Whatever Lincoln’s faults, he destroyed slavery
Imagine this if you will. Mr. Garlock invites you to the middle of a cornfield. When you arrive he builds a fence around you and then challenges you to picture yourself outside that fence. You rightfully wonder what he’s talking about as you can not only picture it, but you were just outside that fence and intend to return there.
If you have been following this, Mr. Garlock wrote an article a few weeks ago concerning Lincoln, his Gettysburg address, the treatment of Confederate dead after the battle, guides at the Gettysburg battlefield, the Emancipation Proclamation, weight loss, dyspepsia, and male enhancement (well ... not the last three).
Anyway Mr. Garlock eventually did get to the point and the point is that Abraham Lincoln was not John Brown, Lyman Beecher, Harriet Beecher Stowe, William Lloyd Garrison, Horace Greeley, nor any other form of abolitionist. And on that basis Mr. Garlock believes that “Far too many American blacks adore Lincoln without knowing the real history.” I’ll come back to this one.
If we imagine Lincoln as a late 20th century character, he was, at the very least, illiberal with his views on racial equality. But Lincoln was born at the beginning of the 19th century on the still to be settled American frontier in what was a slave-holding state. Specifically he was born just 20 years after the country adopted the U.S. Constitution. His father kept moving the family away from slavery and further out on the frontier.
If you want a good read on the man, pick up “A. Lincoln” by Ronald C. White Jr. (NY Times Bestseller).
In support of his theory that Lincoln had little to do with the end of slavery, Mr. Garlock renders us a number of Lincoln quotes (accurate, I assume) demonstrating his (Lincoln’s) support for laws which made slaves property and therefore gave their owners property rights in other states.
And all of that is fine until Mr. Garlock gets to the idea that we, and our fellow citizens of direct African descent, somehow didn’t know this. Further that Lincoln’s initial support of the idea of slave repatriation to Africa (and some other places of their choice) is somehow revelatory.
I don’t know what black Americans know in their great numbers. I suppose their knowledge of history is as varied as people of any other color skin. I do know that Lincoln was the single greatest American politician of the 19th century, perhaps of all time. I do know that Lincoln singlehandedly drove the Union to win the Civil War and that the result of that victory was the abolition of slavery in this country for all time.
The other thing I know about Lincoln was his extraordinary capacity for growth. Perhaps his lack of empathy for individual black Americans allowed him to avoid the idea of complete equality, while his strong morals drove his revulsion of slavery as an institution. I do speculate that his ideas had undergone some serious changes as a result of black Union bravery on the battlefield, and his own interaction with the genius Frederick Douglass.
Politics has been called “the art of the possible.” Most of the great abolitionists of the 19th century were not politicians, but religious leaders or fanatics. The politicians who formed the country and its Constitution were faced with the dilemma of an entrenched institution, which could not be banned without eliminating at least three of the initial 13 states and possibly several more. The founding fathers chose to put off the decision, believing slavery to be dying as an institution anyway.
The invention of the cotton gin changed the economics of slavery and slaves themselves became the greatest source of wealth in the South. The compromises struck; the court cases decided; the debates in Congress; the abolitionist press; the moneyed and slave-holding leaders in the South — all clicked onward like a metronome to the clash which eventually occurred.
Lincoln was thrust into war but as in all other things, he was up to the task. If people revere him as the destroyer of slavery, it is because he was the destroyer of slavery. Mr. Garlock asks us not to think outside of the box but to think in his narrow, non-contextual quote-ridden corridor.
White, black, pink or orange, it all adds up to the same thing.
P.S. Not all the Northern state courts backed the fugitive slave law. See Re: Booth, Wisconsin 1854.
Timothy J. Parker
Peachtree City, Ga.