Lincoln, The Not So Great Emancipator
Political Science 15A
Throughout the history of the American Republic, certain people have been heralded as heroes. Some of these men, for they are mostly men, have been given false exaltations that were not true to their actual personhood or contributions to American government, politics and culture. Frances Fitzgerald held that, “It is not only radical or currently unfashionable ideas that the [history] texts leave out- it is all ideas, including those of their heroes”(Loewen, 2008, p.1). One such man was Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln, a man fraught with contradiction in and of himself, is most widely referred to as “The Great Emancipator” and “Honest Abe”, although he often times was very far from honest, in the strictest form of the word, and was not at all concerned with the overall state of the American institution of slavery. While he is known to have been against slavery for moral reasons, as any sound-minded person should be, he was by no means a true abolitionist and was, in fact, a racist white supremacist who believed in the inferiority of African Americans as a people and also supported the concept of colonizing them. He made it known that his one and only concern was the preservation of the Union. A Union whose very foundation, the laws for which it stood and on which it was built- the Constitution, he consistently violated using ultra vires means to achieve his goal; thereby infringing on the civil rights of the citizenry, members of the press, and elected officials.
Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican Party candidate, was elected the 16th President of the United State of America in the fall of 1860 (Zinn, 1980, p. 188). At the time of Lincoln’s election, the country had undergone recent upheaval in regard to the race line. The institution of slavery was so deeply seeded in American culture, politics, and economy, that it seems the only way to shift to a wholly emancipated country, would be to use “large-scale violence”(Zinn, 1980, p.171) as seen in the Civil War. However, the conflict of north and south was not over the morality of slavery, but was a struggle of the elites. The northern elites wanted expansion of a free market, while the southern elite viewed this as a threat to their economic livelihood (Zinn, 1980, p. 188).
In the years just before Lincoln’s election, John Brown had attempted to use violence on a smaller scale, through the slave rebellion at Harpers Ferry, 1859, in order to abolish slavery, but was met with death by hanging. Furthermore, with the Supreme Court ruling of Dred Scott vs. Sanford, which found in favor of a slave owner (Sanford) and supported the Fugitive Slave Clause of the Constitution (art. IV, S 2)- set in motion by the Compromise of 1850, which, among other things, limited the Western expansion of slavery while giving slave owners property rights over fugitive slaves- and the Kansas-Nebrask Act (1854), the country had split into antislavery and slavery supporters. Thus, the Republican Party was formed, from the members of the Whig Party and the Free-Soilers, who opposed expansion of slavery into new territories (Reiman, 1997, p. 159).
Although Lincoln was the chosen candidate for this new party of antislavery abolitionists, he himself was not a true abolitionist. While he was morally opposed to the institution of slavery, he did not believe in the equal rights of black people. Like many other Americans, Northerners included, Lincoln viewed black people as inferior. In a speech given in Charleston, IL during his campaign for the Senate, he said: “…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”(Zinn, 1980, p. 188). He would contradict himself depending on to whom he was speaking. In an earlier address to the Southern region of Chicago, IL, he asserted: “Let…