Misconceptions About Lincoln

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a recent conservative talk radio interview program for our new book
War Between the States: America's Uncivil War
, the host
did something risky even for him – he asked me to address misconceptions
regarding Abraham Lincoln. I am not sure I can think of a topic
besides that one in which his audience would not have followed the
cue of this popular and respected host. Most of them, though they
live in a northern state, would likely even have agreed that the
Confederate States of America had respectable and defensible reasons
for doing what they did. But to support a challenge to the wisdom,
motivations, and character of Abraham Lincoln? Why, that is a sure
way to generate disbelief, then hatred, and ultimately the loss
of career opportunities for anyone suggesting such a notion.

That is
why I am so thankful for the marvelous work done by Thomas J. DiLorenzo,
Thomas Woods, and others in recent years to address the truth of
Lincoln's beliefs and actions, when such work guarantees bitter
and unchristian abuse from neo-conservatives, mainstream Republicans,
and all stripes of professing Christians, not to mention liberals.
Yet these difficult labors are crucial in correcting the collective
ignorance of a supposedly-educated America that is struggling to
find its way in the present because it has drawn so many wrong lessons
from its past.

Indeed, if
America and Americans are to be a blessing to the people and nations
of the world, we must endeavor to learn the truth of our history,
good and bad, that it might better inform our actions in the present.
The War of 1861–1865 is a central hinge in that history, and
a proper understanding of Abraham Lincoln is the key to unlocking
the true lessons of that conflict. Lincoln's views and actions regarding
black Americans and slavery, herein discussed, constitute a key
component of such an understanding.


The fact
is, as we point out in The War Between the States: America's
Uncivil War, evidence abounds, from Lincoln's own words as well
as his actions, that something besides a desire to free the slaves
fueled his Emancipation Proclamation. Largely unreported by most
American histories of the war is the revolt launched against Lincoln
by United States Senate Republicans in mid-December, 1862, just
before he signed the proclamation into law.

According to
Lincoln's old friend Illinois Representative Orville Browning and
others, the senators demanded the President conduct a more resolute
war effort. They were apparently prepared to bring down his administration
if he did not. This enhanced effort evidently included emancipation
as a method of war that would torpedo the South's economy and ability
to defend itself. A slave uprising – with the attendant slaughter
of white Southern women, children, and old men – lay within
the sphere of this projection. Certainly, a howling chorus of protest
not limited to the South, but including many of Lincoln's opponents
in the North, as well as in Europe, thought so. Horatio Seymour,
soon-to-be Democratic Governor of New York, said: "The scheme
for an immediate emancipation and general arming of the slaves throughout
the South is a proposal for the butchery of women and children,
for scenes of lust and rapine, arson and murder, unparalleled in
the history of the world."

between Southern slaves and their owners proved superior to such
an eventuality. But Lincoln himself, when told the Constitution
gave individual states and not the national government jurisdiction
over slavery, claimed emancipation as a war powers act that he as
commander-in-chief could employ – for military purposes. Indeed,
the President eliminated from an early draft of the decree a call
for a violent uprising of slaves.

Lincoln signing
the Emancipation Proclamation


A portion
of the completed Emancipation Proclamation addressed another view
Lincoln had in mind for Southern, but not Northern, slaves –
"impressment" into the Federal armies: "And I further
declare and make known that such persons of suitable condition will
be received into the armed service of the United States to garrison
forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to man vessels
of all sorts in said service . . . [due to] military necessity."
Not only did he deprive the Confederacy of the labor and other contributions
of many Southern slaves, but he employed them instead in the Federal
military effort, forcing many blacks into the fighting against their

Browning's diary of December 31, 1862, recorded that Judge Benjamin
Franklin Thomas of the Massachusetts Supreme Court told Browning
that: "the President was fatally bent upon his course, saying
that if he should refuse to issue his proclamation there would be
a rebellion in the north, and that a dictator would be placed over
his head within the week."

With the Emancipation
Proclamation, Lincoln quelled the Senate revolt. But his lackluster
feelings for it resurfaced when he eschewed the urgings of much
of his cabinet, including Seward, Chase, Blair, and Bates, and confined
his decree to those slaves in Confederate-controlled territory.
That is, he freed none of the slaves over which he had control when
he had the opportunity.

Famed former
slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass expressed his views on
these actions, as well as Lincoln's public declarations regarding
the benefits of deporting the bulk of American blacks: "Illogical
and unfair as Mr. Lincoln's statements are, they are nevertheless
quite in keeping with his whole course from the beginning of his
administration up to this day, and confirm the painful conviction
that though elected as an antislavery man by Republican and Abolition
voters, Mr. Lincoln is quite a genuine representative of American
prejudice and Negro hatred and far more concerned for the preservation
of slavery, and the favor of the Border Slave States, than for any
sentiment of magnanimity or principle of justice and humanity."

In the
end, the Emancipation Proclamation exhibited political sagacity
and brilliance, hastened the demise of American slavery, probably
triggered the deaths of tens of thousands more men than would otherwise
have occurred, and likely contributed to America's future morass
in racial relations.


Lincoln rose to national prominence during his 1858 series of debates
with his Illinois senatorial opponent Stephen Douglas. Lincoln's
eloquent criticism of American slavery helped catapult him into
leadership of the young Republican Party. But his own words during
the debates demonstrate how different were the views of many anti-slavery
Americans around the country from those of abolitionists who sought
not only freedom, but immediate political and social equality for

Negroes politically and socially our equals? My own feelings will
not admit of this. I will say that I am not nor ever have been
in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political
equality of the white and black races, that I am not nor have
ever 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.

Ward Hill
Lamon, a long time Lincoln colleague and Federal Marshal of Washington
during his administration, offered his own thoughts on the subject:

of [Lincoln's] public acts, either before or after he became President,
exhibits any special tenderness for the African race. On the contrary,
he invariably, in words and deeds, postponed the interests of
the blacks to the interests of the whites, and expressly subordinated
the one to the other. When he was compelled, by what he deemed
an overruling necessity, founded on both military and political
considerations, to declare the freedom of the public enemy's slaves,
he did so with avowed reluctance, and took pains to have it understood
that his resolution was in no wise affected by sentiment.


A subject
as volatile as it is unknown, is Lincoln's long-declared goal for
dealing with both free black Americans and those enslaved once they
gained freedom. Perhaps no one has described it better than black
author Lenore Bennett, Jr. No conservative nor friend of the Confederacy,
Bennett wrote in his massive chronicle Forced
Into Glory, Abraham Lincoln's White Dream

Lincoln proposed officially and publicly was that the United States
government buy the slaves and deport them to Africa or South America.
This was not a passing whim. In five major policy declarations,
including two State of the Union addresses and the preliminary
Emancipation Proclamation, the sixteenth president of the United
States publicly and officially called for the deportation of blacks.
On countless other occasions, in conferences with cronies, Democratic
and Republican leaders, and high government officials, he called
for colonization of blacks or aggressively promoted colonization
by private and official acts.

own words, and those of his colleagues, left abundant evidence of
his views. Following are a few of the many examples.

us be brought to believe it is morally right, and, at the same
time, favorable to, or, at least, not against, our interest, to
transfer the African to his native clime, and we shall find a
way to do it, however great the task may be. The children of Israel,
to such numbers as to include four hundred thousand fighting men,
went out of Egyptian bondage in a body."

Lincoln, 1857

is still in our power to direct the process of emancipation, and
deportation, peaceably, and in such degrees, as the evil will
wear off insensibly; and their places be . . . filled up by free
white laborers."

Lincoln, February 27, 1860, New York City

if gradual emancipation and deportation be adopted, they will
have neither to flee from . . . till new homes can be found for
them, in congenial climes, and with people of their own blood
and race."

Lincoln's 1862 State of the Union Address

might well be well to consider, too, whether the free colored
people already in the United States could not, so far as individuals
may desire, be included in such colonization."

Lincoln's 1862 State of the Union Address,
regarding already-free blacks and the American Colonization Society

He asked
Congress to pass a constitutional amendment:

free colored persons, with their own consent, at any place or
places without the United States."

What if
Congress refused to grant Lincoln's desire for this sprawling, whites-only
enclave, which included states and western territories alike?

shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best, hope of earth."

from the commencement of this administration, the subject of deporting
the colored race has been discussed . . . As early as May 1861,
a great pressure was made upon me to enter into a coal contract
with (a) company. The President was in earnest in the matter,
wished to send the Negroes out of the country."

Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles

Lincoln) zealously and persistently devised schemes for the deportation
of the Negroes, which the latter deemed cruel and atrocious in
the extreme . . . "

Close friend and Federal Marshal Ward Hill Lamon

Until Americans
– especially conservatives and Christians – begin to appreciate
how misguided was Lincoln in so many ways, how many lives his actions
destroyed or ruined, and how unlike conservative and Christian principles
were those actions, we will be frustrated in our efforts to elect
wise statesmen to lead us, and to support and require statesmanlike
conduct from them.

5, 2006

J. Dwyer (send him mail) is
chairman of history at Coram Deo Academy near Dallas, Texas. He
is author of the new historical narrative The
War Between the States: America's Uncivil War
His website includes
a five-minute preview video about the book. He is also the author
of the historical novels Stonewall
and Robert
E. Lee
, and the former editor and publisher of The Dallas/Fort
Worth Heritage newspaper.

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