An African-American Icon Speaks Truth to the Lincoln Cult
by Thomas J. DiLorenzo
by Thomas J. DiLorenzo
by Thomas J. DiLorenzo
"Lincoln is theology, not historiology. He is a faith, he is a church, he is a religion, and he has his own priests and acolytes, most of whom have a vested interest in [him] and who are passionately opposed to anybody telling the truth about him."The gigantic collection of myths, lies, and distortions that comprise The Legend of Abraham Lincoln is the ideological cornerstone of the American warfare/welfare state. It has been invoked for generations to make the argument that if the policies of the U.S. government are not "the will of God," then at least they are the will of "Father Abraham." Moreover, this legend – this false history of America – did not arise spontaneously. It was invented and nurtured by an intergenerational army of court historians who, as Murray Rothbard once said, are absolutely indispensable to anygovernment empire. All states, said Rothbard, depend for their existence on a series of myths about their benevolence, heroism, greatness, or even divinity.
Since very few Americans have spent much time educating themselves about Lincoln and nineteenth-century American history (much of which has been falsified anyway), it is easy for members of what I call the Lincoln Cult to dismiss all literary criticisms of Lincoln as the work of "neo-Confederates," their code-word for "defenders of slavery" (as though anyone in America today would defend slavery), or "racist." Although they label themselves "Lincoln scholars," the last thing they want is honest scholarship when it comes to the subject of Lincoln and his war. They are, at best, cover-up artists and pandering court historians who feed at the government grant trough, "consuming" tax dollars to support their "research" and their overblown university positions.
But they’ve got a big problem (more than one, actually). The big problem is the publication of a 662-page book by the distinguished African-American author Lerone Bennett, Jr. entitled Forced into Glory: Abraham Lincoln’s White Dream. The book was originally published in 1999 and was recently released in paperback. Bennett was a longtime managing editor of Ebony magazine and, among other things, the author of a biography of Martin Luther King, Jr., What Manner of Man. Although several "Civil War" publications have labeled yours truly as the preeminent Lincoln critic of our day, Forced into Glory is a much more powerful critique of Dishonest Abe than anything I have ever written. The Lincoln Cult, which would not dare to personally attack a serious African-American scholar like Bennett, has largely ignored the book instead.
When they are not ignoring the book and hoping that it (and the author) would just go away, they "have responded by recycling the traditional Lincoln apologies," writes Bennett. (Being a "Lincoln scholar" means taking some of Lincoln’s unsavory words and deeds, such as his lifelong support for the policy of "colonization" or deportation of all black people in America, and dreaming up excuses for why he was supposedly "forced" into taking that position).
Bennett argues that "academics and [the] media had been hiding the truth for 135 years and that Lincoln was not the great emancipator or the small emancipator or the economy-sized emancipator." He presents chapter and verse of how the Emancipation Proclamation freed no one, since it only applied to "rebel territory," and specifically exempted all the slave-owning/Union-controlled border states and other areas that were occupied by the U.S. army at the time. He quotes James Randall, who has been called the "greatest Lincoln scholar of all time," as writing, "the Proclamation itself did not free a single slave." It was the Thirteenth Amendment that finally ended slavery, he correctly notes, and Lincoln was dragged into accepting it kicking and screaming all the way.
So what was the purpose of the Proclamation? Primarily to placate the genuine abolitionists with a political sleight of hand, says Bennett, and to deter Britain and France from formally recognizing the Confederate government.
Since so few Americans are aware of these facts, Bennett correctly concludes that "the level of ignorance on Abraham Lincoln and race in the United States is a scandal and a rebuke to schools, museums, media, and scholars." This of course is no accident; it’s exactly the way the state wants it to be.
Bennett is especially critical of how the Lincoln Cult uses black historical figures as pawns in its defense of "Father Abraham." For example, he contends that there is no way to get around the fact that Lincoln was a lifelong white supremacist, loudly proclaiming that he was opposed to "making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people." He said far worse things than that, as Bennett documents. The typical response of the Lincoln Cult is to "find a slave or a former slave or, better, a Black officeholder to say that he adores Lincoln and doesn’t care what people say . . . "
Why, one would ask, is such a distinguished African-American journalist so incensed over the Lincoln myth? It is because of his twenty years of painstaking research, resulting in this book, that proves, among other things, what a vulgar racist Lincoln was. Bennett provides quote after quote of Lincoln’s own words, habitually using the N-word so much that people in Washington thought he was weirdly consumed by his racism. Bennett tells of first-hand accounts by some of Lincoln’s generals of how they left a meeting with him during a crisis in the war in which the president spent most of his time in the meeting telling off-color "darkie" jokes (Lincoln’s language). General James Wadsworth, for example, was "shocked by the racism in the Lincoln White House."
I will not repeat any of this language here; suffice it to say that Bennett has scoured Lincoln’s Collected Works and demonstrates that he used the N-word about as frequently as your modern-day "gangster rapper" does. Bennett also describes how this has all been covered up by the Lincoln Cult. Despite the hundreds of examples that are right there in black and white in Lincoln’s own speeches, "Carl Sandburg, who spent decades researching Lincoln’s life, denied that Lincoln used the N-word." And "Harold Holzer, who edited a collection of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, was surprised that Lincoln used the N-word twice in the first Lincoln-Douglas debate." (Lincoln personally edited the transcripts of the debates, so there is no question that he said these things).
Bennett is also incensed by the fact that Lincoln never opposed Southern slavery but only its extension into the territories. Indeed, in his first inaugural address he pledged his everlasting support for Southern slavery by making it explicitly constitutional with the "Corwin Amendment," that had already passed the U.S. House and Senate.
The reason Lincoln gave for opposing the extension of slavery was, in Lincoln’s own words, that he didn’t want the territories to "become an asylum for slavery and [N-word, plural]." He also said that he didn’t want the white worker to be "elbowed from his plow or his anvil by slave [N-word, plural]." It was all economics and politics, in other words, and not humanitarianism or the desire to "pick the low-hanging fruit" by stopping slavery in the territories.
Lincoln not only talked like a white supremacist; as a state legislator he supported myriad laws and regulations in Illinois that deprived the small number of free blacks in the state of any semblance of citizenship. Bennett gives us chapter and verse of how he supported a law that "kept pure from contamination" the electoral franchise by prohibiting "the admission of colored votes." He supported the notorious Illinois Black Codes that made it all but impossible for free blacks to earn a living; and he was a "manager" of the Illinois Colonization Society that sought to use state tax revenues to deport blacks out of the state. He also supported the 1848 amendment to the Illinois constitution that prohibited the immigration of blacks into the state. As president, he vigorously supported the Fugitive Slave Act that forced Northerners to hunt down runaway slaves and return them to slavery for a bounty. Lincoln knew that this law had led to the kidnapping of an untold number of free blacks who were thrown into slavery.
It is understandable how a man like Lerone Bennett, Jr., armed with this knowledge, would begin to question The Legend of Abraham Lincoln.
Perhaps the most important reason why Bennett was motivated to spend twenty years of his life (and longer) researching this book is his knowledge of Lincoln’s obsession with "colonization" or deportation. This was what Bennett calls Lincoln’s "white dream," his dream of simply deporting all the black people out of America.
Bennett tells the story of how, near the end of his life, Lincoln was still "dreaming." He asked General Benjamin Butler to estimate for him how many ships it would take, after the war was over, do deport all black people from America. "Beast" Butler came back to him with an answer he didn’t want to hear: There was no way that his dream could be accomplished with the sailing fleet that was currently at hand.
Bennett details Lincoln’s obsession with "colonization" by describing how he proposed to Congress compensated emancipation of slaves in Washington, D.C. and the border states, accompanied by immediate deportation. (Lincoln used the word "deportation" as much or more than "colonization"). Thus, the purpose was not freedom for the slaves so much as it was to rid America of all blacks. It’s a good bet that you were never taught this in school; read Forced into Glory and improve your knowledge of the real Lincoln (and of the excuse-making Lincoln Cult that has mis-educated generations of Americans).
Many Americans are aware that Lincoln once said something about America being "the last best hope" on earth. Numerous books have been written about Lincoln with those words in the title. But the context of these words reveals Lincoln’s darkest side, not his "greatness," as the Lincoln Cult maintains. The context is that these words were included in Lincoln’s plea to Congress to "colonize" any freed slaves. He did not believe a multiracial society was desirable and, as Bennett says, seemed "terrified" at the prospect of inter-racial marriage. Colonization was what he meant by "the last best hope" for America, as Bennett shows. "In support of the White Dream," he writes, "Lincoln mobilized the State Department, the Interior Department, the Treasury Department, and the Smithsonian Institution . . . . Lincoln’s ethnic cleansing plan was the official policy of the American government." Perhaps this is a possible reason why the same government did next to nothing for the ex-slaves after the war.
Bennett doesn’t buy into the Lincoln Cult’s tall tale that he "evolved" during the war and embraced equality. He quotes the man Lincoln had put in charge of "Negro emigration" as saying that Lincoln "remained a colonizationist and racist until his death."
The real heroes, in Bennett’s view, are the genuine abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips. Lincoln was never an abolitionist per se and, in fact distanced himself and ridiculed them whenever possible.
January 12, 2008
Thomas J. DiLorenzo [send him mail] professor of economics at Loyola College in Maryland and the author of The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War, (Three Rivers Press/Random House). His latest book is Lincoln Unmasked: What You’re Not Supposed To Know about Dishonest Abe (Crown Forum/Random House).
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