to adopt a more enlightened policy, Lincoln, according to Pierce, exploded and denounced "the itching to get niggers into our lives." Other White House visitors reported that the mere mention of the word slave made Lincoln nervous. (351)
The blood was real, but the strategy was surreal, based on one of history's greatest illusions, an illusion shared not only by the people but also and most importantly by the leaders, who feared the darkness, in the literal sense, so much that they blinded themselves to keep from seeing the light. How else explain the words that the commander in chief spoke to Jessie Benton Fremont in opposition to her husband's order freeing Missouri slaves. "The President," she said, "went on almost angrily .... the General should never have dragged the Negro into the war. It is a war for a great national object and the Negro has nothing to do with it."
This was not an isolated statement, made in anger. Lincoln said he same thing privately and publicly. And it was this ideathe idea f preserving government of White people for White peoplethat Lincoln was arguing for at Gettysburg. (357-8)
The new president's racial policy was based on the wildest idea ever presented to the American people by an American president. What Lincoln proposed officially and publicly was that the United States government buy the slaves and deport them to Africa or South America. This was not a passing whim. In five major policy declarations, including two State of the Union addresses and the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, the sixteenth president of the United States publicly and officially called for the deportation of Blacks. On countless other occasions, in conferences with cronies, Democratic and Republican leaders and high government officials, he called for colonization of Blacks or aggressively promoted colonization by private and official acts. (381)
Like most nineteenth-century racists, Lincoln pretended to believe that Blacks had to live in tropical climes, although he knew it required marshals and the massed White population to keep slaves from running away to the arctic zone of Chicago, which was founded by a free Black man, Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable, more than fifty years before the Lincolns arrived in Illinois. (385)
The Thirty-seventh Congress . . . banned slavery in the territories and authorized the use of Black soldiers. Lincoln followed Congress's lead slowly and grudgingly, signing these acts with evident displeasure.
To salvage Lincoln's reputation, Lincoln specialists have of late developed the collaboration theory, saying that Lincoln and Congress collaborated in freeing Blacks. In fact, as we have seen, and as we shall see, Lincoln opposed the major emancipating acts of this Congress. (401)
At least one observer, General James S. Wadsworth, who had been "with the President and Stanton every day at the War Departmentfrequently for five or six hoursduring several months," told New York Tribune correspondent Adams S. Hill that Lincoln was still committed to the Old Union and was on his way to the other place.
"He says," Hill told his managing editor, "that the President is not with us; has no Anti-slavery instincts. He never heard him speak of anti-slavery men, otherwise than as 'radicals,' 'abolitionists,' and of the 'nigger question,' he frequently speaks." (449)
Monitoring all this, and collating the information he received from Lincoln insiders, Adam Gurowski told his diary in August 1862 that the President is indefatigable in his efforts tosave slavery." (453)
But Lincoln had no intention of dealing with racism or even discussing it. He didn't seek the opinions of his visitors. He was simply, he said, presenting a fact: Whites didn't want Blacks in America and therefore Blacks would have to go. "There is an unwillingness on the part of our people, harsh as it may be, for you free colored people to remain with us." The only solution from his standpoint, that is to say, from a White standpoint, was a Black exodus."It is better for us both," he said twice, "to be separated." (458)
Frederick Douglass attacked Lincoln's logic and his racism, saying that a horse thief pleading that the existence of the horse is the apology for his theft or a highway man contending that the money in the traveler's pocket is the sole first cause of his robbery are about as much entitled to respect as is the President's reasoning at this point. Lincoln's position didn't surprise Douglass. "Illogical and unfair as Mr. Lincoln's statements are, they are nevertheless quite in keeping with his whole course from the beginning of his administration up to this day, and confirm the painful conviction that though elected as an anti-slavery man by Republican and Abolition voters, Mr. Lincoln is quite a genuine representative of American prejudice and Negro hatred and far more concerned for the preservation of slavery, and the favor of the Border Slave States, than for any sentiment of magnanimity or principle of justice and humanity." (460-1)
Far from being an anomaly, Lincoln's ethnic cleansing plan was the cornerstone of his military and political agenda and was based on what Randall called a "grand design" for a new White America without slavesand without Blacks. (464-5)
There then followed the Lincoln Emancipation Dance, made famous by Lincoln specialists choreographing the spastic movements of a man who went forward by going backward and who said yes by saying no. At the height of this dance, in August and September, Lincoln, according to almost all Lincoln biographers, "amused" himself by confusing and confounding "zealots" who besieged the White House with demands that he do, his biographers say, what he fully intended to do. Donald uses the word game, telling us that "he often played a kind of game with the numerous visitors who descended on him to urge him to free the slaves. The measures they advocated were precisely those he was attempting to formulate in his document at the War Department." This, of course, begs the question of what Lincoln "was attempting to formulate" and where and when he formulated it and how much of it he was forced to formulate against his will.
This maneuver reaches artistic levels in the hands of a master like Stephenson, who virtually invented the "game" theory:
"If at any time Lincoln was tempted to forget Seward's worldly wisdom, it was when these influential zealots demanded of him to do the very thing he intended to do."
What did Lincoln tell these misguided zealots?
"With consummate coolness he gave them no light on his purpose. Instead, he seized the opportunity to 'feel' the country. He played the role of advocatus diaboli arguing the case against an emancipation policy."
Nicholas and Hay use the same argument:
"Individuals and delegations came to him [in the summer of 1862] to urge one side or the other of a decision, which, though already made in his own mind, forced upon him a reexamination of its justness and its possibilities for good or evil."
J. G. Randall uses it.
"One can only imagine Lincoln's feelings as he heard the delegation urging a proclamation which he had decided to issue."
Thomas uses it:
"All through the troublous summer, while Lincoln waited for a victory in order to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, he and his cabinet had kept his intentions secret" (342).
Oates uses it:
"Then he engaged in his old habit of quarreling with the very thing he hoped to do."
Oates and other scholars say in all seriousness that Lincoln sat there with the proclamation in his desk drawer and toyed with the "zealots," rebutting their arguments and rehearsing the reasonsKentucky would go over to the Confederates, fifty thousand soldiers would desert to the Confederates, Negroes were not worth itwhy it was inadvisable to issue a proclamation.
Why would Lincoln do this? Why would any serious president condition the public to respond negatively to a policy initiative that would affect the future of the country? If, as the defenders say, honest Abe agreed with the petitioners and was waiting for the right moment to issue the proclamation, why didn't he tell them that their arguments made some sense and that he would give them serious consideration? Why didn't he go further and seize these opportunities to educate the public by emphasizing how important Black laborers and soldiers would be to the Union war effort and how emancipation could shorten the war and save the lives of White men?
Lincoln defenders brush aside these questions and tell us how clever Lincoln was, sitting there with the document, some say the signed document, in his drawer, making fools of the sanctimonious "zealots" from Chicago, Boston and elsewhere. (485-7)
This eloquent and eminently sane appeal didn't change Lincoln, who continued to argue against an emancipation policy. The heart of his argument was in one paragraph:
"What good would a proclamation of emancipation from me do, especially as we are now situated? I do not want to issue a document that the whole world will see must necessarily be inoperative, like the Pope's bull against the comet! Would my word [Lincoln's italics] free the slaves, when I cannot even enforce the Constitution in the rebel States?"
The answer clearly lay with the man asking the question. And from the way he asked the question, it was clear that he neither expected nor desired an affirmative answer, which is surprising since he issued a proclamation nine days later that was presumably as inoperative as "the Pope's bull against the comet." Even more surprising is the fact that almost all historians contend that the man who made this statement had already decided to issue such a proclamation. How explain this? The explanation, defenders of the myth say, is plain: Lincoln was lying. (Isn't it curious that so many defenses of honest Abe are based on the assumption that he was lying?) He was, they say, "pretending" to disagree with the very thing he wanted to do.
Why would he do that? He was, we are told, hiding his cards and trying to prepare the public for the proclamation he was going to issue. But that's absurd. How do you prepare the public for an act by arguing against it? (495-6)
In "this dire stress of circumstances," Whitney wrote, Lincoln issued the Preliminary Proclamation as a tactical move "to placate the Radicals for the time" and to preserve his political base, "hoping that the Border States would acquiesce in its absolute necessity; and designing to ultimately get the Negroes out of the country; to compensate the Rebels for the loss of their property; and to secure a constitutional amendment to make the proclamation effectual."
Edward Stanly, the proslavery military governor of North Carolina, told Welling that Lincoln had told him pretty much the same thing when he rushed to Washington to offer his resignation in protest against the proclamation. Five days after the proclamation was signed, Welling noted in his diary:
September 27th.Had a call at the Intelligencer office from the Honorable Edward Stanly, Military Governor of North Carolina. In a long and interesting conversation Mr. Stanly related to me the substance of several interviews which he had had with the President respecting the Proclamation of Freedom. Mr. Stanly said that the President had stated to him that the proclamation had become a civil necessity to prevent the Radicals from openly embarrassing the government in the conduct of the war. The President expressed the belief that, without the proclamation for which they had been clamoring, the Radicals would take the extreme step in Congress of withholding supplies for carrying on the warleaving the whole land in anarchy. Mr. Lincoln said that he had prayed to the Almighty to save him from this necessity, adopting the very language of our Saviour, 'If it be Possible, let this cup pass from me,' but the prayer had not been answered." (500-01)
Lincoln read the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation to his cabinet on Monday, September 22, and it was published on Tuesday, September 23. The next day, Wednesday, September 24, 1862, he convened one of the most sinister cabinet meetings in American history.
The question before this meeting was the ethnic cleansing of the United States by the deportation of native-born African-Americans. Secretary Welles was there, and he told his diary that the president of the United States was insistent; he wanted to send the Negroes away. He "thought it essential to provide an asylum for race which we had emancipated, but which could never be recognized or admitted to be our equals."
Lincoln had been saying that for years. It was an article of faith to him that emancipation and deportation went together, like firecrackers and July Fourth, and that you couldn't have one without the other. (509)
In the same period, Lincoln renewed his buy-and-ship plan, sending to Congress, on December 1, 1862, precisely one month before the scheduled signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, a State of the Union Message that called for three constitutional amendments to complete a national plan of gradual compensated emancipation and colonization.
This document, which Basler called one of the greatest statements in human history, is actually one of the most damning documents in human history. There is, to begin with, the fact that Lincoln used the dangerous word deportation in an official document for the first time; in fact, he used the word three times. More ominously, Lincoln said he was still committed to an all-White nation with a transitional period of quasi freedom followed by the deportation of the freedmen. This is what he said:
"Heretofore colored people, to some extent, have fled north from bondage; and now, perhaps, from both bondage and destitution. But if gradual emancipation and deportation be adopted, they will have neither to flee from. Their old masters will give them wages at least until new laborers can be procured; and the freed men, in turn, will gladly give their labor for the wages till new homes can be found for them, in congenial climes, and with people of their own blood and race."
Here, then, in unexpurgated language, is Lincoln's blueprint for the American future. It's all there, all of ithis gradualism, his racism, his deeply rooted belief that this land was the White man's landand there is no possibility of understanding him or the Proclamation without an understanding of the official plan for a new White America he unfolded in this State of the Union message. The Proclamation was not his plan. Gettysburg was not his plan. His plan, the only plan he ever had, was the plan he presented in this annual message on Monday, December 1, 1862. (513-14)
There was finallyand conclusivelythe game plan of Northern industrialists, who were fighting not for Black freedom or, to tell the truth, White freedom, but for the freedom to exploit and develop the American market. Everything indeed suggests that Ralph J. Bunche was correct when he said that the freeing of the slaves was "only an incident in the violent clash of interests between the industrial North and the agricultural Southa conflict that was resolved in favor of the industrial North. In this struggle the Negro was an innocent pawn." (547-8)
It is customary for assorted historians and Pulitzer Prizer winners to approach the Gettysburg Address on their knees, which is not, all things considered, the best position from which to assess its strengths and weaknesses.
The strengths are obvious: brevity, repetition, parallelism. No less obvious are the weaknesses, the chief of which is that it evades the biggest moral crisis of its time and contains not one word of wisdom m the sociopolitical problems of Lincoln's time or ours.
The speech is pretty, of course, buthold your breath, I'm going to say something shockingit doesn't say anything, an awkward fact that generations of scholars have managed to hide by talking about Greece instead of South Carolina and by counting antitheses instead of slaves.
It is no accident that the "Sermon on the Mount" of politics doesn't say anything and that what it says is false. This was a function of the political choices of the speaker, who made an art of evading moral crises and who sought a rhetorical solution to every political crisis of his life. It was his art to say nothing eloquently in support of abstract political principles that were true everywhere and nowhere and that he had no intention of doing anything about anywhere. (556)
In the same message, incidentally, Lincoln said once again that he had struggled for a long time to preserve slavery in the United States. "[F]or a long time," he said, "it had been hoped that the rebellion could be suppressed without resorting to it [emancipation] as a military measure." It had been hoped by whom? By Abraham Lincoln, of course, who signalled once again in December 1863 that the Emancipation Proclamation was not his program. Secretary Chase, the only pro-Black voice in the cabinet, deplored the lily-White suffrage provision and the proposed apprenticeship plans, but Lincoln ignored him. (590)
The second "objectionable" feature, Lincoln said, was "the declaration that all persons heretofore held in slavery are declared free," an objection that proves once again the central thesis of this book. For if Lincoln had already emancipated Blacks, why would he object on any ground in December 1864 to a bill that proposed to emancipate Blacks? (622)
People tell me that Lincoln was personally decent to Douglass and that this negated the racism, the N-words, the "darky" jokes, and the racist orientation of a whole lifetime, and it's extraordinary that people don't know at this late date that the question of whether Lincoln was decent to Douglass is irrelevant and beside the point. For the fact that an oppressor was personally decent to an oppressed person, that an Afrikaner was decent to a South African, that a Nazi was decent to a Jew, that a segregationist was decent to an individual Negro, has nothing to do with the nature of the system he supported with his words and acts. (634)
A recent author tells us that Douglass said Lincoln was "the first great man I talked with in the United States freely, who in no single instance reminded me of the difference of color between himself and myself, the difference of color," but she didn't tell us that Douglass backed away from that statement in a speech he made two years before his death. (634n)
(See also: "An African-American Icon Speaks Truth to the Lincoln Cult" by Thomas J. DiLorenzo)
(See also: King Lincoln Archive)