Whenever there is talk of the American President, Lincoln is hailed as the GOAT by a country mile. No one even comes close to claim a place in the same league as Lincoln. Republicans call themselves the “party of Lincoln,” while Democrats also celebrate him as one of their own. Lincoln continues to feature in pop culture, and collective intellectual and historical imaginations of the nation. But is his legacy really so untamed?
The 16th President of the United States of America who led the Union to victory in the American Civil War, preserved the federal government, modernized the American economy and consolidated the constitutional unit is often hailed as “The Great Emancipator” for abolishing the institution of slavery, but in recent times his otherwise stellar legacy has come under intense scrutiny.
“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—that 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 intermingling with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which will ever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality.”
Abraham Lincoln was no racist, he abhorred slavery, but was he really a believer in the equality of all humankind regardless of their skin and race? The jury is still out and modern historians and pop culture critics continue to exchange barbs over the towering (in every sense of the word) historical figure that looms large in the history of the nation.
Historian Eric Foner, who is considered one of the eminent authorities on Lincoln says the 16th POTUS was not racist, but there are catches. “I have never called Lincoln a racist. He shared some of the prejudices of his time. Was Lincoln an anti-racist? No not really. Was he an egalitarian in the modern sense? No. Race was not a major concern of Lincoln. He didn’t think about race about very much. To ask if he’s a racist is the wrong question. And if you ask the wrong question, you’re going to get the wrong answer,” Foner told CNN.
The good old “Honest Abe” is being increasingly scrutinized in social media as well. February, which marks the celebration of the Black History Month across the nation, is often for the time of the year where this scrutiny becomes more intense.
Former NBA player, author and podcaster Etan Thomas took a dig at The Great Emancipator with the caption, “Don’t let public school give your kids their heroes.” The quote which said, “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it” received criticism from Lincoln-philes.
Following the criticism Thomas dug up some more quotes to silence those that attacked him. In 1858 when Lincoln was challenged by leading Democratic Senator for a seat, the two went to head in a series of seven debates that were published in Chicago Daily Press, where Douglas flayed Lincoln for seeing no “distinction between race.” Lincoln defended himself by saying:
“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—that 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 intermingling with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which will ever 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. I am as much as any other man in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.”
Shawn Stockman PhD also tweeted an unsavoury take by “honorable” Abe where Lincoln argues against the equality of black and white races.