Did Lincoln free the slaves?

Louis Proyect lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Tue Aug 29 09:21:55 MDT 2000

Forced Into Glory: Abraham Lincoln's White Dream
Johnson Publishing Company

Among other remarks he said "he knew his Proclamation would not make a
single Negro free beyond our military reach."

--Memoir of John A. Dahlgren

He then went into a prolonged course of remarks about the Proclamation. He
said it was not his intention in the beginning to interfere with Slavery in
the States; that he never would have done it, if he had not been compelled
by necessity to do it, to maintain the Union ... that he had hesitated for
some time, and had resorted to this measure, only when driven to it by
public necessity ... that he had always himself been in favor of
emancipation, but not immediate emancipation, even by the States. Many
evils attending this appeared to him.

--Confederate Vice President Alexander H. Stephens

Chapter One

The Most Famous Act In U.S. History Never Happened

The presidential campaign of 1860 was over, and the victor was stretching
his legs and shaking off the cares of the world in his temporary office in
the state capitol in Springfield, Illinois. Surrounded by the perks of
power, at peace with the world, the president-elect was regaling old
acquaintances with tall tales about his early days as a politician. One of
the visitors interrupted this monologue and remarked that it was a shame
that "the vexatious slavery matter" would be the first question of public
policy the new president would have to deal with in Washington.

The president-elect's eyes twinkled and he said he was reminded of a story.
According to eyewitness Henry Villard, President-elect Abraham Lincoln
"told the story of the Kentucky Justice of the Peace whose first case was a
criminal prosecution for the abuse of slaves. Unable to find any precedent,
he exclaimed angrily: `I will be damned if I don't feel almost sorry for
being elected when the niggers is the first thing I have to attend to'".

This story, shocking as it may sound to Lincoln admirers, was in character.
For the president-elect had never shown any undue sympathy for Blacks, and
none of his cronies was surprised to hear him suggest that he shared the
viewpoint of the reluctant and biased justice of the peace. As for the
N-word, everybody knew that old Abe used it all the time, both in public
and in private. (Since Lincoln supporters are in a state of constant
denial, I have not used elision in reporting his use of the offensive word

In one of the supreme ironies of history, the man who told this story was
forced by circumstances to attend to what he called "the nigger question."
And within five years he was enshrined in American mythology as "the great
emancipator" who freed Blacks with a stroke of the pen out of the goodness
of his heart.

Since that time, the mythology of "the great emancipator" has become a part
of the mental landscape of America. Generations of schoolchildren have
memorized its cadences. Poets, politicians, and long-suffering Blacks have
wept over its imagery and drama.

No other American story is so enduring.

No other American story is so comforting.

No other American story is so false.

Abraham Lincoln was not "the great emancipator."

The testimony of sixteen thousand books and monographs to the contrary
notwithstanding, Lincoln did not emancipate the slaves, greatly or
otherwise. As for the Emancipation Proclamation, it was not a real
emancipation proclamation at all, and did not liberate African-American
slaves. John F. Hume, the Missouri antislavery leader who heard Lincoln
speak in Alton and who looked him in the eye in the White House, said the
Proclamation "did not ... whatever it may have otherwise accomplished at
the time it was issued, liberate a single slave".

(Full chapter is at: http://www.nytimes.com/books/first/b/bennett-glory.html)

Louis Proyect

The Marxism mailing-list: http://www.marxmail.org

More information about the Marxism mailing list