Abe Lincoln revisited

“If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it.” Abraham Lincoln

The welcome new blogsite MTWSFH continues to chart, in Howard Zinn fashion, the history of the United States you’re not really supposed to know. The latest posting focuses on the Civil War of the 1860s, exposing the widely held myth that the Civil War of the 1860s was all about abolishing slavery.

MTWSFH states:

‘The real reasons for the slaughter of more than six hundred thousand ordinary Americans on both sides were, in fact, just the same two old reasons for each and every war from the dawn of time until today: the insatiable greed of the ruling class for ever more wealth and power. The northern ruling class, represented by Lincoln, drooling at the prospect of the cash to be made in the kind of large-scale industrialization occurring in Britain, wanted economic expansion, free land, free labour, a "free" market surrounded by high tariffs to protect their own operations and a central bank which would operate strictly in their interests: a nineteenth century New World Order, in fact. The southern ruling class, sitting on their porches sipping their mint juleps as generations of slaves toiled and died to make them ever richer, simply wanted to maintain the status quo.

'The "emancipation" of the slaves was a tactic which had the effect of destroying the power base which the southern ruling class derived from slavery and "freeing" millions of slaves who then became available as a cheap labour for northern factories and mills.'

Just as George “all men are created equal” Washington owned slave plantations and didn’t give a give a bollocks for the true conception of freedom, and just like Davey Crocket and Jim Bowie, the legends of the Alamo, who profited from slavery and in fact died defending their right to continue profiting from that noxious trade, so too with Abe Lincoln, as MTWSFH observes:

‘He opposed integration and intermarriage, did not think that freed slaves should be given full legal and voting rights, and forcefully advocated both before and during the Civil War that all blacks should be deported to Africa or the West Indies.

‘Lincoln’s armies committed countless war crimes and atrocities, burning and looting civilian property, destroying entire cities and laying waste vast areas of countryside. Lincoln imposed a fascist regime within the Union States, making a farce of the Constitution. His regime arrested thousands of critics of his war policies, including dozens of newspaper editors and publishers. Under Lincoln, the writ of habeas corpus, a fundamental characteristic of a democratic society, was revoked, and mail and press censorship was imposed.

‘Only after the Confederate states refused Lincoln’s offer to leave the slaves in chains if they stopped fighting did he issue the Emancipation Proclamation which purported to free slaves in states not under Union control. Slaves in states controlled by Lincoln remained in slavery.”’

A search of the www also throws up these two important quotes:

'I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been in favour of bringing about in anyway the social and political equality of the white and black races - that I am not nor ever have been in favour 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 favour of having the superior position assigned to the white race. I say upon this occasion I do not perceive that because the white man is to have the superior position the negro should be denied everything.'

Fourth Debate with Stephen A. Douglas at Charleston, Illinois, September 18, 1858 (The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln edited by Roy P. Basler, Volume III, pp. 145-146.) Also readable here.

'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 coloured 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.'

From a letter to Horace Greeley, August 22, 1862. Also readable here.

Within one month of writing this letter, Lincoln issued his first Emancipation Proclamation, which declared that at the beginning of 1863 he would use his war powers to free all slaves in states still in rebellion (as they came under Union control). Significantly, one year later, in a letter letter to James C. Conkling of August 26, 1863, Lincoln would write:

'I know, as fully as one can know the opinions of others, that some of the commanders of our armies in the field who have given us our most important successes believe the emancipation policy and the use of the colored troops constitute the heaviest blow yet dealt to the Rebellion, and that at least one of these important successes could not have been achieved when it was but for the aid of black soldiers….I issued the proclamation on purpose to aid you in saving the Union.

'I thought that in your struggle for the Union, to whatever extent the negroes should cease helping the enemy, to that extent it weakened the enemy in his resistance to you. Do you think differently? I thought that whatever negroes can be got to do as soldiers, leaves just so much less for white soldiers to do, in saving the Union. Does it appear otherwise to you? But negroes, like other people, act upon motives. Why should they do any thing for us, if we will do nothing for them? If they stake their lives for us, they must be prompted by the strongest motive—even the promise of freedom. And the promise being made, must be kept.'

With emancipation, the lot of the freed slave did not fair much better. They became not only cannon fodder for the warring capitalists the moment their chains were removed and lowest of the wage slaves in the American industrial proletariat and to an extent still are, often to be used as a bargaining chip by employers during industrial unrest to keep wages low and still denied many of the rights enjoyed by whites and which sparked the civil rights movement of the 50s and 60s.

In April, 1865, during his second term as president, Lincoln gave a speech supporting a form of limited suffrage, for those he described as the more "intelligent" blacks and those blacks who had rendered special services to the nation. One hundred and forty years later that same limited suffrage could be found in the US elections where tens of thousands of black voters in Florida were disenfranchised in the presidential elections that brought George W Bush to power. Federal hearings would later investigate allegations of widespread voting irregularities, with many witnesses described being intimidated by police roadblocks near polling stations and being asked to produce several identity documents before being allowed to vote. Others spoke of being wrongly listed as convicted criminals and thus being barred from voting Moreover, an estimated one million black voters allegedly cast votes that were never even counted.

Eight years after that particular voting fiasco, we are reminded yesterday, via a piece on the Democracy Now website that nothing has changed: Supreme Court Considers Voter ID Law that Could Disenfranchise Thousands of Poor and Minority Voters

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