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 !

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