Was Abraham Lincoln a Racist?

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WAS ABRAHAM LINCOLN A RACIST?

CNN TalkBack Live

Was Abraham Lincoln a Racist?

Aired May 30, 2000 - 3:00 p.m. ET

BOBBIE BATTISTA, HOST: Was Abraham Lincoln, the great emancipator, an outspoken racist who not only condoned slavery but advocated white supremacy. That is the premise of author and historian Lerone Bennett Jr. Bennett claims the country's 16th president embodied the nation's racist tradition.

But what about the Emancipation Proclamation? Didn't it free the slaves?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It doesn't do exactly what the title purports it to do. It doesn't in and of itself free any slave.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I told her that it was a document signed long ago that enabled my ancestors to gain a sense of freedom in America, and I told her that it did not solve many of the problems that it was supposedly meant to.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BATTISTA: Do we really know the truth about Honest Abe.

Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to TALKBACK LIVE.

The image of Abraham Lincoln, white supremacist, is certainly not the one that most of us have been brought up to see, but for more than 30 years it is the one the executive editor of "Ebony" magazine has been trying to get us all to look at.

His latest book, "Forced Into Glory: Abraham Lincoln's White Dream," It lays it out, and we are going to explore the myth versus the man today.

Mr. Bennett, thanks very much for joining us.

LERONE BENNETT JR., AUTHOR, FORCED INTO GLORY: ABRAHAM LINCOLN'S WHITE DREAM": Thank you for inviting me.

BATTISTA: How did you come to the conclusion that Abraham Lincoln is a racist? And I know there are 600 pages worth of reasons there. So for sake of brevity, if we could list the main ones.

BENNETT: The first one is that the principal witness against Abraham Lincoln on this point is Abraham Lincoln, who said that he opposed equal rights for black people, who supported the black laws of Illinois, and who wanted to deport all black people.

The other point is that you don't have to read in dusty documents. All you have to do is read any copy of the Emancipation Proclamation to find out the document did not in fact in and of itself free any black people. Worse, Abraham Lincoln did not intend for it to free black people.

It's written in the document, and there's no doubt about it. And I would be very surprised to hear any literate historian maintain that the Emancipation Proclamation freed black people or that Abraham Lincoln freed black people.

The thing that's mindboggling to me is that this information has been available for 135 years. I wake up at night sometimes and wonder why am I the first person to say this in a major book that the Emancipation Proclamation did not free black people.

Recommended Reading: Forced into Glory: Abraham Lincoln's White Dream, by Lerone Bennett. Description: Beginning with the argument that the Emancipation Proclamation did not actually free African American slaves, this dissenting view of Lincoln's greatness surveys the president's policies, speeches, and private utterances and concludes that he had little real interest in abolition. Pointing to Lincoln's support for the fugitive slave laws, his friendship with slave-owning senator Henry Clay, and conversations in which he entertained the idea of deporting slaves in order to create an all-white nation, the book, concludes that the president was a racist at heart—and that the tragedies of Reconstruction and the Jim Crow era were the legacy of his shallow moral vision. Continued below...

About the Author: Lerone Bennett Jr. is the executive editor emeritus of Ebony magazine and the author of 10 books, including Before the Mayflower, Great Moments in Black History, Pioneers in Protest, The Shaping of Black America, and What Manner of Man, a biography of Martin Luther King. He lives in Chicago.

BATTISTA: Do you ever come up with an answer to that question?

BENNETT: I think there's been a conspiracy of silence in this country on the part of almost all the people involved in American culture structure. I think there's been an attempt to hide and keep from the American people the most celebrated man in American history. And it's my suggestion in this book that Abraham Lincoln is not our truth, he is not our light, he's standing in the way of our light, and that we must transcend him, go beyond him, and look at the really emancipators, black and white, who forced Lincoln to glory in the 1860s.

BATTISTA: Let me take a quick look here at an excerpt that we took from the Emancipation Proclamation, and it states "... that on the first day of January A.D. 1863 all persons held as slaves within any states or designated part of a state the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free."

To me, it doesn't even sound like good English, let alone -- you know, it's obviously legalese from back then. But does that leave it so widely open to interpretation?

BENNETT: What Abraham Lincoln did was to free black people where he could not free them -- it's in the document -- and to lead them in slavery where he could have freed them. For example, two or three lines beyond where you quoted, he said he specifically accepted the slaves in Louisiana where union troops controlled the area, he specifically accepted slaves in the eastern shore of Virginia. Where he had the power on January the 1st, 1863 to free black people, Abraham Lincoln kept them in slavery. Where he could not free them, where Confederate forces controlled the area he freed them.

And so the ironic fact is, again an ironic fact that most people have not noted in 135 years, is that the Emancipation Proclamation enslaved more black people than it ever freed.

BATTISTA: So are you saying that this proclamation was issued mainly for political or military reasons?

BENNETT: I argue in this book and a number of scholars have argued that it was a political tactic to disarm the real emancipators and to make it possible for Lincoln to win support and mobilize support for his conservative plan to buy the slaves and send them out of America over a 37-year period.

BATTISTA: Could he possibly then have done the right thing for the wrong reasons?

BENNETT: I would say no. If he had wanted to free the slaves, he could have on January the 1st, 1863 freed the slaves where he could have freed them. If he'd wanted to free the slaves, he could have implemented the Second Confiscation (ph) Act, which was more sweeping than the Emancipation Proclamation, which he opposed. If he wanted to free the slaves, he could have implemented the revision of the military code, which made it a crime for military officers to return slaves to slavery.

Instead of that, he supported the return of fugitives and kept blacks in slavery where he could have freed them. And it can be said, as I said in my book, that never before in history did a man gain more fame for what he did not do and for what he never intended to do.

BATTISTA: Let me go to a quote now from Frederick Douglass, who said that Lincoln was the first great man that I talked within the United States freely who in no single instance reminded me of the difference between himself and myself, of the difference of color.

So was this perception of Lincoln as a proponent of equal rights, this existed all the way back then perhaps?

BENNETT: Let me deal with that on two levels. Let me say, first of all, that it's appalling to me that American scholarship can see oppression so clearly in Germany and in China but cannot see it clearly in America.

What we have in the Douglass quote is a man saying that a member of the oppressing group was kind to him. We know from the Third Reich, we know from South Africa the fact that an oppressor was kind to an individual Jew, an Afrikaner was kind to an individual South African does not change the nature of the system.

The question was not personal; the question was political, and because Lincoln didn't come up to that level, Frederick Douglass in 1864 refused at first to support him for the presidency.

A second point here is that Frederick Douglass made at least 1,000 statements about Abraham Lincoln. That's one statement out of about 1,000. At least 973 of them say out of Frederick Douglass' mouth that Lincoln was a pro-slavery racist, who was, as Frederick Douglass said, the white man's president, pre-eminently the white man's president.

BATTISTA: Let me bring another voice into this conversation. Doug Brinkley is with us. He is director of the Eisenhower Center for American studies at the University of New Orleans. His latest book is titled "Rosa Parks."

Doug, thank you for joining us.

DOUG BRINKLEY, EISENHOWER CENTER FOR AMERICAN STUDIES, UNIVERSITY OF NEW ORLEANS: Well, thanks for having me.

BATTISTA: What do you think of Mr. Bennett's assertions?

BRINKLEY: Well, I think it's way too strident. First off, I know Mr. Bennett's history, and he's a first-rate editor. "Ebony" magazine is a wonderful magazine. Some of his previous scholarship's quite good, and there's a lot to be offered in this book, except what I disagree very strongly with Mr. Bennett of this notion of taking Abraham Lincoln's entire career, stringing together like a straw man a group of facts, and just batting him down and bloodying him up, and talking in a very kind of strident fashion, and comparing Lincoln to both conspiracy -- talking about conspiracy of silence -- and talking, comparing Lincoln to the Nazis.

This is all quite exaggerated, and I think, kind of ridiculous.

The truth of the matter is there's nothing new here that Mr. Bennett's saying. We all -- we all know that the Emancipation Proclamation did not free the slaves. Now, if it's become part of mythology of America that that's what the Emancipation Proclamation did, then I think Mr. Bennett is doing a service by reminding us that that's not the case.

But to just label Lincoln a racist is a cheap shot, because it doesn't deal with the history of the times, it doesn't study what Lincoln was facing as president in the White House surrounded in Maryland and Virginia by Confederate troops.

BATTISTA: So...

BRINKLEY: Even today, the name Abraham Lincoln throughout the South for any racist is an evil word. We've trying to get President's Day, you know, to have Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt added to it, and in the South, Republican Southern senators don't want Lincoln's name added. He's a symbol of liberation.

While he was not a great abolitionist per se Lincoln, he came to the cause. He did the right decisions. He was a pragmatic idealist when it came to the issues of slavery.

BATTISTA: So you're saying that it was taken or is being taken out of context of the times, that Abraham Lincoln felt the way everyone else did back then?

BRINKLEY: You have to look at what -- who Lincoln was at his times. He was not William Lloyd Garrison, a New England abolitionist. What he was, was somebody who slowly evolved to make -- to turn the slavery issue -- I mean, we -- he fought the Civil War and lost, you know, 350,000 Union troops first to keep the Union together, but under -- an undercurrent throughout the war was the issue of slavery, and the Emancipation Proclamation is a ringing document, it is one we can proud of...

BATTISTA: But did he...

BRINKLEY: It's what Martin Luther King Jr. was proud of.

BATTISTA: But didn't he also -- we also have that quote which is coming up shortly later on in the show about how he's -- you know, everything he did was to save the Union, and whether -- if that meant freeing all the slaves, that's great; if it meant freeing not a single slave, that was all right, too.

BRINKLEY: But what if he didn't save the Union, what would have happened? If he did not work to save the Union, the Confederate states would have formed their own country and slavery would have been thriving and alive and well for another generation at least, and maybe longer in the South.

By working to preserve the Union, Abraham Lincoln was working to end up which -- your end result is the abolition of slavery. One has to look at Lincoln's presidency and say, what happened at the end of the Civil War? The Union stayed together and slavery was abolished.

BATTISTA: Well, we have to take a break at this time. I'll let Mr. Bennett talk when we come back, because then the question is, you know, what personally did he care about slaves and slavery, and how black people were being treated back then, on a personal level? We will be back in just a second.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BATTISTA: We're back, and I need to let Mr. Bennett answer some of the things that Doug Brinkley said a few moments ago.

And one of the things that keeps coming up in our chat room, sir, is that a lot of people feel it is not fair -- and Doug talked about this, about context -- it's not fair to judge Abraham Lincoln and his actions out of the time period, 100 years later through politically -- political correctness of the year 2000. Your reaction to that?

BENNETT: Can I...

BATTISTA: Yes.

BENNETT: Can I respond to two or three things Doug Brinkley said?

BATTISTA: Yes.

BENNETT: And I appreciate his comment and the spirit in which it was given. First of all, I make the point in my book that oppression is oppression whether it occurs in Germany, or South Africa, or Springfield, Illinois. I make the point that slavery was a crime against humanity, which should be evaluated on the same level as the crimes of the Third Reich and the crimes of South Africa.

I make the point also and I'm just overwhelmed that my critics all agree with me, if you listen to what they said, Doug Brinkley said, of course, the Emancipation Proclamation didn't free black people. Almost all people who criticize what I say, admit that what I said is true, the Emancipation Proclamation did not free black people, and the question is why have we let this myth go on for 135 years? Now quickly to a point that is made repeatedly and in chapter three of my book, I anticipate all the arguments against what I say.

In chapter three I point out that there's a tendency to say that everybody was a racist in Illinois in 1850, that everybody was a racist, everybody white was a racist in 1860. In fact, in my book I dedicate my book to a number of extraordinary white men and women and black men and women who were far more advanced than Lincoln and who forced Lincoln into glory, men like Wendell Phillips, Charles Sumner, Lyman Trumbull, Frederick Douglass, we can go on and on.

It is a myth justifying Lincoln and a slander on the good people of that time to suggest that everybody was a racist in the sense that Abraham Lincoln was a racist in the 1850s and 1860. My final point is that I asked the American people in this book to look at the real heroes of emancipation and to rise to that level in the process of creating that emancipation which has never been created in this country.

BATTISTA: Let me quickly take a phone call from David in South -- or Doug, rather, in South Carolina. Jack. Third try. Jack, go ahead. I'm sorry.

JACK: Hello -- Jack. Hi, yes. I think it's a little unfair to single out Abraham Lincoln as being a racist when in reality it is true that most everyone back in those days was a racist, and the "N" word was a common term. I mean, I'm sorry to say that, but it was a common term for African-Americans. And this gentleman makes it sound as if Abraham Lincoln was the only racist in history.

I mean, more than likely most every president prior to Lincoln was a racist and many after Lincoln was a racist, I think it is a little unfair to single him out. I mean, and the other thing is, you know, we can blame it on the Old Testament, the Old Testament promotes and even condones slavery and that's what they based it on, that's they -- why we acquired slaves was because of, you know, looking at the Old Testament and they felt they were justified in it.

BATTISTA: All right, Jack, thanks. Mr. Bennett.

BENNETT: I appreciate your comments again, but the fact is that significantly number of white and black people in Illinois and in Washington were more egalitarian than most -- many white people are today. I say in my book that we need to know these people, I name them, and I call upon the American people to deal with that.

BRINKLEY: Mr. Bennett, can I -- Doug Brinkley jumping in.

BENNETT: OK.

BRINKLEY: I think that that's true, and I think one of the admirable things about your book is teaching Americans about some of these heroes, like Wendell Phillips and the like, but you've got to deal a little bit with the political reality of the time in 1860. Which of the people that ran for president in 1860 that were legitimate candidates, that were up for election, that you think would have done a better job dealing on dealing with the Civil War as commander and chief than Abraham Lincoln. Would you have preferred to have seen a Breckenridge, or who would have wanted in as president? Because the abolitionists you named didn't have a political power. I realize your sympathy, that you'd love to see those people being leader, because they would have abolished slavery originally.

I think Lincoln was a gradualists, and I think we have to appreciate his, maybe not in the top tiers of emancipators or abolitionists, but in a second tier and in a pivotal role.

And then also I'm just -- you do make the true point, which we both agree on -- the Emancipation Proclamation did not free the slaves, but it contributed to it. It was an opening, an important salvo to the eventual abolition of slavery, and of course Lincoln also pushed for a constitutional amendment to abolish slavery also, which he did not have the authority to do.

So the combination of Lincoln from '63 and the time to his assassination points to a man who had made some bold moves, and rightfully so. When African Americans were liberated in the South, the name Lincoln was considered a hero for many African Americans throughout the South, and it's one of the reasons Martin Luther King Jr. delivered the "I Have a Dream" speech with a big statue of Abraham Lincoln behind him in the Washington Mall in 1963.

BENNETT: Last point if I can respond to. As you know, and as I say in my book, Martin Luther King Jr. was very critical of Abraham Lincoln myth and in why we can't wait. He dealt with that myth, saying essentially the same thing I'm saying now.

Let me answer your first question, who would I have liked to see in the presidency in 1860 among the major candidates. Salmon Chase was far more advanced politically, racially economically, anyway you think of, than Abraham Lincoln. Seward was far more advanced than Lincoln.

In fact, as you know, Lincoln was selected for president in 1860 because he was considered conservative and sounder on the issue of slavery than most other people at the time.

BRINKLEY: Why did the South disdain Lincoln's election so much? Why did the slave owners hate Abraham Lincoln so much?

BENNETT: One of the great things which I try to deal with in my book, and I'm sure you know it, Lincoln was in fact one of the best friends of the South who existed in 1860. "Southerners out of their madness," as Wendell Phillips said, "Southerners out of their madness committed suicide socially by not responding to Lincoln, who was one of the most moderate, one of the most conservative of the candidates. Lincoln said -- and I quote these words to you -- Lincoln said to Alexander Stevens that "I will support the Fugitive Slave Law" that any white man you can name. Lincoln said in his inaugural address that he supported the 13th Amendment, which would have guaranteed slavery in United States of America forever. So...

BATTISTA: I've got to take a quick break, Mr. Bennett. Thanks so much. We'll be back in just a second.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BATTISTA: I'm not sure Mr. Bennett saw that question from our chatroom. There was person in there who wanted to -- who asked you, where would you be without Lincoln, Mr. Bennett? Would you like to answer that? It's sort of a rhetorical question.

BENNETT: Yes, I'd like to answer it. I pointed out, third, if Abraham Lincoln had had his way, there would be no black people in America today. If Abraham Lincoln had had his way, there would be no blacks in Washington, there would be no blacks in New York, there would be no blacks in Chicago, and I would not be here today if Abraham Lincoln had had his way. If Abraham Lincoln had had his way, in fact, emancipation wouldn't have occurred until 1958, and Martin Luther King Jr. would have been born into slavery, and Oprah Winfrey, and Duke Ellington and on and on.

But the key point in answer to that question -- and this is in my book -- Abraham Lincoln wanted to deport all black people -- educated black people, uneducated black people, light-skin blacks, dark-skin blacks, Muslim, Christians, Frederick Douglas, as well as Billy the barber, who thought he was Abraham Lincoln's friend. If Abraham Lincoln had had his way, there would be no blacks in America today.

BATTISTA: On that point, let me bring in Lucas Morel, who is an assistant professor of politics at Washington & Lee University in Lexington, Virginia. He is a Lincoln scholar and author of "Lincoln's Sacred Effort: Defining Religion's Role in American Self-Government." And also with us is Ron Walters, a political scientist and distinguished leadership scholar at the University of Maryland. His books include "African-American Leadership."

Welcome to both of you.

LUCAS MOREL, LINCOLN SCHOLAR: Thank you.

BATTISTA: I hardly know where to begin.

MOREL: Well, I do.

BATTISTA: Mr. Lucas, let me start with you and get your reaction.

MOREL: Well, the first thing I'd like to say is I'd like to put in a good word for Lincoln as the foremost emancipator. I think we forget that what Lincoln was doing in the Emancipation Proclamation was no less than what the founders were doing in the Declaration of Independence, what they deemed their Emancipation Proclamation.

Remember, to say the Emancipation Proclamation did not free any slaves is to say no more than to say that the Declaration of Independence freed no American colonists. Remember, all they did was declare what was true about human beings in their nature and in their natural endowments to their maker, that they were endowed by their creator with all the rights that any other human being had. And therefore, they would go to war to secure those rights.

So the difference between what is true in principle and in nature and what is true politically needs to be taken into account. Lincoln not only declared the freedom of slaves that were in rebellious states or portions thereof during the Civil War, but he also committed the executive department of the federal government and the military and naval authority to secure that. In that sense, he is the foremost heir of the founders and that great document that he called the "sheet anchor of our Republicanism," the Decoration of Independence.

BATTISTA: Let me get Mr. Walters in here also.

RON WALTERS, POLITICAL SCIENTIST: Well, I think there is some truth for those people who say that initially, that the Civil War was not quite about slavery. Underneath the slave issue use is an issue that we talk sometimes too little about it, and that is about the Confederacy and the nationalism of the confederacy. I think that there would have been if not in 1863, certainly some time later on -- and probably soon after that -- a Civil War under another president of the United States. And the reason for that, of course, is that the South was on a course toward declaring itself an independent section of these United States. They wanted not just slavery; they wanted their own way.

So what we're looking at here in the mid part of the 19th century is the emergence and the maturation of Southern nationalism, and that would have run afoul of the North in any case.

So here you have an Abraham Lincoln, who -- and I'm looking at those words, the first words in the proclamation, "on military necessity," and to me that was very telling. When I saw those words, I said to myself this was not an Abraham Lincoln that was committed to the elimination of slavery. He was committed to the proposition, as he said, of securing the union at any costs. And if it had meant, as Lerone Bennett has said, disposing of black people he would have done that as well.

BATTISTA: I have to take a quick break. We'll get a reaction to that when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BATTISTA: Well, speaking of opinions, I don't mean to ignore the audience today. So let me go quickly to a couple of folks there. Let me go to Steve first here.

STEVE: I was just going to make a comment about the elusions again to 1863 and the end of, you know, freedom of slaves on the Eastern Seaboard -- it was not something that was going to happen at that point in time, because there was hope, I think on Lincoln's behalf, that within that two-year period there still could have been a peaceful resolution to this. And also, as Mr. Bennett eluded to with the Third Reich and what not, Abraham Lincoln in no way can be compared as a demon like Hitler. He was one, the figurehead, whether he meant to or not, that got freedom for African-Americans. He was the one that set forth that way. And we have to look at that in the context of history and say we as a people need to recognize that and judge by the past, not what we have now.

BATTISTA: Let me go to Tom.

TOM: OK, yes. All these events that Mr. Bennett has quoted, and the things, the revelations of Thomas Jefferson, the fact that Truman didn't want to integrate the military, all these things happened in America's past. And Americans need to get away from the tendencies of denying the truth, start recognizing that these things happened, start admitting that they were wrong, and going forward and changing our attitude toward race and other issues that divide us in this country. And we need to stop saying that, well, this didn't happened, and just try and do right, try and treat people right, and move forward to the 21st century, 22nd century, whatever.

WALTERS: I believe that. I believe that, and I think it's one of the most difficult things for America to admit its history. And one of the reasons of course is that our historians have not served us very well.

We've painted a myth of American history that's essentially heroic. And so when you begin to take the covers off of some of the principal figures of American history, people start to bark and they start to reject the truth. That's one of the reasons why the Sally Hemmings story is just coming out and why it's such a bone of contention, because Americans don't want the real truth. They want a historic myth. And that's one of the reasons why these myths have served so well.

So I think that Lerone Bennett is trying to take another myth down and to let Americans see that there is a racial aspect to American history that still in the 21st century has to be dealt with. But you can't deal with it if you look at the past as myth.

BATTISTA: Well, and Mr. Morel, let me ask you, too: Do we also, because of the politics of the time or the circumstances of the time, do historians tend to remember the wrong things sometimes about certain figures of our past?

MOREL: Well, I think what happens is, is there are historical trends that come and go. You talk about orthodox history, you talk about revisionist history, and we just see here the pendulum swinging in extremely opposite direction.

I think the great problem, if there's any myths that are out there, it's the myths -- new myths are replacing the old myths as if there was no such thing truth as truth in the historical record.

I think it would be great if historians would, as Lerone Bennett's book I think will direct us to, historians point us back to the documents. Let's start reading the Declaration of Independence, not just hearing someone's interpretation about it, but actually reading the document, reading the Constitution, reading Lincoln's First Inaugural Address, which he makes clear why he can't be as president of the United States an abolitionist. He can't because the abolitionists don't believe in the Constitution, and in not believing in the Constitution -- burning it up and calling it a covenant with death and an agreement with hell, as the foremost fiery abolitionist, William Lloyd Garrison mentioned -- what they're saying is they don't believe the rule of law, the very law they would want to protect blacks.

And I think that what Lincoln was trying to do was save the union for the sake of the freedom of individuals, maybe not in fact today, but in fact tomorrow. And by his efforts, especially after the Emancipation Proclamation, that came to be true.

Remember, Lincoln is not an abolitionist, because the Constitution requires us not only to be pointed or headed toward justice and the equal protection of rights, but it requires that we consult the opinion of the electorate. And if the electorate isn't -- you know, every voter is not a Socrates or a Plato that can just vote through his mind and not his heart, then what you have to do is try to shape public opinion in such a way and get it to secure as much freedom and security and justice as they would possibly be willing to do.

So what does Lincoln do, in the Emancipation Proclamation at that point as commander in chief -- not as an incoming president, when the nation is not at war -- he says now it is a fitting and necessary war measure to secure the rights of blacks deemed property by rebellious states.

He can't touch it in the border states because they are lawful, law-abiding citizens of the United States, and as president he has absolutely no power over their property. And therefore...

BATTISTA: Let me let Mr. Bennett answer that.

BENNETT: Could I make several points? I appreciate Professor Morel's statement that we've got to deal with myths and the way that I say we have to deal with them.

I have sharp disagreement, however, about where Lincoln was headed as president. As president, Lincoln said -- and Professor Morel, I think, knows this -- that I struggled for nearly 18 months to save slavery in the United States. During his first two terms, he asked generals to return fugitive slaves to America -- to -- to their slave owners. And he, as late as 1865, he said that the Emancipation Proclamation had never been his policy.

One other small point, he did not use Union troops to free black people. He precisely used Union troop in New Orleans and Norfolk to keep black people in slavery. He kept black people in slavery in Tennessee. In fact, as I said earlier, the Emancipation Proclamation remanded to continued slavery more blacks then it ever freed.

Finally, and I won't -- might not get another chance to speak, I want to say I want to say that I appreciate that all of these scholars agree with what I said. I said the Emancipation Proclamation did not free black people and that Abraham Lincoln was not a great emancipator, or a small emancipator or an economy-sized emancipator.

MOREL: I don't agree with that.

BATTISTA: And I might add, you said that 30 years ago for the first time, so we'll talk about that. Professor Morel does not agree with you.

So we'll be back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BATTISTA: Let me go quickly to Professor Morel, who says he does not agree. I don't want to speak for the -- all of the others, but I think that for most of the others, that the Emancipation Proclamation set the slaves free -- did not set the slaves free.

MOREL: What I disagree with is in the statement that Lincoln wasn't a great emancipator. I claim that he is the greatest emancipator next to the American founder, precisely because of his understanding of the principles of the American regime, and especially as they're enunciated in the declaration of independence.

I'd like to hear Mr. Bennett's opinion about the connection that Lincoln teaches us about, the connection between the Declaration of Independence, its principals and that structure that the founders designed, namely, the Constitution, under which, people can actually have the right they possess by nature protected politically.

WALTERS: One of the most profound things to me is that we have someone who is an African American and who supports the original version of the Constitution. This is profoundly amazing to me, primarily because it was this document in which the property rights to the slaveholders decreed that black people should be sold and bought, that states had the right to levy a head tax on blacks as slaves. So this particular document was the political document to set the framework in which individual slavery took place. So it's amazing to. This was not, by the way, a document that was written by Abraham Lincoln. Neither did he write the Declaration of Independence.

But it's certainly true that Abraham Lincoln was a caretaker for the system of white supremacy. Frederick -- I'm sorry, George Fredrickson's work on looking at the South and looking at the system of white supremacy is really very telling, because what he does is to lay out the sort of ideology within all of the presidents of the first 50 years of the 19th century worked. And certainly Abraham Lincoln was no different. He was a caretaker of that system of white supremacy that was designed originally in the Constitution.

MOREL: Excuse me, but the Constitution doesn't mention race until the 14th Amendment was ratified. I don't see how you...

WALTERS: It doesn't mention race at all. It mentions slavery. It mentions slavery.

(CROSSTALK)

MOREL: Excuse me, Mr. Bennett, the world "slavery" doesn't even appear in the original Constitution, OK?

WALTERS: The world "slavery" does appear in the original Constitution.

MOREL: It talk about those who are fugitives from justice.

WALTERS: As a matter of fact, the word "slavery" appears before the Constitution. You have the word slavery appearing in the colonial constitutions in the 15th century, appearing in the field orders with which the independence will was formed. So the word "slavery" has been throughout American history.

BATTISTA: I'm sorry, I've got to take just another quick break. We're under time constraints here. Back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BATTISTA: We only have time for one more quick question, and I'll ask it for you, so that we save some time. But an audience member was wondering, she wanted to ask Mr. Bennett how your book could, or how you would want it to perhaps, to change the collective perception of Lincoln? Do we take him off Mount Rushmore? Do we take him off the penny?

BENNETT: I would like for people to realize once again that the problem of life is not the problem of evil, but the problem of good. I've tried to suggest in this book, in "Forced into Glory," that the problem of race in America is not the right-wing fringe. The problem of race in America is the problem of the so-called "middle people" or so-called "good people," of Jefferson and Lincoln, and I hope that American people would begin to teach this so that we can begin the process of healing and begin the process of dealing for the first time with slavery, the Confederacy and Abraham Lincoln and other people who stand in the light and keep us from seeing what I do believe.

BATTISTA: Good place to end there, and we are out the time.

Lerone Bennett Jr., thank you very much for joining us today. Also our thanks to Douglas Brinkley. Also Dr. Lucas Morel and Dr. Ronald Walters. Thank you both for being with us.

2001 Cable News Network. Located online at cnn.com.

Recommended Viewing: Slavery and the Making of America (240 minutes), Starring: Morgan Freeman; Director: William R. Grant. Description: Acclaimed actor Morgan Freeman narrates this compelling documentary, which features a score by Michael Whalen. Underscoring how slavery impacted the growth of this country's Southern and Northern states; the series examines issues still relevant today. Continued below...

 The variety of cultures from which the slaves originated provided the budding states with a multitude of skills that had a dramatic effect on the diverse communities. From joining the British in the Revolutionary War, to fleeing to Canada, to joining rebel communities in the U.S. the slaves sought freedom in many ways, ultimately having a far-reaching effect on the new hemisphere they were forced to inhabit. AWARDED 5 STARS by americancivilwarhistory.org

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Recommended Reading: The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War. Description: It hardly seems possible that there is more to say about someone who has been subjected to such minute scrutiny in thousands of books and articles. Yet, Thomas J. DiLorenzo’s The Real Lincoln manages to raise fresh and morally probing questions, challenging the image of the martyred 16th president that has been fashioned carefully in marble and bronze, sentimentalism and myth. In doing so, DiLorenzo does not follow the lead of M. E. Bradford or other Southern agrarians. Continued below...

He writes primarily not as a defender of the Old South and its institutions, culture, and traditions, but as a libertarian enemy of the Leviathan state. DiLorenzo holds Lincoln and his war responsible for the triumph of "big government" and the birth of the ubiquitous, suffocating modern U.S. state. He seeks to replace the nation’s memory of Lincoln as the “Great Emancipator” with the record of Lincoln as the “Great Centralizer.”

 

Recommended Reading: Lincoln Unmasked: What You're Not Supposed to Know About Dishonest Abe. Description: While many view our 16th president as the nation’s greatest president and hero, Tom Dilorenzo, through his scholarly research, exposes the many unconstitutional decisions of Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln Unmasked, a best-seller, reveals that ‘other side’ – the inglorious character – of the nation’s greatest tyrant and totalitarian. A book that is hailed by many and harshly criticized by others, Lincoln Unmasked, nevertheless, is a thought-provoking study and view of Lincoln that was not taught in our public school system.

 

Recommended Reading: Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (944 pages) (Simon & Schuster). Description: The life and times of Abraham Lincoln have been analyzed and dissected in countless books. Do we need another Lincoln biography? In Team of Rivals, esteemed historian Doris Kearns Goodwin proves that we do. Though she can't help but cover some familiar territory, her perspective is focused enough to offer fresh insights into Lincoln's leadership style and his deep understanding of human behavior and motivation. Goodwin makes the case for Lincoln's political genius by examining his relationships with three men he selected for his cabinet, all of whom were opponents for the Republican nomination in 1860: William H. Seward, Salmon P. Chase, and Edward Bates. Continued below...

These men, all accomplished, nationally known, and presidential, originally disdained Lincoln for his backwoods upbringing and lack of experience, and were shocked and humiliated at losing to this relatively obscure Illinois lawyer. Yet Lincoln not only convinced them to join his administration--Seward as secretary of state, Chase as secretary of the treasury, and Bates as attorney general--he ultimately gained their admiration and respect as well. How he soothed egos, turned rivals into allies, and dealt with many challenges to his leadership, all for the sake of the greater good, is largely what Goodwin's fine book is about. Had he not possessed the wisdom and confidence to select and work with the best people, she argues, he could not have led the nation through one of its darkest periods. Ten years in the making, this engaging work reveals why "Lincoln's road to success was longer, more tortuous, and far less likely" than the other men, and why, when opportunity beckoned, Lincoln was "the best prepared to answer the call." This multiple biography further provides valuable background and insights into the contributions and talents of Seward, Chase, and Bates. Lincoln may have been "the indispensable ingredient of the Civil War," but these three men were invaluable to Lincoln and they played key roles in keeping the nation intact.

 

Recommended Reading: Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America (Simon & Schuster). Description: One of the nation's foremost Lincoln scholars offers an authoritative consideration of the document that represents the most far-reaching accomplishment of our greatest president. No single official paper in American history changed the lives of as many Americans as Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. But no American document has been held up to greater suspicion. Its bland and lawyerlike language is unfavorably compared to the soaring eloquence of the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural; its effectiveness in freeing the slaves has been dismissed as a legal illusion. And for some African-Americans the Proclamation raises doubts about Lincoln himself. Continued below…

Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation dispels the myths and mistakes surrounding the Emancipation Proclamation and skillfully reconstructs how America's greatest president wrote the greatest American proclamation of freedom. About the Author: Allen C. Guelzo is the Grace Ferguson Kea Professor of American History at Eastern University (St. David's, Pennsylvania), where he also directs the Templeton Honors College. He is the author of five books, most recently the highly acclaimed Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President, which won the Lincoln Prize for 2000.

 

Recommended Reading: Lincoln and Douglas: The Debates that Defined America (Simon & Schuster) (February 5, 2008) (Hardcover). Description: In 1858, Abraham Lincoln was known as a successful Illinois lawyer who had achieved some prominence in state politics as a leader in the new Republican Party. Two years later, he was elected president and was on his way to becoming the greatest chief executive in American history. What carried this one-term congressman from obscurity to fame was the campaign he mounted for the United States Senate against the country's most formidable politician, Stephen A. Douglas, in the summer and fall of 1858. Lincoln challenged Douglas directly in one of his greatest speeches -- "A house divided against itself cannot stand" -- and confronted Douglas on the questions of slavery and the inviolability of the Union in seven fierce debates. As this brilliant narrative by the prize-winning Lincoln scholar Allen Guelzo dramatizes, Lincoln would emerge a predominant national figure, the leader of his party, the man who would bear the burden of the national confrontation. Continued below... 

Of course, the great issue between Lincoln and Douglas was slavery. Douglas was the champion of "popular sovereignty," of letting states and territories decide for themselves whether to legalize slavery. Lincoln drew a moral line, arguing that slavery was a violation both of natural law and of the principles expressed in the Declaration of Independence. No majority could ever make slavery right, he argued. Lincoln lost that Senate race to Douglas, though he came close to toppling the "Little Giant," whom almost everyone thought was unbeatable. Guelzo's Lincoln and Douglas brings alive their debates and this whole year of campaigns and underscores their centrality in the greatest conflict in American history. The encounters between Lincoln and Douglas engage a key question in American political life: What is democracy's purpose? Is it to satisfy the desires of the majority? Or is it to achieve a just and moral public order? These were the real questions in 1858 that led to the Civil War. They remain questions for Americans today.

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