Nearly 160 years after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, his place in history as “The Great Emancipator” of black slaves is firmly established. Nevertheless, a defense of Lincoln is a required response to the fallacy-ridden 1619 Project in which the New York Times seeks to rewrite American history through a racist lens.
In 1620: A Critical Response to the 1619 Project, Peter W. Wood performs documented research that 1619 neglected by citing no sources and providing no footnotes or bibliography. Readers of 1619, including school children who find its “curriculum” woven into their classrooms, are expected to accept this wholly-biased account on faith.
Nikole Hannah-Jones, lead author of 1619, claims Lincoln was a racist. She arrives here, Wood writes, not through intense scholarly research, but because in high school she became enamored with the writing of Lerone Bennett Jr., an editor at Ebony magazine who wrote an article titled, “Was Abe Lincoln a White Supremacist?”
Her evidence is Lincoln’s August 1862 meeting with five black leaders in which he discussed shipping freed slaves out of the country.
“Your race suffer very greatly, many of them, by living among us, while ours suffer from your presence,” Lincoln said. This single episode, we are to believe, supersedes all other evidence from Lincoln’s life.
Lincoln lived at a time when slavery was an historic norm but clearly contradicted the principles defined in the Declaration of Independence, that “all men are created equal.”
Lincoln’s priorities were complicated by the times in which he lived. His chief concern was to preserve the Union. To do that, he famously told Horace Greeley of the New York Tribune, he would be willing to free all slaves, some slaves or no slaves.
While abolition found support in some northern states, that support wasn’t universal. Northerners were more committed to restoring the Union than to freeing slaves. In fact, four slave states (Maryland, Delaware, Kentucky and Missouri) remained loyal to the Union. Some whites who believed slavery was wrong still weren’t convinced that blacks, whom they’d mostly known as slaves or servants, were in all respects their equals. Others worried that freeing all slaves would lead to a race war. To restore the Union, Lincoln couldn’t risk alienating those factions because without Union slavery would endure.
At the time of his meeting with black leaders, the Union war effort was suffering from successive defeats. He had drafted the Emancipation Proclamation earlier but didn’t release it until the Union finally achieved a significant victory at Antietam in September 1862.
Still, there can be no doubt that Lincoln was committed to abolishing slavery and believed in racial equality. Eight years earlier in 1854, Lincoln gave major speeches leaving “no doubt about his profound antipathy to slavery,” Wood writes. The Peoria, Ill., speech “is generally understood as the foundation of his subsequent public career.”
Lincoln famously said: “If the negro is a man, why then my ancient faith teaches me that `all men are created equal,’ and that there can be no moral right in connection with one man’s making a slave of another.”
Historian James Oakes of City University of New York and a man of the Left, calls Lincoln anti-racist: “By the late 1850s, he was vehemently denouncing Stephen Douglas and his northern Democrats for their racist demagoguery, which Lincoln complained” was intended to cause Americans to accept slavery as “natural.”
Hannah-Jones imagines that black leaders were stunned by Lincoln’s suggestion to ship freed slaves out of the country. In fact, they had debated the idea themselves for many years. Many opposed emigration, but others, whose American experience consisted of bondage and inhumane treatment, were ready to leave.
Unlike Hannah-Jones, who knows only what other people have written about Lincoln, Frederick Douglass was a former slave who described the man he knew: “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.”
Lincoln’s enduring legacy will survive this recent smear, and he will be justly remembered as the indispensable leader uniquely suited for his time.