The Other I

February 3, 2011

How dark was Abraham Lincoln’s dark side?

Filed under: Intriguing Science — theotheri @ 8:08 pm

This blog, if it stands for anything, stands for the idea that there is always another way of looking at things.  Most often I find alternative and unexpected interpretations liberating and exciting.  But that does not mean that I think all interpretations and explanations are equally convincing.  I don’t.  Some possibilities must be dismissed as wishful thinking at best, as wilful distortions at worst.

The BBC is airing a documentary that explores what it is calling “the darker side” of Abraham Lincoln.  I have not seen the programme yet, but the BBC  claims it explores evidence that Lincoln secretly planned to deport back to Africa the black slaves whom he had freed with the Proclamation of Emancipation.

I’m dubious but also disturbed.  I am aware that the new vogue among historians is to look at the evidence and to put together a different story than the one we have always told ourselves.  The newer or more radical the story, the more likely it is to be accepted for a Ph.D dissertation, a best-selling book, or the basis of a television series.

I can’t help but support the call to question whether our classical interpretations of the past are always right.  But as with all research, some results are more professionally rewarding than others.   Some results provide the author with greater prestige, greater financial reward, greater professional recognition.

We have seen, for instance, that  finding a statistically significant improvement among those who take new experimental (and expensive) Drug A compared to those who take an old (and usually much less expensive) Drug B is more apt to lead to more big funding than finding no important differences between Drugs A and B.

And I fear it is the same with history.  Some stories are more radical, more surprising, more innovative.  So they are much more apt to attract television audiences.

But I don’t necessarily trust all these new stories and the new evidence upon which they are purportedly based.

Just because they are on television doesn’t make them any more valid than the promises made by internet sources trying to sell cheap Viagra and other enhancing products.

There’s no way around the hard work of looking at the evidence.

And living with the knowledge that even then, one risks being absolutely wrong.



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  2. Second Annual Message of the President of the United States,
    December 1, 1862:
    “Applications have been made to me by many free Americans of African descent to favor their emigration, with a view to such colonization as was contemplated in recent acts of Congress. Other parties, at home and abroad –some from interested motives, others upon patriotic considerations, and still others influenced by philanthropic sentiments– have suggested similar measures, while, on the other hand, several of the Spanish American Republics have protested against the sending of such colonies to their respective territories. Under these circumstances I have declined to move any such colony to any state without first obtaining the consent of its government, with an agreement on its part to receive and protect such emigrants in all the rights of freemen; and I have at the same time offered to the several States situated within the Tropics, or having colonies there, to negotiate with them, subject to the advice and consent of the Senate, to favor the voluntary emigration of persons of that class to their respective territories, upon conditions which shall be equal, just, and humane. Liberia and Hayti are as yet the only countries to which colonists of African descent from here could go with certainty of being received and adopted as citizens; and I regret to say such persons contemplating colonization do not seem so willing to migrate to those countries as to some others, nor so willing as I think their interest demands. I believe, however, opinion among them in this respect is improving, and that ere long there will be an augmented and considerable migration to both these countries from the United States.”

    “I can not make it better known than it already is that I strongly favor colonization“


    Comment by name789 — March 30, 2013 @ 7:56 pm | Reply

    • Thank you for this critical and informative quote. If I am interpreting it correctly, Lincoln wanted to support those Americans of African descent who had been brought against their will to America and who wanted to migrate to other countries in Africa or Central America. At the same time, he was concerned that they should migrate only to countries where they would have the rights of full citizenship and of free men.

      Do you read this similarly? if not, I would be most interested in your own interpretation and why you see it that way.

      Thank you again.


      Comment by theotheri — March 30, 2013 @ 8:43 pm | Reply

  3. No, I do not. I read it that Lincoln wanted to ship negroes out of the United States. The text of the debates in 1862 should be read, when “such colonization was contemplated”. Please click on my username and read the Lincoln article/theory.


    Comment by name789 — April 2, 2013 @ 7:45 pm | Reply

    • Thank you for taking the time to answer my question. I’ve been to your blog and found more than one of your posts quite interesting. There’s nothing like going back to the original documents, is there?

      On the other hand, that’s the problem. As someone who has lived in several different cultures, I have come to appreciate that misunderstanding subtle differences in communication can lead to significant misunderstanding of the original meaning. In that sense, the past is a foreign country. I take your point about Lincoln’s personal views, and know that it is more than possible that his meaning has been re-written with time.

      However, it doesn’t seem to me that either side has an unassailable position. The way I see it from the vantage point of 2013, what Lincoln himself really thought cannot be proved conclusively. Perhaps that is what Lincoln intended? He was, after all, a politician.


      Comment by Terry Sissons — April 3, 2013 @ 2:46 pm | Reply

      • Yes, Lincoln did not have the opportunity to prove by his actions where he really stood….. we need to rely on his words, and on the words of Senator Doolittle, the Democratic party, and contemporary newspapers….. (as President of the United States, Lincoln wrote, signed and sent to Congress that second annual Message; it says something of him, and should be part of the complete picture painted of him [just imagine if it was read in high-school history classes when the emancipation proclamation is discussed])

        At the same time, the propagators of the Saint Lincoln myth stand on a lot shakier ground than we do


        Comment by name789 — April 3, 2013 @ 6:10 pm

  4. Fourth Lincoln-Douglas Debate: Charleston, Illinois, September 18, 1858.

    “While I was at the hotel to-day, an elderly gentleman called upon me to know whether I was really in favor of producing a perfect equality between the negroes and white people. [Great Laughter.] While I had not proposed to myself on this occasion to say much on that subject, yet as the question was asked me I thought I would occupy perhaps five minutes in saying something in regard to it. I will say then that 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, [applause]–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 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 favor 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 every thing. I do not understand that because I do not want a negro woman for a slave I must necessarily want her for a wife. [Cheers and laughter.] My understanding is that I can just let her alone. I am now in my fiftieth year, and I certainly never have had a black woman for either a slave or a wife. So it seems to me quite possible for us to get along without making either slaves or wives of negroes. I will add to this that I have never seen, to my knowledge, a man, woman or child who was in favor of producing a perfect equality, social and political, between negroes and white men. I recollect of but one distinguished instance that I ever heard of so frequently as to be entirely satisfied of its correctness–and that is the case of Judge Douglas’s old friend Col. Richard M. Johnson. [Laughter.] I will also add to the remarks I have made (for I am not going to enter at large upon this subject,) that I have never had the least apprehension that I or my friends would marry negroes if there was no law to keep them from it, [laughter] but as Judge Douglas and his friends seem to be in great apprehension that they might, if there were no law to keep them from it, [roars of laughter] I give him the most solemn pledge that I will to the very last stand by the law of this State, which forbids the marrying of white people with negroes. [Continued laughter and applause.] I will add one further word, which is this: that I do not understand that there is any place where an alteration of the social and political relations of the negro and the white man can be made except in the State Legislature–not in the Congress of the United States–and as I do not really apprehend the approach of any such thing myself, and as Judge Douglas seems to be in constant horror that some such danger is rapidly approaching, I propose as the best means to prevent it that the Judge be kept at home and placed in the State Legislature to fight the measure. [Uproarious laughter and applause.] I do not propose dwelling longer at this time on this subject.”


    Comment by name789 — April 4, 2013 @ 6:56 pm | Reply

    • After reading this, it is certainly beyond my powers of imagination to reach any other conclusion than that Lincoln most certainly was in favor of Blacks emigration to another country. Likewise, given attitudes like this among the Whites, I strongly suspect I would have preferred emigration had I been a Black in America at the time. It is no wonder that the fight for civil liberty has been so long and hard. Unfortunately, it is not yet over. I wonder sometimes if our prejudice against fellow humans is as deep-rooted as our impulse toward violence, and will be as difficult to overcome.

      I’d be interested in your thoughts on this.


      Comment by Terry Sissons — April 4, 2013 @ 7:49 pm | Reply

  5. Who am I to speak for or read the mind of a dead man. As is visible from my comments, I have a low opinion on Lincoln (for other reasons). I think we have enough evidence to call Lincoln a segregationist; judging by their laughters, his listeners in the ‘free’ State of Illinois had the same attitude as the good people of California: “No niggers, free or slave“. His “mentor”, Henry Clay had similar feelings: he joined the group that established Liberia and shipped back many negroes; so why would Lincoln not have similar attitude. Thaddeus Stevens and Charles Sumner were the true race mixers.

    >>>>civil liberty, prejudice
    blood is thicker than a lot of other liquids; genes determine a lot more than what these days is allowed to be acknowledged (character)

    The experiment of different ethnic groups (gene pools) living in the same jurisdiction will show its true results in 100 years or so (and not many white people will be there to see it or to enjoy the fruits of their labour). In my opinion one or the other gene group will loose, after that the experiment will fail, the victorious gene pool will not be able to survive. Even if they do not make babies together, one or the other group will leave or submit or die without children.

    Had you been a white person in Chicago’s or Detroit’s black neighbourhood, would you have remained ?

    Has there ever been a peaceful (and harmless) co-existence in close quarters ?
    In Mohenjo-daro and Harappa the builders one day just left
    In Egypt the builders disappeared or were displaced by a different gene pool
    In Sumeria the builders co-existed and mix-married with the in-migrants, then they sunk to the bottom if any of them remained
    In central/south America the builders disappeared

    In this century a very large number of Chinese boys will have to make children with non-Chinese girls. What will be the result ? In 2150 we may see it.

    In Europe, the generation that produced 1.3 children for every two of them, will die by 2050; the generation following them, who produced 1.1 children for every two of them, will pass by 2100…… What will that do for life and race relations, prejudice and peaceful co-existence ?

    Is not fight for survival (and elimination) a basic tenet of evolution ?


    Comment by name789 — April 4, 2013 @ 9:33 pm | Reply

    • I think we are both asking a profound question – how much of an overlap is there between a fight for survival and the elimination of fellow members of our species? It is not a basic tenet of Darwinian theory that one necessarily includes the other, but Darwinian theory can certainly explain the tension between the impulse to cooperate and the impulse to compete. I suspect that in any given situation, the one that gains ascendancy is the one that the individual or the group believes (rightly or wrongly) will maximize their chances of survival. America’s record is horrifying on some counts – the American Indians and Blacks are the two most blatant examples. But we are a mix of peoples who in many ways have learned to work together in ways few other peoples have managed. But the tensions are always there, aren’t they? They are certainly evident in our society today. And as you suggest, it seems to be an enduring and world-wide tension that is never entirely suppressed.


      Comment by theotheri — April 5, 2013 @ 7:59 pm | Reply

      • >>>>>we are a mix of peoples who in many ways have learned
        The experiment is not over, yet.
        The white people of Europe and North America degenerated to the level of the royal court of Versailles; they became unfit to be on the surface of the planet, viable groups, with will to live, are taking their place


        Comment by name789 — April 5, 2013 @ 8:17 pm

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    Comment by abe lincoln quotes — February 18, 2014 @ 5:48 am | Reply

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