Lincoln’s record endures
12/5/2012, 8:26 a.m.
Lincoln’s record endures
Historians consider Abraham Lincoln to be one of the nation’s most outstanding presidents. During his administration the very union was challenged and the nation fought a bloody Civil War. The United States also had to decide whether or not it was going to tolerate slavery.
Older generations of African Americans revered Lincoln as the president who ended slavery. Consequently, wherever they could vote, blacks became loyal members of the Republican Party, the party of Lincoln. It was not until 1933 that the dynamic leadership of Franklin Delano Roosevelt inspired major defections of blacks to the Democrats.
Lincoln was assassinated on April 15, 1865, less than three months after the 13th Amendment ending slavery everywhere in the U.S. was passed by the House on Jan. 31. Blacks’ loyalty to Lincoln survived for 65 years after his death despite Jim Crow, lynching and racial oppression. However, with the emergence of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s, blacks became more critical of Lincoln’s attitudes that were deemed to be racist, despite his leadership to end slavery.
From the perspective of 2012 America, it is impossible to understand with clarity the mindset of those in Lincoln’s era. However, the new film “Lincoln” recreates the ambience of that time. One of the most shocking scenes in the film was the absolute outrage in the House of Representatives to the suggestion that women might be permitted to vote. Female suffrage did not occur for 55 years from then until passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920.
If the mothers, wives and daughters of those in power are excluded from the democratic process, there was certainly no immediate plan for the participation of blacks. Nonetheless, it was still considered to be morally reprehensible for one human being to own another. Great Britain had acknowledged this tenet of civilized conduct by passing the British Slavery Abolition Act of 1833. This undoubtedly influenced many Americans.
When Lincoln first came to the presidency in 1861, the Southern states were already considering withdrawal from the union. In February, South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas ratified the Confederate Constitution and seceded. The original seven states were later joined by Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee and North Carolina. The first shots of the Civil War were fired at Fort Sumter, S.C. on April 12.
Lincoln had hoped to avert warfare by assuring the Confederate states that local customs would be preserved by states’ rights. In his first Inaugural Address on March 4, 1861, Lincoln said, “I understand a proposed amendment to the Constitution … has passed Congress to the effect that the federal government shall never interfere with the domestic institutions of the states, including that of persons held to service. I have no objection to its being made express and irrevocable.”
Lincoln was a native of Illinois, a state that had abolished slavery by its constitution in 1818. Nonetheless, as a politician it was inadvisable for Lincoln to be branded as an abolitionist. With limited personal contact with slavery it was easier for him to tolerate the practice until he came to Washington, where he developed an abhorrence for slavery. By Sept. 22, 1862 he was quite ready to issue the Emancipation Proclamation that freed only those slaves living in the Confederacy as of Jan. 1, 1863.
With most blacks still in the South, the Emancipation Proclamation freed about 75 percent of the slaves. As efforts to end the war developed, Lincoln became concerned that his executive order based upon the constitutional war powers would not survive the armistice. He feared that lawsuits could revoke his executive order and reinstitute the legacy of slavery. Lincoln therefore pushed for adoption of the 13th Amendment that passed the Senate on April 8, 1864. With a forceful effort from the president it passed the House on Jan. 31, 1865.
The film “Lincoln” is essentially the story of that political battle.