"..More problematic were Lincoln’s views on race. He held opinions not very different from those of the majority of his racist countrymen. Even if slavery was wrong, “there is a physical difference between the white and black races that will for ever forbid the two races from living together on terms of social and political equality.” His solution was a form of ethnic cleansing: shipping blacks off to Liberia, or Haiti, or Central America — anywhere as long as it wasn’t the United States." ~~Barry Gewen~~ writing the review of the excellent book "Big Enough To Be Inconsistent" for the New York Times.
As we celebrate what would be the 200th birthday of the "great emancipator", it's always nice to understand that he wanted to emancipate us not because he thought we were his equal, but because he thought it was the legal thing to do, and the best thing for the Union. Unfortunately, Lincoln, like most of his peers and the people of his time, was a racist.
Still, we love the man, and abstruse as it may seem, that love might be justified. That, my friends, is and always has been, one of the greatest examples of this complex dance that we do with race here in our beloved A-merry-ca. To listen to our first African A-merry-can president praise Lincoln today, while knowing that Lincoln would never have approved of him sleeping in the house that was built for him---- and others like him, was surreal.
If you believe Lerone Bennett's, thesis (read his book Forced Into Glory:Abraham Lincoln's White Dream", when you get a chance) the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 was not so much Lincoln's doing but that of the abolitionist wing of his party. And Lincoln, ever the politician, carefully worded the document so that it did not free a single slave. Bennett argues that Lincoln put forth plans to deport slaves back to Africa before and during the time that he was president.
These are uncomfortable truths. But A-merry-ca is full of them. And the more uncomfortable they are the farther we push them away from our collective consciousness. What would we do with the names of all those building, school, towns, and streets if our perception of the great emancipator ever changed? How could we live with ourselves if "honest Abe" wasn't the paradigm of virtue we hold him up to be? We couldn't, and so we must memorialize the good, and pretend that the bad never happened. Our new president certainly loves number 16, and he has done so much to evoke his memory.
Lincoln would have been 200 today, and I hope that he would have been proud to see his beloved republic. It isn't a perfect union, but it sure is a more perfect one than the one he knew. There is no reason to think he would not. I would like to think that at some point in his 200 years he would have grown as a human being and learned to see us as equals. We would have long been free and afforded the same rights as he has. Would he have embraced the change? Or would he be typical of those who dominate his party today?
"Let us remember that we are doing so as servants to the same flag, as representatives of the same people, and as stakeholders in a common future....That is the most fitting tribute we can pay and the most lasting monument we can build to that most remarkable of men, Abraham Lincoln."
Yes Mr. President, he was remarkable alright, and so are you for saying that.