Abe Lincoln

(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 point.

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 racist).

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.