Monday, October 27, 2008

Slavery and the Insanity of the 1860's: The Honest Truth about Honest Abe

I was just thinking about the oft disputed relationship between the "Insanity of the 186o's", if you will, and slavery.

First of all, I feel it unnecessary to go into any great detail of how slavery, of any form, is repugnant in a free and Christian society.

Also, I feel it equally unnecessary to go into any great detail of the supposed "inferiority" or "superiority" of any man compared to another of differing skin shade, or the segregation thereof; this is equally repugnant in a free and Christian society.

What is noteworthy, though, is the position of the North and of the South on the matter, especially when contrasting them with the current presuppositions of modern opinion on the subject.

The most common opinion is that the South wanted slaves and the North didn't. To relegate both sides into such a paradigm, though, would be naive, as well as disrespectful to the men who died in that war.

To begin with, Abraham Lincoln, the supposed "Great Emancipator" of the slaves, may not be the greatest example of a Christian war-time President.

In response to a letter from Horace Greeley, somewhat critical of Lincoln's handling of the crisis, the President writes what I feel summarizes Lincoln's truest stance on the institution of slavery in America during the war:

"I would save the Union. I would save it the shortest way under the Constitution. The sooner the national authority can be restored; the nearer the Union will be "the Union as it was."

If there be those who would not save the Union, unless they could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them. If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them.

My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.

What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union. I shall do less whenever I shall believe what I am doing hurts the cause, and I shall do more whenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause.

I shall try to correct errors when shown to be errors; and I shall adopt new views so fast as they shall appear to be true views. I have here stated my purpose according to my view of official duty; and I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men everywhere could be free."

Greeley replied to this, once again critically, charging Lincoln to consider whether his domestic policies, as President, were following the law or rising above it.

What is clear to me is that Lincoln was opposed to slavery, but not to a degree that he would have wanted a war to end it. He perhaps saw slavery as his personal justification for a war that had already begun. The war greatly disturbed Lincoln to the point of near madness; in that, I pity him.

He abused his powers domestically by eliminating Habeas Corpus, among many other things, but I don't believe he was purposely usurping power; rather, I think he was simply unqualified and unconditioned to hold his office during the war.

I don't despise Abraham Lincoln; rather, I see him as a greatly fabled man, too caught up in matters beyond his control.

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