By Gerry Fischer
It has always been interesting to me to learn about the things historic characters have done that was noble and good, only to uncover things about them that were anathema compared to those noble deeds for which they are hailed. Yet, while biographers gloss over negative aspects of their subject’s life, only to highlight or amplify the very good things they did, when one discovers the truth, it can be like standing on solid ground as the earth gives way beneath you. It is at least unsettling and at worst disheartening to hear your object of admiration is seriously flawed.
I bring this up because I recently correlated the deeds of one of our most revered and iconic cultural heroes, who was venerated for a particular accomplishment, may actually have undertaken as a political expedient, rather than a benevolent gesture to aid a class of people. This idea came to me about a month ago when some rioters were on the news trying to topple a statue in Washington D. C. I was aghast at their efforts, but after they were stopped by authorities and I had time to reflect and review the history, I think whatever group instigated that action may have had a valid reason. I do not agree with them, but do understand.
This iconic leader’s statue to be toppled was that of Abraham Lincoln. August 3rd, 1846, Lincoln was elected to the United States House of Representatives, as a member of the Whig party. On January 12th, 1848, on the floor of the House of Representatives, Lincoln made a speech defending the Texas War for Independence. This speech was intended to curry favor with southern Whigs who were in favor of Texas becoming a state. They needed the rich new land in order to plant and grow more cotton, and of course being a southern-state it would come into the Union as a Slave State. Lincoln stated in 1848:
“Any people anywhere, being inclined and having power, have the right to rise up, and shake off the existing government and form a new one that suits them better. This is a most valuable—a most sacred right—a right in which we hope and believe is to liberate the world. Nor is this right confined to cases in which the whole people of an existing government, may choose to exercise it. Any portion of such people that can, may revolutionize, and make their own, of so much territory as they inhabit.” Of course, Lincoln being a politician, beloved as he is, he had more than one face and one side of his mouth from which he spoke. This speech haunted Lincoln, when it was found to be a lie, 13 years when the south rose up and revolutionized.
To validate any reasonable chance these recent violent demonstrators, were targeting Old Abe unfairly, we must travel back in time to the year 1862 and the month of September. The Civil War had been engaged for 17 months. Abraham Lincoln won the 1860 presidential election as the first Republican president, although he was not on the ballot in most southern states. He was a moderate abolitionist, not inclined to tackle the “political hot potato” of slavery, but rather he was a strict constitutionalist; and, since just three years before the election, the Supreme Court upheld slavery in every state in the Union. His presidential powers would not allow him to change that proposition, however, his war powers might. Knowing this the radical abolitionists and Northern Church conventions of Baptist and Methodists clamored for him to make the war about slavery. Writers like Ralph Waldo Emerson, Samuel L. Clements, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Walt Whitman and newspaperman Horace Greeley added voice to the others. Not only that, but the radical abolitionist Greeley, in August, 1862, just two months before the midterm elections, published an open letter to Lincoln entitled “A Prayer of Twenty Millions.” In this midterm election, Lincoln hoped to pick up congressional seats now held by democrats. In reply to Greeley’s letter, Lincoln issued a statement meant to strike a balance between slave and abolition forces more especially aimed at the four border states, one of which was Kentucky. Lincoln wrote:
“My paramount objective in this struggle is to save the Union; if I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.” Lincoln, was not fighting the war over slavery. He said as much. (Read part 3 next week “Political Quickstep)