Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Great Emancipator

Walking through the doors of our local community college to take a CLEP test this week, I was faced with a large banner declaring the 200th birthday of Abraham Lincoln. I stood there, staring up at his picture, thinking back to the bloody conflict of the Civil War, and thinking of a popular saying around our house: "He who wins the wars rewrites history."

In the spirit of Woodrow Wilson, Thomas Jefferson, and Franklin D. Roosevelt, modern American history books have deified Lincoln as the conservator of the Union, the Great Emancipator, one of the best Presidents in our nation’s history. The Confederate flag has become a symbol of racial hatred and rebellion, and I doubt that, when I walk into my testing center in June, I’ll see a banner heralding the birthday of Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States.

However, I find it very interesting that Jefferson Davis is the black sheep in the Civil War conflict for daring to secede from the Union, especially after I read Davis’ stirring treatise for succession in The Jefferson Davis Memoirs.  If we are being honest with  ourselves, we realize that our nation was built on a foundation of secession: The American colonies, did, after all, secede from England. 

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with one another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to separate. ~Thomas Jefferson, the Declaration of Independence

Any people anywhere being inclined and having the power have the right to rise up and shake off the existing government and form a new one that suits them  better. That is the most valuable and most sacred right which we hope and believe is to liberate the world. ~Abraham Lincoln, 1848 (source: War Between the States, pg. 20-31)

Well, yes, we may say, but Abraham Lincoln wasn’t out to take away the constitutional liberties of the southern states; he was out to correct the grievous injustice of chattel slavery, a sin that has marred our nation and shackled precious children of God, wrought in His image.

Would that Lincoln had escaped the misguided racism that plagued so many in the 1800s. However, digging past sensationalized accounts of Lincoln’s benevolence, we find quotes like these:

"I am not now, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in any way the social or political equality of the white and black races. I am not now nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor of intermarriages with white people. There is a physical difference between the white and the black races which will forever forbid the two races living together on social or political equality. There must be a position of superior and inferior, and I am in favor of assigning the superior position to the white man." ~Fourth Lincoln/Douglas Debate, Charleston, Illinois 1885

And, reading the Emancipation proclamation, we find these words:

That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom. (emphasis mine)

At first blush, it appears that Lincoln has freed all slaves, but, when we look closer, we see that Lincoln only freed slaves "within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United states." This is a problem because  1) Lincoln had no power in the states that had broken from the Union, and 2) he neglected to free slaves in the states that were in agreement with the Union, like Kentucky. Many politicians of Lincoln’s time believed that Lincoln was "freeing" slaves in states where he had no power to do so in order to start a revolt, not to champion  equality.

The scheme for an immediate emancipation and general arming of slaves throughout the South is a proposal for the butchery of women and children, for scenes of lust and rapine, arson and murder, unparalleled in the history of the world. ~ Horatio Seymour, future governor of New York (War Between the States, page 276)

And, indeed, riots and uproars did rock the nation as a result of the Emancipation Proclamation. It didn’t free a single slave; the 14th Amendment did.

Finally, while Lincoln may have been an accomplished politician and orator, he did not conduct a just war. He suspended the right of habeas corpus, imprisoning those who disagreed with him orally or in print. He allowed his generals to destroy southern cities and steal supplies from home. He undermined the rules of just war on several occasions. Thomas DiLorenzo, in The Real Lincoln describes Lincoln’s faults in this area:

This included the burning of entire towns populated only by civilians, massive looting and plundering, and even the execution of civilians. A great humanitarian would not express his personal thanks and "the thanks of a nation" to those who committed such atrocities and war crimes, as Lincoln did to General Philip Sheridan." ~Thomas DiLorenzo, The Real Lincoln, page 29.

Abraham Lincoln’s heroism is great exaggerated in modern circles. His own words prove that he was not a proponent of emancipation, he did not believe in racial equality, and his Emancipation Proclamation did not emancipate a single slave; he was injurious in his claims that the Confederate States undermined the Union, and he did not conduct a just war against the South. Though his statue stands in Washington as one of America’s most sacred monuments, though his face is etched into the rock of Mt. Rushmore; though his determined countenance is imprinted on our currency, I do not view him as a hero.


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