Friday, March 13, 2009

That Damn Lincoln Myth (again)

When opposing the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, Lincoln spoke rightly of slavery--calling it despotism because it violated the doctrine of self-government (having slaves beholden to owners):

"If the Negro is a man,why then my ancient faith teaches me that “all men are created equal;” and that there can be no moral right in connection with one man's making a slave of another."

He continues with "What I do say is, that no man is good enough to govern another man, without the other's consent."

Lincoln next invokes the Declaration of Independence:

"We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights,governments are instituted among men, DERIVING THEIR JUST POWERS FROM THE CONSENT OF THE GOVERNED."

He explains,

"I have quoted so much at this time merely to show that according to our ancient faith, the just powers of governments are derived from the consent of the governed. Now the relation of masters and slaves is, pro tanto, a total violation of this principle. The master not only governs the slave without his consent; but he governs him by a set of rules altogether different from those which he prescribes for himself."

This all sounds well and good. In fact, I agree with the man. However, notice this curious excerpt that directly follows the above two quotes:

"Let it not be said I am contending for the establishment of political and social equality between the whites and blacks. I have already said the contrary."

I ask this:

If, Mr. Lincoln, your "ancient faith" dictates that all men are created equal, then what must I make of your statement that you oppose "the establishment of political and social equality between the whites and blacks"?

The answer, of course, is that Lincoln was full of crap--and the above contradiction reeks of it.

Here's the real reason, in Lincoln's own words, why slavery should be barred from the territories:

"Whether slavery shall go into Nebraska, or other new territories,is not a matter of exclusive concern to the people who may go there. The whole nation is interested that the best use shall be made of these territories. We want them for the homes of free white people. This they cannot be, to any considerable extent, if slavery shall be planted within them. Slave States are places for poor white people to remove FROM; not to remove TO. New free States are the places for poor people to go to and better their condition. For this use, the nation needs these territories. "

Basically, only white people should live in the territories. I suppose because they are, as Orwell imagined in Animal Farm, "more equal" than non-whites.

In his adult life, Lincoln was from Illinois, a free-state--due to the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. However, not having slavery--even disliking slavery--does not make a people civil-rights minded.

Here's an example of racism in a free-state (the kind of racism that resolves Lincoln's previous contradiction):

"Legislators in the first General Assembly passed measures designed to discourage African-Americans from coming to Illinois. Blacks were denied suffrage, and other laws deprived them of most rights accorded free white men. African-Americans were prohibited from immigrating without a certificate of freedom. Moreover, they had to register that certificate, along with the certificates of any children, immediately upon entering the state. Among other things, the state legislature intended to discourage Illinois from becoming a haven for runaway slaves. Any runaway found in the state could be sentenced by a justice of the peace to thirty-five lashes. African-Americans assembling in groups of three or more could be jailed and flogged. Additionally, they could not testify in court nor serve in the militia.

"The state's newspapers were filled with advertisements from neighboring states offering rewards for the capture and return of runaway slaves. John Crain, sheriff of Washington County, advertised that he had taken two runaway slaves into custody. Unless their owners called for them, paid the charges and removed them from the state, they "will be hired out as the law directs." Slave hunters such as William Rose of Nashville, Tennessee, advertised their services as agents to find runaways in Illinois.

"Not only did Illinois newspapers carry advertisements for runaways, the state attempted to further discourage black immigration by raising new barriers. The 1829 law required any free black to register in the county seat and post a $1,000 bond to cover costs should they become indigent or violate state or local laws. Since few black men or women had such sums available, they usually had to find a friendly white man to act as surety for them. At the same time, blacks also had to register their certificates of freedom from the state from which they immigrated."

The problem was that free blacks kept moving into Illinois:

"Still, pressure continued to mount to do more to maintain Illinois as a "white man's state." One way to do that, believed some, was to promote the colonization of blacks in the Caribbean or in Liberia. The state had an active colonization society that included such luminaries as Stephen A. Douglas, John Mason Peck, and others."

Who else might be listed among the "others"? None other than Mr. Five Dollar Bill, Abraham Lincoln.

That's right. He believed so much in the equality of blacks that he was a member of an organization that wanted to ship all free blacks "back" to Africa--even though the majority of black Americans at the time had been born in the United States.

In 1847, Illinois even re-wrote their constitution to "prohibit the emigration of free African-Americans into the state."

A few years later,

"the General Assembly adopted the draconian "Black Law" of 1853. For the most part, the law simply brought together in one place several existing laws. Under this law, no black from another state could remain within the Illinois borders for more than ten days. Beyond ten days and he or she was subject to arrest, confinement in jail, and a $50 fine and removal from the state. If unable to pay the fine, the law directed the sheriff to auction the offending African-American to the bidder willing to pay the costs and the tine and to work the "guilty" party the fewest number of days. If the convicted man or woman did not leave within ten days after completing the required service, the process resumed, but the fine was increased $50 for each additional infraction."

But surely this attitude must have changed sometime before the Civil War?

"The Illinois Black Laws continued in force until the end of the Civil War. Indeed, in the midst of the Civil War, Illinois held a constitutional convention and a new constitution was submitted to the people of the state for ratification. One of the most remarkable features of that document were three provisions that wrote the Black Laws into the proposed constitution. Although Illinois voters rejected the constitution, they overwhelmingly approved the anti-black provisions."

So what's with Lincoln's reputation for being The Great Emancipator?

Mostly, it's the mythology established firmly by the sympathy that surrounded his death. It also helped that, as the country realized that racism is not only absurd but evil, the "Lincoln freed the slaves" / "Lincoln cared about civil rights" myth made most people feel all warm and cozy.

How warm and cozy would the truth be? Try this:

Abraham Lincoln opposed the expansion of slavery into the territories because he wanted only white men in the territories (this is by his own words), but also because he knew that slave states would oppose his whig/republican agenda, which included high, protective tariffs, a powerful national bank, and federal funding of "internal improvements" (e.g. the "earmarks" that make up so much of today's stimulus package).

Lincoln said time after time that he had no intention of interfering with slavery in the slave states, that he only wanted to prevent it from spreading.

He would not have said such things if he truly opposed slavery for moral reasons. Instead, his reasons were racist and political.

Slavery in a state means black people in a state. Lincoln was from Illinois, and Illinois clearly didn't want black people around.

Slavery in a state means that the state will take up the political and economic ideology of the southern states, which would make passing protective tariffs, managing a national bank, and funding internal improvements difficult.

The Republican Party (Lincoln's party) had five main planks:

No slavery in the territories.
High protective tariffs.
A powerful national bank.
Federal funding of state projects (i.e. "internal improvements")
A "Homestead Act" to make it easier for poor whites to settle the western territories.

Still think that Lincoln was a civil rights icon?

With the exception of his assassination, the Civil War was a blessing for Lincoln. It led to the South being itself enslaved to the North. Republicans got their tariffs, their banking scheme, their "internal improvements", their Homestead Act.

Yes, Lincoln and the Republican Party were responsible for the end of slavery, but for all the wrong reasons.

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