There was an article yesterday in the Houston Chronicle about the state of Wyoming rejecting new science standards “mainly because of global warming components,” although apparently the teaching of evolution was also a concern. In and of itself, this did not strike me as peculiar, or unusual. But, the president of the Wyoming State Board of Education was quoted in the article as being hopeful that “we can’t get some standards that are Wyoming standards and standards we can all be proud of.” It was this remark that got me thinking about Lincoln’s enemies, who I believe have done their work all too well. In their ceaseless agitation for the right of secession, or resistance to federal authority, I think they have produced, at least indirectly, an atmosphere whereby entire states can with good conscience reject, or alter, the best science on offer for their students. I touched on this in the last chapter of my book:
“Attacking Lincoln was part of a long-term intellectual and manifestly political strategy to educate—or reeducate—the American public and reshape debate not only about Americans’ understanding of Lincoln but about their understanding of the means and ends of American democracy as well. Lincoln’s critics knew, as Lincoln himself stated in 1858, that ‘he who moulds public sentiment goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or pronounces decisions. He makes statutes and decisions possible or impossible to be executed.’ Two years earlier he had declared: ‘Our government rests in public opinion. Whoever can change public opinion can change the government.‘
Lincoln was exactly right, and his critics I think understand this today very well. As I also wrote in my last chapter:
“So, although Congressman Paul has correctly conceded that ‘no constitutional amendment will be passed to explicitly permit nullification or secession,’ he is nevertheless confident that ‘through a new relationship evolving out of current economic and political chaos, something approaching this goal is about to come.‘
The example of Wyoming, and I am sure it is not the only one readers of this blog can think of, makes one nearly lose hope over the possibilities of maintaining any sense of a national community in the face of such resistance. Nearly, but not entirely. One must “strive on,” as Lincoln once said, “to finish the work are in” to ensure that America remain “a Union of hearts and hands as well as of States.”
David Hayes-Bautista has done some excellent work on the nineteenth-century origins of Cinco de Mayo. Based on his work, and other pieces he has written (all parade banners and transalations below are from Bautista’s Latinos.Lincoln1 and Latinos.Lincoln.Obama2), I wrote this in my book about the relationship between Lincoln and the Republican Party, Latinos, and a broader understanding of liberty:
“In contrast to those with misgivings about the president and with an enthusiasm indicative of the breadth of Lincoln’s popularity, there was one group of people out west decisively in favor of Abraham Lincoln’s reelection. At the height of the 1864 campaign Lincoln found strong support among Latinos in California who directly linked voting for the president with opposing tyranny and larger ideas of liberty. In San Francisco a pro-Union club was established, while in one October parade various banners displayed pro-Lincoln, anti-French, and anti-Confederate viewpoints (Napoleon III had installed a client regime in Mexico under the emperor Maximilian). “Honest Abe is our man [Death to Maximilian]” was proudly exhibited on one sign, while another harshly declared “Maximiliano el usurpador – Davis el traidor” (Maximilian the usurper, [Jefferson] Davis the traitor). More significantly, one banner claimed, “Dios hizo el hombre y Lincoln lo declaró libre.” (God created man, and Lincoln declared him free). Such sentiments indicated that by 1864, if not much earlier, Abraham Lincoln and the Union cause were associated not only with the cause of expanding freedom for all in the United States but also as a fight for its broader definition outside the nation’s borders.”
So, today, keep this in mind as you celebrate Cinco de Mayo.
An excerpt from my book, Loathing Lincoln, was published this week in the preminent journal of Lincoln studies, the Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association (Winter, 2014). The piece is entitled “Holding Up a Flawed Mirror to the American Soul: Abraham Lincoln in the Writings of Lerone Bennett Jr.” The chief argument is as follows:
“The senior editor of Ebony magazine and the author of a landmark 1968 essay titled ‘Was Abe Lincoln a White Supremacist?’ (he answered in the affirmative), Bennett maintained that if by 1865 the Civil War had become a contest over whether American nationalism would remain based solely on white, male ethnicity or if it would be based upon something larger and more inclusive, it was vital for Americans to acknowledge that Lincoln was in the former camp and to drop the fiction that the so-called Great Emancipator belonged in the latter. Such a stance, ironically, served the cause of more conservative or libertarian critics of Lincoln who maintained that the sixteenth president was not all that interested in liberating the slaves and therefore must have had another agenda in mind: centralizing power in Washington, D.C., and asserting the power of the federal government over the states. Consequently, the idea that Bennett’s views were absurd and unworthy of serious attention entirely misses the point that his work on Lincoln did not remain cloistered within the African American community by migrated into venues that reached even larger audiences.”
The piece is from the fifth and sixth chapters of my book and it examines Bennett’s writings about Lincoln. It renders, I think, a fair but tough judgment on his work regarding Lincoln. My essay closes with this line, which is consistent with the article’s overall argument:
“For Lerone Bennett, whose writings indicated a belief that freedom and equality were inextricably linked and necessitated a strong federal government, and that because of a lack of consistent national commitment to racial equality there had never been a true Emancipation Proclamation in the United States, such a result must have been bittersweet indeed.”
If you do not subscribe to the Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association, you should. It contains excellent and up-to-date scholarship on Lincoln and is well worth the cost.
Sorry I haven’t posted lately, but it has been an extraordinarily busy week. I wanted to note some upcoming events for this month, all of which are excellent opportunities to discuss my book.
May 21, May 19, between 9:00 and 10:00 p.m. I’ll be interviewed on WPFT KPFT Radio (90.1 on the FM dial) by Egberto Willies on his “Politics Done Right” show. A few days later, on May 24, I’ll be in Chicago, the city where Lincoln was nominated by the Republican Party for the presidency. I’ll be doing a “virtual book signing” at the Abraham Lincoln Bookshop. Five days after that, on May 29, I’m going to be taping a segment on Houston’s “Red, White, and Blue” TV show, with Gary Polland, David Jones, and Linda Lorelle. Previous guests on this program have included former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, Houston Mayor Annise Parker, and Congressman Ted Poe. I’m not certain when this will go on air, but rest assured you’ll find out once I do. So, a busy month discussing Lincoln’s critics.