Much folklore has been fed to the American people about the person and presidency of Abraham Lincoln — notably his kindness, compassion, and concern for the southern slaves.
Challenging this notion an article by Robert Morgan recently crossed my desk. Entitled “The ‘Great Emancipator’ and the Issue of race: Abraham Lincoln’s Program of Black Resettlement”, the article appeared in the Institute For Historical Review.”
“Many Americans think of Abraham Lincoln, above all, as the president who freed the slaves. Immortalized as the “Great Emancipator,” he is widely regarded as a champion of black freedom who supported social equality of the races, and who fought the American Civil War (1861-1865) to free the slaves.”
Myth: Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation freed the American slaves.
A MythBusters’ investigation was opened to explore the literature from the period in an effort to get at the truth. It turns out that The Emancipation Proclamation declared freedom to the slaves only in territory where the Confederates were in control.
Not A Single Slave Was Freed
In the same publication, historian Allan Nevins noted, “The Proclamation, Secretary Seward wryly commented, emancipated slaves where it could not reach them, and left them in bondage where it could have set them free. Moreover, because it was issued as a war measure, the Proclamation’s long-term validity was uncertain. Apparently any future President could simply revoke it. “The popular picture of Lincoln using a stroke of the pen to lift the shackles from the limbs of four million slaves is ludicrously false.”[emphasis added]
Morgan continues With Lincoln’s explanation of the limited Emancipation Proclamation: “’Understand, I raise no objections against it [slavery] on legal or constitutional grounds … I view the matter [emancipation] as a practical war measure, to be decided upon according to the advantages or disadvantages it may offer to the suppression of the rebellion.’”
The Emancipation Proclamation was hailed by growing pressure of the northern abolitionists, but resettlement among white people in the United States was opposed by many. So the document contained a measure for resettlement in some foreign land suitable to sustain them. Political pressure came from all sides for some kind of Emancipation Proclamation.
Lincoln‘s Real Objective
The weight of evidence uncovered in the MythBusters investigation, indicates that Lincoln had other motives in mind. In a widely quoted letter to Horace Greely, Lincoln proclaimed, “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that. What I do about slavery and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union …”
Tangential to the issue at hand is that the Union Lincoln sought to “save” was not the original one, but the ever-evolving empire accumulating more and more central power. Lincoln’s repeated references to “saving the union” were euphemistic references to centralized control. In a word, Abraham Lincoln wanted to subjugate a South that desired to be free of the tyrannical burden of the “Tariff of Abominations.”
Lincoln’s career-long devotion to Henry Clay’s “American System” was an early form of crony capitalism or corporate welfare that culminated in the Credit Mobilier scandal. It included subsidies for railroads, canals, and other internal improvements. This necessitated high import taxes, which the South resisted, thereby provoking Lincoln’s invasion. The federally subsidized intercontinental railroad was being laid in the middle of the Civil War.
A similar situation arose in ancient Israel. When Rehoboam foolishly took the advice of his young advisors to raise taxes, Jeroboam split off with the 10 tribes of Israel. Rehoboam took up arms to quell the “insurrection,” and God via the prophet told him to let them go. Rehoboam complied. Abraham Lincoln lacked even the good sense of Rehoboam, who at the time was an immature youth. Rather than The Great Emancipator, Lincoln is better described as The Great Centralizer.
Lincoln’s view of race relations is exposed quite vividly in many of his personal statements. In his inaugural address on March 4, 1861, he promised to support legislation for the capture and return of runaway slaves; thus, increasing the power of the expanding union over northern as well as southern states.
The Lincoln-Douglas debates (1858) had earlier set the pace, exposing Lincoln’s views on race: “I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together 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.” [ibid] [emphasis added]
Case Closed: Looking back from the vantage point of history, it was not hard for MythBusters to spot the political grandstanding in a rather toothless “Emancipation Proclamation.” It curried favor with the European nations, especially England and France, short-circuiting their recognition of the South as an independent nation. That was Lincoln’s real objective.
The Emancipation Proclamation also upset the stability of southern labor, but it did not free a single slave. On April 8, 1864, the Senate passed the Thirteenth Amendment, and on January 31, 1865, The House of representative concurred; thus, abolishing slavery, including Biblical indentured servitude, anywhere in the United States. MythBusters Rating: Blue Flag to Robert Morgan and the Institute for Historical Review for courage to challenge popular opinion.