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tv   Book TV  CSPAN  April 23, 2011 10:00am-11:00am EDT

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certain direction. the destruction of slavery is how this combination of an enlightened political leader and a broad social movement can produce far reaching social change. lincoln was a politician virtually his entire adult life. he first ran for public office at the age of 23. all the rest of his life with the exception of a few years he was in office for trying to get into office. ..
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>> and there's actually a lot of overlap between those who groups, so politicians are down there. but lincoln devoted his life to politics, he was a prominent member of the illinois whig party and served in the legislature as many of you know in this state in the early 1830s and '40s, and he had one term in congress as a whig from illinois. during that early part of his career, he department say very much -- he didn't say very much about slavery. his main interests was economic questions, the tariff, banking issues, etc., etc. but at one point in if his legislative career he did take a stand about slavery which really set the stage for much of his later career. that was in 1837, the year in the which elijah lovejoy, the abolitionist editor, was killed by a mob in the state of illinois defending his printing press against a mob that watched to destroy it.
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illinois at that time was largely settled from the south. chicago department even exist in -- didn't even exist in 1837 really. most of the early settlers, like lincoln, had been born in slave states like kentucky, tennessee, virginia. this was a free state. the northwest ordnance had barred slavery in illinois, but it harbored deep prejudices toward african-americans. and anyway, the legislature passed a resolution affirming their high -- well, said our deep regard and affection for southern slave openers and their constitutional right to keep their property in slaves. this passed the illinois legislature, it passed the senate man unanimously, and the house of representatives 77-6. only six people voted against it. one of those was abraham lincoln. and a few weeks later lincoln
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and one other legislator issued a statement explaining why they had voted against it, and lincoln wrote, he said, they believe that the institution of slavery is founded on both injustice and bad policy. but that the promulgation of abolition doctrines tends rather to increase rather than abate the evil. slavery is wrong, slavery is bad policy, but abolitionists by stirring up public opinion are just making things worse. now, this was not a ringing condemnation of slavery, but in the context of illinois in 1837 it was rather courageous. more importantly, this little protest articulated a position that lincoln would actually stick to until a while into his presidency. lincoln always thought slavery was wrong. there's no question about that. he said during the civil war, i can't remember when i didn't think slavery was wrong. but thinking slavery is wrong
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does not necessarily translate into an effective policy to deal with slavery, especially if you're a politician in a political system whose constitution protects slavery and whose political structure erected powerful barriers to any direct action against slavery. so lincoln really saw slavery in the 1840s as a divisive issue, as a danger to national unity. it wasn't until the 1850s that he merges, of course, as a leader of the new republican party which rises in illinois and the entire north to prevent the westward expansion of slavery. and lincoln emerges as probably the major spokesman in this state anyway for this policy of nonextension. in speeches of moral power, of great el again he condemns -- elegance he condemns slavery and the prospect of it expansion.
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now, as you know, in 2008 a lot of people made comparisons between another illinoisian, obama, and lincoln. obama himself kind of channeled lincoln a little bit. he announced his candidacy, as you know, in springfield, lincoln's hometown, and i think he took his oath of office on the same bible that lincoln had used when he was inaugurated. he even had the same dinner that lincoln did the night before the inauguration. i don't know if that worked out too well. but, you know, and there were a lot of kind of spurious comparisons. but one comparison, i think, that is useful is that both of them rose to national prominence through oratory, through speeches. lincoln didn't hold any office in the whole decade before he became president. didn't, wasn't in public office at all from 1849 to 1861. obama, of course, was in the u.s. senate briefly, but nobody associates him with any major
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legislation. it was speeches of eloquence and importance that elevated both lincoln and obama to being national figures. and as for lincoln in the 1850s, his speeches condemned slavery as a fundamental violation of the founding principle of the united states. the declaration of independence, its, you know, problem proclamat all men are created equal and all are entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. now, it's interesting that lincoln focused in on that last part, pursuit of happiness. what did it mean? the to lincoln it meant the equal right of people to enjoy the fruits of their labor, to rise, to have the opportunity to improve their condition of life in american society. as he, of course, had done rising from quite humble circumstances to wealth and status in the 1850s.
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there are many grounds for condemning slavery, political, religious, moral, economic, and lincoln touched on all of them in one way or another. but, ultimately, he saw shave ri as a -- slavery as a form of theft, the theft of labor. one man, as he said, appropriating the labor of another person and not allowing that other person to enjoy the fruits of his own toil. lincoln was frequently charged by democrats with believing in, quote, negro equality. this was the nuclear weapon of politics. if you turn on your tv here, if it's anything like new york where i live, we are now saturated with political ads, most of them negative. it's usually you know what's wrong with the other guy, not what any candidate stands for. negro equality was the negative ad of the 1850s. democrats were constantly accusing lincoln and the republicans. you're against slavery, it means
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negro equality in illinois. lincoln, as we'll see in a minute, denied that he believed in that principle although he said there is a basic bedrock principle of equality i do believe in, and he used a black woman as his illustration. he said, in some respects she is not my equal, but in her natural right to eat the bread she earns with her own hand without asking the leave of anyone else, she is my equal and the equal of all others. this natural right to the fruits of your labor was something that everybody should enjoy. it's not bounded by race or gender either, talking about a black woman. so lincoln could say and did, i have always hated slavery as much as anyone abolitionist. well, why wasn't he an abolitionist then? and remembering lincoln should not obscure the very essential role of the people like frederick douglass and wendell phillips and other great
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abolitionists in preparing the nation for the abolition of slavery. now, but before the civil war abolitionsists were a small and often despiced group. -- despised group. certainly, if you had political ambitions in if central illinois like lincoln did, you weren't exactly going to be an abolitionist. but i'm not saying he was a secret abolitionist, he planned to free the slaves his whole life but couldn't quite say it. no, that's ridiculous. abolitionists believed that the moral issue of slavery was the predominant one, the overriding one that eclipsed everything else in america. lincoln did not belief that at -- believe that at this period. in a famous letter to his friend joshua speed who was at this point a kentucky slave owner, lincoln wrote in 1855 about a time earlier on when they had seen a group of chained slaves being transported for sale. and he said, that sight was a
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continual torment to me, and i see something like it every time i touch the ohio, the ohio river, the boundary between freedom and slavery. you ought to appreciate how much the great body of the northern people do crucify their feelings in order to maintain their loyalty to the constitution and union. crucify their feelings. william lloyd garrison burned the constitution because of it clauses protecting the institution of slavery. lincoln revered the constitution. he believed, as many people did and do, that the united states had this mission to exemplify the superiority of free institutions to the whole world, the principle of self-government. remember, what he said in the gettysburg address, the war was about, government of the people, by the people, for the people, etc. eleven con was not, to be sure, a believer in manifest destiny, the idea that the united states
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just has this god-given right to expand to -- and he was not a believer in the idea that the way to spread democracy was just to invade other countries and bring them democracy, whatever they felt about it. lincoln believed that the mission of the united states was to be pursued by example. if we perfect our own society, we will demonstrate to the world the value of our institutions. but the point is the u.s. does have this democratic mission, and slavery on the one hand compromises it. slavery makes the united states appear hypocritical because we claim to be a free society, and yet we have millions by this point of people in bondage. and yet the other point is that the anti-slavery agitation runs the danger of disrupting the union. so compromise with slavery is unfortunate or paradoxically, lincoln says, necessary to preserve the very union which promotes in the long run freedom.
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now, another difference between lincoln and abolitionists lay in this area of race, as i mentioned. abolitionists insisted that once freed black people should become american citizens, equal in their rights to everybody else 6789 -- everybody else. they viewed the struggle against slavery as inextricably connected to the struggle against racism. lincoln did not hold that view. he thought these were separate questions. as i said, he did claim for blacks the basic, natural rights of the declaration of inexcept. unlike his great antagonist, stephen a. douglas, you know, in 1858 douglas said, no, the declaration only applies to white people. jefferson didn't mean all men are created equal, he meant white people. he wasn't talking about africans, about native americans, about asians. lincoln said, no, no, the language is clear. all men are created equal.
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well, what does that mean? it means these natural rights, but when charged with believing in negro equality, lincoln said, no, but i don't believe in other rights; the right to vote, the right to intermarry with white people, the right to serve on juries. these are rights regulated by society, and i agree that black people should be excluded from those rights here in illinois. lincoln never condemned the notorious black laws of illinois of that period which severely discriminated against black people. in fact, from 1853 it was illegal for any black person to enter the state of illinois. lincoln did not say anything about those very severely anti-black laws in this very state. and, indeed, lincoln throughout the 1850s and into the civil war basically believed in this notion of colonization, that is, slavery should be ended, and black people -- he wasn't, he didn't believe in involuntary
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deportation, but black people should be encouraged to leave the united states. if his great peoria speech in 1854 he said my first impulse would be to free the slaves and return them to their native land, africa. in other words, he didn't see black people as an intrinsic part of american society at that point. they were an alien group, unnaturally uprooted from their homeland, and the most humane and just thing would be to free them and return them to where they had come from. colonization was a very widespread idea. the two, the two politicians or statesmen lincoln most revered -- henry clay and thomas jefferson -- were strong advocates of colonization. both jefferson and clay were slave owners who hated slavery and thought about ways of getting rid of it although didn't do anything really to accomplish that, but always said we must free the slaves, but
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they cannot exist as equal members of this society. lincoln took his ideas about slavery as he himself said in the early days from henry clay. lincoln believed it was impossible for slave owners to ever consent to emancipation unless it was coupled with colonization. they did not want a large, free black population in the united states. so this idea of colonization enables people, including lincoln in this period, to think about ending slavery without having to confront the question of america as a biracial society. the question of what will happen after slavery is moot because we're going to remove this population from the country. now, but lincoln did talk about a future without slavery. the ultimate, the aim of the republican party, he said many times, was the ultimate extinction of slavery. it wasn't just stopping the
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expansion of slavery, it was putting it on the road to ultimate extinction. now, this was a phrase he borrowed from henry clay, and its meaning depends on which word you put the emphasis on. ultimate can be way down the road. at one point lincoln said, you know, slavery may not end for 100 years. that would mean we'd have slavery in 1950 in this country. but the word "extinction" alarmed the south. the reason is it was the election of lincoln that triggered the secession crisis, not john brown or some abolitionist. it was lincoln, a mainstream republican politician. but he talked about the end of slavery. southerners did not want to live under a president committed to ending slavery even in some indeterminant future. so during the civil war, of course, lincoln would have to take action about slavery, not just talk about it. how did he become the great emancipator, at least in his own
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mind? as you all know, the civil war dead not begin as a war -- did not begin as a war to abolish slavery. at the very beginning, abolitionists, radicals pressed lincoln. they said, you know, now that the south is seceding, the constitutional protections of slavery have fallen away. the war power of the president as military commander in chief, you have the power to abolish slavery as a military measure. the constitution gives you that power. lincoln didn't believe that in 1861, whoops, but he would come to believe it by january 1, 1863, as we will see. but during the first two years of the war, lincoln, you know, sometimes you have a picture of lincoln just being pushed by radicals. that's true to an extent but not entirely. lincoln actually broached the question of emancipation very early in the war. in november 1861 when, basically, no significant battles had yet taken place
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lincoln calls in the one congressman from delaware. delaware one of the four border states, you know, four slave states remained in the union, delaware, kentucky, missouri, maryland. he calls in the congressman of delaware, a state with only about 1800 slaves, and says we've got to start this emancipation process. let's do it in delaware. there was no need for lincoln to do that, but he was putting forth this plan which was pretty much the same plan he and henry clay had had before the war. he said, here's my plan. gradual emancipation with monetary compensation to the slave owners. after all, slaves are property. we're going to compensate you for the loss to your property. and colonization. we will encourage these free people to leave the country. you won't have to have them as free negroes in your state. in late 1861 and for the first half of 1862, lincoln continued to press this plan. he asked congress to appropriate money.
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he proposed constitutional amendments. he brought in all the congressmen from the border states, he kept pressing this plan. he brought a group of blacks to the white house in august 1865 and again said, look, you people are the cause of the civil war. it's better for us to be separated. he said this that famous or infamous meeting, your people are suffering the greatest wrong in all of history. no people have ever suffered -- that's a pretty strong condemnation of slavery. but he also said there is a prejudice against you which can never be overcome in this country. i will not say if it is right or wrong. in other words, he's willing to condemn slavery morally, but racism he says i won't really say, but it's here, it's a fact. the problem with lincoln's plan is that nobody wanted it. the border states told him to forget it. they said, i'm sorry, lincoln, you don't understand. we want our slaves. we don't want your money. we're slave owners, that's who
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we are, not money people. we're keeping our slaves, forget it. so they rejected it. other than, most african-americans told lincoln we're not leaving the country, lincoln. we are americans. the vast majority were born here. we are not africans. we were born in america. we are demanding our rights as americans in our society. so lincoln's plan runs aground because the two groups that have to implement it do not want it. meanwhile, many of the pressures are building for a new policy on slavery. congress is moving ahead of lincoln. i'm not going to, you know, go through all those. they apoloish slavery in washington, d.c., they abolish slavery in the territories, they pass the confiscation act of july 1962 which opens the door to freedom to many slaves of confederates and other things are building too. one of the pressures leading lincoln toward e emancipation.
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well, first of all, the failure to win the civil war. for the first year or so the north is not making great progress. the war is being fought as army versus army without touching toe basic infrastructure of the south,i.e. slavery. and it becomes clear that shave ri must become a target. second of all, many northerners feared that britain and france might intervene on the side of the confederacy. lincoln was receiving messages from the ambassadors in europe saying, look, as long as we say this war's not about slavery, why should they care who wins? we've got to turn it into a war for emancipation and then britain will not be able to assist the confederacy. slavery was already disintegrating, this is very important. wherever the union army went, slaves began running away to union lines. now, a at the very beginning of
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the war the army started returning them. the fugitive slave act was still in effect. they said, no, no, we're not here to give freedom to slaves. but very early on in hampton, virginia, benjamin f. butler n command there, well, what happened was a few slaves turned up, i think three slaves at first. they turned up at butler's fort. and butler said, well, what are you guys doing here? and they say, well, we were just down the road. we're slaves of the local confederate commander, and he put us to work building fortifications against your army, and we ran away. we want our freedom here. and butler said, well, the policy of the government is to send you back, but why should i send you back to build fortifications against my own army? i'll tell you what, here's a shovel. build fortifications for me. i'm declaring you contraband of war, that is you are property which i am seizing, property used for military purposes, and i'm seizing you.
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all right. that may make a little sense, but then when the word gets out that you can get freedom by going to the fort, all sorts of slaves start running away in virginia. women and children who are not really used for military purposes. butler says, hmm, what should i do? and he asks the administration. and lincoln lets his order stand. he doesn't say anything publicly, but he doesn't overturn it. he says, okay, we're going to let these contrabands find refuge in the union army. this is the beginning of wartime emancipation. but my point is, the slaves by running away are forcing this issue onto the national political agenda. and finally, there's a need for manpower in the army. you know, at the beginning of the war people thought the war would be a short war, but by 1862 it's pretty clear it's not. and for the first two years blacks are not allowed in the army. they try to enlist, the army says, no, no, this is only for white people. but by the middle of 1862 the
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manpower needs of the union army are pushing toward allowing black men to serve as well. and, of course, the vast majority of black men are slaves. well, all these pressures push lincoln to issue the preliminary emancipation proclamation in september 1862 which is a warning to the south. if you don't stop fighting by january 1st, i'm going to free your slaves. on january 1, 1863, of course, he issues the emancipation proclamation. now, this is one of the most misunderstood documents in american history. if you believe that lincoln freed all the slaves with a stroke of his pen which i used to read in my little grade school textbook but probably most people don't think anymore, no, that's not true. if you believe that lincoln didn't free any slaves, that's not true either. who did he free? well, first of all, he exempted a whole bunch of slaves. it didn't apply to the border
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states, they're in the union. they're not at war, so you can't touch slavery. they're still protected by the constitution. lincoln also exempted three areas of the confederate south that were occupied by the union army, the part of virginia around fortress monroe, southern louisiana where the navy had moved into new orleans, and the whole state of tennessee. altogether about three-quarters of a million slaves are not covered by the emancipation proclamation. but that leaves about 3.1 million who are declared free on january 1, 1863. now, on that date lincoln does not have the power to enforce that freedom. it mostly applies to slaves in confederate territory, although there are some areas of the south occupied by the union like the sea islands of south carolina where it goes into effect immediately. so on that day we estimate about 50,000 slaves are freed
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immediately because they're behind union lines. but, but in general slaves had to wait for the union army to appear to enforce the freedom that the emancipation proclamation proclaimed. what gave lincoln the right to issue the emancipation proclamation? where in the constitution did it say the president could just free all these slaves? well, nowhere, except, of course, he says t the, it's the war power. it's interesting that the preliminary emancipation proclamation begins with a long quote from the confiscation act of congress. it seems like lincoln is acting under congressional authority. but the emancipation proclamation makes no mention of congress. it begins with the words i, abraham lincoln. lincoln takes full responsibility and claims full power all by himself to do this. where -- why? commander in chief of the army,
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and at the very end he said this act has taken on military necessity. military necessity is the grounds for emancipation. although secretary of the treasury chase says to lincoln, you know, look, if you read the emancipation prolo mission, it's pretty boring, frankly. it's not like the declaration of independence. it doesn't begin with the stirring affirmation of the rights of man. in fact, chase says, lincoln, this thing -- you've got to say something about that you're doing something, you know, morally correct. so lincoln adds at the very end, it's an act of military necessity believed to be an act of justice. it's an act of justice. but he also says to chase, you know, an act of justice is not going to get you very far in a court of law. unfortunately, that's true. justice and law don't often have anything to do with each other. [laughter] there's no legal basis for my just freeing the slaves because i'm morally opposed to slavery.
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it's the military ground that gives him the right to do it. so the proclamation didn't end slavery on the minute it was issued. what it did was change the character of the civil war. it made the war now a war both for union and for emancipation. it meant that henceforth one of the roles of the union army was to protect and enforce the freedom of these slaves in the south. the proclamation represented a complete change in lincoln's policies about slavery. it was immediate, not gradual. it contained no mention of compensation. henceforth there's no talk about giving money to the slave owners for the loss of their slave property. and it drops the idea of kohl can anyization. after this lincoln never publicly calls for colonizing the former slaves again. et does invite -- it does invite black men to join the union army for the first time, and that, i
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think, is why he drops colonization. putting men in the army is a very different vision than shipping them out of the country. in fact, in the pock proclamation -- proclamation, one of the parts we don't usually read, lincoln calls upon black people to go to work for reasonable wages. first of all, isn't that interesting? lincoln is such a careful writer. he puts in the word "reasonable." he doesn't just say go to work for wages, not any old wage. you have a right to ask for reasonable wages. they are people who can now judge for themselves what kind of wages they will get. but that's in the united states. they're going to work for wages in the united states, not in africa, not in haiti, not in central america. so that's a significant shift in lincoln's views. and, um, what's important, i think, about the proclamation and lincoln is that lincoln never looks back from this moment. even in august 1864 at the depth
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of the northern morale when many people think lincoln is going to lose the presidential election because of war weariness, henry raymond, the editor of "the new york times" and a leading republican figure goes down to washington. he says to lincoln, look, you've got to rescind the emancipation prolack mission. offer the south, come back and you can have your slave. people bring you and the emancipation for prolonging the war. and lincoln basically says, you know, i can't do that. why? well, first of all, it would be immoral to promise people freedom and then rescind it. he said, i would be damned in time and eternity. if i did that. but also he says, look, we've got all these now over 900,000 -- 100,000 black soldiers. why should they fight if we take away the freedom we promised them? they will lay down their arms. and if they do that, we cannot win this war. so the promise of freedom is now
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essential to conducting and winning the civil war according to lincoln. moreover, by decoupling emancipation from colonization, lincoln now has for the first time to seriously think about the future role of blacks in american society. lincoln does not live to think that through, but in the last two years of his life he finally begins to confront the question of america as a biracial society without slavery. and i think his racial views begin to change very markedly. in the last two years of his life. and i think the two reasons for that are, one, the service of black soldiers. lincoln comes to feel that they, as i said, are essential to winning the war. 200,000 black men fight in the army and navy by the end of the war. there are and lincoln thinks they have staked a claim to citizenship in the post-war world by fighting and dying for
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the union. lincoln also meets with a large number of african-american men and women during the war. you know, before the war he didn't know any black people. i mean, he had a barber in springfield and a couple of others, but he had never met articulate, politically-active black men and women. no, it was during the war. he's the first president to actually have black people visiting the white house. not as slaves, plenty of slaves in the white house before this, but to talk about public policy. many people know that frederick douglass met three times with lincoln, but i was amazed when i was doing my research, there were delegations from north carolina, from new orleans, there was martin delaney, there was alexander crumb el, there was sojourner truth, there were black church leaders. lincoln was open, and i think his encounter with these very talented, active black people changed his racial views. he began to encounter blacks who he saw were quite capable of
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taking part in american government. so i want to end by just looking very quickly at lincoln's, two of lincoln's final pronouncements on this question to see how he has changed by the end of his life. one was what we call his last speech which was delivered at the white house in april 1865 shortly before his assassination. it was his last speech. of course, he didn't know it was his last speech, right? so it's not like a final summary of his views. but he addressed the question of reconstruction there, and for the first time in his life he publicly said, i think the right to vote should be given to some black people in the south. who? well, first he said the very intelligent. that's these free negroes, particularly in new orleans, who were educated and propertied and were demanding the right to vote. and, he said, those who serve our cause as soldiers, the black soldiers deserve the right to vote. now, you might say, well, that's
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not universal suffrage, but this is at a time when only five northern states allowed black people to vote. illinois didn't allow black people to vote, ohio didn't allow black people to vote, michigan didn't allow black people to vote. lincoln is ahead of the curve on this question in april 1865. and then, finally, one of the greatest speeches in american history in march 1865, lincoln's great second inaugural address. you know, lincoln had the -- unlike some of our politicians, lincoln understood the virtue of succinctness. you remember bill clinton rambling on forever? [laughter] you know, the gettysburg address takes two minutes. two minutes. the, right. the first speech before it was two hours. lincoln came on in two minutes and everett wrote a letter to lincoln and said i think you explained the significance of this moment better in two
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minutes than i did in two hours, so he appreciated it. the second inaugural was about seven or eight minutes. now, we remember the second inaugural, perhaps, for its final words, you know, with malice toward none, charity for all let us bind up the nation's wounds, a call for reconciliation. but before that lincoln lectured the nation on the philosophically on the meaning of what this experience had been that they'd gone through. now, this is march 1865. the war is virtually over. within a month or so, it will be. union victory is, clearly, at hand. it must have been very tempting for lincoln to just get up and say, look how great we are. we won, folks. yeah, a lesser man might have said, mission accomplished, we won, you know? that's it. [laughter] nothing more to be said. that's not what lincoln did. it would have been very easy to
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say, well, obviously, god's on our side because we won, so we know the will of god. no, lincoln didn't do that either. he starts, first, he says i'm not going to talk about the progress of the war because everyone knows what's going on, so let's forget about that. first of all, he says, what is this war about? well, everybody knows slavery is the cause of the war, so let's get serious here. slavery is the cause of the civil war, he says. you know, there was no debate. today you can go on the web, oh, no, no, nothing to do with slavery, it was states' right. people of that generation understood what the war was about, and lincoln didn't beat about the bush. but what's interesting is he called it american slavery. not southern slavery. he doesn't point the finger at the south. he says this is american slavery. we are all guilty here. we are all come policetous in this sin. and, indeed, we may think god's on our side. it's interesting, southerners
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think god's on their side, but god may actually have his own will here. this may be a punishment on the nation for the evil of slavery. and he said, even though we want the war to end, god may will that the war will continue. and then this, you know, remarkable sentence until all the wealth piled by the bond man's 250 years of unrequited toils shall be sunk and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn by the sword. look at that. first of all, the 250 years of unrequited toil. once again, the theft of labor. 250 years of stolen labor. that's what we've seen. and then for one of the very few times in his career talking about the physical brutality of slavery. usually lincoln talks about slavery as an abstraction, a principle. here it's that every drop of blood drawn with the lash.
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in other words, lincoln is reminding the country that the horrible violence of the civil war has been preceded by the horrible violence of slavery. that is the moral equation in the war, says lincoln. and implicitly from talking previously about compensating the owners, the second inaugural raises the question, what is due to the slaves? what is the nation's responsibility for that 250 year of unrequited labor? what are the requirements of justice in the face of this long history? what is necessary to enable these slaves and the descendants of the slaves to enjoy the pursuit of happiness that lincoln always thought was their natural right but what had been so long denied to them? within a month and a half lincoln is dead. he did not live to try to provide an answer to those questions. and in some ways they continue to confront us as a society 150
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years after the civil war. so thank you very much for listening. [applause] thank you. thank you. as was said, we will welcome questions. i guess the point is as some are doing to go over to this microphone if you want so that the c-span people can pick up the questions. so, yes, ma'am. >> hi. thank you for coming to chicago. i can't help but notice you didn't talk about the influence of women other than sojourner truth on abraham lincoln. kid you discover anything in your -- did you discover anything in your research on mary todd lincoln's research? >> well, he met with -- the question had to do with women's influence. well, i guess the first place to start is with his wife.
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mary todd was a -- one of the things i hi is unfortunate in much of the lincoln literature is that the more you elevate lincoln onto a pedestal, there must be somebody else that dragged down, and it seems like it's his wife who plays that role in so much of the literature. she was a troubled person. i mean, two of her children died young. her husband was shot sitting next to her in the theater, that's kind of traumatic, you know? but they, from my opinion, had a perfectly fine marriage, and she was the daughter of a slave owner, of course. she was a politically active and aware individual. her father was a prominent figure in kentucky politics. and her father was like henry clay, a kind of critic of slavery, although he owned slaves. and mary todd supported lincoln's views and even though she had relatives who fought for the south, you know, i think she
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reinforced lincoln's views against slavery. i don't think there's any question about that. now, women, of course, did not play a direct role in partisan politics in the 19th century. but they were part of the abolitionist movement, of course, and they circulated we tigs and wrote books and pamphlets and gave speeches. and, you know, lincoln met with sojourner truth. his wife's confidant and seam stress, elizabeth connectly, a black woman in washington, was in the white house much of the time and was also the head of the freed men's relief or the contraband relief association organizing to raise funds to help runaway slave in the washington. so lincoln was aware of women who were actively engaged in the slavery issue, but of course, politics of the day put pretty severe bound ris against what -- boundaries against what women could do. yes. >> you mentioned two avenues that black people could take to
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be citizens, one was being educated, and the other was being in the army. were there any other paths that lincoln might have thought about or articulated for blacks to become full citizens? >> well -- >> other than the 14th amendment which he wasn't around to see. of. >> yeah. first of all, it's interesting. in that era -- today, i think, when we talk about the question of who was a citizen of the united states is a very fraught political one right now, debated, as you all know. it wasn't clear before the 14th amendment who actually was a citizen. states could make people citizens or not. were black people citizens of the united states? the dred scott decision said, no. no black person -- lincoln said that is wrong, black people can be citizens. his attorney general, bates, in 1862 issued a ruling, basically repudiating the dred scott decision saying, no, free black people are citizens just like anyone else. lincoln was one of the pictures
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in my book that i like very much is a picture of a gravestone of a guy named william johnson. william johnson was a black man who came from illinois with lincoln to washington as his valet, as a personal servant. johnson died in 1864. lincoln paid for a headstone on his grave in washington and chose the inscription. and i have a picture of it. what does it say? william johnson, citizen. the one word, citizen. this is lincoln sticking it to the chief justice of the supreme court who was still alive then. but also lincoln says, yes, these people are now part of our society. it didn't mean you necessarily had the right to vote. women were citizens, and they couldn't vote. so i think the question really relates to, you know, after his -- if lincoln had lived into reconstruction, he would have faced the same dilemma that everybody, all republicans faced
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which is do you go to full black suffrage or at least black male suffrage, partial suffrage? lincoln was believing in partial suffrage, but i think he would have possibly -- we don't know what he would have done, but possibly with other republicans come to see that to protect themselves if for no other reason all black men in the south would need the right to vote against the violence and discrimination, the klan and everything. but that's pure speculation. as of his death he had only singled out those groups as deserving of the right to vote. yes. >> you mentioned in your talk lincoln's capacity for change and growth. you also mentioned frederick douglass. could you say a little bit more about their relationship? >> yes, frederick douglass and lincoln. actually two books have been published in the last few years, both good. james ocean and john stauffer about this relationship. now, you know, relationship is probably not the right word. they knew each other -- they knew of each other.
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they only met three times. three times frederick douglass was in the white house. once in 1863 when he went -- douglass was a very sharp critic of lincoln much of the time. he was constantly criticizing lincoln for not moving fast enough on slavery, and when lincoln met with that group in 1862 and urged black people to leave the country, douglass became utterly furious and denounced him in his magazine. but in 1863 he went to the white house to urge lincoln to insist on equal treatment for black soldiers. they were not being paid the same as white soldiers, and they were not being treated at least the confederacy said we're not going to treat them as prisoners of war. they're runaway slaves, and they're going to be executed or that sort of thing. and douglass said, you can't allow that. and they talked at great length about the status of black soldiers, etc. a year later lincoln actually
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called douglass to the white house. this was remarkable. when lincoln thought he was going to lose the presidential election, he said to douglass, you know, if i lose, any slaves who have not been liberated by the army are going to remain as slaves. i want you to devise a plan to send agents into the south to encourage slaves to run away to the union lines. i want to get as many slaves behind union lines as possible so that the next president cannot return them to slavery. this is pretty remarkable thing for the president to talk about this. now, the tide of war changed, and it didn't happen, but it was quite an interesting plan that lincoln was talking about. and then, finally, at the time of the second inaugural douglass just came to the white house and told lincoln he thought it was a great speech, which lincoln appreciated because most people did not like that speech. he wrote a letter and said, i understand people don't like my speech. i actually like it. why? men do not like it when it's pointed out that their purposes
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are not the same as god's purposes. interesting. but i think in a larger sense lincoln and douglass recognized in each other kindred spirits in a certain way. they were both self-made men. they had both risen from very, i mean, douglass had been a slave. lincoln had been a very poor young man. they had both risen by the didn't of hard work and struggle. they both had a brilliant command of the english language. lincoln only had one year of formal schooling in his entire life. i know we have a number of students here, and i sometimes wonder whether we need school at all when you look at lincoln, but i won't go down that road. [laughter] totally self-educated. but brilliant in the use of language like douglass. so i think there were, they saw themselves in each other in some interesting way. yes. >> yeah. today and the period leading up to the civil war a certain
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amount of split occurring in the nation. and as a token of this i would be very surprised if there's a single member of the tea party present here tonight. >> they're welcome, if they're here. >> pardon? >> if someone like that is here -- >> that would be wonderful. >> that's welcome. [laughter] >> so as someone who has studied a period of a great split that led to a civil war, what would be your estimate of the current split in the nation? is. >> well, you know, it is -- i don't think we're in the same crisis the nation face inside 1860, '61. it is interesting that talk of secession or nullification has resurfaced in our society. you remember governor perry of texas when the health bill was passed somebody, you know, he said this is outrageous. they said, well, what about texas seceding? he didn't say yes, but he can't say no -- he didn't say no east. he said we've got to think about that as a possibility. some of the more extreme tea party people, i see, are talking
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about what they call second amendment solutions. that means taking up arms. so there are people using that kind of language. i don't really, i don't think we're on the eve of armed conflict. i do think as we all know that we are very seriously divided and kind of paralyzed, it seems, politically by our divisions. and one would hope that this can, perhaps, be ameliorated in some way. but the civil war was a particular crisis, and let's hope we don't quite get down to that state anytime soon. yes. >> i read recently, i think it was at the chicago history museum's recent exhibit on lincoln that his father, actually, was opposed to slavery. and i also read that his father leased lincoln out, kind of, to do farm work. so is there any kind of shaping that occurred -- >> that's a great question. that's a great question. lincoln and his father is an interesting question because lincoln really didn't like his father. lincoln decided early on he did
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not want to be like his father. you know, look, we could get a psychiatrist, put lincoln on the couch for 20 years, and we wouldn't even know then what was going on. but lincoln definitely saw his father as the opposite of what he wanted to be. he felt his father was lazy, unambitious, content to live in the sort of pioneer kind of self-sufficient way, and lincoln was a man who wanted to get ahead and thought everything should get ahead. all right, putting that aside, it was actually his mother or really a stepmother because his mother died, who encouraged his reading, encouraged his -- but nonetheless, the fact is, yes, his father was anti-slavery. lincoln says in the his campaign autobiography, you know, when i was young my family moved from kentucky to indiana in part because of slavery, but mostly because of land titles. his father was a member of an anti-slavery church in kentucky when lincoln was very, very young. but his father was a sort of
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calvinist predeaths marijuana who believes that whether you went to heaven or not was already predetermined, so there was hardly any point in doing anything about it. those aren't the kind of people that try to improve the world, et. but i think there's no question lincoln imbibed certain anti-slavery views in his family. and, yes, as anybody before the age of 21 at that time, your labor belonged to your father. and lincoln's father did, in effect, send him out. when lincoln's father owed money to someone, lincoln's a strong, young guy who can do hard work, his father, okay, i owe this guy money, go work for him for a month. and supposedly lincoln said once in a speech, i was a slave. i know what it's like to work and not get the fruits of your labor. one of the problems of studying lincoln is he didn't actually write all that much. he didn't keep a diary, he didn't write letters, he gave a
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lot of speeches, but the inner lincoln is hard to get at. so we often rely on reminiscences from long after, and a lot of them, frankly, aren't very reliable. after lincoln died, everybody remembered him as the great, you know, yeah, absolutely. at age 10 he said, i'm going to free those slaves. no, forget that. we like those reminiscences, but they're not very useful historically. so did he say that? i don't know, but it's not at all impossible that lincoln in resented his father's control of his own labor and wages when he was a teenager, etc. okay. >> you've talked about how lincoln's accomplishments were kind of a combination of his person leadership qualities and his ability to see the historical moment generated by larger social and economic forces. so somebody else mentioned reconstruction, and i'm wondering if, you know, there's been a debate for a long time as to why reconstruction was a
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failure. and i'm wondering in your view how much of the failure of reconstruction was due to the leadership void left and replaced with a terrible president -- >> no, that's an excellent question. it's funny, you know, historians, we have this game in our spare time we do these rankings of the presidents, you know? and what's funny is lincoln always comes in number one, although i gather glenn beck is trying to elevate coolidge to being number one nowadayses which is going to take a while, i think. [laughter] and then the two bottom ones, generally, are the one who came before lincoln, buchanan, and the one who came after lincoln, andrew johnson. now, i personally have a stake in this. i'm going to get to your question in a second. i have a way of rambling around and then getting to the question. you know, i think andrew johnson
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was probably the worst president in american history, the map who succeeded lincoln. johnson lacked every quality that i mentioned in lincoln. he had no open mindedness, he was not willing to listen to criticism, he had no sense of public opinion in the north, he was sub born, he was deeply -- stubborn, he was deeply, unchangeably racist, and he was unwilling to work with congress. he took a position, stuck to it. if people didn't like it, tough luck, i'm not listening to you. he surrounded himself with yemen. lincoln was willing to -- yes men. every quality of greatness lincoln had, johnson racked. so it's not just the crisis that creates greatness, the person has to have the capacity in them to rise to greatness which lincoln had and johnson lacked. johnson, in the old days when a more racist view of reconstruction was common, johnson was ranked rather high. he was up there at seven, eight, or ten. i've written a lot about reconstruction, and part of my career has been to try to push
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johnson down the list. [laughter] and i've succeeded because he's now right at the bottom, you know? i feel that's very good. but anyway, you know, we get to the point what would have happened if lincoln would have lived? it's impossible to imagine lincoln getting himself into the fix that johnson did, totally alienated from the republican party, alienated from congress and impeached and almost removed from office. lincoln would never have gotten himself into a fix like that. all through the war he both argued with and worked with congress, he knew the republican party, he was not going to get himself so isolated the way johnson did. so you probably would have had a reconstruction -- and this is speck haitian, of course, counterfactual -- sort of like the 14th amendment, civil rights laws, guarantees of the basic rights of the former slaves, maybe partial black suffrage. it wouldn't have been radical reconstruction the way it was adopted. would it have succeeded better? i, you know, who knows? i don't know.
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would -- johnson was obstructing reconstruction all through the next three years. a policy supported by the president and congress together maybe would have forced the white south to agree. maybe, maybe not. so maybe that reconstruction would have sunk deeper roots, i don't know. but certainly i think it was a tragedy that lincoln was killed because he was succeeded by a man who was utterly incapable of dealing with this great crisis of the reconstruction period. where do we stand on how many -- >> [inaudible] >> one more question, okay. sorry about that. yeah, go ahead. >> okay. i read a lot about lincoln's melancholia and his depression. and it seemed like slavery kind of came to him at that point as a cause he could, he could believe in, you know, and speculation that that may have helped his mental health. probably, also, that he became a pretty prosperous corporate lawyer, those of us who have seen his home in springfield know he was a long way from the
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log cabin. i just wondered if you had any comments about, you know, it's hard to diagnose him, you know, from a distance -- >> right, right, right. >> but whether that has any validity about his depression and his finding a cause that was so central to him. >> right. yeah, well, that's a very good question. lincoln, i'm not a -- the trouble is historians are right about this practicing psychology without a license. we are not trained to do that. people say, hey, john brown was insane. maybe he was, but historians are not trained to judge whether someone is insane or not. that's a medical diagnosis. he did some strange things, but a lot of people did strange things back then or even now. that doesn't mean they're all insane. so lincoln was melancholy, no question. there's a whole book called lincoln's melancholy. and at the time when his marriage didn't happen and then did happen, some of his friends thought he was suicidal, but i am skeptical of accounts that put the entire burden on his
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personal psychology. first of all, his deepest melancholy came in the early 1840s, and he didn't become an active anti-slavery person until ten years later. so how can that be the explanation for his taking up the issue of slavery? in fact, four years later when writing -- he said, i don't even care whether slavery extends into texas or not because they'll still be slaves, what does it matter whether in texas or somewhere else? >> well, that's not taking up slavery as a cause as he would do later. i'm sure the psychology of anybody plays into their policies. but, you know, this was a time when lincoln's experience reflected that of large numbers of americans. large numbers of people just like lincoln went through the process he did of not thinking about slavery that much and then thinking about it and then opposing the expansion of slavery and then coming to emancipation. i don't think all of them were
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melancholy. i don't think that's necessarily a good explanation for that large social trend. lincoln did become -- to call him a corporate lawyer is probably not really right. he did work for the illinois central railroad from time to time, but, you know, thanks to the modern digital revolution all of lincoln's law cases, about 5,000 of them, are on a couple of cds, you know? in the old days when we actually did research, you'd have to go around to the courthouses in illinois. now they're -- i sat in the law library at columbia, and in the an afternoon i read every case lincoln was ever involved in involving a black person. 37. that's not a heck of a lot. 37 out of 5,000. but i could do that very nicely without traipsing around the archives, you know? but, so the vast majority of lincoln's cases were tiny little things like property disputes, marital disputes, slander, they were not corporate cases. they


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