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2011 marks the 150th anniversary of what’s been called America’s second revolution, the Civil War. When it began in 1861, four million Americans were held as slaves by other Americans. When it ended four years later, more than 600 hundred thousand people were dead and many others never counted. It was a war, for and against, the right to secede and a war, for and against, the institution of slavery. Historians weigh in on how years of appeasement and compromise on slavery came to an end, the death and destruction unleashed by the war, and its meaning and memory today.
- Adam Goodheart professor,Washington College historian, journalist, and critic. author of "1861: The Civil War Awakening"
- Chandra Manning associate professor, Georgetown University
- Thavolia Glymph associate professor, Duke University
- David Blight professor and director, Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance & Abolition Yale University
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us, I'm Diane Rehm. The opening shots at the Civil War were fired 150 years ago, but the battle over slavery began well before and the fight for equality has been waged ever since. Joining me in the studio to talk about the Civil War and its legacy today, Adam Goodheart, he's the author of a new book titled "1861: The Civil War Awakening." Thavolia Glymph is associate professor at Duke University, Chandra Manning is associate professor at Georgetown University. And joining us from a studio at Yale University, David Blight, he's professor and director of the Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance & Abolition.
MS. DIANE REHMI do hope you'll join us, 800-433-8850, send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org, join us on Facebook or Twitter. And good morning to all of you.
MR. ADAM GOODHEARTGood morning.
MS. THAVOLIA GLYMPHGood morning, Diane.
MS. CHANDRA MANNINGGood morning.
MR. DAVID BLIGHTGood morning, Diane.
REHMI wonder if I could start with you, Adam. In your book, you suggest that we concentrate an awful lot on the battles of the Civil War, but we're missing a lot. What are we missing?
GOODHEARTWell, you know, the sort of epiphany that led to my book, it really began in an old plantation house out on the eastern shore of Maryland, where I teach at Washington College. And my students and I were exploring there a few years ago and found this incredible trove of family papers in the attic, 200, 350 years' worth of family papers, a whole chronicle of history.
GOODHEARTAnd in these papers was a little bundle of documents tied up in a yellow silk ribbon that clearly hadn't been undone in over a century. And written on the outside was the date 1861. Now, inside this bundle, there were letters from a man, an officer in the U.S. Army in the early months of 1861, trying to figure out which way he should go in the midst of this national crisis.
GOODHEARTHe felt like a Southerner, being from Maryland, came from a slaveholding background and yet he'd been loyal to the United States as an Army officer for his entire career and he was writing back and forth to his wife and to his brother and each one was pulling this way and that. He was thinking not just about these big questions of loyalty and politics, morality, ideology, but also about these personal factors. What'll this mean for my career, for my family? And his wife wrote to him at one point, she said, it is like a great game of chance.
GOODHEARTAnd I realized that the Civil War wasn't just something that was decided on battlefields, it was fought in millions of ordinary Americans hearts and minds and that was the war that I wanted to try to recover, to bring readers into that moment when everything hung in the balance.
REHMAdam Goodheart, his new book is titled "1861: The Civil War Awakening." Thavolia Glymph, to what extent do you believe it was clear-cut at the time as to whether this was a war against slavery or for secession?
GLYMPHI don't think it was clear-cut to anyone at the beginning, what was going to happen. The stakes were clear, I think. Most Northerners and Southerners, white and black, free and enslaved, did understand that the fundamental cause was slavery and on the ground, if one could identify any group of people who understood where this war would probably go, it would be the slaves themselves who, from the very first moment, even long before the escapes to Fort Monroe began moving for freedom. And so clearly, the most important abolitionists here are the slaves -- the enslaved people.
REHMDavid Blight, at the time, no one in either the North or the South knew which way President Lincoln was going to go, what kind of stance he would take. Why was that?
BLIGHTWell, in part because Lincoln himself didn't know (laugh). This was a war of limited aims on both sides at the very beginning. On the South side, it was for independence and they would've argued to be left alone, politically. And on the North side, it was a war to preserve the Union, to restore the Union. The kind of revolutionary direction the war would take within a year to the second year, the way in which emancipation eventually made this into a much more total war, a war ultimately for a kind of unconditional surrender.
BLIGHTA war that had to conquer the South and therefore destroy its social institutions in order to achieve victory was really in almost no one's mind in the summer of 1861, except as Thavolia suggested, certainly in the minds of abolitionists and certainly in the minds of the slaves themselves. This was at the beginning a conflict, as we came to observe about wars like Vietnam. It quickly, by the end of 1861 and into 1862, became a massive struggle for the future of the United States and that future now was going to be redefined, one way or the other, whoever came out victorious.
REHMAnd Chandra Manning, do you think it was actually -- looking back, was it good that President Lincoln stayed back -- stayed out of it in terms of public statements?
MANNINGThat probably depends on who you ask. I expect that if you are one of the thousands of slaves and former slaves who ran to Union Army lines and who had no idea what would to you when you got there, it wasn't so great. If you're a Union Army officer trying to win the war, well then, the answer isn't quite so clear-cut.
MANNINGIn the year 1861, the year that Adam talks about, Union military aims include keeping four slave states in the Union, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri and Delaware. Delaware, I don't know that anyone got that exercised about, but Kentucky and Maryland and Missouri mattered a lot.
MANNINGSo if you don't want Maryland, Missouri or Kentucky to secede, then you have to sort of reassure people with power, who often times owned slaves, their interests are safe with the Union. So if you're a conservative white Union officer, it's probably a good thing that Lincoln is as reticent as he is. But the problem with this whole question is that there is no clear answer to anybody. In the whole story, I don't think just of the first or the second, you know, the whole story of the war is making it up as we go along that nobody knows exactly where this is going.
REHMAnd I guess that's the question I have for you, Thavolia Glymph, why is it 150 years later, we are still agonizing, trying to figure out not only what went on, but the reasons behind what went on?
GLYMPHI think -- excuse me, Diane, I think that's one of the most difficult questions and there is no answer that I have. I think in part it's because the problem was never resolved completely. The slaves were freed, emancipated, but at the moment that Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, and even at the moment that Congress passed and the states ratified the 13th Amendment, the question, what will we do with the Negro, remained.
GLYMPHAnd even with the establishment of the Freedmen's Bureau, it remained and so Congress subsequently adopts the 13th, the 14th Amendment, the 15th Amendment. But that question is still in the air and to go back to the point made just a minute ago, in terms of what Lincoln thought and why he was a bit hesitant to come forward. Part of the problem with Lincoln was not only that he was a very practical man, but part of the problem is that he also believed the black people were inferior and so he was always hesitant to promote any policy that would suggest equality or social equality in the...
REHMSo in our minds, we think of Lincoln as a hero for the Emancipation Proclamation, but you're saying he believed that blacks were inferior?
GLYMPHHe was a hero in many ways, but he was never able to overcome his belief and he always separated. He said, personally, I think slavery's wrong, but also personally, I think blacks are inferior.
GLYMPHAs a politician, I think that this country -- everyone who said should be equal and so he -- how do you sort of disentangle the personal, moral beliefs from the political was always a problem for him.
BLIGHTWell, Diane, I mean, to your huge question of why are we still struggling so much with this today, that's a huge problem, of course, but if we boil it right down to the two large questions over which this war was fought, the one being slavery and whether it would be destroyed or whether it would be survived -- whether it would survive and what kind of a new racial regime would come out of that.
BLIGHTAnd the second question being federalism and states' rights. If you think of those two questions together, we have never resolved those two questions and it's arguable that in many ways, we never will. They are part and parcel of what the United States is. And one of the reasons, of course, that we still struggle over this is because that war brought about, as you suggested in your opening, a kind of second revolution. It was a rendering, it was a transformation in blood and terrible sacrifice of the United States.
BLIGHTIt was a kind of reinvention. It created the 2nd American Republic and those constitutional amendments, the 13th, 14th and 15th. And for the next century, we struggled -- to say the least, we struggled, to make those legacies good and couldn't. And of course, it's in part why we had the Civil Rights movement. So whenever a nation undergoes this kind of transformation, it's legacies and its memory will probably forever be vexing and it's probably the reason we're still here talking about it.
REHMDavid Blight of Yale University. Short break, right back.
REHMAnd we're talking about the Civil War which began 150 years ago. A new book by Adam Goodheart titled "1861: The Civil War Awakening." Here in the studio, Adam Goodheart, Thavolia Glymph, she's associate professor at Duke University, Chandra Manning at Georgetown University and David Blight, he's professor and director Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance & Abolition at Yale University.
REHMHere's our first email from John in Great Lake, Mich., who says, "I was born and raised in the North, but have spent a couple of stints living in the South. One of the phrases that always caught my attention was one heard only in the South, the War of Northern Aggression. Can it be said of either side that only one was the aggressor? Wasn't the first shot fired by the South at Fort Sumter?" Chanda.
MANNINGI grew up all over the country on naval bases and the first place that I learned about the Civil War in a classroom was Jacksonville, Fla. And we said the Pledge of Allegiance to the U.S. flag each morning, but we then sang "Dixie" to the pictures of Lee and Stonewall Jackson on either side. And so my introduction to the study of the Civil War has an interesting cast to it.
MANNINGIt's you can't pigeonhole me North or South and so I was taken by his noticing of that phrase, War of Northern Aggression, because when I was six, that's how it was introduced to me. So imagine my surprise to learn that that's a 20th century invention, that nobody called it that during the war itself. Northerners called it The Rebellion, Southerners, if they called it anything other than this awful war, called it the Civil War.
MANNINGSo I think that that email actually speaks to your previous question about memory very well. But his other point about aggressor and who's the aggressor, that question seemed to matter quite a lot, I think, to many people in 1861, who started this, and I think that that is a tough label to pin on one side or the other. Yes, the first shot was fired by Confederate guns at Fort Sumter, which is a U.S. military installation. I think if a U.S. military installation was fired on today, most people would see that as a form of aggression.
MANNINGIf you lived in Northern Virginia and somebody marched onto your farm, you would probably see that as aggression, so -- so who is the aggressor is a tricky question, but what but what's really telling to me about that question is how late -- what a late invention that term really is.
REHMInteresting. And Adam Goodheart, one of the people you point to is a man named Ellsworth at the beginning of this entire process. Who was he, what happened?
GOODHEARTWell, Elmer Ellsworth was a sort of a rock star in the pop culture of that immediate antebellum moment. He was the founder in America of a movement known as the Zouaves and these were troops who went out dressed in these incredible sort of baggy Arab-style pants and little fezes and performed this sort of military drill that involved lots of leaping and somersaulting and flourishing their bayonets. It was sort of like a cross between SEAL Team Six and the Cirque de Soleil, you can think of it.
GOODHEARTAnd I talk about this. It's, for one thing, just a marvelous story and he becomes the first Union martyr of the Civil War. He's also a very close friend of the Lincoln family and his death becomes a great transition for Lincoln. When you think of how eventually every household, every family in America would be touched by the tragedy of the Civil War. Lincoln was one of the very first Americans to be touched by a death close to him when Ellsworth is killed in the very first weeks of the war.
REHMHow does he die?
GOODHEARTHe dies -- it's a very squalid, terrible death not on some glorious battlefield, but on the second floor landing of a cheap hotel in Alexandria, Va. in this sort of double-homicide when in the same moment, Ellsworth and a Secessionist kill one another at close range and their dead almost instantly, lying in a pool of blood on this stairway.
GOODHEARTBut to me, what Ellsworth also represents is something larger than that story, as fascinating as the story is, and that's a sort of a Northern militarism, in a sense of when you talk about Northern Aggression, a sort of a Northern militancy that was growing in the years before the Civil War that we often sort of neglect as part of the story, at least in the popular understanding.
GOODHEARTWe think of the Southerners as the rebels, the Southerners as the militants, but in fact, there were millions of Northerners who were undergoing their own kind of revolution where they were standing up and they were saying, enough. Enough compromise with slavery, enough yielding of ground to what they called at the time The Slave Power.
GOODHEARTAnd, you know, when you talk about whether the Republican Party was abolitionist or not, they may not have been abolitionists, but they were an anti-slavery party and that was something that the Southerners, I think, rightly perceived as a threat to the long-term vitality of the institution.
BLIGHTAnd they threatened them into secession (laugh).
GOODHEART(laugh) That's right.
BLIGHTThe election of Lincoln, the platform of the Republican Party, their stand against the expansion of slavery into the West, the fear that slavery and its civilization around it would begin to erode and so on has everything to do with why the deep South seceded from the Union. But back to that question from John in Michigan about what we call this war, Chandra's experience is absolutely fascinating and I might point out, she's not that old either and the fact that when (laugh)...
MANNINGThank you, David.
BLIGHT...she was growing -- indeed. But when she was growing up and you were still doing the Pledge and then honoring Lee and Jackson or whoever it was on the wall is remarkable because it shows, if nothing else, that in the 20th century, when terms like the War of Northern Aggression caught hold in the larger culture, it shows the hold that the Lost Cause tradition, the Confederate, Southern version of what the war had been about and what its legacies ought to be, which took there in the late 19th century and became actually part of the national culture by the 20th century.
BLIGHTThat old cliché that the North won the war and the South won the memory actually has a lot of substance to it and to understand who we are and how we commemorate this war and why sentiment, the sweetness of sentiment still so often seems to control how we talk about this event has everything to do with the way in which the Lost Cause became not as story of loss at all by the 20th century, it became, in essence, a victory story, a victory narrative. It was the South's way of saying they may have lost the war, but they won reconstruction.
BLIGHTThey overthrew reconstruction and gained back control of their society and of race relations and to a great degree, if you think about it, of the national government as well when Woodrow Wilson was elected in 1912. And if we even continue to this day and realize the way in which the modern Conservative movement has gained such success in our political culture, it is not unrelated to this older story of the way in which the past, versions of the past, become part of our national political discourse.
REHMChandra, you want to add to that?
MANNINGI just wanted to add one thing on why -- what seemed to be aggressed against, if you are a Northerner in 1860 or '61 'cause I think, from our perspective, it's tough to understand that. But why would secession look aggressive to you if you were a Northerner in 1860 and 1861 and I think the reason is that secession happened in response to the election of a president and that, I think, is really key for understanding that at least the beginning of this war, from at least a white Northerner's point of view.
MANNINGBecause white Northerners who are of voting age in 1860 grew up when -- in an era where Europe was convulsed by a series of revolutions that they think didn't work, that they think were sort of democratic uprisings to try self-government that was then quashed. So if you're in 1860, 1861 a Northerner, you cast your ballot for whoever you cast it for in 1860, well, election -- self-government only work if we all agree ahead of time, we'll abide by them, even if we don't like the results and if we don't, then there's no grounds for election.
MANNINGSo if people who don't like the results of an election can leave when they don't like the results, to people who have grown up watching democratic revolutions fail, that says the whole rest of the world is going to say, don't try self-government, it doesn't work. But the one place that tried it, didn't work there. And it might sound (word?), but I think there are Northerners who see not just themselves as the objects of aggression, but the whole idea of whether or not self-government works as the object of aggression.
REHMAnd, Thavolia, the abolitionists really were unsure of how this whole process was going to work. You had Frederick Douglas claiming his despair. What was going on in the minds of the abolitionists?
GLYMPHI think it really depended on what kind of abolitionist you were, whether you were anti-slavery and pro-equality, for example. If you were like Douglas, if you were a feminist and pro-freedom, you know. So Douglas was really disappointed with Lincoln and he remained disappointed for most of the war...
GLYMPHBecause he thought that Lincoln was holding back, as many radical Republicans did, why are you holding back. And Lincoln, in his public letters that -- which was his way of communicating because presidents didn't go out and campaign, he kept saying, I'm holding back because the country is not ready, because I don't want to alienate the border states. We have to keep Kentucky, for example, especially Kentucky.
GLYMPHLincoln was not convinced that the vast majority of Northern white people would accept equality and he was right, but Douglas said, it can -- there can be no other war but an abolition war and freedom has to come out of this. And so the abolitionists remained torn among themselves. When Lincoln was up for re-election in '64, they were still split.
GLYMPHYou know, should we support him, should we not. You know, which of his public letters really reflect the right Lincoln or the Lincoln -- the true Lincoln and where's he going with this. And Lincoln just couldn't give them the kind of answer that they wanted because he was not sure of where he was going.
GOODHEARTYou know, I think it's interesting, when we think of the Civil War in the light of the civil wars that we see in our own times in places like Iraq and places like Libya, you know, wars tend to have a sort of a momentum and a gravitational pull almost of their own once they get going. We see how the old rules can be thrown out overnight, the old categories are suddenly irrelevant and people see opportunities in war.
GOODHEARTThey see opportunities in some cases for personal advancement, they also see opportunities to advance causes. And groups that were in positions that were marginal a few weeks ago suddenly can become mainstream. And I think that's what happened when the war began here, that the old rules were thrown out and there were opportunities and really, the first people to realize that and fully seize that were the enslaved African-Americans in the South.
REHMAdam Goodheart, he's historian at Washington College, author of the new book titled "1861: The Civil War Awakening" and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Thavolia, I know you wanted to get in there.
GLYMPHWell, I just wanted to -- to qualify that a bit because I don't think the old rules were thrown out and I think that's why African-Americans who ran to the Union camps were so badly treated and suffered so greatly. It took a long time for this country to recognize, as Lincoln finally admitted, that what we're talking about here is not Southern slavery, but American slavery.
GLYMPHAnd so it meant that Northern soldiers who came South were conflicted and they had to be won over to emancipation and so the rules remained intact. Even when Congress passed Confiscation Act saying, you can't do this to black people, they were still abused and herded into camps and even massacred, so I think it just took a very long time, it was a very protracted, difficult process.
REHMChandra. Oh, David, you wanted to say something?
BLIGHTWell, and wars do have a logic. I mean, Adam made a very good point there. And that's really the story of this war. It's not just the story of Lincoln's own growth toward emancipation, but wars do have a terrible, horrible logic that often people cannot control. And frankly, this is what's at the heart of Civil War memory. This is the great American tragedy, the fact -- and I mean tragedy in the authentic sense of that word now, not the way we throw it around today.
GOODHEARTThis -- that the United States had to have this kind of colossal bloodletting in order to face, deal with and eventually destroy its system of slavery, the largest slave system on the planet at that time, except for Russian serfdom, is at the heart of our national story, but I would say that Adam made a good point about Lincoln's growth.
BLIGHTI mean, Frederick Douglas was bitterly disappointed with Lincoln in the first two years of the war. Brutally disappointed and we might now even want to say on the air some of the things he said about Lincoln. But by the end of the war, Douglas had dreamed of writing that second inaugural. He couldn't have written it any better and it shows us the extent to which Lincoln did change and grew, but he grew in part because of the sheer necessity of the scale and the logic of destroying slavery as a means of defeating the South.
REHMDo you agree with that?
GOODHEARTI do. And I also think that we tend to sort of discount the extent to which Lincoln was a politician. We think of him as a great statesman, we think of him as an icon, but we see in our times how people shift their positions. It's interesting, just in The New York Times a couple of days ago was a story about Barack Obama thinking of coming out and changing his public position on gay marriage and a lot of people are saying, well, if you look at what Obama was saying before he was a national figure, when he was a state senator back in the '90s, he spoke very clearly in favor of gay marriage back then, but he trimmed his sails a little bit when he stepped on the national stage.
GOODHEARTI think we see that with Lincoln, too, when you look at private letters that he wrote in the 1850s. For instance, there's a remarkable letter that he wrote to his old friend, Joshua Speed, one of his few close friends, in which he talked about in the midst of the Know Nothing movement, he says, our country began with the idea that all men are created equal, it became all men except the Negro are created equal. Now, it is becoming all men except Negros, Catholics and immigrants are created equal. And he says, if this goes any farther, I will move to Imperial Russia where I can take my despotism unalloyed with the base metal of hypocrisy.
GOODHEARTAnd that's a pretty strong statement, that slavery and even inequality was wrong.
REHMHad -- do we know, Thavolia, how many slaves fled once the war began?
GLYMPHWe have some pretty good rough estimates that right now range from about 500 to 800,000 are the numbers that historians have come up with.
REHMThavolia Glymph, she's associate professor at Duke University. When we come back, we'll open the phones as we continue our conversation about the war that began in 1861.
REHMAnd it's time to open the phones as we talk about the start of the Civil War, its reasons, what came out of it and a brand-new book titled "1861: The Civil War Awakening" by Adam Goodheart, he's an historian at Washington College. Let's go first to Gary in Forest City, N.C. Good morning, you're on the air.
GARYThank you, ma'am. I'm glad I got through and (unintelligible). The thing that bothers me about the Civil War and the history written about it seems so one-sided and of course slavery is always comes to the top. I don't understand that because nobody ever talks about all the economics that was involved and brought the South to the point of secession, the North controlled legislations, controlled Congress, so they kept the South's nose to the grindstone and really contributed as much or more than anybody to slavery because the only way that the South could survive -- the business people could survive was cheap labor.
GARYAnd the other thing is, has anybody ever thought about how many poor whites were displaced by the hundreds of thousands of black slaves that were brought in and took their jobs.
GLYMPHThanks, Gary, for calling in. I think you have a very good question and certainly, historians -- I don't think that we are slighting the problems of the economy at all. I mean, slavery is intimately related to the economy. But to be more specific, you know, I mean, after all, you mentioned that Northerners were responsible for the sort of problems in the South, in terms of the economy, but we have to keep in mind that Southern politicians really controlled Congress for most of its history and the vast majority of our presidents were Southerners.
GLYMPHAnd so there was -- Southerners had a great deal of power, which didn't give them sufficient power to do everything they wanted, in terms of issues like the taxes on imports, for example, which is, I think, one of your -- probably one of your main concerns. But the bottom line is that the South did not grow and develop its economy because of slavery and it had a huge and detrimental impact on poor white people in the South.
BLIGHTDiane, Diane, oh, go ahead.
REHMDavid, go right ahead.
BLIGHTWell, two quick points to Gary. First of all, to use the term economics is ipso facto to be discussing slavery. Slaves in 1860 were worth approximately $3 and a half billion as a financial asset. That was the single largest financial asset in the entire American economy. And furthermore, to add to Thavolia, two-thirds of all the American presidents, two-thirds of all members of the Supreme Court, down to the Civil War, were Southern slaveholders, so sometimes the facts matter.
REHMAdam, in fact, in your book, you tell the story of what you say is a largely forgotten but critical role of George Scott, a black man in the first significant battle of the Civil War.
GOODHEARTYeah, I think this is an example. George Scott was one of these first so-called contrabands who were enslaved Southern blacks who began at the very beginning of the war to escape from slavery to go into the Union lines and seek asylum to cross, in some cases, into the North and Scott was an extraordinary man. He had actually escaped from slavery several years earlier and been hiding in the swamps and woods around Fort Monroe, which is a fort at Hampton Roads, Va., a Union held fort.
GOODHEARTAnd when he arrived at Fort Monroe, he told the Union officers, I know this countryside like the back of my hand. I'll help you out as a scout. And he, in fact, went to reconnoiter the Confederate lines, hid out in the woods for several days, until a Confederate saw him and fired at him, came back to the officers of the Union forces and helped them to work out a plan of attack on these Confederates.
GOODHEARTAnd, you know, it's a wonderful story, but I think it's a story that's larger than just this individual man because it shows the way that very quickly, these African-Americans in the South became allies for the Union troops. Many of these Union soldiers had never met -- most of them had never met a slave before, many of them had probably never really spoken to a black person before. And suddenly, you know, there's a Union soldier who writes, theirs were the only friendly faces we saw as we marched through the South.
GOODHEARTAnd so when you talk about this very quick change in alliances, this was a story that was repeated time and time and time again. They became dependent. In many cases, it was not exactly this sort of romantic story of Scott's volunteering. They also became dependent in much more mundane ways, like for cheap or unpaid manual labor at these Union fortifications, but in any case, the Union cause and the cause of the slaves begins to get associated from those first days of the war.
REHMAll right. To Patty in Benton, Ark. Good morning.
PATTYGood morning. I -- because I grew up in the area that Abraham Lincoln was elected from and my husband's family were abolitionists that helped form Liberia and I have their journal. I don't really think that Abraham Lincoln changed and grew, I actually think he, the whole time, felt like he wanted to free the slaves. In the journal I have, they were making my husband's family was making voyages to Liberia, but they put Monrovia, Africa because it was before it was even a country, but they were very secretive even in their writings to each other.
PATTYThey just said they were doing the work of God. They were in the Methodist Episcopal church and there -- Southern Illinois was very divided. In fact, one of the first quote unquote "casualties" of the Civil War was when they hung a radical abolitionist newspaper editor and there was divisions among the abolitionists. There were the radicals and then there were the colonization people and they each thought the other was harming them. And I just think that Abraham Lincoln would never have gotten elected had he had -- it would be like the Republicans saying, I'm going to raise taxes.
BLIGHTWell, your final point is very good, Patty. Of course Lincoln could not have been elected in 1860 if he had portrayed himself as a radical abolitionist and, in fact, he was not. However, (laugh) what you didn't say is that Lincoln himself supported colonization of black people outside of the United States, had long supported it. He was a Henry Clay Whig.
BLIGHTHe got most of his beliefs about the potential removal of blacks from America from that old Whig Coalition and he still is scheming or men within his administration are scheming into the second year of the war to create forms of colonization of blacks to central America, to West Africa and possibly even to the Caribbean. Now, Lincoln does give that up after the Emancipation Proclamation, but to deny that Lincoln moves and grows in his outlook on emancipation is to deny a great deal of evidence.
BLIGHTThat he had always believed slavery was morally wrong, there's absolutely no question about that. It's an entirely different matter as to how he came to believe slavery would end.
GLYMPHI certainly agree with David that to deny Lincoln, to deny that he grew would be to deny the facts, Patty. And certainly the question of colonization is one that demonstrates how he grew. He came into office, you know, thinking, if I have to do this, if I have to free the slaves, they're going to go. They're getting out of this country.
GLYMPHAnd he -- when he went to the border states, he said, free your slaves. We will pay you, we will compensate you and we will get them out of the country. When he brought black leaders into the White House in 1862, he said, go tell your people freedom will come, but they have to go. And it wasn't until '63 that he began to back off. But even then, there were still schemes until the very end of the war to get -- find a place in Mexico, in Latin America, in Columbia or in Haiti or off the coast of Haiti to take black people out of this country.
MANNINGThough the question of did Lincoln grow or not is a perennial one and again, it comes down to grow in what? Certainly he always thought slavery was wrong, not just for inconvenience, he did think it was wrong. Slavery and race were two different questions for him, as they were two different questions for most white Americans. And so the ways that Thavolia and David are talking about, how did Lincoln grow on the question of race is a separate one from slavery.
MANNINGBut even in whether or how to end slavery, I think that Lincoln did grow and change over the course of the war from somebody who, as Thavolia notes, initially imagined a sort of gradual compensated scheme of emancipation did not believe that the United States federal government had the power to immediately, unilaterally end slavery, to somebody who would use the power of the government to do exactly that. And that particular growth I think is instructive in exactly how complicated this question of emancipation is.
MANNINGWe think the slavery story is the easy, simple story because slavery's bad and slavery went away. In fact, the end of slavery was a hugely, enormously complicated story, one of the most important in the sense of powerful institutions in the history of the United States to that point was the institution of slavery. Getting rid of it was a complicated matter. So the complications in Lincoln's thought can help us remember that, too.
GOODHEARTWe also have to remember that Lincoln, I think, more than he was thinking about race and slavery at this moment was thinking about, as in fact, Chandra pointed out earlier, how to preserve democracy, how to save this democratic experiment. And he -- his conflict was not simply what he thought about black people, but also, how do you accomplish confiscating what is, as David pointed out, the largest single asset in America.
GOODHEARTIt would be the equivalent of the president of the United States today saying, I'm going to confiscate everyone's cars because of global warming because I want to save our environment and he wanted to make sure that this was done by what he saw as democratic means. He eventually found a sort of a legalistic way to do this as a military measure, but that did not come easily.
REHMAll right. To Syracuse, N.Y. Good morning, David.
DAVIDGood morning. I wanted to continue a little bit about the discussion of Lincoln and his attitude towards race and slavery. I was gratified to hear that you're separating his opinion about it because I think that's the key to his thought in this area. Lincoln made the infamous statement that he thought -- famous from our point of view in the 21st century that he thought there was a natural difference between white and black people. That's a very 19th century statement that we'd now regard as racist.
DAVIDBut the second part of his statement after that is he basically said, but I do not think that it is therefore right to steal their labor from them, from black people, by means of slavery. That was a great advance and that undercut the real -- the economic and the social basis for racism. Racism originally in America is an attempt to reconcile the Declaration of Independence, the statement that all men are created equal, with slavery. It's obviously false because black people are people. They are men.
DAVIDAnd as Lincoln recognized, they had a right to the fruits of their labor. Most 19th century people, North or South, in the U.S. did not recognize that, but Lincoln did and...
REHMDavid, thanks for your call. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." David Blight.
BLIGHTWell, I'll just say this. If this country could hold both of those ideas in their mind about Abraham Lincoln that David of Syracuse just expressed, we would go a very long way. We like our Lincoln pure. We want our Lincoln one thing. We want him either coming out of the womb freeing the slaves or coming out of the womb as a White Supremacist and a racist. We have to remember, this is a complicated, vexed, complex man and (unintelligible)...
REHMAnd he is human.
BLIGHTHe's very, very human. That's what makes him so interesting, frankly, but we love our heroes to be morally pure and we especially need some kind of moral purity at the heart of this horrifying, tragic event and it just can't be. Lincoln is both of those things. He grew up in an environment, Illinois, full of White Supremacy. It's somewhat of a marvel that he came out as morally clear in his mind about slavery as he did.
BLIGHTBut as Adam pointed out somewhere earlier, this was an extraordinarily talented and crafty politician as well who suddenly finds himself in an utterly unprecedented situation overseeing this massive war that has to both conquer the South, destroy its social institutions and then reinvent an American republic out of that destruction. And back to our original question, nobody knew where this was going...
REHMThe vote, yeah.
GLYMPHI totally agree and I think one -- another way to think about this and to look at it is to think about the black people who greeted Lincoln when he went to Richmond after surrender. The black people who greeted him in Washington after the Emancipation Proclamation who went to the White House, who said thank you, these people were not looking at a false God (laugh). They understood the immensity of what he had done, what he had accomplished.
GLYMPHHe was not a perfect man, but he did grow. I would not call him the Great Emancipator, but he contributed to emancipation. Just as black people contributed and black people may -- you know, I don't know if you can say they contributed by sort of pushing him to do what he knew had to be done eventually and he stepped up and he did it. He didn't do it perfectly, he didn't do it fully, but it set the stage for the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.
REHMTo what extent did the book "Uncle Tom's Cabin" contribute to Lincoln's decision, Chandra?
MANNINGTo Lincoln's decision is tough to say because he's so closed-mouthed about what's really going on in his head. He's reputed to have said when meeting Harriet Beecher Stowe, so you're the little woman who caused this great war and it's a sort of a powerful story, but the sort of thing you'd think -- you could imagine him saying something along those lines. Who "Uncle Tom's Cabin" really did affect, although not in the most direct way or in the way we might think, were Union soldiers who, by and large, would have been children or young men when it was published.
MANNINGMany of them might have read it in their families. It was serialized in a magazine at first and they might've read it in that way. It was also made into a stage production and many of them would have seen it as a stage production. So "Uncle Tom's Cabin" was something people knew going to war in 1861 and what so struck -- I've done some work with Civil War soldiers and what they had to say about slavery during the war and in reading thousands of soldiers, one of the things that really struck me was how often they talked about "Uncle Tom's Cabin."
MANNINGAnd what they said was, she was no bleeding heart liberal after all, she was right and it was even worse.
REHMChandra Manning, she's associate professor at Georgetown University. I surely wish we had hours more to talk about this. David Blight is professor at Yale University, Thavolia Glymph is associate professor at Duke University, Adam Goodheart is an historian at Washington College and author of the new book "1861: The Civil War Awakening." Thank you all so much.
MANNINGThank you very much.
REHMAnd thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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