A review of Lincoln on Race and Slavery, edited by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (Princeton University Press, 2009).
Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is a writer, economist, filmmaker, and Harvard professor who has come under fire recent years for some of his more controversial opinions. In 2010, he wrote an op-ed for the New York Times called “Ending the Slavery Blame-Game,” which pointed out African involvement in the Atlantic Slave Trade. Being a person of color himself, Gates’ opinions drew a lot of criticism, but the points he makes are fascinating. He pointed out that the system could not have existed without “complex business partnerships” between Africans and Europeans. He also remarked that advocates of reparations, rather than look at truth or facts, believe in a “romanticized version that our ancestors were all kidnapped unawares by evil white men, like Kunta Kinte was in ‘Roots.’” Sadly, comments like these have endangered the jobs of Southern professors.
In 2015, Gates received more negative press in response to his genealogy show Finding Your Roots on PBS, after he hosted Ben Affleck. Apparently, Gates discovered some ancestors of Affleck’s that owned slaves, and Affleck requested the information to remain confidential. The whole situation came to light after emails between Gates and Sony were leaked by hackers.
Despite these controversies, Gates is still considered one of the premier scholars on the African American experience, and his writings on race and economics are widely read in college classes. His work, Lincoln on Race and Slavery, is not a book on Lincoln, rather a collection of Lincoln’s speeches and writings, with extensive notes, commentary, and a sixty-eight page introduction by Gates.
The introduction by Gates is worth the price of the book alone, simply for his unique perspective on Lincoln. At first, Gates comes across as critical of Lincoln - the colonization plans, the extensive use of the “N” word, and Lincoln’s often conflicting statements about white and black equality - but ultimately winds up defending Lincoln in a very interesting piece that almost comes across as Gates arguing with himself.
This book would prove to be useful for anyone looking to track Lincoln’s thought process throughout his career. Most importantly, it shows how Lincoln was able to effectively make the War Between the States “about” slavery and race. By the end, however, it became clear this book serves to perpetuate the Lincoln myth.
An example might be how Gates depicts the use and assessment of black troops in the war. Gates noted an Abbeville Institute associate and stated that: “The pioneering research of Earl James reveals that some slaves bore arms, and some free Negroes in the South actually enlisted and fought in the Confederate Army, as Frederick Douglass as early as 1861 warned Lincoln they would do, in an attempt to persuade Lincoln to authorize the use of black men as soldiers.” But Gates himself did not present one piece of research or commentary on such Southern blacks.
On the other hand, black Union soldiers were discussed at length and frequently referred to as Lincoln’s “warriors.” Gates clearly shows that Lincoln needed black soldiers to help his war effort and showed that even after the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln still would not regard blacks as completely equal:
“Despite his declarations of support for the colored troops, it must be noted, Lincoln nevertheless refused to intervene to ensure their equal pay with white troops, an issue that nearly caused a mutiny of all the black troops; indeed, several were executed for opposing unequal pay. Only after an eighteen-month campaign by the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Regiment and its supporters in Massachusetts did the government relent.”
Gates also correctly asserts that Lincoln pushed for colonization right up until his death, and describes how Lincoln always carried with a little black notebook around with him that contained newspaper clippings on colonization. This shows that Abraham Lincoln might have considered the various arguments regarding colonization, but probably never considered the issue a moral one.
In fact, Lincoln was constantly working to manipulate perceptions about slavery. Frederick Douglass, who Gates uses as an example, even pointed out that Lincoln blamed black people for the war and then tried to remove them through colonization. Douglass also referred to Lincoln emphatically as a white man’s president and felt that blacks were Lincoln’s “step-children” at best. Gates himself stated that Lincoln “held out hope that the blacks would realize, sooner or later, that colonization was in their own best long term interest.”
How should we remember Lincoln’s flirtation with the idea of colonization? Gates argues that even if Lincoln worked up to his death for colonization, it “would not sully his reputation in any meaningful way,” especially “if we judge him by nineteenth-century standards, and when we recall how very far Lincoln had come in his thinking about race and the abolition of slavery…” So according to Gates, Lincoln deserves no criticism for his colonization scheme because his ideas about race evolved over time.
Lincoln was also selective of the black people he deemed worthy of equality. Gates compares Lincoln’s ideas to W.E.B. DuBois’ “Talented Tenth,” and stated that Lincoln “abstracted from the large mass of black people, slave and free, a much smaller subgroup, an elite within a nation-within-a-nation, one comprising two distinct parts: those who had demonstrated their capacity to be valiant in war - those who were physically superior, we might say - and those, like Frederick Douglass, who were intellectually superior. These were the natural aristocrats of the race, that signal core group upon whom Lincoln eventually became willing to confer the perquisites of American citizenship.” In other words, Lincoln preferred blacks that he deemed intelligent or capable in battle, and did not necessarily want equality for the rest.
Page after page, Gates seemingly works to break down the Lincoln myth, but then completely reverses and forms his essay almost into an apologia: “We can do Lincoln no greater service than to walk that path with him, and we can do him no greater disservice than to whitewash it, seeking to give ourselves an odd form of comfort by pretending that he was even one whit less complicated than he actually was.” Wow, so we might be able to understand Lincoln better by looking at him objectively? Thanks Henry Louis Gates, we had no idea.
This is exactly how the gatekeepers work. They typically will acknowledge that Lincoln was a tyrant or dictator, but then use sophistry to explain away or justify his actions.
Gates goes on to commit his own disservice by whitewashing Lincoln and argues that: “I believe the most radical thing that Abraham Lincoln did...was his invocation of [The Declaration of Independence’s] opening line unequivocally on behalf of African Americans in a public debate well before the Civil War, and his insistence upon the inclusion of blacks in that definition consistently through his presidency.”
These ideas are downright misleading. Lincoln was not the first politician to question the moral dilemma of slavery and equality, as many Southerners also objected to the implications of slavery early on. George Washington, for example, wrote a letter to Robert Morris in 1786 that expressed a desire for a plan to abolish slavery. Later the same year, Washington wrote to John F. Mercer of Maryland and stated “I never mean, unless some particular circumstance should compel me to it, to possess another slave by purchase; it being among my first wishes to see some plan adopted by which slavery in this country may be abolished by law.”
Another lesser known Southerner, Richard Mentor Johnson of Kentucky, openly kept a slave as his common law wife during the Jacksonian era. Johnson was a senator and the ninth Vice President of the United States, and clearly had a different view on equality from Lincoln, who stated in 1857 that “there is a natural disgust in the minds of nearly all white people, to the idea of an indiscriminate amalgamation of the white and black races.” There was also a strong anti-slavery movement in the South that was headed by people like Sarah and Angelina Grimke, who recognized the equality of the black race and fought to change things.
Ultimately, Lincoln on Race and Slavery does not present many new ideas on Lincoln. It’s also not a complete work on Lincoln and race, in my opinion, because it does not take an opportunity to research how Lincoln viewed another race - the Native Americans. Many people often overlook that Lincoln fought small wars against the Dakota and the Sioux in 1862 that led to many natives being forced into internment camps, while some were executed.
As far as Lincoln on the issue of slavery, this book will provide ammunition for those looking to deconstruct the man. In recent years, not even Lincoln monuments have been safe from vandals. Many Americans are waking up from the dream that is American exceptionalism and the Lincoln myth. Maybe sharing and discussing works like this can help this movement reach its apogee.
There is a dichotomy to how people view Jesse James. While some have viewed him as a murdering thief, others have argued that he was like a modern-day Robin Hood. To really understand the man requires an examination of his life and an honest analysis of the events that shaped him in Missouri.
Who was Jesse James?
Jesse James was born in Missouri on September 5 1847, just seven years before the Kansas-Nebraska act of 1854. His father, Robert James, was a Baptist pastor and died when Jesse was just three years old. Robert was a man of learning and left behind fifty-one books in his will that dealt with math, chemistry, theology, astronomy, grammar, Latin, Greek, public speaking, philosophy, history, literature, and other subjects. By 1850, Robert James outright owned 275 acres of land and had also helped found William Jewell College. The James farm had 30 sheep, 6 cattle, 3 horses, a yoke of oxen, and 7 slaves. These facts show that Jesse James was not some backwoods yokel lacking a good upbringing, but was fairly well educated knew right from wrong.
In fact, Jesse’s older brother Frank loved reading and quoting Shakespeare, while Jesse preferred to read and quote the Bible. Jesse was known to sing in the choir and was reputed to have always treated women in a gentlemanly fashion. Some accounts say he did not drink alcohol or use bad language, and was noted for his extremely loyal to kith and kin.
How Missouri and "Bleeding" Kansas Shaped Him
The violence in Missouri and Kansas before and after the War Between the States was an important part of Jesse’s development. After the Kansas and Nebraska Acts of 1854, various groups labeled Free Soilers, Jayhawkers, Red Legs, Radical Republicans, and Abolitionists flooded the border of Kansas and Missouri with the goal of disrupting the national balance of power in favor of the “free states.” Their initial goal was to prevent any Southern people from entering Kansas, but they also went on raids in Missouri to attack Southerners and take their property. Any Southerners from Missouri that traveled to retrieve their stolen goods in Kansas were promptly killed.
Even though Southerners are typically labeled “border ruffians” during this period in most popular histories, it was the Northern groups in Kansas that took the violence to another level and mutilated men from the pro-Southern camps. John Brown’s actions at the Pottawatomie massacre are just one example of the barbarous acts committed by these radical abolitionists.
When the first elections in Kansas Territory were held in 1855, the results were overwhelmingly pro-slavery. The free state settlers refused to accept this and held their own elections, having even set up their own legislatures by 1856. They then started building abolitionist newspapers and a massive military fortification known as “The Free State Hotel.”
President Franklin Pierce reasoned this free-state legislature unlawful and called for arrests. A group of abolitionists attempted to assassinate a sheriff in Lawrence, Kansas to prevent these arrests. In response, Federal Marshall Israel B. Donaldson led a posse of hundreds of Southerners into Lawrence, where they destroyed the newspapers and “Free State Hotel.” No abolitionists were killed during this event.
The Democratic Platform, a newspaper from the time, printed the following in response to the border violence:
“Kansas must be a slave state if half the citizens of Missouri had to emigrate there with musket in hand, prepared to die for the cause. Shall we allow such cutthroats and murderers to settle in the territory joining our own state? No, if popular opinion will not keep them back, we should see what virtue there is in the favor of our arms.”
The idea of “Bleeding Kansas” usually conjures up images of political cartoons with slavery being forced down the throat of free soilers. But these ideas are misleading, and the free soilers were more opposed to competition for white labor than they were about the morality of slavery. The Republican Platform of 1856 is also ample evidence that the North intended to overturn the elections of Kansas and keep it open exclusively to free whites.
Southerners who rushed to arms were merely defending their own homes, and Union sources from the time prove this. Major A.V.E. Johnson of the 39th Missouri’s federal troops declared that he would “devastate the country and leave the habitations of Southern men not one stone upon another” and that “extermination in fact was what they [Southerners] all need.”
Kansas Senator James Henry Lane, who went on to be a Union general, said: “Missourians are wolves, snakes, devils, and damn their souls - I want to see them cast into a burning hell. We believe in a war of extermination. There is no such thing as Union men in the border of Missouri. I want to see every foot of ground in Jackson, Cass, and Bates Counties in Missouri burned over and everything laid waste.” Lane also wrote George B. McCLellan and proposed that any disloyal white rebels could have had their lands taken and given to loyal blacks.
James during the War Between the States and Reconstruction
By June 1861, federal troops under Nathaniel Lyon captured Jefferson City, ejected the lawfully elected officials, and set up a military government. James’ family maintained strong Southern sympathies and his brother Frank joined the Confederate ranks early on in 1861. Frank fought at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek and later returned home because of illness.
The legend holds that in May of 1863, Jesse was at his plow when Union men came searching for information about Confederate forces. The soldiers attacked Jesse and partially hanged his stepfather, Dr. Reuben Samuel, several times from a tree. At the end of this encounter Jesse was badly beaten, his mother was thrown in jail, and his stepfather was inflicted with serious brain damage.
Jesse then went on to join the Confederate guerrillas and participated in several violent, effective raids against Union forces. Confederate guerrillas were so successful that Union general Thomas Ewing issued two proclamations to try and stop them. His General Order 10 made it a crime punishable by death to aid Confederate soldiers, and General Order 11 stated all Missourians within certain counties had to report to Union camps or leave the state. The chaos which ensued was captured in a famous painting by George Caleb Bingham, who served in the Union army and vehemently disagreed with Ewing:
Acts like these actually resulted in greater sympathies for Confederates. George Caleb Bingham described the Union soldiers as having actually killed men in the act of obeying the General Orders and stealing their effects from wagons. Southerners were massacred and even children were shot in the arms of their families.
Sadly, the murder and theft that happened as a result of General Order 11 was not an isolated incident and these savage acts had been perpetrated against Southerners since 1854. One Red Leg officer described the destruction by saying his men burned 110 houses, worth about $20,000 each. And that was just one group of Union soldiers, causing what would be (in today’s dollars) tens of millions of dollars worth of property damage.
At the end of the war, Jesse was shot while attempting to surrender and spent some time trying to recover. He eventually returned home and tried farming, but the new bayonet government complicated things. A Senator from Missouri, Charles Drake, drafted a new state constitution. Under the Drake constitution, former Confederates were disenfranchised, former slaves were given the right to vote, and segregated public schools were created. It also held that a new “Ironclad Oath” would be instituted to keep only Union loyalists as judges, teachers, lawyers, and pastors.
Hundreds of state officials were purged from their posts, and radicals jailed justices that declared Drake’s actions unconstitutional. Some sources show that in 1866, some 4,000 Southerners were killed in Southwest Missouri. By 1867, former Confederate guerrillas were basically wanted dead or alive. Jesse and his gang resorted to robbery because the Union’s military government had made an honest living impossible.
Jesse James’ early robberies were all small, and he was first mentioned in a newspaper after the robbery of Daviess County Savings Bank in Gallatin, Missouri. Jesse reportedly thought the bank’s cashier was the Union soldier that had killed Confederate “Bloody Bill” Anderson, so Jesse shot him. This was seen as an act of vengeance in the public eye and built on the James’ already prominent reputation. The James gang worked with other groups to commit 25 robberies and 25 murders, but not all of these are directly attributed to Frank and Jesse.
The Reason Jesse James is not a Robin Hood
Jesse James has been compared to Robin Hood since about 1870 when James originally started writing John Newman Edwards, the editor of the Kansas City Times. John Edwards was a Confederate sympathizer, and Jesse wrote him many letters defending the James gang’s actions and declaring their innocence. Edwards began portraying James as a Robin Hood figure, but the comparison has been perpetuated by famous American writers like Carl Sandburg.
The fact is that Robin Hood is a myth, and Jesse James was very real. Comparing James to a fictional character takes away from the complex history that shaped him. There’s no evidence to show that James distributed any of his loot to the poor. However there are some claims that he would not rob former Confederates, and some papers defended his actions as honest. For example, the Lexington Caucasian newspaper on December 12, 1874 defended Jesse James’ gang after a robbery by saying:
“The funds seized by the bandits were just as honestly earned as the riches of many a highly distinguished political leader and the railroad job manipulator.”
These various interpretations make James more difficult to categorize. He was not some common criminal or Robin Hood, but more of a “outlaw” or “vigilante,” both of which had different meanings than they do today.
Being a vigilante in James’ day legally meant the creation and enforcement of laws by organized extra-legal groups in the absence of law enforcement. Vigilantism basically started with the Regulator movement in the pre-Revolutionary backcountry of the Carolinas. Just as the Regulators took the law into their own hands when the British Royal Government would not protect them, so too did Jesse James when Union soldiers plundered his homeland. Clearly, this type of vigilante is not the same image we see depicted today in movies like Death Wish, where vigilantes indiscriminately kill criminals despite capable law enforcement.
Interestingly, Webster’s definition of outlaw in 1828 was “A person excluded from the benefit of the law or deprived of its protection.” James, as a Southerner and Missourian growing up in his day, had been basically on the run from federals since his teens and was never protected by the law. In 1875, Pinkerton agents allegedly firebombed the James family home. The explosion blew off the arm of Jesse’s mom and killed his half brother. All of these factors show that Jesse James was not just an “outlaw,” but someone that the government conspired against and never deemed worthy of a fair trial.
By this definition of the word, Southerners are technically outlaws right now because we are deprived and excluded from the protection of the law when our monuments and history are allowed to be illegally torn down. The way people interpret history is becoming too complicated and, ultimately, it is irresponsible and intellectually lazy to refer to Jesse James as a Robin Hood figure. If the critics and fans of James took the time to investigate his motivations, it would be clear that Northern and Union depredations made James into the “outlaw” he was. Had the federal government not perpetuated lawlessness and violence in Missouri for two decades, Jesse might have grown up to be a completely different person.
Anyone with a basic understanding of our history knows that the northern states (particularly New England) have felt the need to impose their beliefs on all Americans from the early days of this nation. Education is no different. Going back even to 1642, the state of Massachusetts (knowing better than individual families) passed the first “Compulsory Education” law. This mandated that parents and masters had to instruct children in reading, religion, and the capital laws. Five years later, they passed the “Old Deluder” (a reference to Satan) School Law. This required towns of 50 householders to provide education in reading and writing. Towns with over 100 householders had to establish a grammar school. While this remained a northern method of education, the public school movement became nationwide between the years of 1830-1860. Even the first textbook came from the north. The New England Primer, pictured above, taught children letters and basic grammar using stories from The Bible.
In true Yankee know-it-all fashion, Horace Mann (Secretary of the Massachusetts Board of Education and public school propagandist) declared in his 1848 Twelfth Annual Report on education: “The Common School, improved and energized, as it can easily be, may become the most effective and benignant of all forces of civilization.” For many years, Horace Mann had been bragging about the messianic power of tax-supported, nationwide public schools. The truth is that this propaganda is typical of northerners and was simply a mask for intolerance. Many Americans were upset by cultural changes during the mid nineteenth century. Urbanization, industrialization, and immigration (particularly of Roman Catholics) worried many proponents of public schooling.
The same “reformers” that touted the power of public schools also feared private schools would sabotage the goals of the public school movement. Private schools became labeled as divisive, non-democratic, and hostile to the public needs. By the 1860s, the once blurry line between public and private schools became more visible. Driven mostly by anti-Catholicism, the northern states of Michigan (1835), New Hampshire (1848), Ohio (1851), Massachusetts (1855), Illinois (1855), California (1855) and New Jersey (1866) terminated government funding of private schools by statute or constitutional provision. Public schooling was becoming more prevalent, especially after the “Civil War.” For example in 1850, out of over sixteen million dollars spent on schools and colleges, only forty seven percent came from the public. By 1870 however, public school spending soared to over ninety-five million, with sixty-five percent coming from the public purse. By the late 1800s, many academies and private schools that did not transform into public schools had to shut down, or re-establish themselves as colleges or elite boarding schools.
The difference in educational philosophies of the north and south were drastic. From the beginning, in the 17th century, the education in the south centered around the Church of England. Schools, libraries, and missions were established throughout the South by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, a branch of the Church of England. Southern indentured servants and even orphans bound to apprenticeship were legally owed an education in reading, writing, and arithmetic. After the American Revolution, education became primarily the responsibility of private individuals in the South. As a result, private academies became extremely popular—with more than two hundred in Virginia, more than one hundred in Georgia (where they were supported by state funds), and ninety in Arkansas. The southern schools focused on classical and humanistic learning and represented many different religions. Most of the agitation for free public schooling was based on the fact that private academies did not attract poor settlers who could not pay fees.
What many agitators of the public school movement did not consider was that Horace Mann was successful because he was working in the industrial north, which was far different than the agricultural south that preferred the traditional forms of schooling. The “Civil War” led to the ruin of the south, and its private academy system. State controlled systems, for black and white children, now became the norm throughout the South. During the reconstruction years, one historian notes, that southern state treasuries were robbed “of more than three hundred million and did nothing for education, either state or private, beyond repeated discussions of the advisability of mixing white and negro children in the public schools.” This would be the death of quality education, not just in the south, but in America. The new goal of education in America was not to produce citizens nor good men; instead, the goal became to produce graduates, workers, and consumers.
Many Americans, southerners in particular, were opposed to the public school movement early on. Robert Lewis Dabney was one such southerner. Dabney was a theologian and Southern Presbyterian who accurately predicted many of the problems we are facing with public schools today. For example, he advocated homeschooling far before it became a popular alternative to public schools. Before compulsory education laws were issued nationwide, he predicted that mandatory and government-funded education would lead to more crime and lower academic achievement. Consider the following quote by Dabney on the poor track record of government education:
“The northern states of the union had previously to the war all adopted the system of universal state schools, and the southern states had not. In 1850, the former had thirteen and a half millions of people and twenty three thousand six hundred and sixty four (23,664) criminal convictions. The South (without state schools) had nine and a half millions, and two thousand nine hundred and twenty one (2,921) criminal convictions—that is to say, after allowing for the difference in population, the ‘educated’ masses were something more than six times more criminal as the ‘uneducated.’ That same year, the North was supporting 114,000 paupers and the South 20,500. The ‘unintelligent’ South was something more than four times as well qualified to provide for its own subsistence than the ‘intelligent North’! But Massachusetts is the native home of the public school in America…in the South, state schoolhouses were unknown, and consequently jails and penitentiaries were on the most confined and humble scale. The North is studded over with grand and costly public school houses and her jails are even more palatial in extent and more numerous than they.”
Anyone with experience in the public schools would have a tough time disproving Dabney’s prophecies. Another historian has even stated that Dabney predicted the recent emergence of Goals and Outcome Based Education when he declared that government education “would inevitably lead to an unholy alliance between unions interested in power, textbook manufacturers desirous of a monopoly share of the industry at taxpayer expense, and special interest groups hoping to foist their intellectual anarchy on the children of the nation.” Probably the worst part of all this change is that the spiritual element has been completely removed from schools, seemingly with malice. If we are “one nation, under God” then why is it wrong to pray or practice religion in schools? The fact is, in Dabney’s day, it was both patriotic and common sense to blend faith and education. Moral and social learning went hand-in-hand, and many parents did not really consider education without Christian influences. Human beings are, by nature, spiritual beings. In my opinion, the north and big government may have succeeded in making public schools and minds more secular, but as long as parents are able to direct their children’s lives I have FAITH the south will remain as spiritual as ever.
Michael Martin is a teacher and historian residing in Charleston, South Carolina. He is the author of Southern Grit: Sensing the Siege of Petersburg and his work has been published on The Abbeville Institute, The Imaginative Conservative, and Dixie Heritage. His goal is to shatter the paradigm of centralization and show the world what the Southern Tradition has to offer.