This is the course discussion weblog for Govt. 314, American Political Thought at Morehead State University.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln Speak

January 14, 2006
Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, Stephen Douglas

I am procrastinating this morning by reading the 1858 Abraham Lincoln-Stephen Douglas debates from that year's Illinois senate race:

Abraham Lincoln, Fourth Debate : I do not understand that because I do not want a negro woman for a slave I must necessarily want her for a wife. [Cheers and laughter.] My understanding is that I can just let her alone. I am now in my fiftieth year, and I certainly never have had a black woman for either a slave or a wife. So it seems to me quite possible for us to get along without making either slaves or wives of negroes.

I will add to this that I have never seen, to my knowledge, a man, woman or child who was in favor of producing a perfect equality, social and political, between negroes and white men. I recollect of but one distinguished instance that I ever heard of so frequently as to be entirely satisfied of its correctness-and that is the case of Judge Douglas's old friend Col. Richard M. Johnson. [Laughter.]

I will also add to the remarks I have made (for I am not going to enter at large upon this subject,) that I have never had the least apprehension that I or my friends would marry negroes if there was no law to keep them from it, [laughter] but as Judge Douglas and his friends seem to be in great apprehension that they might, if there were no law to keep them from it, [roars of laughter] I give him the most solemn pledge that I will to the very last stand by the law of this State, which forbids the marrying of white people with negroes. [Continued laughter and applause.]

I will add one further word, which is this: that I do not understand that there is any place where an alteration of the social and political relations of the negro and the white man can be made except in the State Legislature--not in the Congress of the United States--and as I do not really apprehend the approach of any such thing myself, and as Judge Douglas seems to be in constant horror that some such danger is rapidly approaching, I propose as the best means to prevent it that the Judge be kept at home and placed in the State Legislature to fight the measure. [Uproarious laughter and applause.]

I do not propose dwelling longer at this time on this subject...

Abraham Lincoln, from the first Lincoln-Douglas debate:

First Debate : Now, gentlemen, I don't want to read at any greater length, but this is the true complexion of all I have ever said in regard to the institution of slavery and the black race. This is the whole of it, and anything that argues me into his idea of perfect social and political equality with the negro, is but a specious and fantastic arrangement of words, by which a man can prove a horse-chestnut to be a chestnut horse. [Laughter.]

I will say here, while upon this subject, that I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so. I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and the black races. There is a physical difference between the two, which, in my judgment, will probably forever forbid their living together upon the footing of perfect equality, and inasmuch as it becomes a necessity that there must be a difference, I, as well as Judge Douglas, am in favor of the race to which I belong having the superior position.
I have never said anything to the contrary, but I hold that, notwithstanding all this, there is no reason in the world why the negro is not entitled to all the natural rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence, the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. [Loud cheers.]

I hold that he is as much entitled to these as the white man. I agree with Judge Douglas he is not my equal in many respects--certainly not in color, perhaps not in moral or intellectual endowment. But in the right to eat the bread, without the leave of anybody else, which his own hand earns, he is my equal and the equal of Judge Douglas, and the equal of every living man. [Great applause]... This puts me in mind of ex-slave Frederick Douglass's 1876 judgment of Lincoln:

Oration in Memory of Abraham Lincoln by Frederick Douglass : Abraham Lincoln was not, in the fullest sense of the word, either our man or our model. In his interests, in his associations, in his habits of thought, and in his prejudices, he was... the white man's President, entirely devoted to the welfare of white men.... ready and willing at any time during the first years of his administration to deny, postpone, and sacrifice the rights of humanity in the colored people to promote the welfare of the white people.... To protect, defend, and perpetuate slavery in the states where it existed Abraham Lincoln was not less ready than any other President to draw the sword of the nation. He was ready to execute all the supposed guarantees of the United States Constitution in favor of the slave system anywhere inside the slave states. He was willing to pursue, recapture, and send back the fugitive slave to his master, and to suppress a slave rising for liberty, though his guilty master were already in arms against the Government....
[Y]ou, my white fellow-citizens... were the objects of his deepest affection and his most earnest solicitude. You are the children of Abraham Lincoln. We are at best only his step-children; children by adoption, children by forces of circumstances and necessity. To you it especially belongs to sound his praises, to preserve and perpetuate his memory, to multiply his statues, to hang his pictures high upon your walls, and commend his example, for to you he was a great and glorious friend and benefactor.... But... despise not the humble offering we this day unveil... for while Abraham Lincoln saved for you a country, he delivered us from a bondage.... The name of Abraham Lincoln was near and dear to our hearts in the darkest and most perilous hours of the Republic.... When he tarried long in the mountain; when he strangely told us that we were the cause of the war; when he still more strangely told us that we were to leave the land in which we were born; when he refused to employ our arms in defense of the Union; when, after accepting our services as colored soldiers, he refused to retaliate our murder and torture as colored prisoners; when he told us he would save the Union if he could with slavery; when he revoked the Proclamation of Emancipation of General Fremont; when he refused to remove the popular commander of the Army of the Potomac, in the days of its inaction and defeat, who was more zealous in his efforts to protect slavery than to suppress rebellion; when we saw all this, and more, we were at times grieved, stunned, and greatly bewildered; but our hearts believed while they ached and bled. Nor was this, even at that time, a blind and unreasoning superstition. Despite the mist and haze that surrounded him; despite the tumult, the hurry, and confusion of the hour, we were able to take a comprehensive view of Abraham Lincoln, and to make reasonable allowance for the circumstances of his position....

[I]t mattered little to us, when we fully knew him, whether he was swift or slow in his movements; it was enough for us that Abraham Lincoln was at the head of a great movement, and was in living and earnest sympathy with that movement, which, in the nature of things, must go on until slavery should be utterly and forever abolished in the United States. When, therefore, it shall be asked what we have to do with the memory of Abraham Lincoln, or what Abraham Lincoln had to do with us, the answer is ready, full, and complete. Though he loved Caesar less than Rome, though the Union was more to him than our freedom or our future, under his wise and beneficent rule we saw ourselves gradually lifted from the depths of slavery to the heights of liberty and manhood... we saw two hundred thousand of our dark and dusky people responding to the call of Abraham Lincoln, and with muskets on their shoulders, and eagles on their buttons, timing their high footsteps to liberty and union under the national flag....
Can any colored man, or any white man friendly to the freedom of all men, ever forget the night which followed the first day of January, 1863, when the world was to see if Abraham Lincoln would prove to be as good as his word? I shall never forget that memorable night, when in a distant city I waited and watched at a public meeting, with three thousand others not less anxious than myself, for the word of deliverance... the emancipation proclamation....
I have said that President Lincoln was a white man, and shared the prejudices common to his countrymen towards the colored race.... His great mission was to accomplish two things: first, to save his country from dismemberment and ruin; and, second, to free his country from the great crime of slavery. To do one or the other, or both, he must have the earnest sympathy and the powerful cooperation of his loyal fellow-countrymen. Without this primary and essential condition to success his efforts must have been vain and utterly fruitless. Had he put the abolition of slavery before the salvation of the Union, he would have inevitably driven from him a powerful class of the American people and rendered resistance to rebellion impossible. Viewed from the genuine abolition ground, Mr. Lincoln seemed tardy, cold, dull, and indifferent; but measuring him by the sentiment of his country, a sentiment he was bound as a statesman to consult, he was swift, zealous, radical, and determined...

Posted by Brad DeLong on January 14, 2006 at 11:22 AM in History, Moral Philosophy, Moral Responsibility, Politics


Blogger NeighborhoodMacBeths said...

One of the interesting thing about this pair of articles is that there is a way in which Frederick Douglass was trying to free Abraham Lincoln from slavery. Lincoln couldn't free himself from slavery. A good part of his schtick in attacking Douglass was to attack the idea of love and marriage between whites and blacks--as if it could never happen legitimately. Lincoln also pledged to defend slavery in the core states of the South. There's a sense in which Douglass freed Lincoln from slavery by interpreting Lincoln's accomplishments in terms of abolition and emancipation. Part of the impact of African-American thought in general is to free whites from slavery and the moral degradation of imposing slavery on African-Americans.

12:48 PM

Blogger oracle said...

A Hidden Charachter of History

This is the first time I have ever heard Lincoln express prejudice views. I was surprised that someone in our history, honored by so many people for fighting for the freedom of slaves, could make a mockery of the idea of whites and blacks being completly equal.It seemed to me Lincoln got credit for many things because people supported him out of desperation. He seemed to have his priorities interferring with his conveniences. After saying all of this I still beleive he acomplished alot for African Americans, and he at least opened the door so that future civil rights activist could help minorities acheive the rights they have today.

7:30 AM

Blogger Leo McGarry said...

Abraham Lincoln’s comments about interracial marriage are not unusual for the time in which he lived, this was the law of the land. This does not give him an excuse from his comments but it should not take away from the contributions that African Americans received because of his Presidency. Randall Kennedy, in his recent book Interracial Intimacies: Sex, Marriage, Identity, and Adoption, addresses the fact that many civil rights leaders did not aggressively go after antimiscegenation. He uses the example of Walter White, secretary of the NAACP, marrying a white woman and then many blacks called for his resignation and a piece in Ebony magazine questioned his leadership. Many blacks felt that interracial marriage demeaned them, making them out to want to be more like white people. While you see many press conferences by civil rights groups on the anniversary of Brown vs. The Topeka Board of Education, I have never seen any celebration of Loving vs. Virginia which repealed antimiscegenation laws. Also, Kennedy tells how in 1960, Miles Davis postponed his marriage to white actress May Britt until after the election so not to hurt Democrats, he was then excluded from President John Kennedy’s inauguration ceremonies. Does this snub cast any shadow of doubts on the Kennedy Presidency? While Lincoln’s views should not be celebrated, they should also not cast a disparaging darkness on his legacy.

7:58 PM

Blogger landscape said...

That was really informative Leo. However, it is now known that John Kennedy was a very lukewarm and hesitant supporter of the civil rights movement. Obviously, Lincoln's presidency was very important for African-Americans, but perhaps African-Americans should be given credit for pushing Lincoln toward the Emancipation Proclamation and toward allowing black troops to fight (and they fought very well). I kind of like neighborhoodmacbeth's idea that the actions of black Americans after Lincoln's death (Frederick Douglass and MLK) rescued Lincoln from his own racism by establishing that equal rights for blacks would be Lincoln's ultimate legacy.

6:56 AM

Blogger Matt H said...

There are several myths through-out our lives that we are taught to be truths. We go through school thinking Columbus was a great man and that he liberated and civilized the barbaric indians. Lincoln is another one of those people who we hear did great things but we dont see the other side of what he done. Mostly when you learn about African American history you hear Lincoln freed the slaves then Martin Luther King Jr. came and civil rights happend. Lincoln was a product of his time and thus he had racist qualities to him but we dont learn about Lincoln the "racist" we learn about Lincoln the liberator. Its easier to teach people that one white president single handedly ended slavery than it is to talk about several thousand abolitionist who fought to end slavery. Lincoln is the figure head everyone loves to love.

12:46 PM

Blogger Allie said...

I an actually very fascinated by the two articles. I knew that Lincoln was not the saint that he is portrayed to be when it comes to slavery, but I never realized that he openly made a joke out of the concept of blacks and whites being equal. I agree with matt h that it would be very difficult to teach 3rd graders about the thousands of abolishonists who fought to end slavery--would they understand. Using Lincoln may not be perfect due to many of his personal views, but it is a way to teach young children the basic concepts without making the whole idea and process too complicated for them.

5:39 PM

Blogger PeaceBeliever said...

This pair of articles is interesting. I think that it raises an important question that comes up repeatedly in our society. It is a paradox that I myself have struggled with. I think that Frederick Douglass demostates it well.It was also touched on by comments by some other bloggers. It is the thought that when examined closely we see the American people especially whites washing away all of the "offenses" of our fellow white ancestors. Frederick Douglass seems hostile to the stances that Lincoln took however, he does an injustice by excusing him. I think that the other injustice here is that this is what African Americans expect from whites. I think that praising Lincoln and all his glory is a little naive of American citizens.

5:55 PM

Blogger ProudFeminist said...

Like Chas, I had never realized that Abraham Lincoln had or even expressed such prejudice views of people of different races. It is so ironic because society has portrayed Lincoln as the president mainly responsible for end of slavery. For a president to be in charge of such an event, people would assume that that would not hold such views of the African-American society. To make comments about African-American women is degrading. I am surprised that people have not taken these comments he made exposed the truth to his beliefs instead of letting America believe that he was a sort of a role model since he ended slavery in the America.

12:23 PM


Post a Comment

<< Home