tv Lectures in History CSPAN January 10, 2015 8:00pm-9:09pm EST
tral high school in little rock, arkansas. we were terrence thelma, elizabeth, ernest greene carlotta and gloria ray. and we were going to school again. >> each week american history tv sits in on a lecture with one of the nation's college professors. you can watch the classes here every saturday evening at 8:00 p.m. and midnight eastern. next, anderson university professor brian dirck talks about abraham lincoln's life as a method of understanding white american's views on race and slavery both before and during the civil war.
professor dirck argues that prior to his presidency lincoln was very much a “typical american.” he also spoke about lincoln's interactions with both slaves and white supremacists and how attitudes changed during the era. this class is about an hour. >> we are dealing with the american slave system in roughly 40 years time, called the antebellum period, leading up to the civil war. this is when american slavery is in its heyday. this is when more americans are making more money off the forced labor of african-americans than they ever have before. and economist who studies this, the amount of wealth from cotton exceeds every other investment in america. hans of money has been made off
the cotton empire. and we see how americans have gotten into the cotton empire with the invention of the cotton gin, america's transition from agriculture to cotton agriculture. if there is one thing i want you guys to get out of this class slavery is not just a southern history topic. it is an american history topic. scholars who study this subject emphasize the fact that the slave system has its tentacles into every corner of northern and southern society. this is not just down there in the moonlight and magnolias. new york bankers were in the cotton empire up to their eyeballs. this is why when the war breaks out, many of the people who sympathize from the confederacy are from new york because they were losing money, you know?
this is an american institution. so, what we want to do this week in class, i want to look primarily at the attitudes of white americans toward race and slavery during roughly this time period. then we can start looking at african-americans and what they thought and that kind of thing. it's really not that hard to get at what the extremists thought about slavery. abolitionists, minimal women who concluded very early on that slavery needed to go. frederick douglas stanton, they write their things down, they are very loud about what they feel. we are when to look at these people and what they are thinking. they are pretty easy to get at. at the other end, the proslavery extremist. these people believe that slavery is not only a necessary
thing, but a positive good. they thought that god sanctioned slavery. they are not that hard to get at either. they talk about their ideas. two extremes on slavery. we're going to talk about them. they are pretty straightforward. what i want to get at most, you guys, is what i call the mushy middle. americans who are somewhere in between those two extremes, you know? americans who may be have kind of a problem with slavery but they do not know what to do with that. southerners who, slavery makes them nervous, but they are not quite sure if they know how to get rid of it. remember thomas jefferson's quote. people whose racial attitudes and slavery attitudes are harder to understand.
because in america by and large most people end up in the middle. guys look at any issue, even today. you have some people at one end some people of the other, and most people in the middle. and they are the ones who really count in many ways, ok? what we want to get at our people in the middle and we want to focus on the borders today. there are a lot of ways we can do this. i can lecture to you guys about population trends and your textbook will give you a lot of that. we're not going to ignore that. but i have always found you can learn more if you look at maybe one person and get real deep into that one person, you know, and see how all this stuff operates in one person and we can extrapolate out from this one person and say, here is that one kind of middle ground north her, a sort of typical
northerner, how they dealt with this stuff. we can extrapolate out from that and you can start making conclusions about everybody else. if you can put a face on something doesn't that just help? if you have a biography to go with stuff, it just works better. i will spend, i don't know, 45 minutes laying the fellow and then i will open up for conversation. ok here is a surprise -- my boy, my man. everybody is laughing. yeah, i know. lincoln is coming up sooner or later. you probably look at that and you go -- abraham lincoln, typical? really, that guy? wasn't he the great emancipator? isn't he thought of as one of the great americans of all time? this is the next to last
photograph taken of lincoln when he was president. you know, that is the image we all have in our heads, right? the iconic american image. the beard, the sad look, the tousled hair. that is not a typical american. that is mr. lincoln. i would not disagree with that. in his personality, and when lincoln is far from typical, ok? and he is so talented. he is the great american, ok? what i want you to do, and this is a hard thing to do, i want you to get abram lincoln out of your heads for a minute. we will go back to him toward the end, all right? but the great lincoln -- wow. he is huge. the lincoln memorial. 5 million tons of marble. that is the great lincoln. try to shove him out of your head.
the lincoln i want to look at is the lincoln during 1820 through 1850. and that guy, there are elements you look at his life and say, there is an indication he is going to do something more than typical, but there are also elements that are kind of typical. he probably looks like a lot of americans. what we want to get at today the antebellum lincoln believes and thoughts about race and about slavery and about how those things and twine -- entwine. it's interesting though, because that is not easy. it's really not. i mean, even today it's kind of hard, isn't it? what you really feel about these really touchy subjects?
you go back 50 or 100 years ago. wow. that's really hard. that is a far ways back. some of you did some papers for me dealing with primary sources. if you were going to go examine lincoln, what kind of primary sources do you think you would have? just hazarding a guess here. what do you think you would have to work with? anybody? wow. [indiscernible] -- >> [indiscernible] >> yeah, i wish he had kept the diary. there is a nine volume collection lincoln's written works. so, yeah, those letters number in the thousands. so yeah.
ok, ok, cool. what else? >> [indiscernible] >> dude is a politician. he gives speeches all the time. i want to go back to both of these points. we also have the library of congress has the collection of lincoln papers, tons of microfilm written by the guy. wish we had a diary, eric, but we don't have that. what else do we have? we have logs. log signed off on as president. but also as a state politician. if he signed off on a law you've got to think it had to do something to do with how he felt. yeah? >> [indiscernible] >> that's a good one because there was a project in illinois call the lincoln papers project
-- only illinois would have the money to do this. they love lincoln in illinois, right? they spent a decade going to every courthouse in illinois and pulling out every scrap of paper , and they ended up with 90,000 documents related to the man's law practice. so, we've got all that. you guys are doing great. how about newspapers? they've got things to say right ? how about people who knew lincoln. they are called reminiscences. after this guy died -- you all know that, right? i'm joking. the guy instantly becomes an american celebrity and everybody who knew him wants to write down what they remember about lincoln. neighbors, his law partner, his
political cronies, his family. someone who went to indiana and introduced -- interviewed his stepmother. she was in her early 70's at this point. if you walk lincoln's dog, you wrote a book for that. i'm not joking. that literature is literally like hundreds and hundreds of books and articles and stuff like that. my point here is this. this is exactly what i want you guys to get at. that man is the most well documented life of probably any american we have from this time period. you put all that together, you are talking hundreds of primary source documents. you are talking another huge literature of people remembering him.
most don't have that, guys. after i die, i doubt everyone is going to write what they remember about me ok? my point is, if you want to get at what a northerner thought about race and slavery and you can't get at it with him, who can you get at it with, right? there is more documentation for this guy than anybody else for his time period, pretty much without exception. that documentation does pose problems. it does not solve everything. for example -- if i'm a politician and i'm giving a speech -- this is a cynical question, but do i really mean what i a? -- what i say? if i'm a politician, and i speaking from the heart? maybe not, right?
any human being that is going to stand before an audience -- he is probably going to tell them what they want to hear to some extent, right? but how do you really know that they reflect what he thinks in private? have you know that? then you get to the reminiscence, and that is a problem. you get to a man or a woman living on the frontier in indiana and the 1880's and you ask this person what you remember about lincoln the great american, you're not going to tell that guy, i don't remember a darn thing. i'm going to go, he was extraordinary, exceptional. i knew he was going to be important. wouldn't you kind of want to do that? what new kind of want to go, yeah! you get a lot of that stuff.
you've got a lot of documents, but they are hard to use and they got their share of pitfalls , and so people who look at lincoln, especially where race and slavery is concerned, guys that is the hot button topic. that is the sensitive one. people get kind of sensitive about lincoln's legacy. this is the saint who white guys admire, ok question mark a lot of people who want to preserve lincoln's legacy as a great american will point to those problems of was just talking about and say, you can't use any of that stuff. throw it all out. because some of those reminiscences might not remember lincoln perfectly or in the best light. it might not be him at his best. people who love to admire
lincoln will use the fact that there are gray areas to check all this stuff. he was a great man. stop the conversation. i think that is bad history. i think that is a really poor approach not just to lincoln but history generally. this is an upper division class. you guys are history majors. you have to ask the questions. there are some things we just know, all right? but ask the questions. if you do not ask them about this guy, you can't ask them about anybody in this time period, you know? there are three questions i am posing here. what did he think about slavery? what did he think about slavery? what did he think about black people? and issues of white supremacy as well.
and what did he do to fight white supremacy in his lifetime? i'll tell you what guys. i'll get a better, more apropos image here. this, by the way, is the only -- the earliest, the earliest known image of lincoln that we can authenticate. this is lincoln as a young professional lawyer in the late 1840's. a kind of like this picture because it is so anti-and stink did, right? when this picture was first discovered in the 20th century at first they didn't think it was lincoln. it doesn't even look like him right? his hair is combed. when did that happen? don't you figure mary is standing right offstage with the brush? he looks cleaned up, ok? i kind of like that. it gives you the counterintuitive image of lincoln.
he doesn't have the beard. we will not going to that today. this is the lincoln i'm talking about, all right? all right, we've gone a little bit over his early life. by the way, come many of you have been to the lincoln museum? the lincoln museum is awesome. check it out. did you like it? it's really nice. this was put together by the lincoln museum. they did a really impressive job with this. they called in scientific experts like csi types you know crime scene investigation that kind of thing to use photographs of lincoln and extrapolate backwards what we think he would have looked like when he was a child. this would have been when he was 12 or 13. this is as good as we are going to get. first question. let's dispose of that first question fairly quickly. what did abram lincoln think about slavery?
the institution of slavery question mark that's not that hard. abraham lincoln never had one kind word to say about slavery ever. there is no gray area here. at anything that we see him say in his speeches, in his letters, in the memories of people is that he always hated the institution. during the civil war, he told a group of visitors that came to the white house to press him to emancipate the slaves, he told these visitors, i hate slavery as much as any abolitionist, and i can remember time when i didn't feel like that. it's all true. from his earliest days as far as we can tell, he never thought the institution was a good idea. his letters are peppered with these perfect lincoln quotes like "if slavery is not wrong,
then nothing is wrong." if you can argue yourself into believing that, you can believe anything. all these people who argue that slavery is a great idea, those people never want to volunteer themselves. he hate slavery. where does that come from? it's hard to say. it really is hard to say. we think that one possible source comes from all the way back to this time. he had a really bad relationship with his dad. thomas lincoln. he was a poor, uneducated farmer who did what many other fathers were doing. whenever young abraham got an odd job around the neighborhood plowing or cutting rails or whatever, before he was the age of 21, thomas would make him give him money. every parent free much did this.
you earn the money, it comes to me for the family. he deeply resented that. and later on during the civil war said something in which he said -- i can't remember the exact words. something to the effect of, i know what it is like to be a slave from my upbringing the way my father treated me. if you want me to psychoanalyze lincoln, you could argue psychological foundations and that he felt like his father treated him kind of like a tyrant, kind of like a slave and the was probably a psychological foundation to this. from his earliest days, guys, a pram lincoln very -- abraham lincoln greatly admired george washington, thomas jefferson and it struck him that slavery was completely opposed to the principles of the declaration of independence.
he says this repeatedly between 1820 and 1850. how can we believe all men are created equal and do this at the same time? so, guys, there is no real question about slavery. he always hates the institution. everybody has gotten that, right? the other questions though are much more consultative. what did he think of what people -- black people? that matters, right? first of all, here is a very big question. you would think it would not be hard to answer, but it is. how many black people did he actually know? who did he know that was african-american? illinois birth -- ordering kentucky. you would think he would run across an african american living in kentucky. probably did. but talking about the gaps in the record, there is no reliable account of him ever encountering
an african-american. on the other hand, he only lived here until the age of six. quite a few black people are living in kentucky. stands to reason as a child -- all modern day research shows the formative years had an influence on him in some fashion as far as the environment he grew up in, but we really do not know. we have no idea. his father did not like slavery. thomas lincoln was not a fan of the institution. we do know this. lincoln himself said that. and we know as a child in kentucky his parents attended at least two baptist churches in kentucky that were run by anti-slavery preachers. what did he do that?
well, first of all he is only six. what did he understand? i don't know. i have said this in class a couple times, but i want to make sure we get this. slavery and race are intimately related, but they are also two different things, ok? just because a person does not like slavery in this period does not believe -- does not mean they believe in equal rights between white and black people. those are different things. he can go to church and listen to an antislavery minister argue against the evils of slavery, but that same minister for all we know might not like black people very much and do racial jokes. it sounds weird. but that could be the case. we just don't know. some people like to point at that and say, oh yeah his dad did not like slavery. he went to antislavery churches.
therefore he believed in racial equality since the age of three. there is no evidence of that. he moved to indiana, lives in indiana until he is 21. what is interesting about that, we also have no reliable record of running into a black person in indiana. the kind of makes a bit more sense, because indiana is a free state, there are theoretically no slaves, and there are a lot fewer black people living in indiana in the time he lives here. it stands to reason. i would imagine he probably is a teenager or young man probably ran into an african-american at some point here. the odds are. what we don't know what that would have been. we have no evidence on that. he does take a trip up and down the mississippi river as a teenager to sell family goods
and new orleans and we know for sure he sought african americans when he went down the river and back. his cousin was with him. his cousin later wrote in the 1880's, my god, abe saw a family being sold into bondage in the slave market, he said, let's get away from here and if i ever get a chance, i will -- yeah right. 17, 18, he is already thinking of being the great emancipator? and his cousin -- have you really know? we don't know much about what he really did think about black people. in the absence of direct primary source evidence, the only thing we can conclude is that he grew up in the same culture that
every other white kid grew up in. white kids in the north are growing up and being taught by what can only be characterized as a white supremacist culture there are races, they have mutable value, and white people are superior. i don't know how much that had an effect on him. i assume it had some because after all he is living in that culture, you know what i am saying? i is no documentation otherwise. that is the important point guys. in the absence of reliable documentation to the contrary, i have to conclude that culture would have some affect on him. what the result is, i don't know. he leaves indiana with his family, moves to illinois. i will explain this in a second. that picture on the left is a romanticized picture of lincoln cutting fence rails about the
time he leaves for illinois. norman rockwell, that sort of thing. you've seen that. the romantic lincoln, the rags to riches story. the great lincoln myth. i'm not going to argue with that. but here's the thing. if you had been a typical white person walking through the woods of indiana and you ran across this problem kid -- rawboned kid, he was well over six feet his hair was not home, not wearing shoes, working manual labor. you would not look at that guy and say there goes a future president if i ever saw one.
on the right is a drawing from harper's weekly from about the same time of a stereotypical version of what a backwoods hillbilly looked like living on the edges of the american frontier. if i juxtapose those two images -- lincoln who, guys, has no money. no education. lincoln is scared to death of being perceived like that. why would need be, man -- why wouldn't he be, man? he is ambitious. but a culture that things in racial terms would not look at that and see norman rockwell. the earliest form i found was in a novel in 1818. guys, that is race just like black is race.
you can't understand one without understanding the other. the weight whiteness is understood in this time is there are certain people who have white skin but are still white trash. what is white trash back then? if you look real close, you see hanging off of his belt is a big jug, and i guarantee you that jug is not full of water. the stereotype is white trash are alcoholics and drunkards. there were articles back then that white trash lived in indiana, illinois, were all alcoholics, ok? he is dressed in rags. white trash is lazy. they don't want to work. white trash is ignorant. the can't spell. they don't have education. they are inbred, marrying cousins, that kind of stuff. there are all of these ugly
racial stereotypes attached to the circumstances abraham lincoln rose up in. one important factor -- he spends his whole life running away from that as fast as he can go, you know? he doesn't want to be that, man. if you look at the choices he makes. if you made a clipboard that said how not to be white trash, that would be lincoln's life. what trash is lazy. lincoln's work ethic is legendary. white trash and has no education. very famously, this guy educates himself. white trash drinks too much. in an age where most american strike, he is a teetotaler. is this a coincidence? i doubt it. he did not have a diary. i wish he did. but you can see the choices that he makes. he does not want to be fit into that stereotype. that has got a lot to do with
the choices he makes in his life. on top of everything else, he does not become a farmer. he becomes a young professional. he goes into law. he marries a respectable rich young lady from kentucky, mary todd. his take on white racial stereotypes is to get out of there. once he hits the stage, moves to illinois becomes a lawyer, becomes a respectable middle-class it attorney living in springfield. how many black people did he know? recent scholarship on springfield, the history of the city shows that there were a fair number of black people living in springfield in the 1830's, 18 40's, 1850's. so, he would have run into african-americans. this is probably the black person he knew the best. this is a picture of william flora bell.
it is spelled five different ways. flevourville. were not quite sure how we spell his name. also known as billy the barber. billy the barber traveled to springfield about the time lincoln moved there, maybe a couple years before. the best scholarship we have got is it seems to have been somewhere around 1831, 1832. at this point, lincoln is not a lawyer yet, but he has studied law. by all accounts, billy runs the barber shop in town. lincoln goes to the barber shop frequently. you know lincoln he love stories, loves telling jokes. where else would he hang out but the barbershop? you've got to figure. more than that, he was a good
friend of billy and when lincoln becomes a lawyer, he does legal work for billy. the record is sketchy here guys but the legal work might have been pro bono. billy cut a deal with this guy in town, a rich guy. the deal was this. the rich guy said, billy, i will give you the title to a couple of very valuable lots in springfield. and i will get free haircuts. i will try that it's supercuts time. then the guy up and dies. he takes the deeds to lincoln and says, can you help me figure this out? lincoln dates of the paperwork for an. this is no small thing. lincoln really has to work to get billy's land rights ran hated -- reinstated. lincoln had a close regard for this man.
billy knows the lincoln children very well. billy writes letters to lincoln says tell the boys their pet dog is ok. there is another black man named robert johnson. if you saw the movie "abram lincoln vampire hunter" -- i'm sorry to bring it up. but believe it or not, robert johnson is a character in that movie. robert johnson is a black man. i have a picture guys. we do not have the picture robert johnson. he worked as a servant for the lincoln family in the 1850's for the lincoln family and he went with lincoln to washington, d.c. to be a personal valet. robert johnson had a falling out with the white house staff and
had to find another job and lincoln went out of his way to find this guy job in the treasury department. then johnson died of smallpox in 1854 and lincoln paid for the funeral expenses. so, there's that. there are were african-american women who work to meet lincoln household in the 1850's. they seem to have gotten along well with lincoln. not with mary, i'm sure. mary kept firing them. she fired everybody. the point is, he knew some black people. he didn't know a lot of black people. for example, his law practice. 90,000 documents. thousands of cases. there is a little handful involving black people, ok? he had a dozen black clients. it is worth pointing out that every black person who could be talked to after the war --
johnson was dead, of course, but billy gave some interviews. they all said he was a very kind man. did not seem to have any serious racial prejudice. and i liked him. there were no black people who said, yeah, that guy was a big. and so, there is that. the chosen profession for lincoln is politician. he is running for office. very famously against stephen douglas. he is very outspoken in his antislavery views. guys, he becomes a one issue politician in the 1850's. all he talks about is the danger of slavery, got to get rid of the institution.
he is running primarily against stephen douglas and stephen douglas was an unabashed, enthusiastic race baiting white supremacist. i am not being mean here. i am just being accurate. stephen douglas knew the way to beat him in that election was to tar him with the brush of racial equality in front of a lily white audience, many of whom had prejudice against black people, and douglas stands up in front of the audience and says, that guy once racial equality. he thinks the black man is your brother. well, i don't think that it all, man. you read that stuff today and you go, oh, my god. douglas was saying lincoln wanted black men to go rape white women.
there were images of frederick douglass riding around with your white daughter. douglas would demonize black people. black people had insatiable sexual appetites. they were violent and unstable. douglas was in extreme race later, ok? what about lincoln? lincoln never did that. he never demonizes black people. you never see him in a speech say, yeah, black people are stupid or sexually promiscuous. he does not at that stuff. in numerous speeches, he makes the point of saying that the fundamental difference between me and stephen douglas is i think a black person is a human being and he does not. it gives lincoln marks for that one.
he also stands up in front of a lily white audience in 1858 and says, i think the declaration of independence applies to black people. they ought to have the right to earn the bread. that takes courage, you guys. it does. you have got to admire him. on the other hand -- there's always another hand. he was stand up in that same series of debates and he very famously after douglas accused him of wanting racial equality abraham lincoln says, no, i don't. a famous passage in which he says i am not in favor between the black and white races. in so far is the rest to be a difference, i want the whites to be on top. that would lead people who did not like lincoln to say that he was a bigot.
i'm going to lay it out for you and say what you think. he does tell people that he's not for racial equality. he does believe blacks are different from whites. and he does kind of make black people into the nonwhite other. he doesn't do that by demonizing them. he does it with humor. we all know abraham lincoln love to tell jokes -- loved to tell jokes. some of them are jokes that if you told them today, they would be considered racist. i am not going to tell any of them. they are not very funny and they are annoying. i wish he hadn't done it, ok? but there are some people who want to say, those are people remembering it after the fact. no, man. the evidence is quite clear that on several occasions he told jokes.
in these jokes, he does not demonize black people either. i'm not excusing him. i'm just saying that's what he does. aw, shucks, those funky black people. they're so funny. he rarely used the n-word. but he did on a few occasions. douglas used the n-word three or four times a day, it seems like. and we do also know that he and mary liked to attend blackface minstrel shows. by our standards those are quite racist. i am just laying this out right now. that is what we get with him as far as his attitudes. so on that second question what did he think of black --
there you go. individual relationships, pretty good. but there are places you look at an kind of wentz. kind of wish he had not told that joke. kind of wish he had not stood up before those people in 1858 and said he was not for racial equality. still again i believe during his presidency, like a lot of other white americans during the civil war, he changed. there is evidence toward the end of his presidency, he was beginning to fight white supremacy. but that third question -- would he fight white supremacy? and the answer, sadly, prior to 1860, usually not. in other words to stand up in front of people and say to white voters, you can get rid of slavery, but you don't have to give anything up. he does not get in their faces
and say, you have got to change your racist ways. he never does that. this guy is a politician. it's a perfectly reasonable strategy. tell them they do not have to give something up. but before the civil war, he would not get in people's faces and say your white bigotry is a bad thing. but during the war he changes, and the last year of his life really, he begins to get up in people's faces and starts to say, we can do this anymore. we have got to start changing the way we look at these things. one wonders if he had not been shot, if he would have gone further with that. do you see how messy it is? pretty darn messy, isn'tpretty darn messy, isn't it? beware of anybody who ever tries to tell you anything about history and begins with the words "it's simple."
because it's never simple. never, ever, ever. what do you think of lincoln? do you think -- i'll tell you what. the question that gets asked all the time, was lincoln a racist? is that even a good question? anybody want to grab a microphone and respond here, guys? let's just asked that blood question. do you guys think lincoln is a racist? yeah? >> the other day we talked about how you can't look at the situation we're talking about now and know what transpired afterwards. >> yeah. >> at this time there is no martin luther king, there is no march on washington. he is -- he i do not want to say the first person to think about this, but one of the first. so, he has no idea how things
are going to go. he is fighting against the system basically. so he does not have the types of views we have right now. because of that, who knows exactly where his thought process was? he could be definitely i hate this institution of slavery, which we talked about is true but at the same time i do not exactly want my daughter to be -- i do not want her to date a black person. >> exactly. that's a good point. >> to say he was racist, he very well could be. to say he was to completely demonize them and run them into the ground, that would be incorrect, i think. >> you raised a couple of good points there. first of all, isn't there a very dicey question about how far you and i go in applying our values? that's not an easy question to answer guys. there were a lot of things i
don't know about abram lincoln but there are things i do know. he did not know barack obama would be president. we live in an age -- that was un-freaking-thinkable. that is science fiction. do we take our view -- our values and extrapolate them back to the 1850's and say you do not believe us, therefore you are a bigot? on the other hand i am not comfortable myself with the moral relativism of saying i am going to cut them all slack back then because -- guys, it's not a slavery question. it may not even be a history question. it's a philosophical question.
do we hold people accountable if they don't make the grade? what you guys think? a bite -- anybody? >> i think it is really hard to put a rider on lincoln's views because he was a politician anyone in to get elected. it probably would have been hard to say that i think under the declaration of independence everyone in this country should be equal. i do not think in the context of the period he would have gotten a lot of voters. >> he would not, frankly, yeah yeah. ? >> it's really hard to put a right or wrong on that. i respect that he wanted to make a change, so he needed to get his foot in the door. >> that is the perspective of a couple of scholars i know of. very good scholars, by the way. they say look.
exec we what you said -- exactly what you said. if he said, this is how i feel, he would just have to go home. on the other hand -- and i am not necessarily arguing with you -- there is this though. what you are saying to a certain extent, he says one thing and thinks another. which is acceptable, but we've got his public letters. we got his public speeches. if i go and look at what he's saying privately, he seems to be extraordinarily consistent. so, when i look at his political speeches -- i think you guys should look at that, tia well. that's a good point to make. he believes what he is saying. these points are generally
speaking kind of the same thing. this is another one of those theoretical philosophical questions. what do we tolerate in our politicians >>? here is where i will put in the plug for the lincoln movie. have you seen that? what you see is, a r.i.m. lincoln negotiating -- abraham lincoln negotiating. he goes back and fourth, back and forth. it's never a straight line. he has a beautiful conversation with that he is stevens were he says, if you have a compass and it shows you true north, the right thing to do, but it does not tell me anything about swaps between here and where i need to go. if i'm a politician and i know what is right and i can see what is right and i try to get there and do not pay attention to how i get there, i will never get
there. there's no easy answers. but this is why lincoln is worth bothering with. these are questions we are asking ourselves now. these are questions we are asking about the current congress, the current president. how much slack do we give our politicians to say something they do not completely agree with? how do we know? it's a great point. eric. >> talking about moral relativism and things like that -- like universal truth coming from the bible. my question is, where is his fate that? looking back, it's very clear that slavery is wrong. it sounds like he is in the middle playing both sides. >> the question about lincoln's
faith is a good one. and a very difficult one to answer. there has a lot been written about that -- there has been a lot written about that. i think he believed in god certainly. he did not attend an organized church. he and mary did own a few of the presbyterian church in springfield, but there is no evidence he hardly ever attended. when he was a young man about your age, he seemed to be it religious skeptic. i would not say in atheist exactly, but there were rumors back then that he was at least agnostic. when he was running for state legislature, he was running against a guy who accused him of being an atheist. he made a public bill that he was not an atheist. if you got to say that, then
maybe there is something -- you know what i am saying? he does quote the bible. i do not think his religious beliefs were all that intense. it's interesting you brought this up. when you look at serious antislavery extremists like william wood garrison charles finney, other abolitionists, they all tend to have a very powerful religious foundation in what they say and do. lincoln doesn't really. during the civil war, he becomes much more religious, and in fact his second inaugural is shot through with religious imagery. yet, you go back and look at his speeches and you're looking for where his moral compass is. i think the bible does play a role here. i personally think after reading all this stuff i think it is
more of his moral underpinning from kind of the declaration of independence and enlightened principles of individual freedom and liberty and inequality. i'm not saying he was not christian, because i think he was. but in a quiet, low-key way. lincoln does not often talk about that. he does on occasion suggest that the bible and slavery are antithetical. but really, guys, most of the time when he is righting and talking -- writing and talking about slavery being wrong, he is talking about it on a broad, moral level. he did this great thing one time when he says, we have all of these free black people in this country. and they did.
how -- their masters freed them. masters do not free cows and chickens. it was that kind of reasoning. there is a nice little scrap of paper that he never published in which he had a lawyer's brief against racism. he said if person a tendon slave person be because person b is black and person a is white then who is to say that if person c comes along and says person a, your color of skin is inferior, that they can't enslave them? logical reasoning. if you are going to in slave -- enslave someone for their skin color, then the first person that is wider than you can enslave you. he never says that in public.
he would really offend a lot of people. you guys, this is how i see higher education, man. i am not going to sit here and -- i want you guys to make your own minds up. how do you guys feel about it? yeah? >> i actually had a question for you. >> ok. >> as far as the extremist abolitionists, were there people who called for racial equality. because i am reading in a different class a book about elizabeth cady stanton, and she asked for suffrage for women, which it was said was more than abolitionists said dunn -- had
done for african-americans. i know they were not at the point of asking for voting. but were people at that point? to me, it doesn't seem all the way in the extreme. >> he's not. that's a great question. lincoln is somewhere in the middle. i would. maybe a little bit more toward the abolitionists. the other question is a good one. scholars who study abolitionists -- the abolitionists were the good guys. they were. i do admire frederick douglass. i think he is one of the great americans. and william harrison. that said, scholars who study the abolitionists argue that even relatively few of the abolitionists were calling for total racial equality.
even william letty geyer's and -- garrison would stop short of black and white marriage. when frederick douglass married a white woman after his first wife died, he massively alienates other abolitionists by doing that. there is a sexual taboo that almost nobody would cross. whereas, nowadays, it is a fairly common thing. elizabeth cady stanton had a really interesting case. she had a level of social equality certainly political equality between black and white people. that was kind of a long and sad story. i do not know if you guys have gotten into the host war period yet. there was going to be in a memo to the constitution to give both black people and women the vote.
at a congressman went to frederick douglass and said, we are prepared to give black people the votes, but if you insist on attaching women to this, no one is going to pass this. i think elizabeth cady stanton never forgive him for that. she was really upset. she then goes out and campaigns to get the women's issues attached back to the amendment. she says, well, if you are going to give those black people they vote -- it's very ugly. relatively few abolitionists of this time would fit our definition of complete racial equality. at i think
theodore parker would. william lord part -- william lloyd garrison probably would. you get to mainstream abolitionists, you would find some who believed in political equality but not social equality. give black people to vote, but i'm not going to invite them to my parties. that kind of stuff. you get people who believed in giving black people legal equality but they might be more reluctant to give them the vote. or they might think we will give people to vote after 50 years when they are educated up to it. there are a fair number of americans who believe in colonization including lincoln. abraham lincoln believed in the idea that if you are going to free black people -- for him it was voluntary.
it was on voluntary. he believed racism was so toxic he would have a race war and nobody would win if you try to put black and white people together. he was arguing for opening up a place in africa or madagascar for refugees from slavery. that is how he saw it. he saw this as refugees from slavery that could volunteer to leave if they wanted to. there are other abolitionists that talked about forced deportation. that is a great question. there is no simple answer. we don't even know how many abolitionists there were. it is shaped of great. it really is. -- it is shades of gray. it really is. >> some abolitionists believed slavery would die out on its own. going off of what lydia said, do
you think some abolitionists were even abraham lincoln himself thought after emancipating the slaves that sort of the racism would fizzle out on its own? >> that is a great question. that is an awesome question. it really is. let me reintroduce the division between race and slavery. as far as slavery during the time before he freed the slaves, abraham lincoln firmly believed if things were left alone slavery would die off on its own. he argued slavery is incompatible with democracy and free enterprise. the north was growing much faster than the south. more people in the north. he said time is only slaves owners' side. eventually they will have to figure it out. he just thought some unprincipled people like stephen douglass who he could not stand by the way, were trying to
prolong slavery past the point it should have been dealt with for their own personal, political reasons. as far as race is concerned that is a hard one. i don't see much evidence prior to 1860 that lincoln was digging in terms of an eventual multiracial society -- was thinking in terms of an eventual multiracial society. during the war, towards the end of the war that is when you start to see him thinking we may finally come to a point where black and white people can live together in peace. that was like after his reelection, the last year or so. it is a great question. he honestly thought if you just let white southerners alone, and if they would just be rational, they would figure this out. he always said i have no problem with white southerners.
he said i'm not mad at them. i was born in kentucky, i am a southern. he says in a speech in peoria, in illinois, i would not know how to fix this if i had my own slaves. i'm not pointing a finger at those people and smacking them around. the abolitionists would. garrison and the extremists like you were going to burn and h -- in hell. lincoln never did that. he said if we can let reasonable people reason together, we will find in answer -- and answer. that is a glass half full answer. lincoln does have a vision of a proslavery future. glass half empty is how many people have to stay in bondage before that hazy future gets realized. these are questions you can answer for yourself. you can go both ways there. yeah. >> i just think it is
interesting that he looked at george washington and thomas jefferson. we talked a lot about washington and jefferson and they are kind of the heroes of america the founding fathers and all of that, but they owned slaves. thomas jefferson at home owned slaves and he wrote the declaration of independence. >> go figure. >> i think it is a compartmentalization thing just a little bit. also back to if we think lincoln was a racist, i think today racist is defined differently than then. i think he would not have seen himself as a racist in that time. you were talking about people seeing black people as demons and stuff. when you compare him to that, i would not say he is a racist.
but today him saying he does not want equal rights between white and black people, people kind of say that is a little bit racist. >> if he told some of these jokes in 2014, oh, my god. whenever i get asked if lincoln was a racist, my answer is usually it is a bad question. that is too simple. it is way too black and white. i know, that is bad. but really, guys. it is too binary, either or. life does not work that way generally. your point is well taken. in his context i would want him around more than stephen douglass. douglass was so embarrassing about this. he got censored by the u.s. congress one-time for using racially offensive language in the 1850's. you have to go some to do that.
in that context, absolutely. it would be interesting to see how he would react. he is one of barack obama's heroes. he really is. it would be interesting to see how lincoln would react to that, the first black president citing abraham lincoln every chance he gets. i kind of get the feeling lincoln would be cool with it but that is just my personal feeling. i like the guy. i am not married to the guy. you know what i am saying? i have students who say the last person on earth i will ever write a person on in your class is abraham lincoln. come on. i am not that bad. i very much admire the man. i kind of agree with you. i think he would be more in the -- on the enlightened site today. he is a human being. he has his faults. if we don't look those square in the eye, we will never do good history. we are just doing myth.
thank you for this. i appreciate it. have a good day. we are done. thanks guys. >> join us each saturday evening at 8:00 and midnight eastern for classroom lectures from across the country on different topics and er of american historyas. lectures are also available as podcasts. >> each week, american history tv's "reel america" brings you archival films that help to the story of the 20th century. >> ♪