“I will say then, that I am not, nor
have ever been, in favor of bringing
about in any way, the social and
political equality of the white and
-- Abraham Lincoln -
Abraham Lincoln has long been the most revered of American Presidents.
Though fondly remembered as “The Great Emancipator,” he was
the beneficiary of innumerable tall tales spun to shield the populace from the
awful truth that he was an avowed racist. Unfortunately, the chroniclers of
history, perhaps intimidated by the uncritically euphoric shadow cast by the
Lincoln legend, have heretofore avoided attempting to assess the man honestly
and objectively from a proper perspective.
Back in 1968 noted historian Lerone Bennett, Jr.,
author of Before the Mayflower, published a controversial article entitled, “Was
Abraham Lincoln a White Supremacist?” Most Americans, black and white, were
aghast at even the suggestion of such a flaw in a demigod whose image had become
synonymous with freedom and racial quality. In response to the furor created by
his article, Mr. Bennett quietly embarked on over three decades of painstaking,
scholarly research, closely examining the words and deeds of our 16th President.
Forced into Glory represents the fruit of Bennett’s labors,
and this 652 page biography sets the record straight, exposing the real Abe
Lincoln, wart and all. Virtually every myth gets exploded along the way,
as the author uncovers his subject as an insensitive bigot who, for instance,
advocated peace while waging a war of ethnic cleansing on Native Americans. The
reader also learns that ‘Honest’ Abe was an inveterate, credit-taking
prevaricator who actually enslaved far more blacks than he ever freed. For, it
was the 13th Amendment, not the politically expedient Emancipation Proclamation,
which actually ended the institution of slavery once and for all. In fact, a
remorseful Lincoln himself had labored to limit the scope of his famous decree
immediately in the wake of its implementation.
While Lincoln is
remembered for having come from humble, log cabin roots, Bennett further informs
us that as a young lawyer he had married Mary Todd, an aristocrat who hailed
from a family of filthy rich slave owners.
You might be surprised to know that when Lincoln inherited
slaves from his father-in-law, he didn’t even consider emancipating them, but
rather condemned them further to a life of misery. Yep, he and his wife cashed
on the inheritance by putting their African-Americans up for auction to the
highest bidders, utterly unconcerned about the effects of the ensuing separation
on their families and friends. Does that sound like the behavior of a ‘Great
Bennett’s essential thrust is that Lincoln was an oppressor
who went out of his way to endorse slavery, including his enforcement of the
Fugitive Slave Act. More precisely, he was a conservative during conditions of
clearly intense exploitation. And the book makes a strong case that to be
conservative at a time of such extreme oppression is to be an accomplice,
especially in the face of a vociferous abolitionist movement.
To some, it may seem tragic that Forced into Glory knocks a
national icon off his pedestal. Perhaps more significantly, it exposes the
duplicitous nature of a national philosophy which has made a habit of extreme
disassociation between its words and its deeds. Thus, this clarifying opus
emphasizes the point that only by owning up to its disgraceful legacy, including
Lincoln, can America ever have a chance of eradicating its seemingly indelible
stain which started with slavery and still saturates the country’s subconscious.