“I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the states where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.” — Abraham Lincoln, First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1861.
Over the Easter weekend I viewed the film “Lincoln” via my local cable provider’s pay-per-view service. While probably not as good as watching it on the big screen in a theater I was satisfied seeing it on a 55-inch LED television set.
Before giving my brief critique of the film have must say that I was very impressed with Daniel Day Lewis’ portrayal of Abraham Lincoln and equally so with Sally Fields’ playing Lincoln’s manic-depressive wife, Mary Todd Lincoln. Tommy Lee Jones’s portrayal of the firebrand radical Republican Pennsylvania Representative Thaddeus Stevens was as good as it could be allowing for the flawed script he was given by director Spielberg and writers Tony Kushner and Doris Kearns Goodwin whose book “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln” the film was loosely based upon. Both writers and the director are ardent Progressives and their ideology was evident in the film.
As example the film opens with a scene of Lincoln being confronted by two Black soldiers complaining of their unequal pay in a very belligerent manner. The first words of the film are spoken to Lincoln by one of the black soldiers:
“Some of us was in the 2nd Kansas Colored. We fought the Rebs at Jenkins Ferry last April just after they killed every Negro they captured at Poison Springs. So at Jenkins Ferry we decided we weren't taking no Reb prisoners, and we didn't leave a one of them alive.”
Only a liberal (or maybe a white supremacist) would begin a story about Abraham Lincoln and the ending of slavery with a black racial atrocity. Obviously, Spielberg and Kushner don't believe it was an atrocity. They see it as something a soldier would be so proud of that he would immediately boast of it when happening upon the President of the United States nine months later. And Lincoln in turn would find it commendable, as confirmed by the response the filmmakers have him utter: "The 2nd Kansas Colored infantry, they fought bravely at Jenkins Ferry.
They did. But some of them — certainly not all, as Kushner infers — brutally slaughtered wounded and captured men and mutilated the dead. The exact details are lost to history, but the record of the Kansas National Guard doesn't appear to confirm Kushner's allegations that the killing was premeditated or that the soldiers "didn't leave a one of them alive."
According to the Gay, Progressive Kushner what the Confederates did to the black soldiers at Poison Springs was a moral crime. What the blacks did to the Confederates was rightful social justice, of which a soldier could be proud. A black soldier, that is. No one can imagine a white soldier bragging to the commander in chief that he had slaughtered wounded and captured prisoners and then mutilated their corpses.
As this first soldier finishes his boast, the other begins to harangue Lincoln about the unequal treatment of black soldiers, beginning with their lesser pay. This is Kushner memorializing another liberal trope: the eternal grievance. While it was true that black pay was lower during the Battle of Jenkins Ferry (April 30, 1864), Congress corrected the injustice almost immediately thereafter, equalizing black pay and making the increase retroactive.
Because that injustice was remedied nearly a year earlier, no black soldier would have ranted about it to Lincoln that night. In fact, no Black soldier would have spoken to the president in the manner and tone Kushner employs here. First he deprives blacks of a moral compass, and then he takes away their social probity. Interestingly, we actually have a first-hand account of a meeting between Lincoln and black troops occurring almost at this time:
"The black troops received him most enthusiastically, grinning from ear to ear, and displaying an amount of ivory terrible to behold," remarked Gen. U.S. Grant's aide, Horace Porter. "They cheered wildly, crowding around Lincoln, kissing his hand, brushing his coat or his horse so that they could tell others that they had touched the president. And Lincoln was touched. His eyes brimming with tears, his voice broke as he talked with the men; the encounter reminded everyone what was at stake."
It is highly unlikely that two enlisted soldiers — Black or white — would address the President of the United States in such a disrespectful manner, especially in public.
Once this opening scene was over the film settled down to its real theme — the battle over the 13th Amendment.
In my opinion the good points of the film were:
- Lewis’ portrayal of Lincoln and his debates within his own Cabinet on the rational of pushing for the passage of the 13th Amendment before the war was over. Lincoln believed that once the war ended there would be no support for its passage.
- A scene where Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones) is confronted by Mary Todd Lincoln over Congress’ disapproval of her lavish spending in the White House and the hearings they conducted to curb it. Unlike today’s imperial first family Congress in those days took a serious posture on public spending and held to their Constitutional duty of controlling the federal purse.
- The raucous and passionate debate in the House of Representatives between the Free-Soilers, Conservative Republicans, Radical Republicans, and Democrats over the proposed amendment. This debate synthesized most of the arguments of the day over slavery and the war. The position of the Radical Republicans was expressed by Thaddeus Stevens who eventually was part of the House Managers in the impeachment of Andrew Johnson and fought for the money to allow Secretary of State William Henry Seward to purchase Alaska.
- Lincoln’s use of paid “consultants”, under the supervision of Seward, to “convince” House Members to support the Amendment.
All in all I would give the film 5 stars for the portrayal of Lincoln, Mary Todd Lincoln, Thaddeus Stevens, William Seward, and Congress. I would give it another 5 stars for the lighting, costuming, and sets. However, I would give it a mere two and a half stars for Kushner’s script. Now to reality!
The sectional divide that led to the outbreak of the Civil War was rooted in fundamentally opposing interpretations of the principles of the Declaration of Independence in addition to diverging perceptions of the institution of slavery. Slaveholders and non-slaveholders alike at the time of the Founding generally agreed that slavery was unjust and an evil that ran counter to the ethos of the Founding, even while countenancing it in practice. By the 1850s, prominent men such as John C. Calhoun and Alexander Stevens argued that slavery was a positive good, and that liberty and equality, far from being natural rights belonging to every human being, were privileges to be earned.
As showcased by the writings and life of Thomas Jefferson, at the time of the Founding there existed the wide-spread belief that slavery-while an institutional denial of natural rights and an inherently unjust practice, in addition to being an evil for the character of slave and owner alike-was a necessary evil without an immediately viable alternative. Various states took measures to eliminate slavery gradually within their borders, while organizations formed (The American Colonization Society) with the purpose of aiding emancipated slaves through a variety of ways (such as establishing the colony of Liberia in West Africa). This was a program based on “Compensated Emancipation.”
Compensated Emancipation was a method of ending slavery in countries where slavery was legal. This involved the person who was recognized as the owner of a slave being compensated monetarily or by a period of labor (an 'apprenticeship') for releasing the slave.
The latter was chosen as a compromise between slavery and outright emancipation, the former slaves receiving a nominal salary, while still being bound in their labors for a period of time. This proved unpopular, as for the slaves it amounted to little more than continued mandatory servitude, while it placed an added burden of wages on the former owners. Due to resistance in both the North and the South compensated emancipation
Only in the District of Columbia, which fell under direct Federal auspices, was compensated emancipation enacted. On April 16, 1862, President Lincoln signed the District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act. This law prohibited slavery in the District, forcing its 900-odd slaveholders to free their slaves, with the government paying owners an average of about $300 for each. In 1863 state legislation towards compensated emancipation in Maryland failed to pass, as did an attempt to include it in a newly-written Missouri constitution.
On the other hand the Free-Soilers wanted Congress to prohibit slavery in the new states and territories based on Article IV, Section 3 of the Constitution that stated:
“New states may be admitted by the Congress into this union; but no new states shall be formed or erected within the jurisdiction of any other state; nor any state be formed by the junction of two or more states, or parts of states, without the consent of the legislatures of the states concerned as well as of the Congress.
The Congress shall have power to dispose of and make all needful rules and regulations respecting the territory or other property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to prejudice any claims of the United States, or of any particular state.”
But, it was Stephen Douglas’, Lincoln’s opponent in the 1858 Illinois senatorial race, “popular sovereignty” that had carried the debate and was responsible for the notorious Kansas-Nebraska Act that Lincoln had so much disdain for.
Stephen A. Douglas, in a joint debate with Abraham Lincoln in Ottawa, Illinois on August 21, 1858 stated:
"Now, I hold that Illinois had a right to abolish and prohibit slavery as she did, and I hold that Kentucky has the same right to continue and protect slavery that Illinois had to abolish it. I hold that New York had as much right to abolish slavery as Virginia has to continue it, and that each and every state of this union is a sovereign power, with the right to do as it pleases upon this question of slavery, and upon all its domestic institutions. Slavery is not the only question which comes up in this controversy."
"Now, my friends, if we will only act conscientiously and rigidly upon this great principle of popular sovereignty, which guarantees to each state and territory the right to do as it pleases on all things, local and domestic, instead of Congress interfering, we will continue at peace one with another. Why should Illinois be at war with Missouri, or Kentucky with Ohio, or Virginia with New York, merely because their institutions differ? Our fathers intended that our institutions should differ. They knew that the North and the South, having different climates, productions and interests, required different institutions. This doctrine of Mr. Lincoln, of uniformity among the institutions of the different states, is a new doctrine, never dreamed of by Washington, Madison, or the framers of this government."
Lincoln’s response was:
"This declared indifference, but, as I must think, covert real zeal for the spread of slavery, I cannot but hate. I hate it because of the monstrous injustice of slavery itself. I hate it because it deprives our republican example of its just influence in the world-enables the enemies of free institutions, with plausibility, to taunt us as hypocrites-causes the real friends of freedom to doubt our sincerity, and especially because it forces so many really good men amongst ourselves into an open war with the very fundamental principles of civil liberty-criticizing the Declaration of Independence, and insisting that there is no right principle of action but self-interest."
Lincoln lost the election to Douglas, but attained a greater prize in 1860 — the presidency of the United States.
No American president has faced a national crisis of the magnitude Abraham
Lincoln confronted upon assuming office. To most observers of the time, Lincoln seemed ill-prepared for the momentous challenges that lay ahead. Born in a log cabin in Kentucky, he later moved with his family to Indiana and then to Illinois, receiving little formal education along the way. Nonetheless, Lincoln possessed a prodigious intelligence, and while in New Salem, Illinois, he began to study law on his own. In 1834 he was elected to the first of several terms in the Illinois legislature, and he gravitated toward the Whig party and its prominent leader, Henry Clay. Lincoln became a staunch proponent of law and order, an attribute that guided his thinking during the secession crisis of 1860–1861.
In 1846 Lincoln was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Springfield, Illinois, and while serving a single term in that body he became a vocal critic of President James K. Polk’s decision to lead the United States into war with Mexico. During and after the Mexican War, Lincoln asserted that any people “sufficiently numerous for national independence” possessed the right to “revolutionize” or throw off their existing government and to replace it with a government of their choosing. In later years, Lincoln was careful to insist that the right to revolution was a moral, not a legal, right—a right that could be exercised only on behalf of “a morally justifiable cause.” During the secession crisis, Lincoln maintained that secession was not revolution and was thus illegitimate and illegal—a point that he made clear in his first inaugural address. Lincoln aimed his speech at Unionists throughout the South, whom he believed had been tempted to embrace secession by a vocal minority of Southern nationalists. Lincoln believed most Southerners, even those in the states that had claimed to secede, were loyal to the Union and would, with proper encouragement, wrest political power from the rebels. Thus, his address contained a care
While a fierce opponent of slavery Lincoln did not believe he had the Constitutional authority to do anything about it in the existing states. He believed it would take amending the Constitution to that. In his first inaugural address on March 4, 1861 he stated:
“I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the states where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.”
On the contrary Alexander H. Stephens, a friend of Lincoln’s and the eventual Vice President of the Confederacy stated regarding slavery in his Cornerstone Speech:
“But not to be tedious in enumerating the numerous changes for the better, allow me to allude to one other though last, not least. The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution African slavery as it exists amongst us the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the "rock upon which the old Union would split." He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact. But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon which that rock stood and stands, may be doubted. The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with, but the general opinion of the men of that day was that, somehow or other in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away. This idea, though not incorporated in the constitution, was the prevailing idea at that time. The constitution, it is true, secured every essential guarantee to the institution while it should last, and hence no argument can be justly urged against the constitutional guarantees thus secured, because of the common sentiment of the day. Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the "storm came and the wind blew."
Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. This truth has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science. It has been so even amongst us. Many who hear me, perhaps, can recollect well, that this truth was not generally admitted, even within their day. The errors of the past generation still clung to many as late as twenty years ago. Those at the North, who still cling to these errors, with a zeal above knowledge, we justly denominate fanatics…”
Lincoln, a firm believer in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, especially the Ninth and Tenth Amendments, believed the federal government had no warrant to war with existing states over the issue of slavery, but did have the power to squelch any form of rebellion by those states against the United States. This was Lincoln’s view of the Civil War until the Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862.
This was the first major battle in the American Civil War to take place on Union soil. It was the bloodiest single-day battle in American history, with 22,717 dead, wounded and missing on both sides combined. 25% of the Federal Army were casualties and the public in the North and Congress were horrified. They began to question the purpose of the war and recruiting was waning.
To this effect Lincoln, under the war powers granted him as Commander-In-Chief in Article II, Section 2.1 issued his first Emancipation Proclamation. In this proclamation issued on September 22, 1862 gave the rebellious Southern States until January 1, 1863 to abolish slavery and rejoin the union:
“That it is my purpose, upon the next meeting of Congress to again recommend the adoption of a practical measure tendering pecuniary aid to the free acceptance or rejection of all slave-states, so called, the people whereof may not then be in rebellion against the United States, and which states, may then have voluntarily adopted, or thereafter may voluntarily adopt, immediate, or gradual abolishment of slavery within their respective limits; and that the effort to colonize persons of African descent, with their consent, upon this continent, or elsewhere, with the previously obtained consent of the Governments existing there, will be continued.
That on the first day of January in the year of our Lord, one thousand eight hundred and sixty three, all persons held as slaves within any state, or designated part of a state, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States shall be then, thence forward, and forever free; and the executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.”
The rebellious states did not take Lincoln’s proclamation to heart and on January 1, 1863 Lincoln issued the Final Emancipation Proclamation, the one we know today:
“Now, therefore I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, by virtue of the power in me vested as Commander-in-Chief, of the Army and Navy of the United States in time of actual armed rebellion against authority and government of the United States, and as a fit and necessary war measure for suppressing said rebellion, do, on this first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty three, and in accordance with my purpose so to do publicly proclaimed for the full period of one hundred days, from the day first above mentioned, order and designate as the States and parts of States wherein the people thereof respectively, are this day in rebellion against the United States, the following, to wit:
Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, (except the Parishes of St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Jefferson, St. Johns, St. Charles, St. James, Ascension, Assumption, Terrebonne, Lafourche, St. Mary, St. Martin, and Orleans, including the City of New-Orleans) Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South-Carolina, North-Carolina, and Virginia, (except the forty-eight counties designated as West Virginia, and also the counties of Berkley, Accomac, Northampton, Elizabeth-City, York, Princess Ann, and Norfolk, including the cities of Norfolk & Portsmouth); and which excepted parts are, for the present, left precisely as if this proclamation were not issued.
And by virtue of the power, and for the purpose aforesaid, I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States, and parts of States, are, and henceforward shall be free; and that the Executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons.”
In essence his proclamation abolished slavery in all of the rebellious states, but did not affect the Border States loyal to the Union or any of the Northern States. Lincoln had changed the mission of the war against rebellion to a two-fold mission of a Civil War — one to end the rebellion and the second to abolish slavery. This placated the abolitionists in the North but motivated the South to fight harder for their right to keep slaves.
Lincoln knew that when the war ended this proclamation would become void and to end slavery he would need to amend the Constitution. The Constitution had not been amended for 60 years with the 12th Amendment — the Amendment dictating the process for electing a President and establishing the Electoral College was ratified by the states on June 15, 1804. It is not an easy process as to amend the Constitution requires a vote of two-thirds of both Houses and then a ratification of three-fourths of the States Legislatures.
The 13th Amendment had been passed by the Senate on April 8, 1864, but the House of Representatives was another matter. Lincoln and his aides had to work and cajole the House Members either against the Amendment or on the fence.
The Senate passed the Amendment, by a vote of 38 to 6. However, just over two months later on June 15, the House failed to get the necessary two-thirds vote for passage, with 93 in favor and 65 against. Representative Ashley was instrumental in its eventual passage. An ardent Free-Soiler before becoming a Republican, he was the House floor manager and persuaded a number of Democrats to support it. President Lincoln took an active role in working for its passage through the House by ensuring the amendment was added to the Republican Party platform for the 1864 presidential election and using his powers adroitly. Finally, after seven months of debate and promises of patronage, the House narrowly reached the two-thirds majority needed to pass the bill on January 31, 1865, by a vote of 119 to 56. The Thirteenth Amendment's archival copy bears an apparent Presidential signature, under the usual ones of the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate, after the words "Approved February 1, 1865"
The amendment was sent to the state legislatures. The Northern states quickly ratified it. On December 18, 1865, Secretary of State Seward proclaimed the amendment to have been adopted as of December 6, 1865, when Georgia's ratification brought the total number of ratifying states to 27, of the then 36 states in the union (75%). Florida ratified it on December 28, 1865; New Jersey in 1866; Texas in 1870; Delaware in 1901; and Kentucky in 1976. Mississippi, whose legislature voted in 1995 to do so, belatedly notified the Office of the Federal Register in February 2013 of that legislative action, completing the legal process for the state.
On March 4, 1865 Lincoln gave his famous Second Inaugural Address where he mentioned the horrible cost of the war in blood and treasure, the abolishen of slavery, and his thoughts on reconstruction where he stated:
“With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”
On April 9, 1865 Robert E. Lee, commander of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia surrender to Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant and the Union Army of the Potomac at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, thus ending for all intents and purposes the Civil War. Five days later Lincoln would meet his death at the hands of the assassin John Wilkes Booth and Secretary Seward would be seriously wounded by Wilkes’ co-conspirator Lewis Powell.
It would take another Amendment — the 14th to give the freed slaves the rights of full citizenship.
On July 5, 1852 Frederick Douglass in his “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July” speech had this to say about the Declaration, the Constitution, and the United States:
“Pride and patriotism, not less than gratitude, prompt you to celebrate and to hold it in perpetual remembrance. I have said that the Declaration of Independence is the ring-bolt to the chain of your nation’s destiny; so, indeed, I regard it. The principles contained in that instrument are saving principles. Stand by those principles, be true to them on all occasions, in all places, against all foes, and at whatever cost.
Your fathers staked their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor, on the cause of their country. In their admiration of liberty, they lost sight of all other interests. They were peace men; but they preferred revolution to peaceful submission to bondage. They were quiet men; but they did not shrink from agitating against oppression. They showed forbearance; but that they knew its limits. They believed in order; but not in the order of tyranny. With them, nothing was "settled" that was not right. With them, justice, liberty and humanity were "final;" not slavery and oppression. You may well cherish the memory of such men. They were great in their day and generation. Their solid manhood stands out the more as we contrast it with these degenerate times.
How circumspect, exact and proportionate were all their movements! How unlike the politicians of an hour! Their statesmanship looked beyond the passing moment, and stretched away in strength into the distant future. They seized upon eternal principles, and set a glorious example in their defense. Mark them!
Fellow-citizens! there is no matter in respect to which, the people of the North have allowed themselves to be so ruinously imposed upon, as that of the pro-slavery character of the Constitution. In that instrument I hold there is neither warrant, license, nor sanction of the hateful thing; but, interpreted as it ought to be interpreted, the Constitution is a GLORIOUS LIBERTY DOCUMENT. Read its preamble, consider its purposes. Is slavery among them? Is it at the gateway? or is it in the temple? It is neither. While I do not intend to argue this question on the present occasion, let me ask, if it be not somewhat singular that, if the Constitution were intended to be, by its framers and adopters, a slave-holding instrument, why neither slavery, slaveholding, nor slave can anywhere be found in it. What would be thought of an instrument, drawn up, legally drawn up, for the purpose of entitling the city of Rochester to a track of land, in which no mention of land was made? Now, there are certain rules of interpretation, for the proper understanding of all legal instruments. These rules are well established. They are plain, common-sense rules, such as you and I, and all of us, can understand and apply, without having passed years in the study of law. I scout the idea that the question of the constitutionality or unconstitutionality of slavery is not a question for the people. I hold that every American citizen has a fight to form an opinion of the constitution, and to propagate that opinion, and to use all honorable means to make his opinion the prevailing one.
It’s too bad that Kutcher and Spielberg could not have opened their film with a quote from Frederick Douglass rather than two fictional, disgruntled Black soldiers.
The Oscar for Best Actor went to Daniel Day-Lewis, and deservedly so. This Welshman brought the Great Emancipator to the screen in a remarkably lifelike portrayal. He captured the Hoosier accent, the awkward gestures, even the pained walk of a man whose feet hurt him. The only thing amiss in this amazing rendition was that Day-Lewis's Lincoln looked like the incoming president, the man of 1861, not the withered, ravaged commander-in-chief. The Abraham Lincoln of 1865 had visibly aged twenty-five years in four.
Still, Daniel Day-Lewis's Lincoln comes closer to the real man than some of the caricatures that are, unfortunately, being offered by some conservatives. Some of them say Lincoln is a hypocrite because he approves of the right of revolution spelled out in the Declaration of Independence but disapproves of secession.
Secession was no revolution it was rebellion. We have Jefferson Davis's own Inaugural Address to prove that:
“The declared purpose of the compact of Union from which we have withdrawn was "to establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessing of liberty to ourselves and our posterity;" and when, in the judgment of the sovereign States now composing this Confederacy, it had been perverted from the purposes for which it was ordained, and had ceased to answer the ends for which it was established, a peaceful appeal to the ballot-box declared that so far as they were concerned, the government created by that compact should cease to exist. In this they merely asserted a right which the Declaration of Independence of 1776 had defined to be inalienable; of the time and occasion for its exercise, they, as sovereigns, were the final judges, each for itself. The impartial and enlightened verdict of mankind will vindicate the rectitude of our conduct, and He who knows the hearts of men will judge of the sincerity with which we labored to preserve the Government of our fathers in its spirit. The right solemnly proclaimed at the birth of the States, and which has been affirmed and reaffirmed in the bills of rights of States subsequently admitted into the Union of 1789, undeniably recognize in the people the power to resume the authority delegated for the purposes of government. Thus the sovereign States here represented proceeded to form this Confederacy, and it is by abuse of language that their act has been denominated a revolution. They formed a new alliance, but within each State its government has remained, the rights of person and property have not been disturbed. The agent through whom they communicated with foreign nations is changed, but this does not necessarily interrupt their international relations.”
The reason Mr. Davis denied his Confederate States were making a revolution was simple: If he had a human right to revolution, then so did his slaves. Also, Jefferson Davis wanted the aid of England and France, then both monarchies. They would be unlikely to assist a Southern revolution that might give ideas to their own disenfranchised masses.
Jefferson Davis's vice president, Alexander Hamilton Stephens, was a personal friend to Abraham Lincoln. But Vice President Stephens gave a famous "Cornerstone Speech," in which he openly avowed that the new Confederate constitution was based on slavery.
When President Lincoln wrote to editor Horace Greeley, he famously said he would free all the slaves or none, or free some and leave others alone if by so doing he could save the Union. Recall, this letter was written while Lincoln had the draft of the Emancipation Proclamation in his desk drawer.
This is taken to be proof that he didn't care about slavery. Not in the least. Let's remember how he was elected. It was to stop the extension of slavery into the territories.
Saving the Union would stop the spread of human bondage over the continent. There was no inconsistency in this. Saving the Union meant "putting slavery on the path to ultimate extinction." That was the Founders' policy; that was Lincoln's policy.
The leaders in those states that seceded were not confused about Lincoln's views on slavery. They took the election of Lincoln on an anti-slavery platform as their signal to leave the Union. Each of those states sent commissioners to other slaveholding states, urging them to leave the Union, too. Would they have done that if they thought Lincoln was insincere about stopping the spread of slavery?
To say Lincoln didn't free anyone by his Emancipation Proclamation is similarly misguided. It is true he didn't free the slaves of loyal Union citizens in the Border States (or in those regions occupied by the Union army). That's because he knew that his war powers extended only to suppressing the rebellion. If an American citizen was obeying the laws, Lincoln had no right to interfere with their slaves — until the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified.
From that date —January 1, 1863 — until the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment, however, the Union armies and navy became forces of liberation. Slaves swarmed into Union camps crying for joy and blessing the Lord for their freedom. If those freedmen and women — many of whom were kept illiterate by law — could understand so clearly what Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation meant, how can we get it so wrong?
Some folks say the Civil War was not about slavery, but about states' rights. We strongly support states’ rights — especially when it comes protecting our essential liberties from the dangers of ObamaCare. But in 1861, the secessionists' new constitution prohibited any free state from joining the Confederacy. It forbade the people of any Confederate state from voluntarily freeing their slaves. And the framers of that constitution even debated — and soundly defeated — a provision that would have allowed states to secede from the Confederacy. Clearly, the war was not just about states' rights.
Some think Abraham Lincoln gave us the Big Government we all deplore today. He did give us the Trans-Continental Railroad, to be sure, but that was privately built and owned. And the Homestead Act turned over millions of acres of public lands to private owners who would farm and improve them. Even the military — which had mushroomed to over a million men in wartime (including some 200,000 free men of color) — quickly shrank after the war. By 1870, it was little larger than before the war. Even the income tax imposed during the Civil War was quickly repealed and not enacted again until the Progressive Era of the 20th century and the 16th Amendment.
Today, the people of the South are leading the country in respect for life and in defending marriage. The South cares deeply about religious freedom. We thank God for our Southern friends and fellow believers. This is true conservatism.
But if conservatives today surrender Lincoln to the Hollywood left and Barack Obama, we will be giving up a vitally important cultural icon and one of our two greatest presidents. Conservatives believe in the Founding principles of this nation, including the inalienable right to life. Lincoln said that in the Founders' enlightened belief, "nothing stamped in the divine image was sent into the world to be trod upon." We know he meant the slaves. But we challenge President Obama: "Are not unborn children so stamped?" Let's not abandon Lincoln and allow liberals to "blow out the moral lights around us."