America's Historical Fable: Abraham Lincoln

Which Abe Was The Real Abe? Who Do We Believe?

March 16th, 2013 | T. Carter

Democrats deify him. They praise him for being ahead of his time and truly understanding racial equality. Republicans tout him as the great emancipator and are always proud to remind voters that he was one of their own – a Republican. In both his first and second inaugurations, Barack Obama was sworn in with the same bible used by Abraham Lincoln. Along with Martin Luther King Jr., Lincoln is highly respected and idolized by civil rights warriors and members of the African American community. His fight to end slavery in America has made him one of America's most popular and cherished leaders. America's most popular Republican has been idealized and idolized by Americans on the left and the right – for the benefit of both the left and the right. Both sides, however, have ignored and censored the truths in nearly every rendition of Abraham Lincoln's presidency and life.

Some will say that actions speak louder than words. They will justify some of Lincoln's most explicit racist remarks as ordinary politics, or as his attempt to appeal to all Americans. This can be viewed similarly to Barack Obama's first victory speech, when he told his opposition, “I'm your president, too”. It was an olive branch extended to the enemy, but it was quickly pulled back by Obama's actions and his tendency for leftist, partisan politics. America's first black president was quickly recognized as someone more interested in partisanship than in cooperation and compromise. Some historians will undoubtedly judge Barack Obama by his actions, not necessarily his words. Perhaps historians have done the same with Lincoln, which may be why many of his true, personal views and remarks have been erased from your children's history curriculum.

Although Lincoln's war against the South prevailed and he was crowned the king of emancipation, his words and rhetoric painted a very different portrait. As the enlightened North grew its anti-slavery forces and the south stood its ground in tradition, any American president would have been forced to choose a side in order to save their career and legacy, no matter their own personal views and ideologies. In Lerone Bennett Jr.'s book, Forced Into Glory: Abraham Lincoln's White Dream, the president is painted as a white supremacist who actually opposed the true guts of the Emancipation Proclamation. In truth, Bennet's theories can be substantiated with documented remarks and speeches made by Lincoln himself, as well as documented accounts of Lincoln's disdain for equality amongst blacks and whites.

“I am not now, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in any way the social or political equality of the white and black races....There must be a position of superior and inferior, and I am in favor of assigning the superior position to the white man.” - Abraham Lincoln, Charleston, South Carolina, 1858

It could have been just rhetoric that was fitting for the times. However, some historians will agree that Lincoln went out of his way to distance himself from abolitionist movements, often promising never to interfere with slavery in places where it already existed. He once told an audience in Peoria, Illinois, “I acknowledge the constitutional rights of the states – not grudgingly, but fairly and fully, and I will give them any legislation for reclaiming their fugitive slaves.”

According to some historians, Abraham Lincoln didn't care about emancipation and was more concerned with keeping the Union together.

“If I could save the union without freeing any slave, I would do it,” Lincoln wrote in a letter to the editor of the New York Tribune, in 1862. These could have been the words of an opportunist looking to gain support from all sides, or it could have been the words of a genuine racist who really wasn't as dedicated to abolition as he was to building his own legacy. Instead of insisting that Lincoln was more concerned with being known as the hero who saved the union, American opportunists have written a tale about a man whose sympathy and understanding of human rights led him to free the African slaves. Republicans and Democrats have both harkened to Abe Lincoln's struggles and used the mythical man as a symbol for civil rights and equality. In the theater of modern American politics, Abe Lincoln has been used as a tool by both the left and the right.

In Obama's autobiography, he praised Lincoln as a “very wise man” and said, “There is a wisdom there and a humility about his approach to government.” Ironically, there is little humility to be seen in Obama's approach to government. “After a century of striving, after a year of debate...healthcare reform is no longer an unmet promise. It is the law of the land,” Obama told a hungry press corp after the successful passage of Obamacare last year. Little humility could be found in his delight over the new draconian law.

Just days before his assassination, Lincoln expressed delight over a suggestion by Benjamin Franklin Butler to send Negro slaves away to dig the Panama Canal. Before Lincoln could put any such plans into action, he was shot by John Wilkes Booth. American abolitionist, Wendell Phillips, claimed that Lincoln preferred the segregation of Negro slaves if they were to be freed, and that he was pressured and badgered into issuing the Emancipation Proclamation from the get-go. Phillips also claimed that Lincoln considered the Emancipation Proclamation to be one of the biggest follies of his presidency. Lincoln may have confirmed some of Phillips' remarks in a prior statement when he said, “If we turn 200,000 armed Negroes in the South, among their former owners, from whom we have taken their arms, it will inevitably lead to a race war. It cannot be done. The Negroes must be gotten rid of.”

“What I would most desire would be the separation of the white and black races,” Lincoln told a crowd in Springfield, Illinois, on July 17th, 1858.

Bolstering Lincoln's character and promoting him as a heroic figure should be viewed with more contention today. The times have changed and no political leader would express such racist views, so bringing Abe Lincoln's true views on race and equality into the light could change our distorted perspective on the sainthood of America's “greatest president”. Lincoln has been built into a political hero by nearly a century of falsified and distorted history. His actions did, in fact, help to free the slaves and keep America's states united. There is no question that Lincoln's administration contributed directly to abolition, whether it was what he truly intended or not. It was his character that has been distorted to fit the modern symbol of equality that he has become. Some, like author Thomas J. DiLorenzo, have even suggested that Lincoln's true motives were that of a tyrant. If this is the case, we can see why Democrats and Barack Obama have chosen to adopt the “wise” ways of Abraham Lincoln.