19 May 2010

Interesting To Observe


Kevin Levin's recent posting at Civil War Memory of Professor Clyde Wilson's "quiz" about Abraham Lincoln, and the comments that follow, is quite interesting; but probably not in the way Mr. Levin intended. Levin makes this amazing statement in introducing Wilson's series of questions: 

"I have no problem with Wilson wanting to express his political views, but it is incredibly disturbing to see him sacrificing his integrity as a historian to do so."

First of all, for someone like Levin who is obsessed with bashing Confederate heritage and history, to suggest someone of the stature of Clyde Wilson is "sacrificing his integrity" is quite amazing. If I'd not paid attention to Mr. Levin's writings for some time now, I'd think he was being facetious. Does Levin really believe that his own political views and biases aren't obvious by what he has written on his blog? Incredible.

Secondly, how do the questions posed by Professor Wilson have anything to do with his political views, especially since some of those commenting stated the questions could apply to George W. Bush? Hmmm . . . I suppose those comments don't in any way express their political views nor sacrifice their integrity. No, of course not.

But one of the most interesting moments in the comments comes when historian Ralph Luker (Certainly not someone who could be considered a "neo-Confederate" - to use Levin's characterization of Professor Wilson) offers a defense of Wilson. Even more interesting (and something which seems to catch the others a little off guard), was Professor Luker's admission that the questions posed by Wilson were actually legitimate. While admitting that Wilson's "quiz" was "intentionally provocative" (and I would agree that the "quiz" was intended to be provocative), Luker adds this as the final sentence of his comment:

But ask yourself if Clyde has, with any of these questions, misrepresented Lincoln’s position at the time he took it. I don’t think that he has. (Emphasis mine.)
So Professor Luker, a respected historian in his own right, disagrees with the rest of those commenting (most notably Levin), that Wilson "misrepresented" Lincoln's positions. Interesting.

“History is not an expression of abstract laws, or the record of progress. It is a description of the actions of men, of life, which in turn is an expression of the (partly unknowable) mind of God. A historian who does an honest and competent job of narrative or description has created something permanently useful to everyone, whether they agree with him or not. The historian who claims to have found the final explanation is a fraud.” ~ Clyde N. Wilson, Ph.D.

35 comments:

msimons said...

Thanks for those fine comments. Kevin seems to think his view point of things are the only correct ones. It is going to be a long 150 Year celebration of the CW with Kevin having a fit about everything the SCV does.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Hey Mike. He has a perfect right to criticize and offer his perspective, same as I do.

Marc Ferguson said...

But Richard, several of the assertions of fact in Wilson's questions are demonstrably false.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Mr. Luker didn't seem to think so. To which ones are you referring?

13thBama said...

***Cue sound of crickets***

Anonymous said...

Levin has a deal in the works to write a 350-page book on all he knows about black Confederates...

...I wonder what will be on the other 349 pages...

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Anon - good question! ;o)

Michael Lynch said...

I would submit that the following points in the quiz are at best debatable and at worst inaccurate:

"What President started a war of choice in violation of every principle of Christian just war teaching?" Lincoln did not order the first shot, and troops under his command did not fire it.

"What President said he was indifferent to slavery but would use any force necessary to collect taxes?" Lincoln was pretty clear that he was opposed to slavery. What he said after his election was that he had no intention of using the coercive power of the government to eradicate it. That's quite different from saying that he was indifferent.

"Who had the least affiliation with Christianity of any American President and blamed God for starting the war over which he presided?" Lincoln did not "blame God" for starting the war, but rather stated that God probably had His own purposes in allowing it in order to bring about some divinely-ordained end. It's true that he never joined a church and that as a young man he was apparently a skeptic, but his unorthodoxy was no greater than Jefferson's.

--ML

Marc Ferguson said...

One example:
"What President said that all black people should be expelled from the United States because they could never be full-fledged citizens?"

I'm sure that Prof. Wilson knows that Lincoln never advocated expelling blacks from the country. We all know that Lincoln was an advocate of colonization, but he never involuntary colonization.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

ML:

"Lincoln did not order the first shot, and troops under his command did not fire it."

He provoked it.

"Lincoln was pretty clear that he was opposed to slavery."

Lincoln offered conflicting statements on his positions making his real feelings ambiguous at best.

"he said after his election was that he had no intention of using the coercive power of the government to eradicate it."

Which, of course, he did.

"his unorthodoxy was no greater than Jefferson's."

I'd have to agree there, though he runs a very close second. Lincoln's attendance of seances makes him rather competitive for that title. That opinion could be somewhat subjective.

"Blaming God", I believe, goes to Lincoln's statements about the war being punishment for slavery, etc.

I believe Kevin has made similar criticisms for "blaming God" for the war.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

MF:

"I'm sure that Prof. Wilson knows that Lincoln never advocated expelling blacks from the country. We all know that Lincoln was an advocate of colonization, but he never involuntary colonization."

Lincoln used the word "deportation" - that's not voluntary.

Lerone Bennett, Jr. discusses Lincoln's views on "colonization" in his book "Forced Into Glory." His research and views would seem to be, on this point, in agreement with Wilson's statement.

Marc Ferguson said...

The following is from Lincoln's 1862 annual message to Congress. He is proposing legislation to set aside funds for colonization:

"It does not oblige, but merely authorizes Congress to aid in colonizing such as may consent. This ought not to be regarded as objectionable on the one hand or on the other, insomuch as it comes to nothing unless by the mutual consent of the people to be deported and the American voters, through their representatives in Congress."

With all due respect to Lerone Bennet, Jr., and Clyde Wilson, I will go with my assessment of the historical record; which, by the way, was also the position held by David Donald.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Sure Marc, just like paying your federal income tax is "voluntary." Try NOT volunteering and see what happens.

Surely you understand that "public" addresses by Presidents are simply for "public" consumption. The real intentions go on behind the scenes. Such was the case with Lincoln.

There is additional evidence, which Bennett and others have pointed out, that mutual consent would be the first step, "gentle pressure" the second, and finally "mandatory" expulsion. Such was the plan and advice put forth by Lincoln confidant, Reverend James Mitchell.

Michael Lynch said...

He used his executive war-making power to emancipate the slaves as a war measure, long after the war had started. Before the war, when southerners were panicked that the North intended to take away their slaves, Lincoln stated that he had no intention to do so. And he didn't, until the war made it (in his mind) legal and necessary.

If I understand you correctly, you agree with the statement Kevin cited that Lincoln was indifferent to slavery, but now you're criticizing him because he got rid of slavery after saying that he wouldn't?

And how did he provoke the war? Was it just by re-supplying Sumter, or by calling up troops?

--ML

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

ML:

There's no contradiction in my position. Indifference implies he could "take it or leave it." So, yes, I would agree that is accurate. My noting what he did was not "criticism" - just fact. It was purely political posturing to meet an end.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

ML - Both.

Michael Lynch said...

What end was he trying to meet? And if his opposition to slavery was political posturing, why did he express these sentiments in private letters and conversation, as he did, for instance, in his August 1855 letter to Joshua Speed? What political capital could he gain by denouncing slavery in a private letter to a slaveowning friend?

--ML

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

ML - saving the Union.

Michael Lynch said...

Okay, help me out here. The slavery issue was incredibly divisive, and criticism of slavery could only exacerbate sectional tension. How would posing as a slavery opponent help Lincoln preserve the Union?

--ML

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

ML - I think we're off track Michael. I'm just making observations as to Lincoln's conflicting statements and actions. Sorry, but I don't understand your question.

Michael Lynch said...

Sorry about the confusion. I thought you meant that "saving the Union" was Lincoln's aim in denouncing slavery before the war.

--ML

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

ML - no problem. No, that is not what I meant. And just to be clear, I'm certainly not suggesting Lincoln was "pro-slavery", just that his statements lead me to believe he was, overall, indifferent and that he used the issue to whatever political advantage suited him at the time, as most politicians are apt to do.

13thBama said...

In a letter to Horace Greeley, Lincoln stated the following:

"My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union. I shall do less whenever I shall believe what I am doing hurts the cause, and I shall do more whenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause."

Source: http://quotes.liberty-tree.ca/quote_blog/Abraham.Lincoln.Quote.EBA2

Michael Lynch said...

Lincoln's response to the Greeley letter was a defense of his prosecution of the war, and his prosecution of the war had the primary goal of saving the Union. We're not talking about his goals in prosecuting the war. We're talking about whether or not he was indifferent to slavery The fact that emancipation did not become a primary war aim until halfway through the war does not change the fact that Lincoln consistently objected to slavery on moral grounds, both in his public discourse and his private correspondence and conversations.

I would add that the Greeley letter and its context are both so well known to historians that it's hardly the trump card that you seem to be implying it is.

--ML

Marc Ferguson said...

Hmmm... I wonder why "13thBama" (any relation to our current President?) left off the letter's concluding sentence?

"I have here stated my purpose according to my view of official duty; and I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men every where could be free."

;^)

Rebel Raider said...

ML-

Taken by itself the Horace Greeley letter is certainly not a "trump card." Although I have a sneaky suspicion that 13Bama never intended it to be as such. But one would have to also purposely ignore Lincolns many other pronouncements concerning slavery that were (at the very least) ambivalent at best;duplicitous at worst. It was precisely this sort of language that led many abolitionists (such as William Loyd Garrison) to question Lincolns commitment to ending slavery.

Lincoln was of course in favor of making slavery "irrevocable", by lending his support to the proposed Corwin Amendment. Of course, Lincoln himself admitted that the Emancipation Proclamation was for military expediency. It would seem that Lincolns motives were not altogether moral or altruistic. Not at all surprising coming from a politician...a corporate lawyer at that. So, pardon me for being a tad skeptical as to the moral fitness of Lincoln concerning slavery.

MF-

"I have here stated my purpose according to my view of official duty; and I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men every where could be free."

Of course, "free" used in this sense did not include political or social equality with white people. Nor did in constitute the freedom to migrate to the northern states. Ironically, it also didn't mean migration to the "free" states lest they (slave or otherwise) provide competition for white labor.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

"one would have to also purposely ignore Lincolns many other pronouncements concerning slavery"

Precisely.

Michael Lynch said...

"But one would have to also purposely ignore Lincolns many other pronouncements concerning slavery that were (at the very least) ambivalent at best;duplicitous at worst."

What pronouncements would those be?

"Not at all surprising coming from a politician...a corporate lawyer at that."

Not that this is relevant to anything we were discussing, but the bread and butter of Lincoln's legal practice were simple general practice cases, especially during the earlier part of his career.

"Of course, 'free' used in this sense did not include political or social equality with white people."

No, but we were talking about his opposition to slavery, not his degree of support for racial equality (which, by the way, increased over the course of his presidency).

--ML

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

"What pronouncements would those be?"

C'mon Michael, you're familiar with those.

Rebel Raider said...

"What pronouncements would those be?"

Lincoln stated in his first inaugural address that in addition to having no lawful right (to end slavery) he also had no "inclination" to do so.

"Not that this is relevant to anything we were discussing, but the bread and butter of Lincoln's legal practice were simple general practice cases, especially during the earlier part of his career."

I was essentially agreeing with Mr. Williams' characterization of Lincoln being first and foremost a politician who used the issue of slavery for political ends. Far from being irrelevant, it is at the heart of understanding the "moral grounds" on which Lincoln supposedly stood. Interestingly, those general practice cases that you speak never included defending a runaway slave, although Lincoln did defend a slaveholder.

"No, but we were talking about his opposition to slavery, not his degree of support for racial equality (which, by the way, increased over the course of his presidency)."

You are at least partially correct on that one. However, we were talking about "morality", and as such I (at least) remain dubious as to how one could separate the two issues. Would be interested if you could provide textual evidence that Lincolns views on racial equality,"increased over the course of his presidency."

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

RR - and don't forget the "morality" of the original 13th amendment.

Michael Lynch said...

I, for one, wasn't really talking about morality. I was talking about a historical statement--that Lincoln was indifferent to slavery. A statement like that should be either verifiable or not, based on the historical record. Of course I think slavery is bad, and that an indifference to slavery is not a desirable characteristic for someone to have, but I'm not really concerned with whether or not Lincoln was an admirable character. I'm concerned with what his opinions on slavery actually were, and I believe that he was opposed to the institution, though he respected the fact that it was embedded in the American political system.

As to the question of Lincoln's increasing willingness to consider black civil rights, the first bit of textual evidence that comes to mind is his brief speech given at the White House on April 11, 1865.

It's interesting that this question continues to come up. Perhaps we should hold a written, blogged, formal debate on the issue of Lincoln's indifference to slavery and whether he used it for mere political ends. I'd imagine it would generate some interest in the ACW blogosphere, and we probably wouldn't have trouble finding a site to host it.

--ML

Rebel Raider said...

Indifference to something can sometimes carry with it moral (or lack thereof) component , that is defined by either being for or against something. You stated in a above post that Lincoln objected to slavery on "moral grounds." In the case of slavery (which is usually couched in moralistic terms)it seemed like a logical inference. I also believe that Lincoln was opposed to slavery, but not for the moral reasons that are usually ascribed.

In regards to the speech that you cite...I can only state that it doesn't indicate (to me at least) a true reversal of Lincolns' views concerning black civil rights. But, as this was the last public address by Lincoln, we may never know.

Marc Ferguson said...

RR: "...those general practice cases that you speak never included defending a runaway slave, although Lincoln did defend a slaveholder."

Not quite. David Donald notes that "In 1841 he appeared before the Illinois Supreme Court in the case of _Bailey v. Cromwell_, which concerned the attempted sale of a young black woman, Nance, in Tazewell County. The court followed his reasoning in ruling: 'the presumption of law was, in this State, that every person was free, without regard to color... The sale of a free person is illegal." [_Lincoln_, 103]

Rebel Raider said...

Bailey v. Cromwell, so far as I know didn't concern the status of a runaway slave. Although one could conceivably make a circumstantial case that it represented the views of Lincoln on slavery. Which could then immediately be contradicted by the Matson v. Rutherford case which DID concern fugitive slaves. However, in citing Donald David as your source;it is important to point out what he stated concerning the Bailey v. Cromwell case:

"Neither the Matson case nor the Cromwell case should be taken as an indication of Lincoln's views on slavery; his business was law, not morality."