Abraham Lincoln – Hero or Racist? Assignment

Abraham Lincoln – Hero or Racist? Assignment Words: 1410

22 Aug. 2009 Abraham Lincoln – Hero or Racist? Abraham Lincoln is arguably one of the most interesting presidents in the history of the United States. Any research done on Lincoln will show, whether you agree or disagree with his philosophies, that he was, and still is, a fascinating historical figure. There have been numerous discussions regarding Lincoln before the Civil War, during the war as Commander In Chief, or his views on slavery and racial equality; furthermore, vast debates on his views, strategies, and solutions regarding events that helped shape our nation.

Abraham Lincoln is such an interesting person that discussions and debates will lead to more questions open to more discussion and debate. What was Lincoln’s view on racial equality and slavery? What was the reason behind the Civil War? Was there an ulterior motive for the Emancipation Proclamation? These are just some of the wide variety of questions asked when the topic of discussion is Abraham Lincoln. What was Lincoln’s view on slavery and racial equality? Many people were pro-slavery.

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Stephen Douglas, Lincoln’s opponent for the Illinois Senate, was one and aggressively challenged Lincoln on his anti-slavery views. Lincoln’s statements concerning slavery were used to turn his constituency against him. Forced to defend his views, Lincoln held several public debates with Douglas around the United States. James McPherson notes that while in Charleston, Illinois for a debate with Stephen Douglas on September 18, 1858, Lincoln was asked if he was actually interested in racial equality.

Responding defensively, Lincoln stated, “Anything that argues me into his idea of a perfect social and political equality is but a specious and fantastic arrangement of words by which a man can prove a horse chestnut to be a chestnut horse. ” (“Mudsills and Greasy Mechanics for A. Lincoln” 185-186). While he did think that blacks were “entitled to all the natural rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence, the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (186), his words still had the ring of racism.

He still did not think blacks should have the right to vote, hold political offices, or marry white people. He also still believed physical differences between the two races would prevent them from living together socially and politically (186). Lincoln was against whites benefitting from slave labor and did feel that blacks should be able to benefit from the fruits of their own labor. According to Dinesh D’Souza in her article “Abraham Lincoln: Tyrant, Hypocrite, or Consummate Statesman”, he was not, however, an abolitionist.

Abolitionists wanted an immediate end to slavery and believed the rights of slaves should not be compromised and that they “had a duty to defend freedom, unreservedly, and careless of the consequences” (3). What was the reason behind the Civil War? According to Carter G. Woodson and Charles H. Wesley, when the Civil War started, Lincoln, in order to stay on the good side of supporters who had voted him into office, publicly stated that he did not want to interfere with the slavery in the South (“The Negro in the Civil War” 361).

Contrary to claims that he did not approve of slavery, Lincoln clearly compromised the rights of slaves to be free in order to appease supporters of slavery by evading the subject of slavery in the South. D’Souza also asserts that Lincoln stated in correspondence to Andrew Stephens, the former vice president of the Confederacy, that “while we think it is wrong, and ought to be restricted, it was not his intention to get rid of slavery in the Southern states, and he confessed that he had no wish and no power to interfere with it” (2).

Woodson and Wesley also stated, “the South, wanting to please foreign countries, dismissed the fact that they were taking part in the war to promote slavery, and instead, claimed self-defense to maintain its right to govern itself and to preserve its own peculiar institutions (361). The purpose of this claim was to keep foreign countries from thinking the South was fighting the war to keep blacks as slaves; thus, hoping to garner the favor of foreign allies. Because the Confederacy claimed the war was “between white men” (361), Blacks were not freed and they could not participate in the war.

Northerners and leaders in the Republican party, which Lincoln was a member of, had long protested slavery, claiming it to be morally wrong. Lincoln’s election to president provoked the cotton states of the South to secede and form The Confederate States of America. Southern states thought because politicians in Northern states were working hard to prevent the extension of slavery, that the North would try to abolish slavery in their states, which would have been not only a threat to their livelyhood which depended on the free labor of slaves, but also threatened their social status of power.

As written by George M. Fredrickson in his article “Diverse Republics: French & American Responses to Racial Pluralism”, “the rise in the production of short-staple cotton in the expanding Deep South of the early nineteenth century made the planter class so affluent and politically powerful that it took a bloody civil war to bring about the abolition of slavery” (2).

The North saw a direct connection of the advancement of the states into modern industrialization to the advancement of rights for all men and the South was not willing to move forward as Woodson and Wesley wrote, “[a]lthough aware of the fact that the civilized world had proscribed slavery, the South was willing to remain in a primitive state to retain it” (“The Irrepressible Conflict” 354). Was there an ulterior motive for the Emancipation Proclamation?

When the Union started crossing over into the South, slaves were confiscated as property of their Confederate owners. Some slaves would escape to Union camps once their owners left the plantations to help fight for the Confederacy. The escaped or captured slaves were used as laborers to build roads and bridges. The Confederacy’s gains over the Union in the war, assisted Lincoln in reevaluating the value of using blacks as soldiers in the war.

D’Souza wrote about Lincoln’s correspondence to publisher Horace Greeley stating, “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could do it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that” (4). It was for this reason blacks were brought into the army. Lincoln produced the Emancipation Proclamation to threaten states that stood against the Union.

As written by Woodson and Wesley, the Emancipation Proclamation claimed that “after the first of January in 1863 all slaves in those parts of the country where the people might remain in rebellion against the United States, should be declared free (“The Negro in the Civil War 372). The most common questions regarding Lincoln, such as: What was Lincoln’s view on racial equality and slavery? What was the reason behind the Civil War? Was there an ulterior motive for the Emancipation Proclamation? , have been debated probably since the Civil War era.

More often than not, these discussions lend themselves to emotions rather than actual facts. I imagine other questions will arise from these. How much compromise should be done when dealing with human rights? Was the acceptance of blacks as soldiers as opposed to laborers the turning point in helping the Union win the war? What would the United States be like if the Confederacy had won? After all of the debates and questions subside, one thing is clear. Regardless of his motives, good or bad, the Emancipation Proclamation did provide a legal basis to free slaves. As for equality, at least it was a start.

Works Cited D’Souza, Dinesh. “Abraham Lincoln: Tyrant, Hypocrite or Consummate Statesman. ” American History Magazine. (April 2005): 1-6. 23 August 2009. <http://www. historynet. com>. Fredrickson, George M. “Diverse Republics: French & American Responses to Racial Pluralism. ” Daedalus. 134. 1 (Winter 2005): 88. 20 Aug. 2009. <http://find. galegroup. com>. McPherson, James M. Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. New York: Ballantine Books, 1989. Woodson, Carter G and Charles H Wesley. The Negro In Our History. 12th Ed. Washington, D. C. : The Associated Publishers, Inc. , 1972.

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