Monday, March 07, 2011

Lincoln and Race

This article discusses a new book on Lincoln that delves into his racial views. This books contends that Lincoln was very committed to the idea of colonization for freed slaves - moving them out of the country:
"For the sake of your race, you should sacrifice something of your present comfort for the purpose of being as grand in that respect as the white people," Lincoln said, promoting his idea of colonization: resettling blacks in foreign countries on the belief that whites and blacks could not coexist in the same nation.

Lincoln went on to say that free blacks who envisioned a permanent life in the United States were being "selfish" and he promoted Central America as an ideal location "especially because of the similarity of climate with your native land — thus being suited to your physical condition."

Lincoln's views on colonization are well known, but, "historians differ on whether Lincoln moved away from colonization after he issued the official Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863, or whether he continued to support it."

This book argues that Lincoln continued to support colonization:
Magness and Page's book offers evidence that Lincoln continued to support colonization, engaging in secret diplomacy with the British to establish a colony in British Honduras, now Belize.

Among the records found at the British archives is an 1863 order from Lincoln granting a British agent permission to recruit volunteers for a Belize colony.

"He didn't let colonization die off. He became very active in promoting it in the private sphere, through diplomatic channels," Magness said. He surmises that Lincoln grew weary of the controversy that surrounded colonization efforts, which had become enmeshed in scandal and were criticized by many abolitionists.

As late as 1864, Magness found a notation that Lincoln asked the attorney general whether he could continue to receive counsel from James Mitchell, his colonization commissioner, even after Congress had eliminated funding for Mitchell's office.

This is not the only opinion available, of course:
Illinois' state historian, Tom Schwartz, who is also a research director at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield, Ill., said that while historians differ, there is ample evidence that Lincoln's views evolved away from colonization in the final two years of the Civil War.

Lincoln gave several speeches referring to the rights blacks had earned as they enlisted in the Union Army, for instance. And presidential secretary John Hay wrote in July 1864 that Lincoln had "sloughed off" colonization.

"Most of the evidence points to the idea that Lincoln is looking at other ways" to resolve the transition from slavery besides colonization at the end of his presidency, Schwartz said.

Since Lincoln was assassinated before the end of the war, we'll never know how he would have actually approached the post-war era, but the discussion continues on what he would have done, as this article and its book showcase.

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