Last years’ smash film hit, “Lincoln,” was a great piece of cinematic work. It deserved all of the accolades it received. However, based as it was on the intensive research and documentation that director Spielberg said was done in preparation for shooting the film, it was rather amazing that some very fundamental aspects of President Lincoln’s character and signature executive order were not included anywhere in the film.
The movie further enshrined Lincoln’s reputation as the ‘great Emancipator,” however, Lincoln never was either the presidential abolitionist as portrayed by Daniel Day-Lewis, nor, according to his own words, was he ever in favor of Black voting rights or equal rights for Black Americans.
Instead, consistently Lincoln advocated for and sought to implement strategies to export the entire free Black population—the basis of the modern Black middle class—either to Africa (Liberia) or to Central America (Belize or Nicaragua). On an August evening preceding the September 1862 public announcement of President Lincoln’s preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, he had a White House meeting with a selected body of Black leaders. There, he introduced the Proclamation to them for their purview, along with his fervent argument that he believed the best way to proceed would be for the U.S. government to help support the mass emigration of free Blacks out of the U.S.A., once the Proclamation was implemented. The leaders almost unanimously opposed the idea. They said they were Americans, they had fought and died for their place in this country, and neither they, nor their constituents, were interested in any mass removal and loss of their birthright.
Additionally, during one of the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates (not Frederick Douglass but Senator Stephen) in 1858, while Lincoln was campaigning for the Senate, in response to Douglas’ criticism that Lincoln wanted to make Blacks equal to Whites and thereby destroy America, the candidate replied, “I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the White and Black races”. . . “The Colored race is not prepared, and may never be, to vote, to hold political office, to serve on juries nor to intermarry”. . . . “The colored race has the right to improve their social conditions and to enjoy the fruits of their labor, but no more. Thus slavery is a moral evil and is inherently unjust.”
Days prior to the beginning of the Civil War (right after Lincoln’s election) the president-elect had his Secretary of State William Seward, investigating the best locations in Central America and the Caribbean, into which he could send America’s free Blacks. And on what we now call Watch Night, Dec. 31 (of 1862), just before the official date announcing the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln signed a contract using federal funds with trader Bernard Kock to remove more than 50,000 free Black men, women and children from the U.S.A. to an island near Haiti as their new home. Fortunately, unforeseen circumstances intervened, and that particular removal never happened, and Lincoln was embarrassed when the news of the contract became public. Also, in 1861, just into his presidency and facing the horrors of civil war, the chief executive requested and received $500,000 in authorizations from Congress to implement a project to remove all free Blacks to the isthmus of Chiriqui, off the coast of present-day Panama. That too fell through, but the president kept trying.
Lastly, the Emancipation Proclamation itself, as important as it was, did not technically free any slaves at the time. There were four border states which had remained loyal to the Union (Delaware, Missouri, Kentucky and Maryland) that had plenty of slaves, but the Proclamation excluded them. It also excluded selected parishes in Louisiana, and the southern states that were included in the Emancipation Proclamation did not answer to President Lincoln. The federal authority in the 11 confederate states was the Jefferson Davis government in Richmond, Va., and their slaves remained unfree unless they freed themselves in the ways they had absconded before.
This is not to show, once again, that many of our historical heroes and sheroes have clay feet. It is, however, to raise the issue that we still need to ask questions and think critically about all information presented to us about other folks being our salvation. We can only save ourselves, and we must not forget that. And it shall be our historical narratives that will be the North Star home.
Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO).
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