Hey there reader, I hope you’re doing great. I wanted to try something different in this blog: read three books about an American president and combine them into one post. Here’s what I learned.
What Lincoln Believed: The Values And Convictions Of America’s Greatest President By Michael Lind
Michael Lind explained the many roles Abraham Lincoln played in American folklore and history. First Lincoln was the Great Commoner who grew up in a log cabin, split rails with an ax and read books by firelight. Then there was Lincoln, the Savior of the Union whose leadership was essential to bringing the North and South together again. And finally Lincoln was the Great Emancipator whose sense of morality was resurrected by the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Lind detailed what Lincoln believed about slavery, western expansionism, the Union and the Civil War.
Lincoln believed the founding principle of the United States was in the Declaration of Independence, that all men were created equal. Everyone should have the opportunity to improve the economic condition in which they were born through work and saving.
Lincoln thought slavery was theft. The peculiar institution was so abhorrent, so absurd its end result would be enslavement of the entire human population by the whitest person in the world. Slavery smacked of in-egalitarian hypocrisy: it prevented workers from improving their economic condition and from buying property. But Lincoln wasn’t an abolitionist or a Know-Nothing for that matter: he thought abolition was a decision State legislatures or courts should make on their own. He also favored immigration.
Lincoln said he was always an old Henry Clay Whig. Whigs emphasized high tariffs, colonization and protectionism on imports, which benefitted industrialists in the North but came at the expense of planters in the South. Whigs promoted public works projects, manufacturing, railroad development and factory employment. Part of the Whig Party opposed the expansion of slavery, the party eventually collapsed and became the Republican Party in 1854.
Labor unions developed as a countervailing force against urban industrialization. And Lincoln supported collective bargaining: in his first address to Congress in 1861, Lincoln said, “Labor is prior to and independent of capital.”
Lind noted how much legislation was passed while southern Representatives and Senators were absent from Congress during the Civil War; northern Republicans passed the Revenue Act of 1861 which put a progressive tax structure on incomes to pay for war expenses. But Republicans also passed the Anti-Coolie Act in February, 1862 which banned the transportation of Chinese immigrant laborers in the U.S. Republicans passed several other restrictive immigration policies in the century following Lincoln’s death.
Congressional Republicans also passed the Homestead Act which gave property rights to farmers and immigrants in western territories and states in March, 1862. They also passed the Pacific Railroad Act and Morrill Act in July, 1862; the former made public lands and grants available for a transcontinental railroad and the latter made land available to states for public colleges and universities. Lincoln signed into law the Legal Tender Act in 1862 and National Banking Act in 1863 which created a national currency and banking system.
Like Clay, Lincoln was a Free-Soiler and a colonizationist: he thought free black and white people couldn’t coexist in the same country together and it would be best if the freedmen would voluntarily recolonize themselves and migrate to the Caribbean Islands, Central America, Colombia, Liberia or Monrovia.
Lincoln thought if freedmen moved to western states or territories, white laborers and farmers would compete with them for jobs which would lower everyone’s wages. As a Free-Soiler, Lincoln favored the containment of slavery and freed blacks to the South and believed the west should be reserved for white people. Several states had Free-Soiler policies in place. For example, Oregon’s state constitution contained black exclusion laws. Lincoln favored the Black Codes in Illinois and Indiana which banned black people from their respective states.
Lincoln’s plan for Reconstruction was to have freedmen work on their old master’s farms as apprentices into young adulthood and believed only the most intelligent of them should be allowed to vote. Lind noted, if Lincoln had survived into old age, contemporary historians would probably consider him to be a separate but equal type segregationist.
Lincoln believed democracy itself was on trial during the Civil War: popular government was being tested all over the world during the 19th century. The primary purpose of the Civil War was law and order in service of democracy, or in short to preserve the Union. Lincoln often argued the Civil War was an illegal insurrection: states could not unilaterally secede on their own and always referred to the Confederates as rebels. But Lind noted how Lincoln treated the Civil War as a war: he blockaded southern ports with the Union Navy, suspended habeas corpus and drafted troops to enlist in the Union Army. Clearly, this was no ordinary rebellion. The Confederacy treated the Civil War as a war: they suspended habeas corpus and enacted a conscription law in 1862, one year before the Union.
Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in September 22, 1862 after the Union won the Battle of Antietam, the turning point of the Civil War. The Proclamation took effect 90 days later on January 1, 1863. Slaves left southern plantations and headed North toward Missouri, Kentucky, West Virginia, Maryland and Delaware where slavery still remained. However, thousands of slaves emancipated themselves before the Emancipation Proclamation by following Union generals and armies throughout the South. Lincoln is forever remembered as the Great Emancipator for the Emancipation Proclamation. Lind wrote Lincoln should also be known as the Great Democrat for his flexibility on slavery.
Lind made a few good theories worth noting. For example had the Civil War been about states’ rights to unilaterally secede from the Union as southern sympathizers claim, Congress would have passed an amendment to the Constitution allowing states to secede unilaterally after the Civil War. But legislators instead passed the 13th Amendment in 1865 which prohibited slavery and Lincoln supported. The Civil War might have began over states’ rights at the beginning of the war but without an amendment allowing unilateral secession, it’s clear the Civil War was always about slavery. The Supreme Court answered the secession question when it decided unilateral secession was prohibited in the Texas vs. White case in 1868.
Lind also noted how Republicans admitted 14 states to the Union between 1861 and 1912. This ensured the Republican Party would mostly dominate national government offices and chambers until Franklin Delano Roosevelt won the presidency in 1932. But Republican domination came at the expense of minorities as racial apartheid creeped over the former Confederacy during the Reconstruction era. Jim Crow laws, mass incarceration and lynchings lasted for almost a century after Lincoln died.
The industrialization and easy credit policies which Republicans encouraged in the years following the Civil War increased economic inequality into the 1920s. The Homestead Act led to over production in midwestern soil and played a part in the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression.
Lind wrote the first republic of the United States lasted from 1791 to 1865, it was based on agriculture and slavery. Industry in the North developed faster than in the South. Lincoln’s presidency marked the beginning of the second republic of the United States which was based on westward expansion of industry, railroads and petroleum. It lasted from 1865 to 1932. The third republic began with the inauguration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, it was based on communication, information, trade, flight and plastics and it lasted until 2007.
Lind’s theory of history emphasized the role technology played in economic growth. According to Lind, American republics last for approximately 50 years which is when economic growth slows and leads to 20 years of reform. The American Republic cycle lasts approximately 70 years: 50 years of growth plus 20 years of reform which is the average life expectancy in the U.S. Lind believes we are living in the fourth American republic. Lind was critical of Lincoln in this book but ultimately, I think he still admired him.
The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln And American Slavery By Eric Foner
Eric Foner told a more sanguine story of Abraham Lincoln than Lind. Foner described how Lincoln had a troubled relationship with his father Thomas. And growing up in Jackson-Era Kentucky, Lincoln must have seen slaves walking in chain-gangs during his two riverboat trips to New Orleans in 1828 and 1831.
Foner noted how Lincoln probably was an atheist but frequently used scripture in his speeches. And how Lincoln fought in the Blackhawk War in 1832, married Mary Todd in 1842, the daughter of a wealthy slave owning banker and opposed the Mexican War in 1847. Lincoln never drank alcohol and knew how to tell a joke.
Foner described the context of slavery in 19th century America, how Lincoln tolerated it and weakened it. For example, Foner noted several times how the words “slave” or “slavery” didn’t appear in the U.S. Constitution until the 13th Amendment was ratified in 1865. The words “all other persons” and “person held to service or labor” were used as substitutes given the cultural sensitivity at the time. Lincoln’s Cooper Union Address in New York in 1860 made it clear, “An inspection of the Constitution will show that the right of property in a slave is not “distinctly and expressly affirmed” in it.”
Foner also described how the Northwest Ordinance of 1878 banned slavery in Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and parts of Minnesota. But even though the Northwest was anti-slavery, it wasn’t anti-black. Slavery was grandfathered in prior to Illinois’s statehood in 1818 and slavery was prohibited in general but permitted during interstate travel. Lincoln supported Illinois’s Black Exclusion laws passed in 1848 and 1853. Ohio and Indiana had similar laws.
The U.S. Congress banned the importation of slaves in 1808, the year before Lincoln was born. But the slave population continued to grow from 1,103,700 in 1810 to 3,950,511 in 1860, an increase of nearly 258 percent. Virginia exported more slaves to the Deep South than any other State after the Atlantic slave trade was prohibited. Foner further described the context and history of American slavery;
- The Missouri Compromise of 1820 prohibited slavery in the Louisiana Purchase territories north of 36° 30′.
- The U.S. House of Representatives put a gag order on anti-slavery bills from 1836 to 1844. Several slave states prohibited anti-slavery discussion in public which was a clear violation of the First Amendment.
- Poor white people were sometimes subject to whippings without trial and public humiliation if they opposed slavery in the South.
- The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 prohibited allies from helping fugitive slaves and from obstructing their capture.
- The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 nullified the Missouri Compromise and extended “popular sovereignty” to states which allowed states to decide whether they would rely on slave or free labor. The Whig Party collapsed over the Kansas-Nebraska Act and most of the former Whigs joined the new Republican Party.
- U.S. Supreme Court Justice Roger B. Taney wrote blacks “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect” in the Dred Scott v. Sanford case of 1857.
Lincoln criticized the Dred Scott decision, “this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free…It will become all one thing, or all the other.” Popular sovereignty was controversial during the ante-bellum era: non-slave owners were at a disadvantage if they had to compete with slave owning neighbors given the scarcity of labor in the South. But slave owners were committed to retaining slavery, they debated annexing Cuba, Ecuador, Honduras and parts of Mexico. But the global culture of slavery however was changing in the 18th and 19th centuries;
- The Somerset case prohibited slavery in England in 1772.
- Slaves overthrew their French masters in in St. Dominique in 1791 which became the nation of Haiti.
- Slavery was banned in the French colonies in 1794. It was later re-instituted in 1802 and banned again in 1818.
- Slavery was banned in the English colonies in 1834, the Dutch colonies in 1863 and the Portuguese colonies in 1869.
- Slavery was abolished in Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Brazil in 1829, 1873, 1886 and 1888 respectively.
Lincoln won four terms to the Illinois State House of Representatives from 1834 to 1842, he voted against pro-slavery legislation. He also won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives as a Whig from 1847 to 1849 where he supported a bill to ban slavery in Washington, D.C. But Lincoln lost his campaigns for the U.S. Senate in 1854 and 1858 and returned to practicing law. His slavery debates with Stephen A. Douglas during the 1850s made him popular in the North and hated in the South. Pro-slavery southerners became more reactionary and doubled down in their beliefs in the years preceding the Civil War.
Lincoln won the Republican Party nomination for President and the presidential election of 1860 with only 39.8 percent of the popular vote. His name didn’t appear on ballots in 10 southern states but to be fair, 3 other candidates ran against him.
Southern rebels immediately seized federal post offices, forts, armories and the U.S. mint in New Orleans following the outcomes of the election. Seven slave states seceded from the Union and formed the Confederate States of America before Lincoln’s first inaugural address in March, 1861.
Foner noted how the Civil War might have began over states’ right to secede from the Union but the slaves made the war about emancipation. A slave boy in a canoe arrived at Fort Sumter, South Carolina on March 11, 1861: he heard the President intended to free the slaves. The next day, 4 slaves appeared at Fort Pickens, Florida: they assumed the federal troops were put there to protect them and grant them their freedom. Thirty slaves escaped to Fort Pickens by the end of the month and hundreds of slaves in Maryland followed Union armies on their way to Washington, D.C.
Three slaves arrived at Fortress Monroe, Virginia on May 23, 1861. General Benjamin F. Butler declared them “contraband” of war and put them to work as laborers. Forty-seven more slaves arrived at Fortress Monroe on May 27, 1861. They provided valuable intelligence of Confederate Army supply chains and geography to the Union Army. Eight hundred and fifty more slaves arrived by July, 1861 and nearly 400,000 slaves emancipated themselves by 1864. But to be fair, the slaves emancipated themselves long before the Civil War began.
The Civil War was really two parts. The first part was a limited war which produced few Union victories. The second part was a total war in which the Union held nothing back. Northern abolitionists grew impatient with Lincoln’s conservative approach to the rebels and slavery during the first half of the war: the rebels had more to gain the longer the war went on.
Lincoln was a strict constitutionalist, he supported gradual emancipation and compensation to slave owners in border slave states. He signed the first and second Confiscation Acts into law in August, 1861 and July, 1862 respectively. The former authorized Union Armies to seize Confederate property and freed slaves who fought for the rebels. The latter freed slaves of civilian and Confederate military officials in areas occupied by the Union Army in the South.
When slavery was abolished in Washington, D.C. on April 16, 1862, Lincoln provided just compensation to former slave owners: $300 for each of the 3,100 freed slaves for a total of $930,000. Abolition attracted freedmen and their families to the District and thousands of them enlisted in the Union Army and Navy. Lincoln signed the Militia Act into law in July, 1862 which employed thousands of “persons of African descent” in “any military or naval service for which they may be found competent.”
But Lincoln still supported voluntary colonization going into the summer of 1862. Congressional Republicans entertained the idea of colonization but they had their doubts. Congress commissioned a group of researchers to study how long it would take for the freedmen to completely self-deport themselves. Researchers found if 150,000 freedmen and their families were voluntarily colonized per year, the process would be completed by 1907.
Lincoln met with a delegation of black leaders at the White House in August, 1862 to persuade them to support voluntary colonization after abolition. He thought white people were so racist, racial harmony would be impossible in America. He even went so far as to blame the presence of blacks in America for the Civil War. “But for your race among us there could not be war, although many men engaged on either side do not care for you one way or the other. Nevertheless, I repeat, without the institution of slavery, and the colored race as a basis, the war would not have an existence. It is better for us both, therefore, to be separated.” Frederick Douglas argued the presence of blacks in America didn’t cause the war, the institution of slavery caused the war. This was the low point of Lincoln’s presidency.
Lincoln held the meeting with the black delegates because some northerners were still undecided about what should be done with the freedmen and their families after emancipation, many feared new workers would decrease wages after abolition. Lincoln used voluntary colonization to persuade undecided northerners to support abolition but colonization was unpopular with the slaves: they were just as American as anyone else and if colonizationists had asked slaves what they wanted, the slaves would have answered with emancipation and land. In retrospect, colonization would have exacerbated the labor shortage in the South which would lead workers to demand higher wages.
Lincoln also proposed an apprenticeship plan for the freedmen. This was modeled after England’s apprenticeship plan of 1833: freedmen would work for 7 years and then become laborers and citizens. Children would work until age 25. But Lincoln ultimately abandoned the apprenticeship plan given England did the same in 1838. Foner noted how radical Republicans in Congress sometimes discussed redistributing land to the freedmen but rarely did they ever discuss reparations after emancipation.
Popular support for emancipation grew during the second half of the war and Republicans criticized Lincoln for his cautious approach toward ending slavery. The people were ahead of their leaders when it came to abolition. Lincoln abandoned his colonization plan after the Emancipation Proclamation: military service and an Union victory would be sufficient enough to ensure freedom for the slaves.
But Lincoln showed little concern for Native Americans when they were massacred during his administration;
- A hunting party of Dakota Native Americans killed 5 white settlers in Minnesota which caused the “Dakota War” or “Sioux Uprising” August, 1862. Thirty-eight Dakota warriors were hanged in the largest mass execution in U.S. history in December, 1862.
- The Union Army killed more than 250 Shoshone during the Bear River Massacre in the Idaho Territory in January, 1863. “200 soldiers under Colonel Patrick Connor’s command killed 250 or more Shoshone, including at least ninety women, children, and infants. The Shoshone were shot, stabbed, and battered to death. Some were driven into the icy river to drown or freeze.”
- The Sand Creek Massacre happened in the Colorado Territory in November, 1864. Union troops attacked peaceful, unarmed Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians “with carbines and cannon, killing at least 150 Indians, most of them women, children and the elderly. Before departing, the troops burned the village and mutilated the dead, carrying off body parts as trophies.”
When Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, he knew it could be reversed if the war ended. This made an amendment to the constitution to prohibit slavery even more necessary. The U.S. Senate approved 13th Amendment to the Constitution to abolish slavery on April 8, 1864, the House passed it on January 31, 1865. Lincoln submitted the joint resolution to the state legislatures on February 1, 1865. It was ratified by the states on December 6, 1865 and made abolition permanent. Abolition was in itself “the largest redistribution of wealth in American history.”
The Proclamation only freed slaves in the Confederacy, areas already in Union Army control were exempted. The Proclamation also authorized freedmen to enlist in the Union Army and Navy: almost 200,000 freedmen served the Union by the end of the war, most of whom were recruited in slave states. The Union Army might not have won the war had it not been for the black soldiers and sailors who fought in nearly 450 military engagements, 40 of which were major battles, or served in 120 different infantry regiments, 12 heavy artillery regiments, 10 batteries of light artillery and 7 cavalry regiments.
Lincoln won re-election in November, 1864. On March 4, 1865, he gave his second inaugural address and invoked God to heal the nation. Lincoln described the great change the nation had gone through over the previous 4 year period. He also noted how the war was indeed fought over slavery. “One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war.”
During the war, Lincoln never called the rebels “Confederates” or condemned southerners for the institution of slavery: northerners were just as culpable. Both the North and South given both sides profited from slavery and both would have to reconcile with 250 years of slavery and hundreds of thousands of casualties and injuries suffered during the war. “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Union General U.S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia on April 9, 1865. Two days later, Lincoln discussed freedmen’s suffrage, especially for black veterans. But Lincoln was shot in the head by John Wilkes Booth at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. on April 15 and died the following morning.
Lincoln was succeeded by Vice President Andrew Johnson, former military governor of Tennessee. Foner noted how different Lincoln was from Johnson. “Lincoln was intellectually curious, willing to listen to criticism, attuned to the currents of northern public opinion and desirous of getting along with Congress. Over the course of the war he had developed a deep sense of compassion for the slaves he had helped to liberate…Andrew Johnson was self absorbed, insensitive to others, unwilling to compromise and unalterably racist.”
The “Fiery Trial” comes from Lincoln’s first annual address to Congress on December 1, 1862. “The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation. We say we are for the Union. The world will not forget that we say this. We know how to save the Union. The world knows we do know how to save it. We — even we here — hold the power, and bear the responsibility. In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free — honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth.”
Foner won the Pulitzer Prize for the Fiery Trial. It’s the best book about Abraham Lincoln I’ve ever read.
Abraham Lincoln And The Second American Revolution By James M. McPherson
What can be said about Lincoln that hasn’t been said already? James M. McPherson explained Lincoln’s presidency within the context of American slavery and the Civil War. McPherson borrowed America’s Second Revolution from historian Charles A. Beard.
McPherson used several historical, revolutionary figures to describe the context of the Civil War. For example, U.S. House Representative James A. Garfield from Ohio proposed a radical idea, land redistribution from the rebels to the freedmen and their families. Garfield was such a proponent of abolition he “supported the seizure of rebel property in the North and the execution or exile of Confederate leaders.” Garfield accepted a commission as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Union Army in 1861, achieved the rank of Major General and became the 20th U.S. President in 1881.
Karl Marx and Frederick Engels wrote about the Civil War with revolutionary enthusiasm. Radical Republicans and abolitionists like Frederick Douglass, Wendell Phillips, Charles Sumner, John Fremont, William Lloyd Garrison, Edwin Stanton, Simon Cameron, Salmon Chase and Thaddeus Stevens were sometimes referred to as Jacobins by foreign newspapers.
McPherson noted how firearms in the hands of freemen in the Union Army was by far the most revolutionary dimension of the war after emancipation itself. He also noted how preserving the Union was Lincoln’s top priority during the war given the objectives and scale of the war changed with time. Preserving the Union was the grand strategy, emancipating the slaves was the means, or the operation necessary to achieve it. McPherson argued Lincoln was a conservative given his devotion to the constitution but he was also a revolutionary given he adapted to public opinion for abolition.
Before the Civil War, Southern democrats dominated the national Congress, the White House and Supreme Court. McPherson noted how pro-slavery Jeffersonian and Jacksonian southerners advocated for a Herrenvolk Democracy in which a majority ethnic group was eligible to participate in government while minority groups were disenfranchised. For example, U.S. Senator John C. Calhoun of South Carolina once said “With us the two great divisions of society are not the rich and the poor, but white and black, and all the former, the poor as well as the rich, belong to the upper class, and are respected.” U.S. Senator James Hammond of South Carolina once said “In all social systems there must be a class to do the menial duties, to perform the drudgery of life. That is, a class requiring but a low order of intellect and but little skill. Its requisites are vigor, docility, fidelity. Such a class you must have, or you would not have that other class which leads progress, civilization, and refinement. It constitutes the very mud-sill of society and of political government; and you might as well attempt to build a house in the air, as to build either the one or the other, except on this mud-sill.”
McPherson wrote about how many pro-slavery southerners believed freedom couldn’t exist without slavery. Without a doubt, slavery was the centerpiece of the Civil War: one doesn’t have to read much further into Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens’s Cornerstone Speech of 1861 for confirmation. “Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition.”
McPherson noted how the nation experienced an economic revolution during the 1860s. Before the war began, the North had more than twice the population than the Confederacy and nearly half of the southern population were enslaved. But one quarter of the Confederate white male population of military age died during the Civil War. Northern wealth grew by 50 percent during the 1860s while Southern wealth fell by 60 percent. And the average living standards of black people increased by 50 percent in the 15 years following the Civil War. The South didn’t hold as much power in national politics after the war, nearly half a century passed before another Southerner occupied the White House or presided over the U.S. Senate. The Supreme Court was controlled by non-Southerners over the same period.
McPherson also analyzed the constitutionality of slavery. We know the word “slave” and “slavery” didn’t appear in the document before the 13th Amendment was ratified. But Article IV, section 2 provides an opportunity to discuss abolition,”The citizens of each state shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens in the several states.” Abolitionists often used this section of the constitution given African Americans were citizens in Massachusetts.
But citizenship was still arbitrary in the years preceding the Civil War given the outcomes of the Dred Scott Supreme Court case. And birthright citizenship wouldn’t be official until the Civil Rights Act was enacted in 1866. The 14th Amendment finally clarified the matter, “all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
Radical republicans also used the “guarantee clause” found in Article IV, section 4 to advocate for abolition. “The United States shall guarantee to every state in this union a republican form of government, and shall protect each of them against invasion; and on application of the legislature, or of the executive (when the legislature cannot be convened) against domestic violence.” The spirit of the “guarantee clause” was behind the Civil Rights Act of 1866, the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments and the Enforcement Act of 1870.
McPherson used several of Lincoln’s quotes to illustrate his character. Lincoln’s hatred of slavery and nativism are clear in his 1855 letter to Joshua Speed. “I am not a Know-Nothing. That is certain. How could I be? How can any one who abhors the oppression of negroes, be in favor or degrading classes of white people? Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that “all men are created equal.” We now practically read it “all men are created equal, except negroes” When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read “all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics.” When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty — to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocracy [sic].”
In his 1858 House Divided speech, Lincoln criticized the Dred Scott decision and warned of an approaching crisis over slavery. “In my opinion, it will not cease, until a crisis shall have been reached, and passed. “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other.”
In his 1859 letter to Henry Pierce, Lincoln made it clear he believed in universal equality. “This is a world of compensations; and he who would be no slave, must consent to have no slave. Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves; and, under a just God, can not long retain it.”
One of Lincoln’s most well known speeches for preserving the Union was his Cooper Union Address in New York City on February 27, 1860. “Wrong as we think slavery is, we can yet afford to let it alone where it is, because that much is due to the necessity arising from its actual presence in the nation; but can we, while our votes will prevent it, allow it to spread into the National Territories, and to overrun us here in these Free States? If our sense of duty forbids this, then let us stand by our duty, fearlessly and effectively. Let us be diverted by none of those sophistical contrivances wherewith we are so industriously plied and belabored – contrivances such as groping for some middle ground between the right and the wrong, vain as the search for a man who should be neither a living man nor a dead man – such as a policy of “don’t care” on a question about which all true men do care – such as Union appeals beseeching true Union men to yield to Disunionists, reversing the divine rule, and calling, not the sinners, but the righteous to repentance – such as invocations to Washington, imploring men to unsay what Washington said, and undo what Washington did.”
“Neither let us be slandered from our duty by false accusations against us, nor frightened from it by menaces of destruction to the Government nor of dungeons to ourselves. LET US HAVE FAITH THAT RIGHT MAKES MIGHT, AND IN THAT FAITH, LET US, TO THE END, DARE TO DO OUR DUTY AS WE UNDERSTAND IT.”
McPherson applied Isaiah Berlin’s Two Concepts of Liberty to explain Lincoln’s address at the Sanitary Fair in Baltimore, Maryland on April 18, 1864. “The world has never had a good definition of liberty, and the American people, just now, are much in need of one. We all declare for liberty; but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing.”
“With some the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself, and the product of his labor; while with others the same word may mean for some men to do as they please with other men, and the product of other men’s labor. Here are two, not only different, but incompatible things, called by the same name — liberty. And it follows that each of the things is, by the respective parties, called by two different and incompatible names — liberty and tyranny.”
“The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep’s throat, for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as a liberator, while the wolf denounces him for the same act as the destroyer of liberty, especially as the sheep was a black one. Plainly the sheep and the wolf are not agreed upon a definition of the word liberty; and precisely the same difference prevails today among us human creatures, even in the North, and all professing to love liberty. Hence we behold the processes by which thousands are daily passing from under the yoke of bondage, hailed by some as the advance of liberty, and bewailed by others as the destruction of all liberty.”
In this quote, the sheep of course were the slaves, the wolves were the slave owners and rebels and the shepherd was the Union and Lincoln himself. Berlin’s explained how negative liberty is freedom from external interference, the “right to be left alone” and the basis for the states’ rights argument. Positive liberty on the other hand is the capability to achieve objectives and comes from within. For example, emancipation was a positive liberty because it required a dramatic increase in external federal power. The Bill of Rights and Amendments are classic examples of negative liberties given 11 of the first 12 Amendments restrict the federal government with “shall not” language and empower the states. But beginning with the 13th Amendment, 6 of the next 7 Amendments expanded federal power at the expense of the states which makes them positive liberties.
Finally, McPherson noted how Lincoln used literary classics, the Bible, William Shakespeare and Aesop’s Fables to connect with average people. Lincoln used themes like birth and death, freedom, equality and liberty, community, patriotism and citizenship, objectives and achievement which made him an excellent communicator. Several of these themes can be found in his Gettysburg Address of 1863. “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
“Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives, that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.”
“But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate – we can not hallow – this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.”
“It is for us, the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here, have, thus far, so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
I always knew Lincoln was a great president. But I still learned a lot from reading these books. I think we owe him a great amount of credit and gratitude for managing the war the way he did, for emancipating the slaves and for reuniting the Union.