President Lincoln was *not* a racist!

Joined
Dec 2, 2009
Location
Austin, Texas, U.S.A.
It is impossible to peer into the brain of another human being and know with certainty his or her inner thoughts and motives. The best I can do is infer President Lincoln's intentions from his words and actions. I cannot prove all doubt that President Lincoln believed in the perfect equality of all people, and I cannot claim to know Mr. Lincoln's mind as fully as Mr. Lincoln did.

After a close analysis of President Lincoln's words and deeds however, I believe there is much to suggest that President Lincoln did in fact believe in the equal rights of all human beings, even if he often presented those beliefs in an esoteric manner. Mr. Lincoln's rhetorical strategies reveal much about his statesmanship as he constantly adjusted his language in order to gain an audience and win their support, while subtly reminding them of equality, without offending them.

I believe the more closely one inspects President Lincoln's words (unlike politicians today, Mr. Lincoln did not rely on speech writers and chose his words carefully) the more evidence condemning President Lincoln as a racist seems to evaporate.

When President Lincoln said -

"I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and black races," he stated nothing but a political fact.

From the time he reentered national politics in 1854 until his 1860 campaign for president, Mr. Lincoln had in fact never proposed to "introduce political and social equality between the white and black races."

The core of his political platform was the proposal to prohibit slavery from spreading into the federal territories; in terms of policies related to slavery and race, President Lincoln only advocated repealing the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and restoring the Missouri Compromise.

On face value then, Mr. Lincoln's words are not a statement of racial supremacy; they only describe his campaign platform. Further, while he said it was not his purpose in 1858 to "introduce political and social equality between the white and black races", President Lincoln never denied that he believed in their political and social equality, and he never said that he would not support policies of racial equality in the future should public opinion become more receptive to them.

"I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people."

It is true. At that time, President Lincoln never endorsed policies to make jurors or voters or officeholders of black people or to make them eligible for marriage with white people, and he was proposing no such policies in 1858.

In the context of his many other statements insisting on the equality of white and black people, it seems likely that his refusal to advocate such policies was more a matter of strategy then principle on his part: Mr. Lincoln knew that there was no possibility at all of getting such policies enacted into law, so why destroy his political career by proposing those polices to an audience that wanted nothing to do with them?

Nowhere did Mr. Lincoln suggest that such policies would be wrong. Nor did he deny that he might support such policies in the future, perhaps when the American mind had cleansed itself of some of the racial prejudice and was better prepared to entertain the full implications of human equality.

"And 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."

Is there a physical difference between black and white human beings? Of course: black is black, and white is white. And while this simple difference of skin color, in itself, does not imply or require political and social inequality, the distinction of color in the United States of America at that time had become deeply entwined with slavery and questions of racial hierarchy. Mr. Lincoln was offering a sound sociological observation when he predicted that differing skin colors would "forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality."

If the long and sad story of race relations in the U.S.A. teaches anything, it is that many people of different skin colors have a VERY difficult time seeing one another as equals, as fellow citizens, and as potential friends or spouses rather then as members of separate racial groups.

Unlike in the ancient world, where neighboring tribes and cities enslaved one another through warfare and thus masters and slaves often looked quite similar to one another, slavery in the United States of America corresponded in large measure with color for the most part. By the time of the American Civil War, virtually all slaves were black; none were white.

When a human being looks at another human being, color is among the first sensory perceptions that strike the beholder, and when skin color is so closely tied to political and social status as it was with American Slavery at that time, moving society beyond color-consciousness to color-blindness becomes a daunting challenge.

President Lincoln was concerned that when American white people saw African-Americans, they would immediately associate them with slavery, and therefore assign to them an inferior social rank; When American black people saw whites, they would immediately associate them with the masters who oppressed them. Thus, President Lincoln feared that widespread manumission might lead to a terrible race war in the United States of America.

Fearing that black and white people would never be able to live together freely and peacefully, President Lincoln looked to some kind of plan for colonization to solve the American race problem that slavery had created. If slavery could be eliminated from the United States of America, then colonization would be necessary for two reasons:

1. It would protect White-Americans against possible retaliation from former slaves seeking revenge.

2. Colonization would offer security for Black-Americans, who as free people might not be protected in the U.S.A. to the extent they were when they were consider to be valuable property as slaves.

The only colonization plan President Lincoln actually sponsored was an 1863 expedition to the Caribbean in which black people participated voluntarily and which the U.S. Congress funded fully. When after only a few months it turned into a debacle, President Lincoln sent a ship to bring the colonists back to the United States. And after seeing over 200,000 African-American men volunteer and fight for the United States Military during the American Civil War, President Lincoln fully dropped his support for plans to colonize freed slaves. Never again did he speak seriously about colonization for black people, pressing instead for white and black people to learn to live together in the United States as free Americans.

Thankfully, President Lincoln was wrong in his prediction - The United States of America has not suffered a genocidal war in which one race has exterminated the other, but it is also true that some Americans, both white and black, have found it tremendously difficult to get beyond race and to see one another as fellow citizens without regard to color.

Today, more then one-hundred and forty-five years after the American War between the States, many Americans continue to wrestle with the question of whether the laws should judge a human by the color of their skin or the content of their character.

"And in as much 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.”

President Lincoln did not endorse a political hierarchy based on race, but indicated that such hierarchy may be a "necessity" - an inescapable result of widespread racial opinions and assumptions.

In such a case, anyone of any color, when presented with a choice of having his or her race assigned a superior or an inferior position in a given society, with no option of equal citizenship, would choose to have his or her race in the superior position.

President Lincoln's assertion is the flip side of the obvious statement that no human being would wish to be enslaved. That in no way proves that President Lincoln did not believe in the equality of rights of all humans of all colors or that he did not hope American opinion would someday move in the direction of equal citizenship of all people of all colors. It simply demonstrates that so long as necessity required that there be an unjust hierarchy based on color, and as long as the American people rejected color-blindness, President Lincoln, like anyone else, would rather be on top then on bottom if forced to choose.


Thomas Dilorenzo, and those who share his critique of Mr. Lincoln are modern-day versions of abolitionists. Mr. Dilorenzo's frustration with President Lincoln springs from his insistence that President Lincoln should have demanded immediate emancipation for all slaves and full social and political equality for all African-Americans at that time, with no reservation, hesitation, compromise, or concern for obtaining the consent of the governed.

Thankfully, Mr. Lincoln understood better then the Thomas Dilorenzo's of our day, and the William Lloyd Garrison's and John Brown's of his own day, that preserving the rule of law, placing slavery on the course to ultimate extinction, and protecting the equal rights of all humans of all colors were all inseparable aspects of one supreme goal: a free and just society.

Getting American audiences to listen and then persuading them of the equality of black people would require great, and perhaps unprecedented, rhetorical skills. No one, however, was more calculating in crafting his speech then President Lincoln as he attempted to refute the new pro-slavery arguments while moving public opinion, without insulting the public, back in the direction of the founding principle of human equality.

President Lincoln was a master of misdirection. He deliberately used his rhetoric on race matters to hide his own belief in equality yet appear to appease those who did not believe in equality while manipulating them toward acceptance of racial polices.

President Lincoln's challenge was to move opinions back toward the principles of the United States Declaration of Independence while avoiding the fanaticism of abolitionism, and to uphold the rule of law and protection of property rights while avoiding the fanaticism of the pro-slavery camp. In this, Mr. Lincoln's skill was unmatched.

Please consider President Lincoln's qualification of his position. If Mr. Lincoln could move public opinion to grant this basic precept of political right, that black people have the right to own and acquire property, the other precepts of civil society and civil liberties could then be argued.

If President Lincoln could persuade Americans of all black people's equal humanity and natural rights, and if Americans were to act consistently with the terms of their own social contract, justice would demand either equal citizenship for black people or the right to freely emigrate from the United States. In either case holding black people as chattel slaves violated the first principle of the American's social contract - human equality.

One more thing - President Lincoln also wrote -

"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."

This was from a letter Mr. Lincoln wrote in response to a editorial written by Horace Greely, the antislavery editor of the New York Tribune. I feel this Lincoln quote has been highly taken out of context by some people. Horace Greely wrote President Lincoln asking him to make the war strictly about slavery, and the above quote was Mr. Lincoln's response.

I have no reason to doubt that in the immediate crisis of the American Civil War, as the death tolls of Americans grew daily, Mr. Lincoln would have adopted the quickest and surest measures to save the Union, even if those measures did not include abolishing slavery.

If President Lincoln could stop the slaughter and restore the Union without touching slavery, why should he not have done so? Had he been able to bring the war to a speedy end, slavery would once again be a problem to solve through peaceful political processes under the Constitution. Slavery would remain an evil institution, and all the difficulties that attended the earlier attempts to eradicate it would remain as well, but these were lesser evils then the bloody carnage happening daily on the fields of battles.

This is perhaps the most difficult lesson of statesmanship to learn: sometimes the choice confronting a statesman is not between good and evil, but between two evils, and sometimes it may be difficult to determine which is the lesser of two evils, and sometimes it may be difficult to determine which is the lesser of two evils.

Furthermore, President Lincoln had no lawful authority to engage in an antislavery crusade, as Mr. Greenly desired, and the majority of American people would not have supported one. Thus, President Lincoln rightly told Mr. Greenly that he would do with regard to slavery whatever "helped to save the Union"
 

DanF

Captain
Joined
Feb 29, 2012
Lincoln was against the institution of slavery, while slavery was indeed a race based institution one could be against Slavery as an institution and still be a racist.
 

GAvolunteer

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Arizonian living in New Jersey
"I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and black races,"

"I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people."




"And 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 in as much 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.”




"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."

:O o:After all of this you still believe that Lincoln wanted "equal rights for all"
putting these quotes is like shooting yourself in the foot
 

Sneathen

Sergeant
Joined
Apr 8, 2012
Location
St. Louis
Well you cannot even have equal civil rights for all, if naturals rights are not upheld first. How could a slave who's natural right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness ever have a right to vote or hold office?
 
Joined
Dec 2, 2009
Location
Austin, Texas, U.S.A.
GAvolunteer - I posted those quotes to explain them. A lot of people are only getting half the story when they read those quotes. Unless you're a Lincoln buff and/or a historian of how politics were in Mr. Lincoln's day, you're not going to understand everything. Please reread my first post.
 

OpnCoronet

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Feb 23, 2010
I think, if one reads Lincoln's public(and even private) statements in the context, that they were written(or stated), then it would show, that he was much more radical in his estimation of the Negro and his place in American society.(I do not deny that he had racist beliefs, but that he did not let them blind him to fact of their humanity and what that fact implied in reference to the concept of 'good' gov't being defined by the natural rights of all human beings)
As notede on other threads of this board, by 21st Century standards Lincoln may be considered seriously behind the times, but by mid-19th Century standards, he was on the cutting edge of a social revolution.
 

James B White

Captain
Honored Fallen Comrade
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Dec 4, 2011
Thankfully, Mr. Lincoln understood better then the Thomas Dilorenzo's of our day, and the William Lloyd Garrison's and John Brown's of his own day, that preserving the rule of law, placing slavery on the course to ultimate extinction, and protecting the equal rights of all humans of all colors were all inseparable aspects of one supreme goal: a free and just society.

Getting American audiences to listen and then persuading them of the equality of black people would require great, and perhaps unprecedented, rhetorical skills. No one, however, was more calculating in crafting his speech then President Lincoln as he attempted to refute the new pro-slavery arguments while moving public opinion, without insulting the public, back in the direction of the founding principle of human equality.

I think that about sums it up. Lincoln was the most anti-slavery of the Republicans who could get elected, which made him seem too radical for some and too moderate for others, but the point was: he could get elected. Somebody like Chase or Seward, let alone Garrison or Douglass (the one with two s's), probably couldn't.
 

jpeter

1st Lieutenant
Retired Moderator
Joined
Dec 14, 2007
Location
Dallas, TX
What's a racist?

You are not likely to get agreed upon definition, and the word itself was not in use during the mid-19th century. It became somewhat of a notion in the early 20th century, but the word as we know it today came into vogue only after WW2 and the Holocaust.

I understand what you're implying, but I'm not sure we can fully tackle the context of racism looking backwards to the 19th century. If we understand the word as racial hatred then I think we can say Lincoln had far less hatred in him than most men of his time.
 

cash

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
Feb 20, 2005
Location
Right here.
Thomas Dilorenzo, and those who share his critique of Mr. Lincoln are modern-day versions of abolitionists.

I disagree vociferously with this.


Mr. Dilorenzo's frustration with President Lincoln springs from his insistence that President Lincoln should have demanded immediate emancipation for all slaves and full social and political equality for all African-Americans at that time, with no reservation, hesitation, compromise, or concern for obtaining the consent of the governed.

No, it doesn't. DiLiarenzo doesn't really care about African Americans having any equality. He just wants to bash Lincoln any way he can, and since he can't use the truth he uses lies.
 

johan_steele

Regimental Armorer
Retired Moderator
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Location
South of the North 40
DiLorenzo... is exactly as cash has described. The man is a liar and an often proven one.

There has been a movement by a segment of the Pro CS crowd to make everyone a racist w/ the simple intention that by making everyone racist then no one is.
 

Sneathen

Sergeant
Joined
Apr 8, 2012
Location
St. Louis
DiLorenzo should be waterboarded.

But many things definetly don't point towards racism for Lincon - he signed a law giving equal pay to black soldiers, signed a law to not discriminate on color on who can carry the mail, and desegregated D.C. Plus, his valet William Johnson got a job in the treasury and when Johnson died, Lincoln paid for his grave and had it say "Citizen". Would a racist do any of these things>
 

truthckr

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Location
Waynesboro, Virginia
I think it is very unfair to judge any 19th century man by 21st century values. Lincoln was certainly a visionary and was obsessed, in a good way, with holding the Union together. But in the papers and books I've read, he pretty much held the values of other 19th century men. It is my understanding that he disliked the institution of slavery but would have not objected to the practice as long as the Union remained intact.
 

Sneathen

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Apr 8, 2012
Location
St. Louis
What needs to be understood is there is a difference between civil (political) rights and natural rights. Lincoln felt and believed all were endowed natural rights, not just whites. But yes, we cannot judge him with 21st century values.
 

cash

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
Feb 20, 2005
Location
Right here.
What needs to be understood is there is a difference between civil (political) rights and natural rights. Lincoln felt and believed all were endowed natural rights, not just whites. But yes, we cannot judge him with 21st century values.

I agree. Judging him by today's standards he would be a racist. Judge him by mid-19th Century standards and he's darn near an egalitarian.
 

kel1985

1st Lieutenant
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Apr 6, 2011
Location
Pittsburgh, Pa.
Judging him by the standards of the time in which he lived, Lincoln was not a racist...But the more important question is was he a zombie? If you look at the later picture of him, he appears to be undead...I can almost hear him say, "Four score and 7 BRAINS ago." (sorry in one of those moods tonight)
 

BillO

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Feb 2, 2010
Location
Quinton, VA.
By todays standards yes he was. I like Jpeters question that no ones talked about yet. What is a racist? Someone who feels that his race is a little better? Someone who wants to hurt people because of their race? Something in between?
 

Sneathen

Sergeant
Joined
Apr 8, 2012
Location
St. Louis
By todays standards yes he was. I like Jpeters question that no ones talked about yet. What is a racist? Someone who feels that his race is a little better? Someone who wants to hurt people because of their race? Something in between?
Someone with a tiny mustache?
 

CharacterGroove

First Sergeant
Joined
Oct 20, 2010
Location
Minneapolis, MN
I think it is very unfair to judge any 19th century man by 21st century values. Lincoln was certainly a visionary and was obsessed, in a good way, with holding the Union together. But in the papers and books I've read, he pretty much held the values of other 19th century men. It is my understanding that he disliked the institution of slavery but would have not objected to the practice as long as the Union remained intact.

With all due respect, I have a different understanding. Had the Union remained intact, I believe Lincoln would have been a staunch objector to the institution of slavery. He would have supported any measure to limit or expedite the demise of the practice, and would not have signed one bill that would have extended or prolonged it. (I'm considering the hallow Corwin Amendment when I say that.) What he wouldn't have done is support anything extralegal to further those gains.
 

Freddy

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Dec 19, 2006
Location
Worcester, MA
Lincoln was a colonizationist from 1848-1863, who wanted to send free Blacks to Africa or any other foreign land that would take them. Lincoln clearly stated that Blacks and Whites could not live together in peace. Lincoln was not an abolitionist.
 
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