In his Jan. 31 column, Jack Crispin asks me to expound on my statement (Jan. 24 column), "Abraham Lincoln, as a U.S. representative from Illinois, advocated a compromise piece of legislation in the House that, if passed, would have allowed the slave-holding states to maintain their slaves, while the territories (e.g. Kansas) would decide by popular mandate whether they would enter the Union as free or slave states."

Unfortunately, I'm unable to do so because I no longer have the source for it at hand, which was, if memory serves, a favorable book review in a respected national periodical I came across several years ago.

Although I retain basic content quite well, the name of the reviewed book and its author, and the publication they appeared in escapes me. However, I do remember that the author was academically credentialed and had obviously done thorough research on Lincoln.

Through close examination of correspondence between Lincoln and his friends and colleagues, the author was able to marshal persuasive evidence that our 16th president, at least during some period of his life, held what is known as "racialist" views.

Racialism is the long-discredited quasi-Darwinist theory that qualitative genetic differences exist between racial groups, rendering some mentally superior to others.

During Lincoln's era, it was prevalent among much of the scientific intelligentsia. As a self-educated intellectual and wide reader, Lincoln was undoubtedly influenced by the spurious theory.

Therefore, it cannot be ruled out that he considered slavery and servitude to be natural in the social order. And, after all, great civilizations in the past had practiced slavery.

In that context, he probably believed that slavery was morally acceptable, provided that slaves were treated humanely and their human dignity respected.

Such was far from the case in the American South in the 18th and 19th centuries. The misery visited on blacks was the subject matter of Harriet Beecher Stowe's bombshell novel, "Uncle Tom's Cabin," published in 1852.

The book was a major factor in galvanizing Northern opposition to slavery. Surely, its revelations deeply affected Lincoln and convinced him that slavery, as practiced in the South had to end, regardless of the economic costs.

Up until that time, Lincoln had been open to compromise solutions, including the 1846 Wilmot Proviso (cited by Crispin), a measure pushed in the House of Representatives, which although prohibiting slavery in the southwestern territories acquired by the U.S. via the Mexican War, didn't address its existence in the South or spread to other territories, including Kansas.

If no account can be found in the U.S. Congressional Record of a House measure or initiative during Lincoln's term advocating self-determination for the U.S. territories in regard to the slavery dispute, then I am likely wrong about its existence, regardless of whether or not Lincoln would have supported it.

In which case, I will amend my statement to: "At one time (before us House term), Lincoln favored a compromise initiative which, if passed into law, would have allowed the territories to decide by popular mandate whether they would enter the Union as slave or nonslave states."

Such was the evidence-based assertion of the author whose name I've forgotten. Due to faulty recall I probably misdated the period of the initiative, believing it was during Lincoln's House term when, in fact, it was earlier.

However, my error, while not minor, is not germane to the general argument that Lincoln was not always anti-slavery, and that his decision as president to keep the South in the Union via military force was motivated more by the fear of what a permanently divided two-nation America would almost certainly portend (ongoing conflicted bloodshed, etc.) than by the sole issue of slavery.

Lincoln's increasing antipathy to slavery eventually, if belatedly, impelled him into the ranks of the abolitionists, the "radicals" of their time. So it always is with those who are ahead of the curve of history.

 

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