Another Attempt to Wreck History by Clint Johnson

Let’s take another journey into the historically inaccurate world of Mr. Johnson in the same article as before.

By way of review, Mr. Johnson decries what he calls, “the PC police” who he claims is “wrecking history.”  One example of “wrecking history” he uses is this:  “Last year, Lexington, Va., banned the city displays of Confederate battle flags, which the city used to fly in honor of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, both of whom are buried in the town.”  Interesting.  I don’t seem to have noticed any history books suddenly disappearing.  I’ve seen no smoking holes where libraries used to stand.  Archives are still in existence.  History remains unwrecked.

Mr. Johnson, though, attempts to do some wrecking of his own:

“The movie ‘Lincoln’ looks at Abraham Lincoln’s noble 1865 efforts to end slavery with the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. What isn’t said in the movie is that the same Congress passed the Corwin Amendment in 1861, which would have forbade any congressional amendment to abolish slavery. Lincoln endorsed this ham-handed attempt to bring the Southern states back into the Union in his own first inaugural address.

“ ‘Lincoln’ takes place in March 1865. Had director Steven Spielberg looked back into the summer of 1864, he might have filmed the president’s efforts to fund two colonies of freed slaves in the Caribbean. A compelling scene might have been Lincoln telling a group of free, black ministers that he did not believe blacks and whites could live peacefully with each other. Had Lincoln lived, he might have pushed for removal from this continent of four million black people — all of who were born Americans.”

So let’s take a look at Mr. Johnson’s attempt:  “What isn’t said in the movie is that the same Congress passed the Corwin Amendment in 1861 … ”  The Corwin Amendment was passed by the 36th Congress.  The 13th Amendment was passed by the 38th Congress.  I don’t think that makes it the same Congress.  And this attempt is an example of completely incompetent historical analysis.  He implies that there is some type of hypocrisy at work, when anyone who understands Lincoln’s evolving views of how emancipation could come about combined with Congress’ own evolution, combined with the revolutionizing effects of the war itself knows there is no hypocrisy whatsoever.  Mr. Johnson would apparently have us believe that he is incapable of that historical understanding.

Mr. Johnson continues, “Had director Steven Spielberg looked back into the summer of 1864, he might have filmed the president’s efforts to fund two colonies of freed slaves in the Caribbean.”  Again, Mr. Johnson’s attempt to deliver history is faulty.  Lincoln’s last attempt at colonization was the ill-fated expedition to Ile a’ Vache, Haiti.  “Lincoln gave it up and in February, 1864, ordered a ship to return the surviving colonists to the United States.  Congress gave the coup de grace to colonization in July, 1864, by repealing all provisions of the legislation of 1862 appropriating funds for colonization purposes.”  [James M. McPherson, “Abolitionist and Negro Opposition to Colonization During the Civil War,” Phylon, Vol XXXVI, No. 4, Winter, 1965, p. 398]  Lincoln signed this measure.

As Gabor Boritt wrote, “Colonization was dead and Lincoln did not mourn.  He did not march backwards.”  [Gabor Boritt, “Did He Dream of a Lily-White America?  The Voyage to Lincolnia,” in Gabor Boritt, ed., The Lincoln Enigma, p. 17]

On July 1, 1864, Lincoln’s secretary, John Hay, recorded in his diary, “I am glad the President has sloughed off that idea of colonization.  I have always thought it a hideous & barbaric humbug.”  [Tyler Dennett, ed., Lincoln and the Civil War in the Diaries and Letters of John Hay, p. 203]

Recently, two authors have postulated that Lincoln maintained his support of colonization for the rest of his life, but so far their argument has not gained scholarly support.

Mr. Johnson’s claim that Lincoln was trying to fund two colonies in the Caribbean in 1864, though, is false.

In his fairy tale excursion to the summer of 1864, Mr. Johnson claims, “A compelling scene might have been Lincoln telling a group of free, black ministers that he did not believe blacks and whites could live peacefully with each other.”  Lincoln did meet with a group of black ministers, telling them he didn’t believe blacks and whites could live together in the same country in peace, only that was August 14, 1862, not the summer of 1864.  Mr. Johnson again gives us an example of a lack of competent historical analysis in his apparent ignorance of Lincoln’s own evolution.

Mr. Johnson ends this section with a complete falsehood:  “Had Lincoln lived, he might have pushed for removal from this continent of four million black people.”  Lincoln’s colonization plan consistently called exclusively for voluntary colonization.  It would not be the removal of African-Americans, but the opportunity for African-Americans who chose to do so to leave of their own accord.  One would think that if Mr. Johnson was so concerned about history being “wrecked” he would be more careful himself.  But that’s the rub, isn’t it?

What do you think?

7 comments

  1. I find it shocking—but not surprising—that he makes such elementary mistakes.

  2. Just more of the Southern Heritage types trying to deflect attention from the real history of the period by tarring Lincoln. I welcome the attention paid to what was going on about emancipation because it shows that there was wide disagreement on what to do. Ending slavery was a process and showed that people can and do change their opinions over time which is a process of evolution. We are seeing how that process works today on issues of our own, so it shouldn’t be any suprise to see it in the past whether it be about slavery or even earlier such as the issue of independence during the Revolution.

    Where the Southern Heritage types fail with their depiction of Lincoln is in the historically inaccurate portrayal of what he tried to do. They bring up events, but fail to link context with the events. They’re desperate to deflect people from examining the failure of Southern Heritage types to evolve with their thinking on the Civil War. The historical inaccuracies just reflect that deperation in my opinion.

    1. I agree completely, Jimmy. They will quote Lincoln from 1858 and make the claim that his beliefs stated in the Lincoln-Douglas debates were exactly what he believed his entire life, blissfully ignoring any possibility that he underwent changes of opinion, that circumstances changed, that conditions dictated different approaches. Same for different Congresses, and same for others as well. As you said, emancipation was a process, and how we got there wasn’t always neat and pretty. What passes for historical analysis among the Heritage Instead of History Crowd is usually nothing more than the most superficial reading of little out-of-context snippets, and that’s when they’re fortunate enough to use actual primary sources and not something fabricated by another Heritage Instead of History type.

      1. The fundamental problem is that they are agenda-driven: Their “study” of history exists only to serve that agenda.

  3. I seem to remember many Southerners believed they would have been better off post war if Lincoln had not been assassinated. As you stated the movie was about a short segment of Lincoln’s life in 1865.

  4. I love the new label for them; Heritage Instead of History. Have you noticed they have their own code words and phrases? They always use the same “facts” (always out of context) for the exact same thing over and over again in multiple blogs and never deviate. Then when their arguments collapse due to no facts to back them up plus a mangling of context to fit their ideology they switch to the standard attack mode of diversion such as “The North was racist” or American Indians, etc. They lack originality.

    When I first got into the historical world I encountered them. My knowledge and grasp of the information has grown immensely while they’re just bringing up the same thing over and over again. They have not provided any new information unless you count completely made up stuff for the last few yars that I’ve been watching the blogs.

    1. I think you can trace most of them back to just a handful of postwar sources, mostly Pollard, Rutherford, and the Southern Hysterical, er, “Historical” Society. 😉

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