A Great Suggestion

Here is Texas A & M History Professor Walter D. Kamphoefner’s letter to the editor in the Houston Chronicle this morning. I reprint here in full.

Regarding “Rename Dowling” (Page B8, Wednesday), renaming Dowling Street is a good idea: Instead of commemorating an Irish immigrant’s personal bravery for a dubious cause, why not commemorate a German political refugee’s personal bravery in an admirable cause? Edward Degener came to Texas after the failed democratic Revolution of 1848, which he had supported as a delegate to the National Assembly in Frankfort on the Main. Settling on a Hill Country farm near Sisterdale, he was elected as a national delegate by a convention of antislavery Germans at San Antonio in 1854.

Degener lost two sons at the Battle of the Nueces/Nueces Massacre (it was both), in 1862 when a band of Unionists attempted to reach the North via Mexico. Degener himself was tried for disloyalty before the Confederate Military Commission and required to post $5,000 bond to obtain his release from imprisonment. He was the featured speaker when the bones of the Nueces martyrs were brought back to Comfort for burial after the war. Degener served in both the 1866 and 1868-69 Texas Constitutional conventions, after which he was elected to one term in the U.S. Congress; thereafter he served on the San Antonio city council from 1872 until 1878. Edward Degener was one of the first three Republicans elected to Congress from Texas, but to this day there is no school or street or road named for him in the entire Lone Star State. It’s about time.

In Defense of Political Correctness

In Charleston, South Carolina, yesterday, President Obama spoke at Rev. Clementa Pinckney’s funeral and in the course of his address,  and said this:

“For too long, we were blind to the pain that the Confederate Flag stirred into many of our citizens.


It’s true a flag did not cause these murders. But as people from all walks of life, Republicans and Democrats, now acknowledge, including Governor Haley, whose recent eloquence on the subject is worthy of praise…


… as we all have to acknowledge, the flag has always represented more than just ancestral pride.


For many, black and white, that flag was a reminder of systemic oppression…


… and racial subjugation.


We see that now.

Removing the flag from this state’s capital would not be an act of political correctness. It would not an insult to the valor of Confederate soldiers. It would simply be acknowledgement that the cause for which they fought, the cause of slavery, was wrong.”

That strikes me as exactly right. I sometimes hear that to remove the Confederate flag from public places, or to change the names of schools named after Confederate generals/leaders, or to rename military bases, is being “politically correct.” But, really, for those who take that stance, do you really believe that politics, or certain assumptions about race, or the way the world works more generally, was absent from these – wait for it, political – decisions to begin with? I think not, and as our society, thankfully, has come to see more and more clearly what the Confederacy stood for, values that we should emphatically reject, it is not only politically correct to remove Confederate flags to make these symbolic changes, it is morally correct to do so.

Defending Lincoln from the Distortions of His Enemies: From Switzerland

This is an email I received from today, from David Navarro, and posted with his permission:

Hello Sir,

My name is David Navarro and I’m a law student in Switzerland. Although I don’t live in the United States I have many relatives there and made long-sojourn trips in this country. I also have a great interest in American issues and one of them being the Civil War.
I have stumbled upon your website “Loathing Lincoln” while checking the Civil War Blogs List from the Dead Confederates blog and the first post I read was on the debate you watched on CNN and how Lincoln was being quoted in a deceptive way.
I wrote on the comment section of Andy Hall’s DC blog a very lengthy post regarding a column from Walter E. Williams which not only grossly inflated the share of the South in Federal Revenues but also misquoted Lincoln. I would like you to read and comment if I got things right or not.
Here’s my message:
“Hello Mr. Hall,

I would like to come back again to the column, more precisely on its paragraphs regarding Lincoln’s stance on Blacks and slavery.

He first refers to an “1858 letter” where the then local politician affirmed: “I have declared a thousand times, and now repeat that, in my opinion, neither the General Government, nor any other power outside of the slave states, can constitutionally or rightfully interfere with slaves or slavery where it already exists.” 

However a full reading reveals Lincoln’s more complex position. In fact he affirms he will not interfere with slavery as it exists in slave states but he also states that preventing the expansion of the practice into the Territories will ultimately lead to its extinction: “I have declared a thousand times, and now repeat that, in my opinion, neither the General Government, nor any other power outside of the slave states, can constitutionally or rightfully interfere with slaves or slavery where it already exists. I believe that whenever the effort to spread slavery into the new teritories, by whatever means, and into the free states themselves, by Supreme court decisions, shall be fairly headed off, the institution will then be in course of ultimate extinction” (Letter to John L. Scripps, June 23 1858)

Williams talks about the July 17 1858 speech in Springfield, Illinois where Lincoln declared: “My declarations upon this subject of negro slavery may be misrepresented, but can not be misunderstood. I have said that I do not understand the Declaration (of Independence) to mean that all men were created equal in all respects

Actually Lincoln was explicitly opposing Stephen Douglas’ position that Blacks were not included the Declaration of Independence when it stated that all men are created equal ! The full sentence is: “My declarations upon this subject of Negro slavery may be misrepresented, but cannot be misunderstood, I have said that I do not understand the Declaration to mean that all men are created equal in all respects. They are not our equal in color; but I suppose that it does mean that all men are equal in some respects; they are equal in their right to ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’ Certainly the Negro is not our equal in color–perhaps not in many other respects; still, in the right to put into his mouth the bread that his own hands have earned, he is the equal of every other man, white or black.

Finally Williams refers to Lincoln saying during his fourth debate with Stephen Douglas : “I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.” This is probably one of the best known quote of Lincoln and has been used endlessly for various political purposes. Either for people to declare him a “white supremacist” or for Southrons Trademark to declare him one of their own in segregating Blacks.

Both sides seems to have forgotten that Lincoln made a very similar remark in his first debate with a clarification throwing another light on his thought: “I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and the black races. There is a physical difference between the two, which, in my judgment, will probably forever forbid their living together upon the footing of perfect equality, and inasmuch as it becomes a necessity that there must be a difference, I, as well as Judge Douglas, am in favor of the race to which I belong having the superior position. I have never said anything to the contrary, but I hold that, notwithstanding all this, there is no reason in the world why the negro is not entitled to all the natural rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence, the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I hold that he is as much entitled to these as the white man. I agree with Judge Douglas he is not my equal in many respects-certainly not in color, perhaps not in moral or intellectual endowment. But in the right to eat the bread, without the leave of anybody else, which his own hand earns, he is my equal and the equal of Judge Douglas, and the equal of every living man.

Amusingly Lincoln’s opponent didn’t take him seriously, seeing his statement as rhetorical shenanigan which contradicted an earlier speech from him: “You know that in his Charleston speech, an extract from which he has read, he declared that the negro belongs to an inferior race; is physically inferior to the white man, and should always be kept in an inferior position. I will now read to you what he said at Chicago on that point. In concluding his speech at that place, he remarked: “My friends, I have detained you about as long as I desire to do, and I have only to say let us discard all this quibbling about this man and the other man-this race and that race, and the other race being inferior, and therefore they must be placed in an inferior position, discarding our standard that we have left us. Let us discard all these things, and unite as one people throughout this land until we shall once more stand up declaring that all men are created equal.” Thus you see, that when addressing the Chicago Abolitionists he declared that all distinctions of race must be discarded and blotted out, because the negro stood on an equal footing with the white man; that if one man said the Declaration of Independence did not mean a negro when it declared all men created equal, that another man would say that it did not mean another man; and hence we ought to discard all difference between the negro race and all other races, and declare them all created equal.” (Stephen Douglas, sixth debate)

After such a tedious reading I reassure you I will not delve deeper regarding the quotations. I will simply conclude that given the misleading and deceptive ways the earlier statements were quoted not much is to be hoped about the others. However I don’t think Dr. Williams deliberately falsified them. As he made it clear in his article he took them from an intermediary – and hostile – source without reading the originals.”

I’m looking forward to read your book !

Lincoln Equivalent to Alexander Stephens? Of Course!

On CNN yesterday, there was a “debate” between Gordon Rhea and a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV). Unfortunately I cannot find the video. But, there was one point in their discussion when excerpts from Alexander Stephens “Cornerstone Speech” was read aloud:

“Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”

The SCV representative (I think his name was Dan Coleman) did not respond by saying that he disagreed with Stephens. NO, instead, he claimed Abraham Lincoln believed exactly the same thing, citing, as Lincoln’s enemies always do, his quotes on race from the Lincoln-Douglas Debates. This is a common tactic of Lincoln’s enemies, as I wrote about in Loathing Lincoln (page 292):

“These critics defended secession as an antislavery strategy in order to ennoble their own antigovernment cause, and discrediting Lincoln was a key element in that endeavor. As part of this effort, they claimed the president had no real commitment to racial equality. . . .  [John Remington] Graham argued that Lincoln, in his 1854 Peoria address, had “articulated the same basic thought” as Alexander Stephens, who believed that blacks were inferior to whites. Less emphasized, however, was the letter Lincoln wrote to Stephens in December 1860, in which the president-elect said, “You think slavery is right and ought to be extended; while we think it is wrong and ought to be restricted.” To be sure, Lincoln denied in his Peoria speech that the black man was equal to the white man, but Graham for one left unmentioned that in the same speech Lincoln had argued that the issue was irrelevant: “If the negro is a man, is it not . . . a total destruction of self-government to say that he shall not govern himself? When the white man governs himself that is self-government; but when he governs another man, that is more than self-government—that is despotism. . . . there can be no moral right in connection with one man’s making a slave of another.” To say the least, this was not a viewpoint with which few, if any white, southern slaveholders would have concurred. It was a tactic of distortion by omission all too characteristic of those who sought to tarnish Lincoln’s reputation by whatever means available. But the point was not historical accuracy. Rather, it was to demonstrate for their audiences that neither secession nor the war was about slavery and that Lincoln had no commitment to racial justice; therefore the president must have had another agenda in mind.”

I wrote about the distortion of Lincoln’s utterances very early in this blog, and I reproduce it here:

1. Here is Abraham Lincoln to Michael Hahn (all italicized words are my emphasis):

Private Executive Mansion, Hon. Michael Hahn Washington, My dear Sir: March 13. 1864.

I congratulate you on having fixed your name in history as the first-free-state Governor of Louisiana. Now you are about to have a Convention which, among other things, will probably define the elective franchise. I barely suggest for your private consideration, whether some of the colored people may not be let in—as, for instance, the very intelligent, and especially those who have fought gallantly in our ranks. They would probably help, in some trying time to come, to keep the jewel of liberty within the family of freedom. But this is only a suggestion, not to the public, but to you alone. Yours truly A. LINCOLN

2. Here is Abraham Lincoln writing about Owen Lovejoy, perhaps one of the most radical members of Congress.

Hon. John H Bryant Executive Mansion, My dear Sir. Washington, May 30, 1864.

Yours of the 14th. Inst. inclosing a card of invitation to a preliminary meeting contemplating the erection of a Monument to the memory of Hon. Owen Lovejoy, was duly received.

As you anticipate, it will be out of my power to attend. Many of you have known Mr. Lovejoy longer than I have, and are better able than I to do his memory complete justice. My personal acquaintance with him commenced only about ten years ago, since when it has been quite intimate; and every step in it has been one of increasing respect and esteem, ending, with his life, in no less than affection on my part. It can be truly said of him that while he was personally ambitious, he bravely endured the obscurity which the unpopularity of his principles imposed, and never accepted official honors, until those honors were ready to admit his principles with him. Throughout my heavy, and perplexing responsibilities here, to the day of his death, it would scarcely wrong any other to say, he was my most generous friend. Let him have the marble monument, along with the well-assured and more enduring one in the hearts of those who love liberty, unselfishly, for all men. Yours truly A. LINCOLN

3. Here is Abraham Lincoln delivering a speech to the “One Hundred Sixty-Fourth Ohio Regiment”:

“SOLDIERS – You are about to return to your homes and your friends, after having, as I learn, performed in camp a comparitively short term of duty in this great contest. I am greatly obliged to you, and to all who have come forward at the call of their country. I wish it might be more generally and universally understood what the country is now engaged in. We have, as all will agree, a free Government, where every man has a right to be equal with every other man. In this great struggle, this form of Government and every form of human right is endangered if our enemies succeed.”

You can find all of these in the Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln. Sadly, these types of remarks are far less quoted by the president’s critics than those which they believe reflect poorly on him. I wonder why that is?