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New book sheds new light on Lincoln's racial views

Associated Press | 3/16/2011, 5:07 a.m.

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.

Lincoln is the not the only president whose views on race relations and slavery were more complex and less idealistic than children’s storybook histories suggest. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were both slaveholders despite misgivings. Washington freed his slaves when he died.

“Washington, because he wanted to keep the union, knew he had to ignore the slavery problem because it would have torn the country apart, said James Rees, director of Washington’s Mount Vernon estate.

“It’s tempting to wish he had tried. The nation had more chance of dealing with slavery with Washington than with anyone else,” Rees said, noting the esteem in which Washington was held in both the North and the South.

Magness said views on Lincoln can be strongly held and often divergent. He noted that people have sought to use Lincoln's legacy to support all manner of political policy agendas since the day he was assassinated. And nobody can claim definitive knowledge of Lincoln’s own views, especially on a topic as complex as race relations.

“He never had a chance to complete his vision. Lincoln’s racial views were evolving at the time of his death,” Magness said.

Associated Press