Abe Lincoln: Racist or Liberator?

Compare candidate Lincoln’s 1858 remarks on Race during a series of debates where Douglas accused him of being an Abolitionist, active fraternization with blacks  … alongside President Lincoln’s lesson to the nation 5 years later in his 1863 Inaugural address in middle of civil war

In that fourth (4th) debate with (Judge) Stephen Douglas, Lincoln’s remarks were prepared to argue / defend against being sucked into a long running argument between Douglas and another  jurist who claimed to have evidence that Douglas had deleted a paragraph from a proposed Kansas State Constitution,  the effect of that omission, would  allow the state constitution to become law WITHOUT the vote of the people.

But because Douglas was also campaigning to make and enforce laws against inter-racial marriage, and had accused Lincoln of conversing with and fraternizing with Negroes,
Lincoln, possibly with his famed wry humor, does repeat Douglas’ popular racist statements FOLLOWED by (a) suggesting Douglas stay in his state’s senate where such laws could be enacted and NOT in Federal office where they can not  be legislated (b) stating that in his 50 years he has never owned a  slave nor married a Negro wife, and therefore there is NO reason for Douglas to make a new Law to prevent either from happening … (obliquely arguing against Douglas’ Democrat party’s repressive racism)

“…Mr. Lincoln simply contented himself at the outset by saying, that he was not in favor of social and political equality between the white man and the negro, and did not desire the law so changed as to make the latter voters or eligible to office. I am glad that I have at last succeeded in getting an answer out of him upon this question

of Negro citizenship and eligibility to office, for I have been trying to bring him to the point on it ever since this canvass commenced.

You see these people are “Black Republicans” or “Abolitionists” up north, while at Springfield today, they dare not call their Convention “Republican,” but are obliged to say “a Convention of all men opposed to the Democratic party,” …

  • Instead, Douglas accusations against Lincoln actually argue FOR Abe’s sainted reputation as a dedicated abolitionist
  • THEN AFTER Candidate Lincoln is elected, and AFTER 3 painful years of bloody internecine slaughter President Lincoln says:  2 

…These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest.

All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. …It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged.

The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.”

If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him?

Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

So what do you think changed between the snapshot above extracted from 1858 and 1863? Did Candidate Lincoln change his view as President Lincoln?
If he did, is that really a change of heart, even justice, that we can dare praise or accuse before Our Maker?
Who among us, even in 2020 can defend theit accusation against a fellow human who 170 years ago, served wholeheartedly, knowing his life was at risk, who was killed by a southerner, denigrated as an Abolitionist both before he was President and by his assassin’s generation, ironically still disparaged in the 21st Century both by white southerners and the BLM organization??


  1. National Park Service ( Second Inaugural Address, 1862 )  (Lincoln-Douglas debate $4)
  2. Lincoln-Douglas Debate
  3. Appropro of popular post-bellum sentiment was the controversial inter-racial marriage of Frederick Douglass (no known relationship to Stephen Douglas) to blue-blood Abolitionist Helen Pitts in possibly the first inter-racial marriage of the intelligentsia, opposed by Blacks and Whites abolitionists.
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