The following is a guest post on the blog from one of my students this past semester in History 1301 (Pre-Columbian America to 1877). Her name is Victoria Allums. Feel free to reply on the blog to her post. I’m sure Victoria will be more than happy to get back with you.
When I was in second grade, I understood Abraham Lincoln perfectly, – he was honest, he freed the slaves, and thanks to him our Union was preserved – and the only argument put forth about that was by a fellow second grader who claimed that Lincoln’s true virtue was the presence of the word “ham” in his first name. Years later, I realized that Lincoln was a politician and, like all politicians, had to balance his personal motives with what was popular or possible based on his times. But, I still felt I had a pretty good idea what kind of person he was. High school and college have taught me otherwise. I can now say with certainty, that I don’t understand Lincoln at all and probably never will. He was a very complex person. And, I no longer wonder about Lincoln’s motivations or character. I believe a person is too much a product of their times to be judged fairly or accurately. What I wonder more about now is his relevance.
Until very recently, I didn’t critically relate overheard comments to Abraham Lincoln or the Civil War era. Comments such as, “Robert E. Lee Day, that’s what we should have, Martin Luther King was nothing but a troublemaker!” and “This is Virginia; we’re part of the South, not the North!” And how did I not connect the dots to history every time our former neighbors had a Dixie Flag party and there were angry overtones and drunken shouts of “This is America, I’ll do what I want!”
The South is no doubt still angry. Many here still resent the idea of the North telling the South what to do. Abraham Lincoln keeps being resurrected by some because he is easy to point to and blame for this “injustice.” I thought crass materialism and the continuing amalgamation of our country had served to better homogenize us, but this North/South thing is not going away. I think in our daily struggles to keep up with the Jones’ we want to imagine there was a time when we were at the top of society and I think some in the South feel that Lincoln stole that place from them. I now wonder how many people who express this desire for antebellum South would have been from one of the wealthy families and therefore truly lost a great deal, and not actually from one of the poorer families who were not much better off (economically speaking) than the slaves.
Throughout my education, along with the simplistic stories about Honest Abe, there have been, and are, undercurrents about what the North did to the South and that it was wrong. But, I believe the end of slavery in the U.S. was inevitable and I believe that due to the nature of the South’s economy, the South put itself in a vulnerable position. When the South saw slavery was becoming extinct in other parts of the world and chose not to voluntarily restructure themselves with great immediacy, they became their own worst enemy . . . it’s just a lot easier to blame Abraham Lincoln.