(CNS) The popular notions of the 16th President of
the United States were often crafted to glorify the man and his
office, rather than explain the reality of Abe Lincoln. He is
either painted in the tones of a semi-mythical demigod or the
political pragmatist, but not the historical figure, of which
there are tremendous amounts of information available that contradicts
the popular notions. In David Donald's biography called "Lincoln,"
the man who emerges is an indecisive leader with few firm convictions,
not the great leader riding events, but thrown about by them,
so that he was constantly in a reactionary mode. But the image
that comes out of the most recent research on Abe Lincoln, contained
in the book "Forced Into Glory: Abraham Lincoln's White Dream,"
by author Lerone Bennett, Jr., is a full-scale assault on the
two-dimensional image of the painted saint.
Bennett is a long-time employee at Ebony magazine, a magazine
whose target audience is the African American community, which
immediately became a sticking point to critics like Eric Foner,
the DeWitt Clinton professor of history at Columbia University.
Foner admits that Bennett contributed important works of African
American history in the 1960s, such as "Before the Mayflower,"
which surveyed the black experience in America, and "Black
Power USA," which challenged prevailing interpretations of
Reconstruction by stressing how blacks achieved significant political
power after the Civil War, as well as "Pioneers in Protest,"
which offered portraits of key leaders in black history; but Foner's
first criticism of the book "Forced Into Glory," is
that Bennett is not an academic historian, a minor if not a petty
The seed for the book "Forced Into Glory" was an article
by Bennett that appeared in Ebony magazine in 1968, entitled,
"Was Abe Lincoln a White Supremacist?" That article
put Bennett on the radar screen of academic history. Seeking
to dismantle the myth of the larger-than-life Supreme Leader of
the Republic during the War Between The States, since inflated
to include the title of the Great Emancipator (even
though England emancipated her slaves as early as 1772), Bennett
argued that Lincoln shared the racial prejudices of most (but,
of course, not all) of his white contemporaries.
The one thing that kept the poor from combining and joining forces
was the classic institution of racism, which was introduced throughout
colonial lands during the first settlements, so that irregardless
of how poor a white European was, he could still think of himself
as "better" than natives, or African persons brought
in from outside and enslaved, which began after 1619 in north
America when absentee plantation owners found that they could
not successfully enslave the native American population. Due to
the fact that the Europeans went to so much trouble capturing
people and transporting them in chains from Africa, and because
they shared a basic familiarity with one another, the "white
community" came to accept its own existence, even though
"whites" could be from any northern European country;
and the "colored community" began to realize it had
to deal with this solidarity on the part of the "whites,"
who were perpetually terrified of slave revolts, or attacks by
unpacified native Americans. Racism also appeared to justify
the savagery that was necessary to perpetuate slavery as an institution,
because so long as the supporters of racism believed that the
members of the non-white races were not quite human, they did
not feel obliged to treat them as human beings (the same thing
took place in Nazi-era Germany, with the Nuremberg laws that stripped
Jews of German citizenship).
The "black community" formed in direct response to the
forces causing the solidarity of the "white community,"
which ever afterward would be a polarizing force between the two
camps. The two camps, however, do not really exist. They are
neither nations nor ethnicities, the whites can derive from Russia,
Poland, Denmark, Britain, Spain, Italy, Greece, Hungary, and any
other ethnic group with fairly pale skin; while the blacks can
derive from any of thousands of distinct tribes that exist all
throughout Africa, so that their ancestors, if put in one room,
would have been unable to communicate by the same language (which
would apply equally to the ancestors of the whites, if they came
from Russia, Denmark, Spain, Italy, Greece or Britain, etc.)
Racism is not natural, but it is a byproduct of a natural primitive
fear of the members of an unknown foreign tribe. Ancient people
were marked by two forms of habit, first, instinctual fear, the
fight or flight instinct, and hospitality. Modern historians
often paint a picture of antiquity as though everyone alive in
the past was more unfortunate than the people alive during the
present, which is really an article of faith in modernity, the
belief in progress as a product of technology. The truth is that
life is not about convenience or technology, it is about being
and experiencing one's own time, because no matter what time period
anyone may live in, it is a good thing to be alive. To back up
excessive boasting by pharmaceutical companies about their "contributions"
to modern life, they always point to statistical data that the
average lifespan has increased, and that ancient man only lived
to about 20 years. The truth is that as long ago as ancient Egypt
there were individuals who lived into their seventies. This is
not to infer that life has not changed for the better, but only
to suggest that historians should be more objective in portraying
the past, and they should leave out how allegedly "nasty,
brutish and short" they believe life was, in favor of the
facts, just the facts.
Americans often regard racism in 18th century America
as a given, but the truth is that there have always been people
in America who were not racist. Abraham Lincoln, however, was
not one of them. And neither was Mary Todd Lincoln, whose Southern
family had owned slaves. As an Illinois legislator, and later
as a congressman and political leader, Lincoln opposed the abolitionists,
rigorously supported enforcement of the brutal and mean-spirited
Fugitive Slave Law, and was in favor of forcefully removing all
African American people from the United States. Furthermore,
Lincoln explicitly endorsed the State of Illinois' laws barring
African Americans from voting, serving on juries, holding office,
or intermarrying with "white" Americans. According
to his confidants he regularly used the word "nigger"
in private conversation and sometimes in speeches (this author
apologizes for using the offensive "N" word here, but
it is the author's intent not to cloak the reader from the intense
reality underlying the truth that Abe Lincoln was a bone-deep
In 1858 Abraham Lincoln gave a speech in Chicago affirming the
equality of man, and then gave another address the same year in
southern Illinois in which he stated that he opposed "bringing
about in any way the social and political equality of the black
and white races." As President of the United States Lincoln
initially allowed the four slave states that remained in the Union
during the Civil War - Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri
- to dictate his policy on slavery. Bennett argues in his book
"Forced Into Glory" that Lincoln refused to free and
arm the slaves because of his ingrained racism; but one could
easily add that the arming of the black community, which had suffered
such indignities at the hands of the white community, was the
very nightmare that haunted many of the white people in north
America since the days of Thomas Jefferson. It's one thing to
free them, in theory, but it is entirely another thing to put
weapons in their hands, especially when you are deeply aware of
the way they have been treated for so long. The deepest fear
among white people in north America at the time of the Civil War
was of a secret desire among the African American community to
seek revenge, because the white people had no real idea as to
whether or not the black people around them harbored such thoughts,
since the whites did not want to hear the black people's real
emotions, and the blacks had learned long before never to honestly
express their feelings, for fear of reprisals. That is the very
essence of a slave state: fear of revenge and fear of reprisals.
Bennett attributes the abolitionist policies that came out of
the Civil War not to Lincoln, who had to be dragged into it, but
to abolitionists like Wendell Phillips, Thaddeus Stevens, Frederick
Douglass, and the Radical Republicans in Congress, who in 1862
pushed through the Second Confiscation Act, freeing slaves of
owners who supported the Confederacy. The Emancipation Proclamation
issued by President Lincoln, Bennett wisely observes, did not
free a single slave because it applied only to areas outside of
the Union's, and therefore Lincoln's, control. In fact, the Proclamation,
with its tricky legalese wording, was designed to save as much
of slavery as it could, and to the end of his life, Lincoln was
a devoted, unrepentant proponent of white supremacy. (If anyone
doubts this they should not read about the Proclamation,
but carefully read the document itself. It should take
all of 30 seconds to recognize that it is written in pure legal
mumbo jumbo, meant to obfuscate, and it was, at the time of its
issuance, completely unenforceable).
"Forced Into Glory" does a marvelous job of describing
the age in which the abolition of slavery took place, offering
a valuable discussion on the vicious Black Laws of pre-Civil War
Illinois, which not only denied African Americans of basic civil
and political human rights, but also required any African American
entering the state to post a bond of $1,000. Bennett highlights
little known acts of Congress that paved the way for the emancipation
of the slaves of the United States. For example, the Confiscation
Act of 1862, and also an even earlier revision of the military
code that forbade Union soldiers from returning fugitive slaves
to bondage. Even more significantly, Bennett covers a measure
passed by Congress that freed the families of African American
men who enlisted in the Union Army, sidestepping the Emancipation
Proclamation by destroying slavery in those loyal border states
where the Proclamation never took effect, proving that all white
Americans did NOT share Lincoln's racist opinions. Most importantly,
Bennett presents compelling evidence that historians have routinely
sidestepped Lincoln's true racial views. Previous scholars downplayed
or outright ignored Lincoln's commitment to colonizing African
Americans outside the country, which he advocated widely throughout
his entire political career, a position he shared with his political
hero, Henry Clay. This was no fleeting notion. Lincoln's commitment
to the idea of deporting black Americans is mentioned in numerous
prewar speeches, two State of the Union addresses, several Cabinet
meetings, and in a notorious meeting with African American leaders
at the White House, at which he urged them to encourage their
followers to leave the country.
Lincoln was hardly alone in his idea that America was a white
republic. Virtually every major political leader of the early
republic held this view, including Thomas Jefferson, James Madison,
Andrew Jackson, John Marshall, and even George Washington himself.
Historians have simply decided to excise this indecent aspect
of Lincoln, so that they can force his image into the mold of
the sainted president, which was invented as a device to manipulate
public opinion in favor of any policy of the sitting leadership.
Historians all quote Lincoln's allusion to the "monstrous
injustice" of slavery in his Peoria speech of 1854, but not
the passage in the SAME speech asserting that he would send the
liberated slaves "to Liberia - to their own native land."
A phrase Lincoln used even though some African Americans' ancestors
had been in north America longer than Lincoln's!
Historians are so selective about history that they virtually
re-write it. They cite Lincoln's message to Congress in December
1862, with its eloquent passage about the "fiery trial"
through which the nation was passing due to his leadership, but
they never note that, in the SAME speech, Lincoln not only
affirmed his strong support for colonization of black Americans
in Africa, but for the first time used the ominous word, "deportation."
Lincoln's racism was not just a lightly held notion, but was
the center and circumference of his being, as one of his most
deeply held beliefs. He resisted the abolitionists in the Republican
Party from the very start, and had no intention of implementing
their agenda. He was in fact a major supporter of slavery in
the United States, and in and of himself was an oppressor. That
is why he was so able to send the country into a Civil War, and
then suspend the constitutional right to Habeas Corpus, and throw
his political opponents in jail without warrants; the fact that
the opponents he threw in jail were not African Americans illustrates
the fact that he was equally at ease penalizing members of the
white community as well as any other ethnic group, because Lincoln
was above all the leader of a police state, which, as a corporate
attorney, he was intensely aware of.
In the end Lincoln was a political opportunist. One contemporary
remarked that he was a "first rate second-rate man."
Before his career as a politician he had served as a corporate
attorney for some of the biggest interests in Illinois, including
railroad corporations. He was also responsible for authoring
important legal papers which defined the powers of corporations,
and which became precedents in the progress of corporations to
becoming recognized as the equivalents of natural persons, as
"legal persons." As president Lincoln was very good
to the railroads, signing legislation that virtually gave away
miles of public land to the railroads, for free. What is also
often overlooked by historians busy painting a rosy hue over the
presidency and its multitude of presidential families, was the
fact that Lincoln's son, Robert Todd Lincoln, went on to a successful
career as the president of the Pullman Car Company, which became
famous for the public disorders that took place in its company
town of the same name.
Lincoln did not decide to make the emancipation of slaves a central
issue in the Civil War until the North was nearly defeated. What
is generally neglected in the average person's understanding of
the causes of the Civil War is the exceedingly legalistic conflict
that erupted over the legal doctrine called "nullification."
It is far easier to get people excited over the War by telling
them that it was fought to free slaves, than by telling them the
truth that it was started because the states' politicians thought
that they could nullify federal legislation within their states'
borders, and the Federal Government claimed that they could not.
Like the idea that the Revolution was fought to save Americans
from "taxation without representation," the conflict
over nullification reads like an attorney's manual. Due to Lincoln's
assassination by a racist Confederate supporter, he gains the
upper hand when it comes to public sympathy, because no matter
how foul anyone might be, the decent majority are offended by
the murder of a human life. This is why later attempts by so-called
"anarchists," (members of a 19th century
extremist ideology that was born out of middle-class reaction
to the totalitarian practices of states), to topple oppressive
regimes by assassinating their leaders, all failed. Because by
murdering people, all they generated was sympathy for the targets.
The fact that Lincoln did not want to free slaves does not mean that the liberation of people is not a significant issue; but if America were truly founded for the purpose of liberating human beings, the slaves would have been emancipated in 1776. In fact, the English did liberate their slaves in 1772, and slaves from all over the colonies deserted their masters for port cities, because if they could make landfall in England they would be emancipated by the Royal Government. Rather than increase the desire among white Americans to liberate their slaves, this had the ugly side-effect of causing resentment against the British for causing American slaves to desert their American masters. Abraham Lincoln is the favorite President of the United States for many people, but only because what they know of him is false. It is a disservice to America for her people not to know the truth, because without truth, there can be no justice.
SOURCE: Information for this article was derived from an article in the Los Angeles Times, Orange Co. Edition, Book Review, 9 April, 2000, entitled, "Was Abraham Lincoln A Racist?" by Eric Foner. If the reader is wondering why this page is red with a black border, it is symbolic of the links between the U.S. republic and Naziism, red and black being the blood-colors of the Nazi flag.
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