Alan Singer, a professor of Teaching, Literacy and Leadership at Hofstra University, has an article at History News Network which, in my view, shows he has an incomplete understanding of Abraham Lincoln. He starts by taking us back to 1858 and the Lincoln Douglas Debates. In Charleston, Lincoln said, “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 … 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.” Singer claims, “This was before Lincoln was elected president and before the outbreak of the Civil War, but Lincoln’s speeches, writings, and actions after these events continued to reflect this point of view about race and equality.” What is most interesting about this quote is what Singer chooses to leave out of it through his use of the ellipses.
William Lee Miller, in his excellent study of Lincoln, Lincoln’s Virtues: An Ethical Biography, discusses Lincoln’s racial views. In doing so, he quotes a fuller version of this famous statement from the Charleston debate with Stephen A. Douglas:
“I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in anyway 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 the 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. I say upon this occasion I do not perceive that because the white man is to have the superior position the negro should be denied everything.”
Notice Lincoln recognizes a physical difference only which prevents the two races from living together equally. This is a nod to white prejudice against African-Americans. He says that IF one race is to be in a superior position, then just like any other man, he would be in favor of his own race being in that position. That doesn’t mean that he believes one race MUST be in a superior position. And even then he believes African-Americans are entitled to basic rights as human beings.
And what Lincoln said right after this is important, too:
“I say upon this occasion I do not perceive that because the white man is to have the superior position the negro should be denied everything. 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.” [Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Vol 3, p. 146]
As Prof. Miller writes,
“Here, if you are a racist looking for support from Lincoln or a debunker seeking to discredit Lincoln, is the prime text for claiming that he was a ‘white supremacist.’ But even in this worst of his statements, he immediately makes the ‘nevertheless’ addition that is not a concession to the other side and to the prejudices of the audience, but his own affirmation: ‘I do not perceive that because the white man is to have the superior position the Negro should be denied everything.’ There is something still he is not to be denied–his humanity, and his right not to be a slave to any other man.” [William Lee Miller, Lincoln’s Virtues: An Ethical Biography, p. 350]
And we have to remember that in Chicago, only two months prior, Lincoln said, “My friends, I have detained you about as long as I desired to do, and I have only to say, let us discard all this quibbling about this man and the other man—this race and that race and the other race being inferior, and therefore they must be placed in an inferior position—discarding our standard that we have left us. Let us discard all these things, and unite as one people throughout this land, until we shall once more stand up declaring that all men are created equal.” [Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Vol 2, p. 501]
There is much more to Lincoln’s statements on race than his critics have said. As a consummate politician he chose his words very carefully, and his statements have to be read with great care. While William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips made statements that were far more progressive than Lincoln’s, they were in a much different situation. They had the luxury of not running for office and not having to appeal to people for their votes.
Prof. Miller gets deeper into Lincoln and his situation.
“In response to this racist attack and the racist atmosphere he knew well, Lincoln had done–as we saw in his remarks at Charleston–what almost all Republicans, at least outside New England, did: he made defensive concessions to reassure the heavily Negrophobic white male Illinois electorate that he did not propose to upset the racial patterns in contemporary Illinois. These are the statements, often quoted, that are now embarrassments for his admirers and weapons for his critics. He made defensive concessions to racial prejudice on all points except the crucial minimum (the Negro’s humanity and basic right to live his own life) and then used those introductory concessions as a preliminary to a ringing affirmation of that basic right which was the point at issue. But in a later time when that basic right is no longer in question, his preliminary concessions, not his affirmation, becomes the focus of attention.” [William Lee Miller, Lincoln’s Virtues: An Ethical Biography, p. 353]
“It is not simply that he was, in the cliché, a ‘man of his time’; he was a man of his time, his place, and his role. He was a politician. A mainstream politician, seeking to shape major party victories, and much of the time seeking office himself, in one of the most racially prejudiced–perhaps the most prejudiced–of Northern states.” [Ibid., pp. 354-355]
“Here are considerations before singling out the nineteenth-century provincial white politician Abraham Lincoln for the late-twentieth-century epithet ‘racist’:
“1. White racial prejudice was pervasive and deep in most of the North, especially in the West, and particularly in Illinois, probably the most racially prejudiced free state in the Union.
2. The Democrats, nationwide and in Illinois, made a relentless, nasty attack on all Republicans as ‘amalgamationists,’ ‘mongrelizers,’ ‘race-mixers.’ James McPherson would make a remark about the high tide of Democratic Party racism in the campaign to dislodge President Lincoln in 1864: ‘The vulgarity of their [the Democrats’] tactics [on race] almost surpasses belief.’
3. The key point: Slavery, not race, was the issue in the 1850s. One might say with blunt realism that the Republicans as a major party had to disassociate themselves from racial equalizing in order to gain power to restrain slavery.
4. Almost all Republicans in the West and lower North made statements disavowing practical racial equality, most of them worse than those made by Lincoln.
5. Many Republicans (not to mention Democrats) adopted pseudo-scientific and pseudo-biblical ideas about differences in racial essence and origins, and genetic racial inferiority, accompanied by demeaning racist comments; Lincoln, even under Douglas’s assault, did not do that.
6. Colonization was not a peculiar proposal by Lincoln but a movement with a history. It could boast some quite distinguished earlier supporters (Henry Clay, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Daniel Webster), some black support, and in the late 1850s, widespread Republican endorsement.
7. Although the colonization movement could rest on a demeaning racist premise, it could include also or instead a humanitarian motive, and always regarded itself as antislavery; for Lincoln it was always voluntary, and closely tied to emancipation and the moral condemnation of slavery.
8. Part of the reason for putting forward colonizing ideas was political expediency, as an answer to racist fears about what would happen after slavery.
9. Lincoln chose to oppose slavery’s extension on moral grounds, which he did not need to do; and which many antislavery politicians did not do, insisting that their opposition to slavery rested in some ‘white’ ground. The moral grounds that Lincoln made primary meant affirming common humanity with the enslaved black persons.” [Ibid., pp. 358-359]
Prof. Harry Jaffa develops an aspect of Prof. Miller’s points: “Was it more important to lead to victory the anti-slavery party which then existed, and existed on a very tenuous foundation, or to proclaim a policy of full interracial equality, a proclamation that would have wrecked that party, leaving a pro-slavery party in control of the national government? We concede that such a counsel of ‘perfection’ may be demanded in the name of morality. And it may be that obedience to such counsels gain a man the kingdom of heaven. But we believe it is as demonstrable as anything in politics can be that, had Lincoln acted upon it, he would have acted to perpetuate the hell of slavery on earth.” [Harry V. Jaffa, Crisis of the House Divided: An Interpretation of the Issues in the Lincoln-Douglas Debates, p. 373]
And we must remember the sum of a man is not one year in his life or one decade of his life. Lincoln’s totality was not 1858 or the 1850s. As LaWanda Cox wrote, “During his presidency Lincoln did not reaffirm the disavowals of support for equality beyond freedom which he had made during the campaigning of the 1850s. He did not explicitly disown them, but their repudiation was implicit in his actions and his words. More prescient for his presidential record than his concessions to racism was Lincoln’s prewar resistance to embracing white supremacy wholeheartedly. Of equal import for the future was Lincoln’s prewar intransigence in holding to the principle that a slave was a man entitled to rights as a man. … The experiences of wartime, as well as his political principles and his attitude toward slavery and race, moved Lincoln toward an active commitment to equality beyond freedom for bondage.” [LaWanda Cox, Lincoln and Black Freedom: A Study in Presidential Leadership, p. 22]
Lincoln was concerned about how African-Americans were treated, and about their status in the United States.
“How to better the condition of the colored race has long been a study which has attracted my serious and careful attention; hence I think I am clear and decided as to what course I shall pursue in the premises, regarding it a religious duty, as the nation’s guardian of these people, who have so heroically vindicated their manhood on the battle-field, where, in assisting to save the life of the Republic, they have demonstrated in blood their right to the ballot, which is but the humane protection of the flag they have so fearlessly defended. The restoration of the Rebel States to the Union must rest upon the principle of civil and political equality of the both races; and it must be sealed by general amnesty.” [Abraham Lincoln to James Wadsworth, January, 1864, Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Vol 7, pp. 101-102]
And he evolved in his thinking. In what is now recognized as his last public address, Lincoln affirmed his support for limited suffrage for African-Americans.
“The amount of constituency, so to to [sic] speak, on which the new Louisiana government rests, would be more satisfactory to all, if it contained fifty, thirty, or even twenty thousand, instead of only about twelve thousand, as it does. It is also unsatisfactory to some that the elective franchise is not given to the colored man. I would myself prefer that it were now conferred on the very intelligent, and on those who serve our cause as soldiers. Still the question is not whether the Louisiana government, as it stands, is quite all that is desirable. The question is ‘Will it be wiser to take it as it is, and help to improve it; or to reject, and disperse it?’ ‘Can Louisiana be brought into proper practical relation with the Union sooner by sustaining, or by discarding her new State Government?’
“Some twelve thousand voters in the heretofore slave-state of Louisiana have sworn allegiance to the Union, assumed to be the rightful political power of the State, held elections, organized a State government, adopted a free-state constitution, giving the benefit of public schools equally to black and white, and empowering the Legislature to confer the elective franchise upon the colored man. Their Legislature has already voted to ratify the constitutional amendment recently passed by Congress, abolishing slavery throughout the nation. These twelve thousand persons are thus fully committed to the Union, and to perpetual freedom in the state—committed to the very things, and nearly all the things the nation wants—and they ask the nations recognition, and it’s assistance to make good their committal. Now, if we reject, and spurn them, we do our utmost to disorganize and disperse them. We in effect say to the white men ‘You are worthless, or worse—we will neither help you, nor be helped by you.’ To the blacks we say ‘This cup of liberty which these, your old masters, hold to your lips, we will dash from you, and leave you to the chances of gathering the spilled and scattered contents in some vague and undefined when, where, and how.’ If this course, discouraging and paralyzing both white and black, has any tendency to bring Louisiana into proper practical relations with the Union, I have, so far, been unable to perceive it. If, on the contrary, we recognize, and sustain the new government of Louisiana the converse of all this is made true. We encourage the hearts, and nerve the arms of the twelve thousand to adhere to their work, and argue for it, and proselyte for it, and fight for it, and feed it, and grow it, and ripen it to a complete success. The colored man too, in seeing all united for him, is inspired with vigilance, and energy, and daring, to the same end. Grant that he desires the elective franchise, will he not attain it sooner by saving the already advanced steps toward it, than by running backward over them? Concede that the new government of Louisiana is only to what it should be as the egg is to the fowl, we shall sooner have the fowl by hatching the egg than by smashing it? Again, if we reject Louisiana, we also reject one vote in favor of the proposed amendment to the national constitution. To meet this proposition, it has been argued that no more than three fourths of those States which have not attempted secession are necessary to validly ratify the amendment. I do not commit myself against this, further than to say that such a ratification would be questionable, and sure to be persistently questioned; while a ratification by three fourths of all the States would be unquestioned and unquestionable.” [Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Vol 8, pp. 403-404]
This wasn’t the first time he recommended limited suffrage for blacks. The year before, in a letter to Michael Hahn, newly elected free state governor of Louisiana, Lincoln wrote, “I congratulate you on having fixed your name in history as the first-free-state Governor of Louisiana. Now you are about to have a Convention which, among other things, will probably define the elective franchise. I barely suggest for your private consideration, whether some of the colored people may not be let in—as, for instance, the very intelligent, and especially those who have fought gallantly in our ranks. They would probably help, in some trying time to come, to keep the jewel of liberty within the family of freedom. But this is only a suggestion, not to the public, but to you alone.” [Abraham Lincoln to Michael Hahn, 13 March 1864, Collected Works, Vol 7, p. 243]
Lincoln was the first president to welcome blacks into the White House as guests and not as servants. “To Negroes who visited the White House, Lincoln behaved much the same as with Mrs. Keckley; if he as not hail-fellow-well-met, neither was he unfriendly. He treated Negroes as they wanted to be treated–as human beings. … Negro visitors to the White House were treated without false heartiness, but without any sign of disdain. Never condescending, Lincoln did not talk down to Negroes, nor did he spell out his thoughts in the one-syllable language of the first reader. … Of all Lincoln’s host of visitors, white or black, none admired him like Sojourner Truth, the almost legendary abolitionist of indeterminate years.” [Benjamin Quarles, Lincoln and the Negro, pp. 204-205]
William Lee Miller tells how Lincoln met a Haitian named William de Fleurville, who had run out of funds. Finding out he had training as a barber, Lincoln took him to New Salem and drummed up enough haircuts among his friends that Fleurville was solvent again and on his way to Springfield. After Lincoln moved to Springfield in 1837, “Billy the Barber” became his exclusive barber for his entire time in Springfield. Additionally, Frederick Douglass said of Lincoln, “I was never more quickly or more completely put at ease in the presence of a great man than that of Abraham Lincoln.” Douglass praised Lincoln for always treating him [Douglass] as a complete equal. [William Lee Miller, Lincoln’s Virtues, pages 40-41]
Frederick Douglass said of Lincoln, “In his company I was never in any way reminded of my humble origin, or of my unpopular colour.”
“I have said that President Lincoln was a white man, and shared the prejudices common to his countrymen towards the colored race. Looking back to his times and to the condition of his country, we are compelled to admit that this unfriendly feeling on his part may be safely set down as one element of his wonderful success in organizing the loyal American people for the tremendous conflict before them, and bringing them safely through that conflict. 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.” Frederick Douglass, “Oration in Memory of Abraham Lincoln,” 14 Apr 1876]
Singer tells us, “African American abolitionist Frederick Douglass, for his part, remained very skeptical about Lincoln’s intentions and program, even after the p[resident [sic] issued a preliminary emancipation in September 1862.
“Douglass had good reason to mistrust Lincoln. On December 1, 1862, one month before the scheduled issuing of an Emancipation Proclamation, the president offered the Confederacy another chance to return to the union and preserve slavery for the foreseeable future. In his annual message to congress, Lincoln recommended a constitutional amendment, which if it had passed, would have been the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution.
“The amendment proposed gradual emancipation that would not be completed for another thirty-seven years, taking slavery in the United States into the twentieth century; compensation, not for the enslaved, but for the slaveholder; and the expulsion, supposedly voluntary but essentially a new Trail of Tears, of formerly enslaved Africans to the Caribbean, Central America, and Africa.”
There was nothing “supposedly voluntarily” about Lincoln’s plan for colonization. It was completely voluntary. To compare Lincoln’s plan with the Trail of Tears is, in my opinion, simply false, and unfortunately for a PhD to do it we have to consider the possibility of dishonesty. The two are in no way comparable.
Lincoln’s support for colonization stemmed from his belief that there was too much animosity between the two races for them to live together peacefully in the same country, so he favored providing transportation to another country for those who wished to leave the United States. In no way would anyone be forced to be colonized.
“Lincoln’s fundamental rationale for colonization was noble, as far as nobility was possible on behalf of such a proposal. He argued that the unequal relationship of whites and blacks in the United States harmed them both. Indeed, for the blacks this relationship was ‘the greatest wrong inflicted on any people’ anywhere. He was very pessimistic about a change, and for a century after him the relatively small achievements in race relations vindicated his judgment. His solution to the problem was federally aided emigration of the oppressed people. He was too just a man to claim morality for this solution, and enough of a pragmatist and a politician not to concede its inequity. ‘Whether it is right or wrong, I need not discuss,’ he said, and then took the ground of expediency which almost amounted to ‘absolute necessity.’ ” [Gabor S. Boritt, “The Voyage to the Colony of Linconia,” The Historian, Vol XXXVII, No. 4, August, 1975, p. 622] In his support of colonization, Lincoln was in company with Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, and many others, including the mother and the wife of Robert E. Lee. Indeed, when he took office it can be said that his view regarding colonization was a mainstream view. “In ante-bellum and Civil War days it [colonization] was a solution championed by persons like Lincoln with humanitarian motives.” [Paul J. Scheips, “Lincoln and the Chiriqui Colonization Project,” Journal of Negro History, Vol XXXVII, No. 4, October, 1952, p. 418] And, “When Lincoln assumed office in March, 1861, he had long held the then middle-of-the-road and not uncommon view that the solution of the nation’s racial problem lay in separation of the races and foreign colonization of the Negroes.” [Ibid.]
Like his opposition to black voters, though, Lincoln saw the error of his thinking and eventually dropped the idea of colonization.
“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.
David H. Donald wrote of Lincoln, “the failure of his colonization schemes had taught him that African-Americans were, and would remain, a permanent part of the American social fabric. He believed that the more intelligent blacks, especially those who served in the army, were entitled to the suffrage. Hence he encouraged the education of the freedmen, and he supported the Freedmen’s Bureau to protect them from exploitation by their former masters.” [David H. Donald, Lincoln, p. 583]
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 Linconia,” in Gabor Boritt, ed., The Lincoln Enigma, p. 17]
On 1 July 1864, John Hay recorded in his diary that Lincoln had “sloughed off” all these notions of colonization: “I am glad the President has sloughed off that idea of colonization. I have always thought it a hideous & barbarous humbug.” [John Hay in his diary, in Tyler Dennett, ed., Lincoln and the Civil War in the Diaries and Letters of John Hay, p. 203, quoted in Paul David Nelson, “From Intolerance to Moderation: The Evolution of Abraham Lincoln’s Racial Views,” Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, Vol LXXII, No. 1, January, 1974, p. 3]
In considering the Emancipation Proclamation, Singer writes, “It was a symbolic but in practical terms a very limited decree. Slavery did not end in the border states that had remained loyal to the Union. The decree did not emancipate the millions of enslaved Africans in the South because the rebelling territories did not accept federal jurisdiction. At best a few thousand enslaved Africans on plantations on the Georgia and South Carolina coast in areas controlled by Union troops were actually freed on that day.”
Singer shows very little understanding of the constitutional issues surrounding the Emancipation Proclamation, nor does he understand its revolutionary character. The EP was a war measure to deprive the enemy of a key source of labor. As such, it could not apply to areas that were not enemy territory. So we shouldn’t be surprised that it didn’t apply to the loyal border slave states. Constitutionally, it couldn’t apply to them because the only way it could be legal was for it to apply to enemy territory. So Singer’s talking about its not applying to the loyal border slave states is posturing, nothing of substance. He focuses on how many slaves were liberated on the day the Emancipation Proclamation was signed.
The Union army controlled areas of the south that were not excepted from the Emancipation Proclamation. They controlled the coast of North Carolina from the Virginia border to a point south of New Bern. They controlled part of the South Carolina coast from south of Charleston to the Georgia border. They controlled a part of the Atlantic coast of Florida around Jacksonville. They controlled Baton Rouge, Louisiana. They controlled a large swath of Northern Arkansas, a strip of Northern Mississippi and Northern Alabama, and a large swath of Northern Virginia from Winchester moving southeast to the Chesapeake Bay. All the slaves in these areas, numbering at least 20,000, actually enjoyed their freedom as of 1 Jan 1863, thanks to the Emancipation Proclamation. [William C. Harris, “After the Emancipation Proclamation: Lincoln’s Role in the Ending of Slavery,” North & South Magazine, Vol. 5, No. 1, Dec, 2001, pp. 42-53]
But more than that, the EP turned the Union Army into much more of an army of emancipation than it had already been. While the Union had been emancipating slaves almost from the very beginning of the war, the EP, instead of emancipating the slaves of disloyal masters, declared free all slaves in specific areas, whether their masters were loyal or not. It meant military emancipation on a larger scale. And in the EP, Lincoln authorized the enlistment of black soldiers into the Union army. Singer apparently has no idea this happened, nor does he have any idea of the ramifications of this enlistment. But Frederick Douglass understood it: “Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letter, U.S., let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder and bullets in his pocket, there is no power on earth that can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship.” Lincoln would consistently stand by the black soldiers.
And Singer ignores Lincoln’s crucial role in getting the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery passed through Congress and transmitted to the states for ratification.
Singer next turns to Lincoln’s 10% plan for Reconstruction. “But Douglass’ suspicions about Lincoln’s motives and actions once again proved to be legitimate. On December 8, 1863, less than a month after the Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln offered full pardons to Confederates in a Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction that has come to be known as the 10 Percent Plan.
“Self-rule in the South would be restored when 10 percent of the ‘qualified’ voters according to ‘the election law of the state existing immediately before the so-called act of secession’ pledged loyalty to the union. Since blacks could not vote in these states in 1860, this was not to be government of the people, by the people, for the people, as promised in the Gettysburg Address, but a return to white rule.”
Lincoln’s plan was designed to end the war as quickly as possible. Remember, Lincoln’s goal was to preserve the Union. His plan was designed to do that by removing states from the confederacy. It also required these states to adhere to the Emancipation Proclamation, so that any enslaved people who fell within the provisions of the proclamation would be and remain free.
Singer mischaracterizes Lincoln’s December 8, 1863 proclamation. Singer mischaracterizes it by not identifying that it specifically excepted “all who are, or shall have been, civil or diplomatic officers or agents of the so-called Confederate government; all who have left judicial stations under the United States to aid the rebellion; all who are, or shall have been, military or naval officers of said so-called Confederate government above the rank of colonel in the army or lieutenant in the navy; all who left seats in the United States congress to aid the rebellion; all who resigned commissions in the army or navy of the United States and afterwards aided the rebellion; and all who have engaged in any way in treating colored persons, or white persons in charge of such, otherwise than lawfully as prisoners of war, and which persons may have been found in the United States service as soldiers, seamen, or in any other capacity.” These exceptions remove a significant chunk of the antebellum and Civil War power structure in what states would attempt to comply with this proclamation [The 10% portion was aimed at all the confederate states except Virginia, which already had a loyal government in existence]. As a respected and noted historian has written on this, “Lincoln offered some clarifications in his annual message. Any state, having met the requirements he had set forth, would receive protection from the federal government. But to expect Confederates to be part of that process was ‘simply absurd.’ He sought ‘a test by which to separate the opposing elements, so as to build only from the sound,’ although that included those who renounced their identity as Confederates by taking the oath.” [Brooks D. Simpson, The Reconstruction Presidents, p. 40]
“Lincoln sought to offer a policy as congruent as possible with current constitutional provisions. Citing the guarantee clause as the basis for his exercise of executive power, he conceded that at least in some form the states were still in the Union. He was still willing to leave the decision for emancipation, at least in principle, to white southerners (although if they failed to accept it Lincoln would not recognize the result, thus creating a powerful incentive for white southerners to abolish slavery and qualifying the ‘voluntary’ nature of emancipation. In so acting Lincoln wanted to ensure emancipation as part of reconstruction and to circumvent questions about the continued applicability of the Emancipation Proclamation, for once white southerners reestablished loyal state governments, they could argue that the principle of military necessity that justified the proclamation no longer applied. State action would also render immaterial questions about the proclamation’s constitutionality, for no one denied that a state could abolish slavery.” [Ibid.] Singer is correct that the 10% plan involved white voters at that time. But it’s not an indication of racism on Lincoln’s part as Singer might have us believe. No. “Lincoln’s proposal was in part a wartime expedient, a way to sap Confederate morale by offering a comparatively painless way for southern whites to reenter the Union.” [Ibid., p. 42] Singer claims Lincoln wouldn’t protect black rights had he survived into Reconstruction. Lincoln’s actions show him wrong. “When Louisiana leaders hemmed and hawed about the prospects for emancipation in 1863, Lincoln directed Banks to use his power to persuade them to see the light. In Arkansas, General Frederick Steele received instructions from Washington directing him to nullify any election that resulted in the elevation of proslavery candidates to office.” [Ibid.]
Lincoln was already paving the way for this earlier in 1863, as his August 5 letter to Banks shows:
“While I very well know I would be glad for Louisiana to do, it is quite a different thing for me to assume direction of the matter. I would be glad for her to make a new Constitution recognizing the emancipation proclamation, and adopting emancipation in those parts of the state to which the proclamation does not apply. And while she is at it, I think it would not be objectionable for her to adopt some practical system by which the two races could gradually live themselves out of their old relation to each other, and both come out better prepared for the new. Education for young blacks should be included in the plan.” [Abraham Lincoln to Nathaniel Banks, 5 August 1863, Collected Works, Vol 6, pp. 364-365] “Lincoln used the same strategy in occupied Tennessee but without the detachment that he chose to employe with Banks.” [Richard Striner, Lincoln and Race, p. 50] In a letter to Andrew Johnson, Lincoln wrote, “Tennessee is now clear of armed insurrectionists. You need not to be reminded that it is the nick of time for re-inaugerating [sic] a loyal State government. Not a moment should be lost. You, and the co-operating friends there, can better judge of the ways and means, than can be judged by any here. I only offer a few suggestions. The re-inaugeration [sic] must not be such as to give control of the State, and it’s [sic] representation in Congress, to the enemies of the Union, driving it’s friends there into political exile. The whole struggle for Tennessee will have been profitless to both State and Nation, if it so ends that Gov. Johnson is put down, and Gov. Harris is put up. It must not be so. You must have it otherwise. Let the reconstruction be the work of such men only as can be trusted for the Union. Exclude all others, and trust that your government, so organized, will be recognized here, as being the one of republican form, to be guaranteed to the state, and to be protected against invasion and domestic violence.
“It is something on the question of time, to remember that it can not be known who is next to occupy the position I now hold, nor what he will do.
“I see that you have declared in favor of emancipation in Tennessee, for which, may God bless you. Get emancipation into your new State government—Constitution—and there will be no such word as fail for your case.
“The raising of colored troops I think will greatly help every way.” [Abraham Lincoln to Andrew Johnson, 11 September 1863, Collected Works, Vol 6, p. 440]
And there’s something else Singer neglects regarding Lincoln’s Reconstruction plan: “Lincoln required these voters to take a second oath as well if they intended to vote. They would have to take an oath–an oath upon the holy Bible in the Bible Belt, which was a serious matter in the culture of the South–that they supported the Emancipation Proclamation and all the antislavery acts of Congress. Only then could they vote. In other words, the only people whom Lincoln would allow to vote in the ex-Confederate states would be opponents of slavery! And it would only take a tiny minority of such people–10 percent–to overpower proslavery majorities of up to 90 percent and transform their states into free states against the will of these racist majorities.” [Richard Striner, Lincoln and Race, p. 51]
Singer talks a great deal about Frederick Douglass’ suspicions regarding Lincoln, but he very carefully limits that talk to the time before Douglass actually met Lincoln. The two men met twice. “After his first visit, Douglass claimed that he felt comfortable with Lincoln; had they indeed achieved a way to talk comfortably, the president could have learned a lot from his visitor. And there is evidence that Lincoln was not as slow a learner as Douglass, with his well-placed impatience, sometimes thought. Douglass was in Lincoln’s debt for Charles’s discharge, but Lincoln would not have to call in that chit. By 1865, Douglass’ loyalty to the president was complete. Lincoln could have had this fervent ally as an adviser for the asking. He did not ask.” [William S. McFeely, Frederick Douglass, p. 235]
In talking about Lincoln’s Second Inaugural, Singer writes, “As I read Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, I see a war-weary and politically cautious president who never believed in racial equality; who in December 1862, less than a month before finally issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, offered the South gradual compensated emancipation that would have extended slavery in the United States into the twentieth century, and who in the actual document sharply limited the scope of emancipation so that very few enslaved Africans out of the millions in bondage were directly and immediately affected. This Lincoln expressed tentative support for voting rights for black veterans, but did not believe he had the authority to enforce the idea.”
The Second Inaugural is short enough we can quote it here:
“At this second appearing to take the oath of the Presidential office there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then a statement somewhat in detail of a course to be pursued seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention and engrosses the energies of the nation, little that is new could be presented. The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself, and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.
“On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it, all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war–seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.
“One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. ‘Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.’ If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’
“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
Those are not the words of the man Singer would have us believe Lincoln was. And I think it’s instructive as to Singer’s agenda that he chose not to mention Lincoln’s Last Public Address quoted from above.
Again, Lincoln’s actions already outlined show that he was more than willing to enforce the right course of action. In this article, Singer has shown virtually no understanding of what Lincoln was saying or doing and may have been fast and loose with his scholarship, in this reader’s opinion.