Abraham Lincoln Was A Racist And Other Hard Truths From Our Messy Past

At the fourth Lincoln-Douglas debate, held in Charleston, South Carolina, the “Great Emancipator” began with the following [transcript courtesy of the National Park Service]:

“While I was at the hotel to-day, an elderly gentleman called upon me to know whether I was really in favor of producing a perfect equality between the negroes and white people. [Great Laughter.] While I had not proposed to myself on this occasion to say much on that subject, yet as the question was asked me I thought I would occupy perhaps five minutes in saying something in regard to it. I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races, [applause]-that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race. I say upon this occasion I do not perceive that because the white man is to have the superior position the negro should be denied every thing. I do not understand that because I do not want a negro woman for a slave I must necessarily want her for a wife. [Cheers and laughter.] My understanding is that I can just let her alone. I am now in my fiftieth year, and I certainly never have had a black woman for either a slave or a wife. So it seems to me quite possible for us to get along without making either slaves or wives of negroes. I will add to this that I have never seen, to my knowledge, a man, woman or child who was in favor of producing a perfect equality, social and political, between negroes and white men. … I will also add to the remarks I have made (for I am not going to enter at large upon this subject,) that I have never had the least apprehension that I or my friends would marry negroes if there was no law to keep them from it, [laughter] but as Judge Douglas and his friends seem to be in great apprehension that they might, if there were no law to keep them from it, [roars of laughter] I give him the most solemn pledge that I will to the very last stand by the law of this State, which forbids the marrying of white people with negroes. [Continued laughter and applause.]”

Many of us have known this for a long time. But it was not allowed to be said out loud. The Great Emancipator could not be quoted like this. 

But we are living in interesting times. Instead of taking Lincoln as a man of his times we try to impose our chronological snobbery on him. 

This means that any person who at any time said anything that is politically incorrect is subject to scrubbing from American history. Including Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt. 

I’ve mentioned this before, but my first submarine was named the USS Stonewall Jackson (SSBN-634). It was not politically incorrect to name our military ships after famous civil war heroes (the USS Robert E. Lee was outboard of us). There was also the USS Dixon and the USS Hunley. George Dixon who sank a U.S. Navy ship while commanding the submarine H.L. Hunley. Interestingly, I also was stationed onboard the USS Hunley. 

But when these ships were named in the 1960s, we didn’t have an issue with not demonizing men such as Jackson, Lee, Dixon, etc.