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tv   Abraham Lincoln and Immigration  CSPAN  July 28, 2016 11:51am-12:02pm EDT

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young america and comparing it with old fogey countries. i got to tell you, the older i get, the less i like that phrase, "old fogey." you know that? [ laughter ] abe's going to have to work on that. that's all there is to it. he's going to have to work on that. lincoln concluded, but for the difference in the habit of observation, why did yankees almost instantly discover gold in california which had been trodden upon and overlooked by indians and mexican greasers for centuries." yes. it was in this same speech that abraham lincoln made one of his few remarks about people of asia. the non-white group with whom he had the least acquaintance and the least opportunity to think about. for one who had never been to asia, or arguably, for that matter, as i already mentioned,
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outside the united states, lincoln prejudicially claimed that intellectual curiosity and scientific progress was the exclusive domain of the western world. he recognized that asia was the birthplace of "the human family," and he concluded that asians, like african-americans, were indeed human beings. but he believed that asia was an ancient crumbling civilization whose time had long passed. the human family originated, as is thought, somewhere in asia, lincoln said, and have worked their way principally westward. just now in civilization and in the arts, the people of asia are entirely behind those of europe, those of the east of europe behind those of the west of it, while we here in america "think" we discover and invent and improve faster than any of
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them." i think maybe when he said that, lincoln recognized he was on a bit of thin ice. because he said, "they may think this is arrogance, but they cannot deny that russia has called on us to show her how to build steamboats and railroads, while in other parts of asia they scarcely know that such things as steamboats and railroads exist. in anciently inhabited countries, the dust of ages, a real downright old fogeyism. there he is using that damn word again. seems to settle upon and smother the intellectual energies of man. while neither respecting, nor appreciating, the cultures of asia or latin america, lincoln, like many 19th century nationalists, pandered to his audience by emphasizing the attributes and virtues of the
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united states. at the expense of degrading other people, it was lincoln's intention to convince his fellow countrymen that their nation would be next on the great stage of history. and it was a successful strategy to flatter voters into thinking about the ascent into national prominence. but lincoln did put his money where his mouth was, and just recently it was discovered that during his one term as a member of the house of representatives, he, like many other americans, contributed $10, which is roughly $500 in today's money, to the irish relief fund during the great famine. maybe this was because lincoln's first teacher in kentucky had been of irish descent. master zachariah riney was described as a man of excellent
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character, deep piety and fair education. he had been reared a catholic but made no attempt to proselytize. and the great president always mentioned him in terms of grateful wrote," wrote one of lincoln's early biographers. whether riney left a lasting impression on lincoln or not, lincoln was always interested in irish culture. he knew and recited robert emmitt's speech from the dock. by memory. especially the closing words, "when my country takes her place among the nations of the earth, then, and not til then, let me epitaph be written, i have done." lincoln's favorite ballad was "the lament of the irish emigrant" set to music. many of lincoln's quips as a
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politician often resourced to irish analogies. oftentimes they were caustic and a bit insulting to make a point. his first recorded jibe about a poor irishman comes from one of his congressional speeches on the need for sensible improvements when he described an irishman who had a pair of new boots. quoting lincoln, "i shall never get 'em on, said patrick, until i wear 'em a day or two and stretch 'em out a bit." late in the war an observer recalled that lincoln said, "there was a cabinet meeting in the afternoon. general grant who had just returned gave a very interesting account of the state of the south and the good feeling manifested by the offices of the confederate army. they all said they were readily to lay down their guns and go home."
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and then lincoln said, "some of you just said something about huntin' up old jeff davis. well, i, for one, hope he would be like patty's flea. when they get their fingers on him, he just wouldn't be there." this comment was quite consistent with lincoln's desire to avoid show trials or any kind of punitive commissions. he wanted reconciliation, and lincoln often used jokes, many times ethnic ones, to soften a message of mercy or to conceal a willful blindness to past wrongs. these jests, comparative speaking to his contemporaries, were not very racist and harsh. and they show an awareness for the poor man's plight, chiding him mildly for his poverty and his traditions. doubtless in that day, nearly everyone, most especially poor
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immigrants, understood the problems of fleas and ill-fitting footwear. lincoln, when he became a member of the republican party, vastly opposed anything that the know nothings stood for. any attempt to change naturalization laws, abraham lincoln opposed. he advocated that a full and efficient protection of the rights of all classes of citizens, whether native or naturalized, both at home and abroad, be guaranteed. throughout his life, there was no group closer to him than the germans. they supported him from the very, very beginning, and actively participated in his campaigns. lincoln enjoyed the germans and he enjoyed their culture. on the way to cincinnati, as
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president elect, he stopped one night and was in his hotel room when outside a group of german working men came to serenade him. one observer wrote, "mr. lincoln had put off the melancholy mood that appeared to control him during the day. and he was entertaining those germans present with genual, even lively conversation. lincoln went to his balcony to find nearly 2,000 more of the substantial german citizens who had voted for him because they believed him to be a stout champion of free labor and free homestead. the germans liked abraham lincoln. they concluded by saying, if you ever need us, we stand ready to risk our lives in the effort to maintain the victory that you now seek over slavery. and two soon prove when the war came that the germans surely delivered on their promise.
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lincoln understood immigrants. as a lawyer practicing land law at times and a politician representing a rural district, he had to pay attention to the national debate over the future of public lands. to the issues linked to real estate taxes, to the relationship between town and country, and to the importance of the foreign born as their presence increased in the american labor force. lincoln knew firsthand what it meant to be poor, and he knew firsthand what america represented as a land of opportunity where somebody could rise to become president of the united states. and so his commitment to the american dream, as lincoln liked to think of it, existed his entire political life. lincoln possessed an enormous
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amount of shriympathy for "the y poor," as he called them, since he himself had long been one. his "passion" materialized into a full-blown political ideology that lincoln carried into the white house. he believed that the civil war would represent an opportunity. but the war drastically reduced the number of immigrants, and at first the lincoln administration attempted to meet the difficulty through unofficial state department efforts. but lincoln knew that wasn't sufficient. so by the end of 1863, he asked congress for assistance. in his annual message to congress in december of 1863, he spoke of immigrants as, and i quote, "a source of national wealth. tens of thousands of persons destitute of remunerative occupation desire to come t

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