Lincoln’s True Feelings About Slavery

In Lincoln’s first inaugural address to the nation as President of the United States, delivered March 4, 1861,  Lincoln said the following:

“Apprehension seems to exist among the people of the Southern States that by the accession of a Republican administration their property and their peace and personal security are to be endangered…. I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the states where it now exists. I believe that I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.”

After the start of the Civil War in 1861, Lincoln reaffirmed his position. He said:

“My paramount object in this struggle is to save the union, and it 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.”

During Lincoln’s fourth debate with Senator Stephen Douglas, held September 18, 1858, Lincoln said the following:

“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 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 inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be a 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.”

These quotes are cited from page 370 and 371 of The Creature from Jekyll Island, A Second Look at the Federal Reserve by G. Edward Griffin.

Maybe Lincoln wasn’t such a great guy after all.

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2 Responses to Lincoln’s True Feelings About Slavery

  1. Adam,

    Been meaning to come back and comment on this…had to finish my own new article first. I’m a “first-things-first” kinda guy. 🙂

    Anyway…I found this article entitled “Lincoln and Negro Slavery: I Haven’t Got Time for the Pain.” It goes into some considerable detail on this subject.

    Here’s a quote from the intro:

    “[Lincoln] thought it [slavery] was evil morally, that it threatened the Union, that it endangered civil liberties, that it made the nation a hypocrite in its foreign relations, that it soiled the name of the republic, and, especially, that it created an economic environment where men and women were denied the fruits they had earned from their labor. He thought that neither supposedly inferior color nor intellect justified it. And it had the capacity to make him miserable.”

    Here’s a quote from the conclusion:

    “However much or however little pain Lincoln felt for the suffering slaves didn’t matter. He spent very little time weeping over their plight—all he did was to free them. Lincoln’s critics have made more than they should of Lincoln’s lack of concern for the pains of slavery. …The fact remains that Lincoln helped create a party that challenged the South and its institution; he preserved a Union that depended on freedom; and step-by-step throughout his presidency he expanded the domain of freedom for slaves. No one in his generation was more effective in doing that—whether warmhearted sympathetic abolitionist or devotee of the rule of law, the constitution, and the nation’s best ideals. Black people, slaves especially, would have been glad if Lincoln felt their pain. But my guess is that, given a choice, they were happier that he freed them.”

    (I admit I didn’t read every word in between…it’s a long article.)

    Now my own observations:

    The 1960’s era of Civil Rights had a profound effect on America’s conscience. 95% good, 5% mixed, 0% bad. The “mixed” part is the residual hyper-sensitivity about race, which turns these topics into minefields. Today’s mainstream cultural atmosphere about racial equality is far different from that of the mid-1800s.

    Before I got afflicted with an addiction to politics and economics 4 years ago, I previously read lots of biographies of famous & influential people in America’s history. From the “forwards” and “afterwards” of those kind of books, their authors impressed upon me the fallacy of applying today’s environment of social mores, political correctness, and social media-driven openness to past American eras. Unlike blogging, we can’t just select today’s cultural mindset and “cut & paste” it into a bygone time and then be all judgemental and accusatory.

    Here’s a silly analogy: If you read a historical account of the Lewis & Clark expedition, you might find a chapter on the logistics of how they managed their supplies. Presumably, they discarded lots of spent containers as they proceeded along their journey. It would be absurd for us to be disgusted at them because they were terrible litter-bugs.

    Lincoln was pragmatic, and had an incredible aptitude for deft recognithion of the logic embedded in the rule of law. He had conviction in his views, so much so that he sufffered through years of national bloodshed under his military orders. He certainly wasn’t a heartless, unfeeling person in general. What he did was ethically right. That’s what matters to me.

    – Jeff

    • Thanks for the reply Jeff. I’ve read 5 biographies of Lincoln myself and three additional books on the Civil War. I think that the direct quotes from Lincoln speak for themselves. He certainly viewed slavery as an evil, but as less of an evil than the right of States to secede from the Union. If the Southern States would have stayed in the Union and paid the historically high tariffs that the northern manufacturers were attempting to impose on the South, Lincoln said on multiple occasions that he would readily allow the the Southern States to maintain the institution of Slavery. Lincoln didn’t view slavery as evil enough to consistently try to abolish it throughout his political career. He only viewed it as evil enough to confront when it looked like he was going to lose the war. Surely he was a man of his times and whites at that time viewed blacks as the inferior race. Lincoln was no different. So instead of treating Lincoln as the Great Emancipator, we should call a spade a spade. He was a racist who opposed political and social equality for blacks, as the quote above from 1858 clearly shows, just as many others did during his time. He was also a shrewd, maybe the shrewdest in American history, political operator who only chose to confront an evil when it served his political interests as opposed to attempting to eradicate evils based on firmly held principles of morality. Perhaps one of the most ironic tidbits in American history is that General Robert E. Lee, the great southern general, was an abolitionist who freed all of his inherited slaves. Here we have an example of a person who, in spite of the views held by his contemporaries and prevailing political norms, acted based on his sense of justice. Lincoln was not such a person.

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