Jul26-04, 08:21 AM
In the matter of slavery Lincoln was the basic politician. On this very important issue he was difficult to pin down on specifics. He was quite capable of leaving any audience with the impression that he, Lincoln, agreed with him, the voter, whatever was his view.
One could parse his various speeches and determine the nub of his thinking if one tried hard enough. Regarding the matter of slavery Lincoln did not favor bringing about a society wherein there was social and political equality of the races. He did not favor making voters or jurors of Negroes. Nor did he favor intermarriage. He reasoned that there was a basic difference between the races. He accepted the basic prejudice of his times that the white race was superior to the black. However, he did not think this meant that the black man be denied everything.
Lincoln was a politician who could reason his way to a fundamental position, a position in which he knew exactly what the truly important issue was and was willing to give ground on less important issues to gain acceptance of this fundamental issue, the nub of the matter. He was noted, in his law practice, of concentrating fiercely on the main point at issue and to concede ancillary matters as required.
Regarding Negro intellectual ability Lincoln was an agnostic. This was a popular “liberal”view that there was no way to prove the difference in intellect between white and black and thus Lincoln refused to allow this matter to become entangled with the very practical matter of political equality. Nevertheless Lincoln was convinced that it was wrong to treat any human being as property.
Lincoln further reasoned that if the black man owns himself he thus is entitled to the product of his labor. Lincoln often quoted the biblical text “in sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread” as the sardonic right of the Negro. This was a telling argument because of the adherence to the bible that was characteristic of so many Americans. Lincoln constantly argued that one couldn’t own human beings and one should not be in a position to be king over human beings.
The Declaration of Independence became a tactical weapon for Lincoln as a means around the prejudice of the population. The population in general was prejudiced in favor of slavery and also prejudiced in favor of the Declaration of Independence. Lincoln attempted to convince them, in various round about ways, that for consistency sake they must abandon one prejudice or the other. Senator Douglas argued that such a choice was not necessary. Douglas argued that the Constitution countenanced slavery and the Constitution, not the Declaration, was the law of the land.
It is at this point that Lincoln set up the statement that the Declaration was a statement of a permanent ideal of American democracy and that the Constitution represented a “first cut” at the practical implementation of that ideal. The Declaration was a metaphysical statement of what our democracy must strive for even though we may never exactly meet our ideal.
Lincoln felt that the Declaration established an ideal for all men and that all men should attempt to establish a government that attempts, even though unsuccessful, to meet that ideal. The Declaration is a pledge “to all people of all colors everywhere”.
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