Letters to the Editor

Published: 1994-01-01

This document is part of the Journal of Historical Review periodical.
Use this menu to find more documents that are part of this periodical.

Lincoln: A "Clever Politician"?

Although Robert Morgan's look at Abraham Lincoln's negro policy [in the September-October 1993 Journal] is a thought-provoking example of revisionist writing, I believe the author has overlooked alternative explanations for Lincoln's decisions and policies.

Consider, for example, Morgan's portrayal of Lincoln's personal feelings about blacks. Morgan cites these words of Lincoln from the fourth Lincoln-Douglas debate: "I am not now, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races." As sweeping as this seems, I would attempt to put it into context by pointing out:

  • Douglas' emphatic stand against political or social equality of the races obliged Lincoln to appear to be just as anti-negro in order to win votes, regardless of his real personal feelings on the matter.
  • The "physical difference" alluded to by Lincoln in that same speech may have been a reference only to skin color. He may not have been referring to the many other and more profound physical differences between the two races.
  • Lincoln apparently never expressed the view that the differences between the races are innate.
  • During the debate in Ottawa, Lincoln agreed with Douglas that the negro "is not my equal in many respects." However, he went on to say that there is "no reason in the world why the negro is not entitled to all the natural rights in the Declaration of Independence, the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
  • By the standards of the day, Lincoln's public stance on this issue could have been considered middle-of-the-road. The extreme views were represented by Douglas at one end, and by the abolitionists at the other.

In the view of some historians, Lincoln opposed slavery very early on. Because he realized that the Constitution stood in the way, though, he knew that he would have to proceed cautiously to abolish it.

Another reason for caution was that people in the Northern states, who were generally more willing to abolish slavery than those in the Southern states, might nevertheless have strongly opposed him if the slaves were freed all at once. Given this, Lincoln might therefore have taken pains to hide his true intentions.

If this view is correct, the Emancipation Proclamation takes on a new significance. Flawed as it was in terms of freeing slaves (although it did go much further than either Confiscation Act by eliminating extensive judicial procedures), it nevertheless acclimated people to the idea of eventual true emancipation, and did so without the messy reality of actually freeing any slaves. The "military necessity" cited Lincoln to justify the Proclamation was simply eyewash: he did not rescind the Proclamation after this so-called "necessity" vanished.

Lincoln apparently wavered only once in his opposition to slavery: in August 1864, when he briefly considered peace terms that did not include emancipation. By the next day, however, his doubts seem to have fled, and he vowed to fight through to unconditional surrender and to stick with emancipation no matter what.

In light of all this, Lincoln's position on resettlement (colonization) could have been little more than an expedient political ploy. That is, when confronted with the dilemma presented by slavery and the Constitution, he regarded colonization as a convenient straw at which to clutch. Later, as he perceived that slavery might be gotten rid of, he offered up colonization as a diversion before each anti-slavery move he made.

Support for this interpretation can be seen in Lincoln's appreciation for and understanding of economic factors. Resettling any significant portion of the negro population would have required staggering funds. When Lincoln had no feasible alternative, he was forced to turn a blind eye to the costs involved. But once he saw that slavery could be abolished, the eventual costs merely spurred him to prosecute the war.

If Lincoln truly had supported resettlement of the blacks, he would have continued to press for it after emancipation. While this is suggested by General Butler's report of his conversation with Lincoln in April 1865, some historians hold that this meeting could not have taken place when Butler said it did, and that the entire conversation therefore may have been an invention. If so, we are left to conclude that John Hay was correct in reporting that Lincoln had abandoned colonization by July 1864.

In my view, Lincoln was little more than a clever politician. Whenever he had to choose from among several different options, he always made the politically smart move. Perhaps not incidentally, he also always made the choice that resulted in greatly increasing the size and powers of the federal government.

Neil Martin
Los Angeles

Thank you for the formidable Journal piece on Lincoln's views on slavery. Were the "Great Emancipator's" actual reasoning known to the leaders of the Civil Rights industry, they would revile Lincoln and tear down his memorial, warts and all.

C. H. Troy,

Religion and Revisionism

Being a revisionist means putting question marks on supposedly established truths. Every new issue of the IHR Journal demonstrates beyond doubt that no "revealed truths" are free of error, whether simple mistakes or blatant lies.

M. C. of Pittsburgh [in the Sept.-Oct. issue, p. 48] warns you against the loss of Christian readers if you persist in supporting Dr. Larson's opinions about the Dead Sea Scrolls. In the view of this reader, whether Dr. Larson is right or wrong is irrelevant here: Larson's opinion is considered unacceptable (heretical?) by Christian readers.

If the Journal were to be submitted to Christian, Moslem, Jewish, and other censorship, it might please everyone, but what would be left worth reading?

To be a revisionist means, in my view, going beyond a non-conformist view of history. It is a cast of mind, a way of life, with no room for dogmas or imposed truths of any kind.

What revisionist would not agree with this definition of free thinking, provided by the French mathematician and philosopher Henri Poincarré (1854-1912):

Thinking may never be subjected to a dogma,
nor to a party,
nor to a passion,
nor to a concern,
nor to a prejudice,
nor to anything,
but to the facts themselves;
because being subjected means
the end of all thinking.

Keep up the good work!

J. Kelfkens
Brussels, Belgium

Awareness In Eastern Europe

I want to thank you very heartily for your letter and for the IHR catalog of Revisionist historical works. I am not particularly well informed about this special field, but I believe that your point of view is worthy of attention. I would be very glad to help you to circulate your Journal and books.

Of course, this is a rather dangerous undertaking in this society, which barely understands what is meant by genuine pluralism. Because of my non-conformist views, I was a victim of Communist persecution.

Even if your views may not be entirely correct, they deserve to be known and understood, even here in eastern Europe.

Dr. C. J.
Vilnius, Lithuania

We welcome letters from readers. We reserve the right to edit for style and space.

Additional information about this document
Property Value
Author(s): et al. , Neil Martin , J. Kelfkens
Title: Letters to the Editor
Sources: The Journal of Historical Review, vol. 14, no. 1 (January/February 1994), pp. 45f.
Published: 1994-01-01
First posted on CODOH: Nov. 28, 2012, 6 p.m.
Last revision:
Appears In: