Tuesday, January 26, 2016

What Lincoln Had to Say About Black People

Last night in the CNN town hall, Hillary Clinton was asked to name her favorite president. I thought she would go with FDR, but instead she chose Abraham Lincoln. She proceeded to give a simple-minded explanation for her choice, much of which revolved around what might have happened if Lincoln hadn't been assassinated.

I remember thinking similarly in high school, under the influence of what Ta-Nehisi Coates calls the Dunning School of thought on the subject of Reconstruction. By now, one would think that Clinton might know better.

But still, I also hold Lincoln in a warm place in my heart, even though I know he wasn't motivated by true abolitionism, especially at first. It didn't surprise me to learn that he wrote these words: “I will say then that 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” (1858).

It does shock me a bit, though, to hear these two other quotes of Lincoln's, which were shared by Stacey Patton today:

You and we are different races. We have between us a broader difference than exists between almost any other two races. Whether it is right or wrong I need not discuss, but this physical difference is a great disadvantage to us both, as I think your race suffers very greatly, many of them, by living among us, while ours suffers from your presence. In a word, we suffer on each side. If this is admitted, it affords a reason at least why we should be separated. (1862)
If that's not bad enough, there's this:
Our republican system was meant for a homogeneous people. As long as blacks continue to live with the whites they constitute a threat to the national life. Family life may also collapse and the increase of mixed breed bastards may some day challenge the supremacy of the white man. (1861)
Sounds more like David Duke than the Great Emancipator. Maybe he changed his mind later (or as politicians say these days, he "evolved"), but it sure puts a dent in simplistic admiration of him.

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