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Archive for Sunday, January 18, 2009

Lincoln hated slavery, but saving Union was top priority

January 18, 2009

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On Tuesday, Barack Obama will stand on the steps of the U.S. Capitol and take an oath making him the nation’s first president of African heritage.

The statue of Abraham Lincoln, which sits facing the Capitol in a temple two miles away, will not give two thumbs up. Neither will it weep, commune with the spirit of Martin Luther King or dance a macarena of joy.

The point is obvious, yes, but also necessary given that when Obama was elected in November, every third political cartoonist seemed to use an image of a celebrating Lincoln to comment upon the milestone that had occurred. Lincoln, they told us, would have been overjoyed.

Actually, Lincoln likely would have been appalled. How could he not? He was a 19th-century white man who famously said in 1858 that “there is a physical difference between the white and black races, which ... will forever forbid the two races living together upon terms of social and political equality.”

How do you reconcile that with all those cartoons of Lincoln congratulating Obama? You don’t. You simply recognize it for what it is: yet another illustration of how shallow our comprehension of history is, yet another instance where myth supersedes reality.

Not that this is anything new — or that political cartoonists are the only ones susceptible. Indeed, blacks once tended to regard Lincoln with an almost religious reverence. Consider another Lincoln statue, this one in a park east of the Capitol: It depicts Lincoln towering over a newly freed black man who kneels at his feet. While modern eyes might find the image unbearably paternalistic, it represented the heartfelt sentiment of the black men and women who gave it to the city in 1876 in gratitude, they said, for Lincoln freeing the slaves.

Of course, Lincoln freed no slaves. That’s the myth. His Emancipation Proclamation was a military measure to demoralize and destabilize the rebellious South; it covered states he did not govern, but did not apply in slaveholding states that remained under his jurisdiction.

None of which is to deny or diminish the greatness of the 16th president. His greatness stands unquestioned, unquestionable. We would be a very different nation, a lesser nation, without his political genius, his dogged faith in the unsundered Union, his refusal to accept less than Union, even when haunted by reversals and setbacks that would have broken anyone else.

No, the argument is not about Lincoln’s greatness. Rather, it is about our tendency to cherish untextured myths that affirm our preferred narratives. George Washington confessing that he chopped down the cherry tree is one, a parable of honesty that has survived for generations despite the minor inconvenience of not being true. Lincoln the Great Emancipator is yet another.

Abraham Lincoln did not believe in the equality of black people. He did, however — and this was no minor distinction in his era — believe in their humanity. He also abhorred slavery. But he was willing to countenance it if doing so would have vindicated his primary goal: to save the Union.

For him, nothing mattered more. Lincoln held with an indefatigable fervor to the belief that there was something unique, something necessary to preserve, in the union of American states, this government of, by, and for the people. He held to this even when common sense, casualty reports and political reality demanded otherwise.

So, remarkable as it is that America has elected a black man its 44th president, Lincoln might find it more remarkable simply that the country has elected a 44th president at all. That was not always a certainty. He would be glad to know that, 144 years after his death, America continues to surprise itself.

The Union endures.

— Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald.

Comments

coolhawk 5 years, 6 months ago

Mr. Pitts is right on with this article. Taking an objective, historical view of the times that Lincoln lived in bears consideration. As a history buff, I have reviewed the era of the civil war and the circumstances leading up to it. Lincoln led a country during its most difficult time. The diversity of the country was unique. Lincoln was amazing in that he could see through all that were trying to influence the direction of the country and determine a middle-ground strategy that accomplished objectives in a common sense, deliberate, way. Lincoln was a master politician. It should be noted that a member of his cabinet was a current slave owner at the time of his tenure - Mr. Payne of Missouri. However, Lincoln had the foresight to understand that he needed the help of all (partisan, non-partisan, anti-slave, freedom fighters, slave owners) to protect and preserve the union. Lincoln could not directly effect social change. But he could effect change for the future as the country grew and matured. Lincoln also realized that once lost, the task of returning the confederate states to the union would be difficult. If the confederate states continued to be financially prosperous (which they were on the backs of slaves providing the labor) then social and political change may never come. The South would gain control of their wealth which, would not be shared with the union states. This is very important. The confederates states would be in a position to maintain their livelihood, build a military, prosper and perpetuate existing social standards. If let go, the confederates could build upon their existing wealth and develop a military and or economic system to rival or overcome the Unionists. As a result, any future confrontation could be even more bloody and devastating than the Civil War. Lincoln and others saw the big picture and viewed the future in a worse case scenario. Taking into account all perspectives, even within his own cabinet of extremists, Lincoln found a common denominator and developed a strategy to accomplish the goal - preserving the union. As we stand today, a nation that is divided in many ways, I pray that President Obama shares some of the same characteristics as Lincoln - foresight, viewing the big picture, listening to many but having the courage to make decisions for the best of all and our collective futures. His task is difficult and I admire him for wanting to take on this challenge. We all have our views and opinions. Thank goodness we have them and retain the right of expression. As we move forward, let's retain the right to have our views but possess the common sense to know that we must all work together to protect and preserve what we have and effect change for the future. May God bless our President. May God bless us all.

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mom_of_three 5 years, 6 months ago

2009 is the bicentennial of Lincoln's birth.

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bizarre 5 years, 6 months ago

Lincoln said: there is a physical difference between the white and black races, which ... will forever forbid the two races living together upon terms of social and political equality.”------------------------------------That is so true even today. It goes way beyond race. It can be applied to the obese, women, the disabled even the poor.However....We are a nation that can "overcome". Where opportunity is there regardless of the inequity for every American!

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Angela Heili 5 years, 6 months ago

In a letter that Abraham Lincoln sent to the New York Times: "My paramount objective in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slaves, I would do it, and if I could save it all by freeing the slaves, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would do that."In another writing of Abraham Lincoln's: "I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about...the social and political equality of the white and black races...I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people...And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race"Source: http://www.123helpme.com/view.asp?id=23211 Just one of many.Just a little something about Abraham Lincoln that a lot of people probably don't know. He wasn't quite the "saviour" of the slaves that most people today think of him as. He used is as a means of saving the Union. His intent was not to free the slaves.

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jonas_opines 5 years, 6 months ago

Probably one incapable of tactfully or properly phrasing it without throwing in a bunch of generalities, rants, and insults.

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Angela Heili 5 years, 6 months ago

If your comment was directed at my post Marion:They are nothing more than facts. He may have been against slavery, however these writings, straight from the hand of Lincoln, show what his objectives were, where slavery was involved. It was not to free the slaves, it was to save the Union. And he wanted to do that by any means necessary. Fortunately, for the slaves, they were an important part of his agenda. I do not condone slavery, or even understand how someone could think it ok to enslave another. But these are the facts. Not opinions. I can't get my head around how anyone could do the things they did to the slaves. Our ancestors were cruel, heartless, and in my opinion, far from humane, when it came to other individuals.

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Angela Heili 5 years, 6 months ago

Bizarre:Where was God, when the white man was kidnapping children as young as 2 and some even younger! Those babies were as innocent as freshly fallen snow. Where was He?Where was He when the people being kidnapped, beaten, tortured, raped, and mutilated, prayed to Him to save them? Where was He?

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Omegatron 5 years, 6 months ago

"If there is a God there is no evidence; and If there is a hell, hell can't be worst then what I'm livin'."

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bizarre 5 years, 6 months ago

Parrysmom,God was there, he gives man a free will, and does not interfere unless there is a request through prayer that his will be done. We have to trust that everything happens for a reason.You ask where was God?He sent his son Jesus to live and die and guarantee that every man woman and child that accepts him as their savior, regardless of their race will have eternal life in heaven.That is the greatest gift of all. That he lay down his own life so that we can have eternal life in heaven.God never said there would not be storms on earth, but he did guarantee us the strength to bear them.

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repaste 5 years, 6 months ago

Guess Biz Is saying those poor kids parents had not been "saved" yet.

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FoxHawk 5 years, 6 months ago

invictus wrote:“Lincoln also had a plan to deport all blacks, slaves or free to Madagascar” Too bad he didn’t, they could have a free and thriving country far away form the oppression of America. If they had a country of there own, surely it would rival Haiti and Sierra Leon in peace and prosperity.I really feel it necessary to point out the fact that pretty much all Americans have ancestry from somewhere else, regardless of skin tone. Any American who is also black does have his/her own country - America! Any American who is also not black, also has his/her own country - America! It's important to note that most of our ancestors did not come to this soil by convenience. Most were fleeing, oppressed, and/or from otherwise broken histories. Many, many, many were brought or sent against their will. Those who were already here, i.e. Native Americans, were pretty much wiped out by those who arrived from elsewhere; and, the generational offspring of all of these people is who we are today: Americans. : ) It's a tough history, but not unique. Soooo many countries and empires throughout history have been built through invasion and enslavement, it's really quite shameful. But it's also what we come from. I think the whole point is to continue to "outgrow" it, if you will. But no one is completely free of oppression no matter where we go or where we stay. Your statement, actually, could be interpreted as extremely bigoted because it suggests that an entire people would be better off deported. Ouch!

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FoxHawk 5 years, 6 months ago

Parrysmom (Anonymous) says… "Where was God, when the white man was kidnapping children as young as 2 and some even younger! Those babies were as innocent as freshly fallen snow. Where was He? Where was He when the people being kidnapped, beaten, tortured, raped, and mutilated, prayed to Him to save them? Where was He?"So, here's the rub: people are still kidnapping 2 yr olds and younger, still beating, torturing, raping and mutilating. Just look at the stats on white slavery - particularly white women with blonde hair and white eyes. Major comodity in some parts of the world. Children are regularly used as drug smuggling vessels, and I won't go into sordid details. I'm sure we all get the gist. So my point is twofold. There is still a great deal of gruesome slave trade going on in the modern world today; and for many people, your question still stands. It's extremely important, though, not to lose sight of the fact that all of this stuff is ongoing. We haven't evolved beyond it yet. Even the best person on the planet (and let's not even begin to try to measure that...) is capable of doing horrific things to other human beings. It is as much a part of our nature as doing good and rising above adversity. (more) -->

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FoxHawk 5 years, 6 months ago

Bizarre wrote about God & Free Will. The Free Will concept is actually quite a paradox since God is supposed to be all knowing, omnipotent and omniscient. That would mean that any act of "free will" is already known to God. So..... And the whole thing about Jesus and you have to believe in Him as the Savior and all of that.... Well, ya know, that's a bit exclusive, don't'cha think? I mean, first off, the Jesus of history never actually claimed to be the Son of God. He referred to himself as the Son of Man. So there's an issue there. Also, Jesus would probably cry a river if he saw what has become of Christianity today -- he was very against the idea of institutionalized religion, and did not want to be worshipped at all, so there's another issue. (more) -->

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FoxHawk 5 years, 6 months ago

<--(continued from prev.) I also have a real problem with the concept that unless a person believes in Jesus as his/her savior there's going to be a lock on the pearly gates upon arrival. If we are to believe that life is truly that sacred, then what god would throw it away based on such flawed - and very human - thinking? So basically, if I've read what you've written correctly, anyone can go to heaven and be loved by God no matter what color they are - but if they happen to be Buddhist or whatnot, they're SOL. Really?Hm.Jesus was Jewish. That means that if you're going to worship Jesus as the holiest of the holy on earth, then you MUST honor his heritage - and I'm not talking about mythologizing the Virgin, either. I'm talking about the fact that the All Knowing Divine intentionally chose a Jewish woman as the vessel through which to send His Son - by your interpretation above. Since, according to Jewish tradition, Jewish heritage and all that is sacred about it is passed down through the mother, one who follows Jesus must also respect the holiness of Judaism. Unless of course the thought is that God made a mistake with that choice. But then, there was also the comment that everything happens for a reason. Therefore, Mary the Jewish Virgin was no mistake. And THAT means that you don't have to accept Jesus as your savior to receive the love of God. But I digress. Since I'm a human being, I won't know what God really has to say until He invites me home for dinner. : )It's very important to recognize the fact that what we know of as the Bible today is the culmination of many, many, MANY rewrites of a political text generated in its current form (King James ver.) for the purpose of controlling the masses at a very turbulent time in history. I can't recall exactly the time lapse, but something like 200 - 400 years passed between the existence of the actual man Jesus and any writings about him or what he had to say -- and I'm including the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Gospel of Thomas in that guess. What's been represented in the modern text of the Bible is even further away time wise from historic events. That fact alone pretty much guarantees some serious telephone game style inaccuracy! So rather than getting caught up in all the man-made rules regarding various religious traditions, it's often a good idea to simply understand that five or six basic principles that are present in all traditions, from all peoples, from all parts of the world at every point in history -- the biggest of which is basically to love one another. Can you imagine how awesome this world would be if we ever got even slightly close to achieving that on the whole? Pretty cool. Have a nice day. : )

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FoxHawk 5 years, 6 months ago

TomPayne wrote: TomPaine (Anonymous) says… "It is an interesting irony that, while Frederick Douglass could be elected today without regard to his race, Ingersoll could not be elected due to his public religious skepticism ... So much for Obama's hollow rhetoric about inclusion. He begins his administration by continuing a tradition of insult to and dismissal of non-Christians and non-believers from the public ceremonies of our nation, supported by a domineering majority of believers, and in flat contradiction of the principle of equal standing for all in government and law, without regard to race, gender or creed."You raise very good points, and I understand. I noticed the same thing. But something that Obama has done that no other president has to my knowledge is actually say (during either his inaugural or his acceptance speech - can't remember which) that we are a nation that includes Christians, Muslims, Jews, Believers and Non-Believers. So he's begun the walk. Roughly 15 years ago, Clinton was the first president to voice - however fallible - to the word "gay" in a more positive tone than any before him. It was a major milestone for these people, though it definitely fell short of equality. It will be interesting to see how long it takes for the change you speak of. I wonder if, like race, the true majority isn't actually Christian once all the numbers are added together. What we call "majority" is often not about numbers, but about who has the loudest voice - or the most voices in power at a given time. Also, like sexual orientation, you can't tell a person's true beliefs just by looking - you can only see what they present outwardly. When it comes to those in positions of power, it would be interesting to see who really believes in what, and who's just been going through the motions because it's what you're "supposed" to do to present the "appropriate" appearance.

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FoxHawk 5 years, 6 months ago

<-- (continued from prev.) Of course, my last comment brings us back to Lincoln, who said what he needed to say to present the right appearence to get the votes he needed to unify the country during a time of war. Not to mention just to get elected. Full circle. Yay.

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iogan 5 years, 2 months ago

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