07 March 2009

Too Much Yen

This is a follow up to a previous post in which I point out a very teachable moment. Mr. Levin also had a follow up post over the same issue. Kevin noted that he, too,--like the artist--found himself "falling deeply in love with the man." [Lincoln]. I'll leave that alone, but I think the comment illustrates my point. Nothing wrong with admiring Lincoln for whatever qualities one may find in his character--that's not my point. We all need heroes and examples of greatness. The point is, similar sentiments (though I've never expressed "love" in this context) about Lee & Jackson are often mocked and giggled at on Kevin's blog (and other places as well), as the original posts and comments point out.

(The original title of my first post was "An Objective & Balanced View?")

Also, in Kevin's follow up post, someone made the following comment:

"I think the 'vehement anger' expressed toward Lincoln comes mostly from the Southern Heritage crowd that wears blinders toward the shortcomings of Confederacy. To continue to celebrate the Southern cause in light of its military, economic, social and moral failures is much simpler if Lincoln, Grant, etc. are villains. What I find compelling about Lincoln is that he was a man with human limitations who served as president during an extraordinary time and at times he rose to the occasion."

Now, let's change a few words:

"I think the 'vehement anger' expressed toward men like Lee and Jackson comes mostly from the 'I love Lincoln' crowd that wears blinders toward the shortcomings of Lincoln's policies. To continue to celebrate the Northern cause in light of its military, economic, social and moral failures is much simpler if Lee, Jackson, etc. are villains. What I find compelling about these Southern icons is that they were men with human limitations who served their country during an extraordinary time and at times he rose to the occasion."

Just a different perspective. There's room for both and the truth is likely found somewhere in the middle. All most folks expect is a little consistency.

(If you've not already done so, be sure and read through all the linked posts and the string of comments. You will see exactly what I'm talking about.)

28 comments:

James F. Epperson said...

I'm fairly well read in the modern "Civil War on the Internet" culture, (as well as Civil War history itself) and I can't think of a single comment by someone to the effect that they "hate" Lee or Jackson or any other Confederate icon. Nor have I seen much (if any) vehement anger directed at Confederate heroes. Certainly Davis comes in for a lot of criticism, as does Forrest, but I hope you would not object to criticism in an appropriate context. So your "different perspective" appears to be little more than a strawman.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

James:

No objection at all. I welcome diverse views - it makes the conversation all the more interesting. However, speaking of "straw man" - I never used the word "hate", did I? But, again, just follow all of the links/comments, as I've suggested, and you will most definitely see bias, as many others have noticed.

Are you suggesting there's no difference in sentiment in Kevin's posts and the comments that followed each "art" posts?

Are we reading the same posts?

RGW

James F. Epperson said...

You used "vehement anger," which I took as a synonym (or nearly so) for "hate." But I will accept the correction, and offer the same comment with "hate" replaced (with appropriate grammatical adjustments) by "vehement anger." I've seen no one express "vehement anger" toward Lee, Jackson, or any other Confederate icon. OK, maybe some at Forrest, but he arguably deserves it.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

I simply transposed the words of someone else to make a point. Vehement anger should have been replaced with "scorn and mockery", I agree. However, referring to Lee as a "traitor" in some context does involve anger in some of the comments I've seen.

Thanks for your input and opinion.

Best,
RGW

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

BoulderBay:

Good advice, though I'm not familiar with that quote from Dr. Freeman either.

Arthur B. Breedlove said...

Mr. Epperson

I think what many of us who are part of the Southern Heritage scene find irksome, is the insinuation of racism that is assumed by some if one fought for the Confederacy. Yet they simultaneously ignore the many proclamations by Lincoln, Mclellan, Sherman and others on the same subject.

I have often said that if you want to rile up a Lincoln admirer, simply quote what he said.

I remember the "Great Civil War Debate between Rev. Marshall and Rev. Wilkins. Reverand Wilkins was accused of slander by Rev. Marshall for simply quoting verbatim, Lincoln. It was in regards to his belief in the inequality of the races.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Arthur:

You are, of course, correct again.

Thanks for the input.

James F. Epperson said...

Well, given the attitudes of the times, the odds *are* that anyone who fought for the Confederacy was a racist. Of course, almost anyone who fought for the Union was also a racist. It is the way the country was back then.

I'm not sure "rile up" is the correct phrase. Quoting Lincoln from the Charleston debate doesn't bother me, for example. He said what he said. Now, if we look at the actions he took between 1861 and 1865, it is clear that his attitudes changed. An interesting historical question is: Why did they change?

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

"Well, given the attitudes of the times, the odds *are* that anyone who fought for the Confederacy was a racist. Of course, almost anyone who fought for the Union was also a racist. It is the way the country was back then."

Precisely.

Attitude change was for public consumption and political ends, in my opinion.

James F. Epperson said...

"Attitude change was for public consumption and political ends, in my opinion."

I don't think so. Staying on the racist side of things was the sure way to maximize his (AL's) support and votes in any election. I think his attitudes changed because he was exposed, personally, to more blacks of consequence, like Frederick Douglass, during his time in the White House.

Arthur B. Breedlove said...

"Now, if we look at the actions he took between 1861 and 1865, it is clear that his attitudes changed."

It would depend on what motives you would ascribe to his actions in prosecuting the war. I personally believe Lincoln's words speak for themselves, and they clearly indicate a will to preserve the union, and not ending slavery. Nor did he have any particular benevolence towards black people. He favored colonizing slaves to Central America or Africa. A view he never repudiated.

I will say that his views regarding self government seemed to have shifted a little bit.

Lincoln:"Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the
right to rise up, and shake off the existing government, and form a new
one that suits them better.

"Any portion of such people that
can, may revolutionize, and make their own, of so much territory as they
inhabit."

*****

"Attitude change was for public consumption and political ends, in my opinion."

Mr. Williams is exactly right.

Arthur B. Breedlove said...

"Well, given the attitudes of the times, the odds *are* that anyone who fought for the Confederacy was a racist. Of course, almost anyone who fought for the Union was also a racist. It is the way the country was back then."

Let me make one final point about this statement. I don't feel the need to judge or condemn an entire generation of Americans. It is just as likely that they would condemn us for our many transgressions.

I think that General Beauregard had it about right:

“That one side was fighting for union and the other for disunion is a political expression; the actual fact on the battlefield, in the face of cannon and musket, was that the Federal troops came as invaders, and the Southern troops stood as defenders of their homes, and further than this we need not go.”

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

James: I'm not convinced, but I do appreciate your input.

Arthur:

"I don't feel the need to judge or condemn an entire generation of Americans. It is just as likely that they would condemn us for our many transgressions."

I agree, judging 19th century Americans through 21st century lenses gives one a distorted view of things. I wonder how those Americans - North and South - would feel about things like MTV, modern film, and partial-birth abortion?

I'd wager they'd be appalled.

13thBama said...

In my humble opinion, had Lincoln had a change of heart regarding African-Americans, then he would have freed them EVERYWHERE and not just in those states in rebellion. He did it, to inflame the stigma of slavery and having done that, to preserve the union (little "u" intentional).

James F. Epperson said...

Just for the record, Lincoln did free *all* the slaves. The 13th Amendment passed Congress on his watch, and largely through his efforts.

It is worth noting that in AL's last speech, he suggested giving the vote to some of the freedmen in Louisiana. Supposedly this was a major reason Booth, who was in the audience, shot him.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

James:

The freeing of the slaves was a consequence of the war, obviously, but that was not Lincoln's goal. It was, in my opinion, purely political. His only goal, and that which motivated his actions, was the preservation of the Union.

Are you familiar with the "first" 13th amendment that Lincoln supported?

Arthur B. Breedlove said...

"Just for the record, Lincoln did free *all* the slaves. The 13th Amendment passed Congress on his watch, and largely through his efforts."

Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865. The 13th Amendment wasn't passed until Dec 6, 1865. I'm not exactly sure how it could have passed "on his watch", or "through his efforts."

I believe Mr.Williams is referring to the Corwin Amendment, which was the original proposed 13th.

(Corwin Amendment)- would have preserved slavery forever…
Lincoln:

“I understand a proposed amendment to the Constitution . . . has passed Congress, to the effect that the Federal Government shall never interfere with the domestic institutions of the States, including that of persons held to service. To avoid misconstruction of what I have said, I depart from my purpose, not to speak of particular amendments, so far as to say that, holding such a provision to now be implied constitutional law, I have no objection to its being made express and irrevocable” (emphasis added).

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

You are correct Arthur. Again, Lincoln's "anti-slavery" stance was primarily for public consumption and political expediency. He really didn't care, as long as the Union was preserved. Moreover, Lincoln's verifiable opposition to slavery's expansion into the territories was not due to a moral objection to slavery, but rather to protect the economic opportunities of white laborers, which is also why he wanted slaves repatriated to Africa.

This is the difficulty when you get into a morality play over the WBTS. Both North and South were equally guilty over the sin of slavery. My contention with the Lincoln cheerleaders is their eagerness in vilifying the South while glorifying Lincoln for ostensibly "freeing the slaves."

Arthur B. Breedlove said...

Mr. Williams,

I agree entirely with your analysis. I think what is needed is a little sobriety when appraising the actions of Lincoln and his legacy. It is rather ironic that Lincoln freely admitted, that both North and South were equally responsible for the blight of slavery.

James F. Epperson said...

Abolition was certainly not a goal of Lincoln's when the war started, as his response to Fremont's and Hunter's individual efforts makes clear (as do his comment's on the Corwin Amendment). But an honest look at the record shows, IMO, that it *became* a goal of his sometime after 1/1/63. The history of the 1864 election makes this clear.

The eventual 13th Amendment passed Congress (but was not ratified, obviously) in December 1864/January 1865 (I can be fuzzy on dates). That's what I was talking about. Most scholars of the event give AL full marks for getting the necessary votes in Congress.

I don't understand the claim that Lincoln's anti-slavery stance was "primarily for public consumption and political expediency," given that we have agreed that the nation as a whole was not sympathetic to expanded black rights. (Incidentally, most students of the 1864 election are of the opinion that his stance *cost* him votes.) Seems to me it would have been simpler (and gained him more votes) not to push for abolition in 1864, and not to push for some black enfranchisement in 1865.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Arthur:

The "Lincoln freed the slaves" is akin to those who proclaim "The South fought only for State's rights."

There is an element of truth in each statement, but neither tell the whole story.

James:

The EP, and the public comments, kept France and England from coming to the aid of the CSA. I'm not suggesting to you that Lincoln "favored" slavery. But the record clearly indicates his "evolving view" was politically motivated. That's not a condemnation-just an observation. Lincoln's views on race and slavery were not, practically speaking, any different than most Southerners.

Arthur B. Breedlove said...

"I don't understand the claim that Lincoln's anti-slavery stance was "primarily for public consumption and political expediency."

13thBama has already made the point that the EP only applied to the Confederate States, not the slave States under Union control. Lincoln also stated that the EP was simply a "war measure." He also hoped the EP would spark a general insurrection in the South.

Lincoln:

"I have a right to take any measure which may best subdue the enemy; nor do I urge objections of a moral nature, in view of possible consequences of insurrection and massacre at the South."

The supposed push for black enfranchisement had more to do with securing the future of the Republican party and disenfranchising ex-Confederates(most were Democrats), than benevolence towards blacks.

Lincoln NEVER repudiated his view that blacks and whites should be separated. Nor, did he repent of his view that slaves should be colonized to Central America or Africa.

From start to finish every action Lincoln took was a political calculation to achieve ONE end. To force the Southern States back into the union.

Lincoln:

"What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union."

13thBama said...

Lets simplify this. Take slavery out of the picture. Completely.

Now, lets look at Lincoln as a president sans slavery as a problem. Had Bush suspended habeus corpus then he would be labled a tyrant. I fall short of labeling Lincoln as that. But I do recognize that he was NOT the angel that some try to make him out to be.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

And that, gentlemen, will close this exchange. I believe everyone had their say and the arguments have played out. Thanks to everyone for their input.

RGW

Greg Rowe said...

I agree with the spirit of several of the comments posted here related to Lincoln's stance on slavery.

As a middle school history teacher, when the issue of racism comes up regarding why slavery is wrong, I tell my students we cannot apply our 21st century definition of racism to 19th century people. If we do then Lincoln himself becomes a racist. I admire Lincoln, but mostly based on his attempt to reunify the states, not because of his particular stance on the slavery question at any point in his political metamorphosis of ideas. Yes, he made those decisions because they were politically expedient to accomplish his goal of restoring the union. To that end, political success (being re-elected and maintaining party power) to Lincoln, as for every politician, was the ultimate goal. I also point out to my students, especially when the question arises as to whether there would still be slavery today had the Civil War not been fought or the Confederacy had been successful in its goal to establish another country on the continent, that it would be highly unlikely given the nature of industrialization the country was experiencing and developed over the decades following the war. Besides, it is my honest and researched opinion that as it would have eventually become as socially unacceptable to own slaves as it was acceptable at the time to do so. That is, if I understand the writings of Jefferson, Washington and other founding Southerners it would eventually have become so.

Do I believe that justifies a war to ensure its success? No, but I am fully aware that "much ado about nothing," in this case, Lincoln's reasons for the Emancipation Proclamation, is often the case. Many blow it out of proportion. Yes, Lincoln thought slavery was "evil," but I also tell my students of Lincoln's remarks regarding race relations in this country and his support of colonization of North American blacks in Central America and Africa. My students at least leave my class asking questions and I direct them to as many resources as I can, by a variety of authors with a variety of perspectives, then let them make up their own minds. I don't see myself as having a responsibility in the classroom to form anyone's opinion about anything. I am a guide. I point kids to the right resources and let them make up their own minds. Most of my students have no glorified opinions of Lincoln, at least not the way I remember him being deified when I was in grade school. Most come with a very neutral perspective of Lincoln. That's why I allow them to make up their own minds.

I apologize for the length of this. I admire your ability to stand for what you believe in regardless that our opinions may differ on a variety of issues.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Thanks Greg. We're not all that far apart on this issue.

(I allowed Greg's remarks after I closed comments to this post because, as an educator, I felt his very balanced approach added much to the discussion.)

Thanks again Greg.

Anonymous said...

Richard, thank you for putting Kevin's issues into the light of day. I have long argued that his approach revealed his personal and political emotions rather than a more accurate well-rounded view of history.

This week I read that Lincoln's pocket watch had been opened to address a legend that a watch repairman had scribbled something to the effect of "Slavery is dead. Thank God we have a President who will try." When the watch was opened they found, "April 13-1861 Washington. Thank God we have a government. Jonth Dillon."

The difference between the reality and progressive emotion is huge. And I think this is reflective of how many are revising their perceptions of history today.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Thank you Anon. Without a doubt, Kevin is biased in his distorted views of the South. It's a well known fact among many CW bloggers (and readers). No big secret, though he denies. To some degree, that's to be expected. He grew up in New Jersey. Most of his vocal critics, he's barred from posting. He even deleted a few of my most recent comments on his blog. That's fine, its his blog, but I won't comment there again. I can address most of his silliness here, if I so choose.

Yes, I saw that same piece on the watch. It is, in many ways, representative of the "Holy Cause" myth and the exaggerations surrounding Lincoln. I may post something on that soon.

Thanks for the input.

RGW