The Lincoln Cult on Display: How Eric Foner, Manisha Sinha, and James Oakes Failed to Defame Judge Napolitano

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Most readers of LewRockwell.com are probably familiar with how television clown Jon Stewart attempted to smear Judge Andrew Napolitano on his Comedy Central “Daily Show” a couple of weeks ago by having a panel of academic “experts” shout “That’s not true!” or “Didn’t happen!” to some of the things Judge Napolitano said in a (five-against-one) debate over Lincoln and his legacy.  Here is the main claim by the judge that outraged the panel of “experts” (Eric Foner of Columbia, Manisha Sinha of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and James Oakes of City College of New York):  Lincoln should have busied himself with “abolishing the Fugitive Slave Act, said the judge, “which Lincoln enforced and his judges enforced and his federal marshals enforced.”

Foner:  “That’s not true!  Didn’t happen!”

Sinha:  “That’s not true! Absolutely not!”

Oakes: “it’s not true!  Didn’t happen!”

In addition, a black woman with a fake Abe Lincoln beard and stove pipe hat who Stewart addressed as “President Lincoln” chimed in about the alleged falsity of the judge’s claim, as did the wise-cracking Stewart.  

It is undeniable that Judge Napolitano was right, and Foner, Sinha, Oakes, Stewart, and “President Lincoln” either hadn’t the foggiest idea of what they were talking about, or they were lying.  It’s hard to believe that academics like Foner and Oakes, who have been teaching graduate-level courses on the “Civil War” for decades, were unaware of the fact that Lincoln did in fact enforce the Fugitive Slave Act during his presidency, just as Judge Napolitano said.

The authoritative academic source on enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 during the Lincoln administration Slave Catchers: Enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Law, by Stanley W. Campbell (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1968/2011).  The book contains numerous examples, documented with official government documents, of runaway slaves being returned to their “owners” by federal judges and marshals during the Lincoln regime, just as the judge said.  For example in one passage we learn that:

A fugitive slave named Harris, his wife, and two children were apprehended in Chicago on April 3 [1861] and sent to Springfield [Lincoln’s home town] for a hearing before a United States commissioner.  Harris was owned by one man, his wife and children by another, both residents of St. Louis County, Missouri.  After the hearing, the slaves were remanded to their owners and quietly returned to Missouri (p 188).

Just this one example is sufficient to prove Judge Napolitano’s claim to be correct, and Stewart’s “experts” wrong.  But there is much more to the story.  The Fugitive Slave Act was being so vigorously enforced by the Lincoln administration, writes Professor Campbell, that there was “a veritable stream of fugitive slaves headed for the Canadian border.  On April 8 [1861], 106 fugitive slaves were counted boarding the Michigan Southern and Northern Indiana Railroad.  Their destination was Canada and freedom from arrest” (p. 188).

Campbell points out that “In his [first] inaugural address, president Lincoln once again disclaimed any intention of interfering with slavery in the states . . . nor had his views about the Fugitive Slave Law changed” (p. 189).  Indeed they had not.  Professor Campbell quotes an August 27, 1858 speech by Lincoln in which he said, “I have never hesitated to say, and I do not now hesitate to say, that I think, under the Constitution of the United States, the people of Southern States are entitled to a Congressional Fugitive Slave Law” (p 189).

On May 27, 1861 a number of runaway slaves appeared within the military command of Union Army General Benjamin Butler, who offered the opinion that the Fugitive Slave Law did not apply there since the South was “a foreign country,” something that Lincoln himself never, ever, maintained.  Lincoln had his secretary of war Simon Cameron, send Butler a letter of rebuke in which he was ordered NOT to “prevent the voluntary return of any fugitive to the service from which he may have escaped” (p. 190).

When General John C. Fremont instituted martial law in Missouri on August 30, 1861 and declared all the slaves there to be freed, “Lincoln overruled the proclamation” and “removed Fremont from his command at St. Louis on November 2, 1861” (p. 191).  Some seven months later, Lincoln’s attorney general, Edward Bates, issued instructions that “It is the President’s constitutional duty to ‘take care that the laws be faithfully executed.’  This means all laws” (p. 192).  He was referring exclusively to the Fugitive Slave Law.

The Fugitive Slave Act was as vigorously enforced in Washington, D.C. Lincoln’s wartime home town, as well as it was in Springfield, Illinois, his peacetime home town during his administration.  As Professor Campbell further writes:

In May, 1862, the Superior Court of the District of Columbia ruled that the Fugitive Slave Law was as applicable to the District of Columbia as it was to any of the states.  The docket of the court for 1862 listed the claims of twenty-eight different slave owners for 101 runaway slaves.  In the two months following the courts decisions, 26 fugitive slaves were returned to their owners from the fugitive slave tribunal in the nation’s capital (p. 193).

Runaway slaves were still being sent back to their “owners” by Lincoln’s judges and marshals after the Emancipation Proclamation  of January 1863.  “On June 12, for example, 3 women and 4 children were arrested as fugitive slaves and taken before the United States Commissioner Walter S. Coxe, in Washington.  After a hearing they were remanded to the claimant from Prince Georges County, Maryland, and on June 18, Commissioner Coxe remanded 2 fugitive slaves to claimants from the same county in Maryland” (p 193).

When Brigadier General T.W. Tuttle wrote to Chicago Mayor Sherman claiming to have “a large number” of “contraband negroes” and asking the mayor if he could find “work” for them, the mayor “seemed horrified at such a suggestion” and wrote back that since the Illinois Constitution of 1848 made it illegal for black people to emigrate into the state, “Your proposition to send negroes to Chicago to work would be in violation of the laws of this State” (p. 193, emphasis in original).

Governor John Albion of Massachusetts did the exact same thing when confronted with a similar situation on October 30, 1862.  The governor “promptly refused to permit them to come” into his state, writes Campbell (p. 194).

We owe a debt of gratitude to Jon Stewart for using his television show to allow us an opportunity to publicly “out” these prominent academic Lincoln cultists as either the gross incompetents or the professional deceivers and court historians that they obviously are.

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