Sunday, April 17, 2005

Confederate "Heritage" Month - April 17: Lincoln as Abolitionist (2)

(Continued from Part 1) In Dumond's words:

He proposed that the existing fugitive-slave law should be repealed and another be substituted guaranteeing the right of habeas corpus and jury trial to the fugitive, thus advocating what would at one stroke quiet all agitation in the North by effectually providing that no fugitives would ever again be returned. ... Now that the antislavery forces were coming into control of the federal government, at the first opportunity Lincoln suggested the full use of their new power to settle the question to their complete satisfaction.

Dumond says, thirdly, that Lincoln from the start of his Presidency assumed a view of national government like that first asserted by Andrew Jackson, in which the supremacy of the federal government was unquestioned (although he never disputed that states had certain proper spheres of action of their own). Known in the disputes over slavery as "consolidation," he argues that of Lincoln's view of national power: "It was a species of consolidation doctrine such as no man in public life had ever before uttered and such as only the most extreme consolidationist could possibly endorse. Put into practical effect it would remove all limis to antislavery legislation."

And despite his efforts to conciliate the South after his election, when the decision came down to surrendering Fort Sumter or letting the Confederates initiate the war, he held firm and let the secessionists proceed in the war that ultimately meant destruction for their "peculiar institution".

And he did issue the Emancipation Proclamation that despite its limitations at the moment was the death-knell for slavery. He brought black soldiers into the Union army, which was a tremendous boost to the image of blacks in the eyes of Northern whites. And he brought the Civil War to a successful conclusion, with the United States victorious and the Slave Power defeated.

And the war changed Lincoln's attitudes just as it did that of many Americans. It certainly shattered any illusions he may have maintained about colonizing black Americans to Africa. And there is much to suggest that he also came to have a more realistic - and more democratic - view ofthe capabilities of people of African descent.

Lincoln met the African-American abolitionist leader and former slave Frederick Douglass in person at the White House in 1863. He said of the President in his autobiography (pp. 350-5), "I at once felt myself in the presence of an honest man - one whom I could love, honor and trust without reserve or doubt." And while Lincoln did not grant all of Douglass' requests on war policy, he took a generous view of the President's positions: "In all this I saw the tender heart of the man rather than the stern warrior and commander-in-chief of the American army and navy, and, while I could not agree with him, I could but respect his humane spirit."

At the time of his interview with Lincoln, Douglass had three sons serving in the Union Army.

Douglass had learned to be sensitive to the responses of whites to members of his race. He describes the moment at Lincoln's second inaugural when Lincoln pointed out Douglass to his Vice President and soon-to-be-successor, Andrew Johnson. (Life and Times, p. 371)

The first expression which came to his face, and which I think was the true index of his heart, was one of bitter contempt and aversion. Seeing that I observed him, he tried to assume a more friendly appearance; but it was too late; it was useless to close the door when all within had been seen. His first glance was the frown of the man, the second was the bland and sickly smile of the demagogue. I turned to Mrs. Dorsey and said, "Whatever Andrew Johnson may be, he certainly is no friend of our race."

Also very telling is the incident related by Douglass when he arrived to a reception to which he had been invited after the second inaugural, and the guards told him no blacks were allowed.

At this moment a gentleman who was passing in, recognized me, and I said to him: "Be so kind as to say to Mr. Lincoln that Frederick Douglass is detained by officers at the door." It was not long before Mrs. Dorsey and I walked into the spacious East Room, amid a scene of elegance such as in this country I had never witnessed before.

Continuing with Frederick Douglass' story:

Like a mountain pine high above all others, Mr. Lincoln stood, in his grand simplicity, and home-like beauty. Recognizing me, even before I reached him, he exclaimed, so that all around could hear him, "Here comes my friend Douglass." Taking me by the hand, he said, "I am glad to see you. I saw you in the crowd to-day, listening to my inaugural address; how did you like it?" I said, "Mr. Lincoln, I must not detain you with my poor opinion, when there are thousands waiting to shake hands with you." "No, no," he said, "you must stop a little, Douglass; there is no man in the country whose opinion I value more than yours. I want to know what you think of it?" I replied, "Mr. Lincoln, that was a sacred effort." "I am glad you liked it!" he said, and I passed on, feeling that any man, however distinguished, might well regard himself honored by such expressions, from such a man.

No such scene was ever enacted at Jefferson Davis' capital in Richmond.

So much has been written about Lincoln, I'm sure that every line in Dwight Lowell Dumond's 1939 defense of Lincoln as an abolitionist could be modified, qualified, expanded and argued over at great length. But his essential argument is correct. Abraham Lincoln will always be remembered as an enemy of slavery.

And his title of the Great Emancipator was a well-deserved one.

To conclude, this is a quotation from his second inaugural address seems appropriate. This was the speech that Frederick Douglass told him afterward was "a sacred effort." This speech is most famous for the phrase, "With malice toward none; with charity for all." But the words that preceded that famous phrase give a better idea of Abraham Lincoln's attitude toward the institution that plunged the nation into bloody civil war:

Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict [no one on either side at the time had any doubt that slavery was what he meant] might cease with, or even before, the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces; but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered - that of neither has been answered fully.

The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses! for it must needs be that offenses come; but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, he now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly to we hope - fervently do we pray - that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said, "The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."

(See the Index to Confederate "Heritage" Month post 2005 for links to all this year's posts.)

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