Monday, January 19, 2009

Barack Obama, Abraham Lincoln, and the Truth

I, like all of you, have heard it many times. Pundits drawing comparisons between Obama and Lincoln, cartoonists drawing pictures of Lincoln celebrating Obama's election, and salesmen putting the images of the two on everything imaginable. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I thought to myself, I was people knew American History, I wish people knew the real Lincoln, I wish people would have gone to college with me.

While in college I took an American History class, which focused mainly on the birth and formation of America, up through Lincoln and perhaps a little further. The professor was Dr. Margaret Mulrooney and she was not only the hardest professor I ever had, but she was also the best, teaching me more in those 4 months than I had ever learned in all of my years of schooling. That fact alone is sad for the state of the American education system but also a feather in Dr. Mulrooney's hat.

One of the things I remember from that class, mostly because it made my eyes go wide, my heart beat a little faster, my jaw drop, was when Dr. Mulrooney told us that Abraham Lincoln did not care if the slaves were free, nor did his Emancipation Proclomation actually free the slaves. Come again, Doc? You see in elementary school, and junior high, and high school, I learned two things about Abraham Lincoln; the first is that he freed the slaves, and the second is that he was killed by John Wilkes Booth. In the spirit of Dr. Mulrooney's no bullshit, gloves off approach to American History she told us that she would not sugar coat history, she would tell us the truth as laid out by historians and that is what she did. So what did she teach me about Abraham Lincoln?

First she taught me that Abraham Lincoln, like most politicians, did what was necessary to keep his political stronghold. He did not care whether or not slaves were free men and women, but because the Emancipation Proclamation was beneficial to him, he signed it. Had that document not been beneficial, slavery would have continued on for an unknown amount of time. The second thing she taught me was that the Emancipation Proclamation did not actually free the slaves. Abraham Lincoln was the President of the Union, and while the Emancipation Proclamation set slaves free in most Union states, it did not set them free in much of the South. The fact is that Abraham Lincoln could not enforce his Proclamation in the deep South and slavery continued to endure in the areas not immediately bordering the Union territories.

Naturally when I heard the comparisons after Obama won the election I was a bit uneasy about all of the parallels being drawn between him and Lincoln, I knew something just was not right, and then as the days passed I slowly remembered my American History class and I realized that at least half of America is not wrong about American History, but they have no idea about the real American History.

At any rate, my diatribe here does not stand alone. The Miami Herald is running an article about this and can be found here. It is short but worth the read and I highly encourage it. Here is an excerpt to whet your appetite:
Abraham Lincoln did not believe in the equality of black people. He did, however -- and this was no minor distinction in his era -- believe in their humanity. He also abhorred slavery. But he was willing to countenance it if doing so would have vindicated his primary goal: to save the Union.

Learn your history, and make sure there are no frills attached.


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