Lincoln and Black Self-Emancipation

As America marks the 150th anniversary of the the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, author and historian Gerald Horne deconstructs the 16th president’s legacy as the “great emancipator”

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JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.

150 years ago today, April 15th 1865, America mourned the death of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President. Today Lincoln is remembered as the man who lead the United States to the Civil War, its bloodiest war to date, and as the great emancipator for ending slavery.

Well, now joining us to examine this narrative is Gerald Horne. He’s published over 30 books, he’s the former executive director of the National Conference of Black Lawyers. Author most recently of The Counterrevolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America, as well as Race to Revolution: The U.S. in Cuba During Slavery and Jim Crow.

Thanks so much for joining us.

GERALD HORNE, CHAIR, HIST. AND AF. AMER. STUDIES, UNIV. OF HOUSTON: Thank you for inviting me.

NOOR: So there’s so much that is not commonly known or talked about when you’re remembering the anniversary of the ending of the Civil War, or the death of Lincoln. Can you give us–tell us your thoughts. What are some of the most important points to remember?

HORNE: Well, first of all, even though the Civil War is said to have ended in April 1865, the fact of the matter is is that in the decades following April 1865, there were at least 50,000 people of African descent who were killed as a direct result of slave owners not being sufficiently suppressed, and continuing to exert violence through such organs as the Ku Klux Klan.

Second, even though I agree that it was a great leap backward when Andrew Johnson, Lincoln’s vice president, replaced him at the White House after the assassination, the fact of the matter is is that Andrew Johnson was much more conciliatory towards slave owners. I do feel, however, that some of the defects, shall we say, of the Lincoln administration have been lost in a gauze of sympathy as a result of his being shot through the head.

What I mean is that throughout the early 1860s, Abraham Lincoln was continually seeking to deport the black population of the United States. In my book on Brazil, The Deepest South, I talked about how he negotiated with the Brazilians to send us all to Brazil. He negotiated with the Haitians to send us all to Hispaniola. In fact, there was some talk about sending us to what is now the Dominican Republic. There was talk about sending us to Ecuador, but the Ecuadoreans said, we have enough negroes, thank you very much.

And this is a result of this sort of biased way of looking at U.S. history. What I mean is, is that when Lincoln is discussed, what’s stressed is how he evolved. That is to say how he evolved from seeking to deport all the negroes to making tentative steps towards seeking to install black citizenship and at least male voting rights.

But if you look at how, say, antagonists real or imagined of the United States are dealt with in terms of the U.S. discourse, there’s no such sympathy. There’s no such talk about evolution. I mean, if you look at the socialist project, even though Stalin died in 1953, you would think he was still alive, because that is still invoked when socialism is discussed. And if you look at capitalism, slavery was at the heart of capitalism, as I noted in my 1776 book. But that “detail”, quote-unquote, has somehow been forgotten, not least when we begin to talk about the U.S. Civil War and the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

NOOR: And what about the relationship of the elite in the North and Lincoln in eventually wanting to end slavery, some would say for cheap labor for the industrial North?

HORNE: Well, when your grandchildren begin to write the history of that period, assuming that climate change does not overcome it all, one of the conclusions I’m sure they’ll arrive at is that one of the major results of the U.S. Civil War was further and accelerated liquidation of Native American policies. That is to say, after the South was defeated, you had a major push against the Native American population in the United States. Indeed, as the Civil War was unfolding you had a major push against the Native American population of the United States.

You might recall the hanging of dozens of indigenous warriors in Minnesota in the 1860s during the Lincoln administration. You may also know that during the U.S. Civil War there was this attempt to turn over Native American land to newly arriving immigrants from Europe in particular. And that is one of the more dastardly consequences of the U.S. Civil war that’s oftentimes neglected.

I should also mention that the U.S. Civil war involved a basic clash between two systems. Now, initially Lincoln–representing the ascendant commercial interest of the North–was willing to conciliate the South. That is to say, elected on a platform not necessarily of abolishing slavery, but not allowing for the expansion of slavery. But as so often happens in the United States, the right wing–that is to say the reactionary hard right right wing, overreached. And they kept pushing until finally declaring war on the United States government, and seeking to overthrow Lincoln and take control itself.

And then it became a fight to the death between the slave owning class and the commercial bourgeoisie of the North, even though we know that if you look at the history of the slave trade, the slave trade was actually financed from places like New York City. And New York City was the headquarters of a so-called copperhead element, that is to say a pro-slavery element, and that pro-slavery element in New York City actually slowed down the attempt of the North to fight the South and ultimately liquidate the so-called Confederate States of America.

NOOR: Well, I think that history with New York City is so fascinating because in both elections New York City actually voted against Lincoln, even though New York State ended up giving him the electoral votes that he needed to–he needed to win both elections. And there was of course the great draft riots of 1863 after Lincoln did emancipate the slaves in the South, which he had no control over.

But I think what people don’t know is the reason he had to–he had to end slavery in 1863 was because he needed black soldiers to fight for the North. The North was losing up until that point, and because of Lincoln and the North’s idea that blacks were inferior, they weren’t even allowed to fight in the Civil War.

HORNE: Well, it’s fair to say that the black soldiers pulled the chestnuts out of the fire for the Lincoln administration. I should also note in the context of discussing New York that even as the Civil War was unfolding you had slave voyages being financed from New York City that were sailing into the Congo River basin and bringing enslaved Africans not least to the island of Cuba, 90 miles off the tip of Florida.

You mentioned the draft riots. This was one of the most unfortunate and tragic episodes in the history of North America. Unfortunately it’s dealt with inadequately in the film directed by Martin Scorsese, Gangs of New York, which on the one hand does project the bloodiness of those draft riots, but on the other hand doesn’t present an adequate picture and analysis of why those draft riots actually took place. That’s something that I’m afraid your grandchildren will have to deal with when they make their movie about that period.

Speaking of movies, I do think that the movie Glory, despite its weaknesses, does present an adequate picture of how black soldiers played a role in the ultimate and eventual defeat of the so-called Confederate States of America.

NOOR: And finally, I don’t think we can have a complete discussion about the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln without talking about the role of abolitionists, whether it was John Brown at Harpers Ferry, or in Bleeding Kansas, or Frederick Douglass, who had discussions with Lincoln, and many say he convinced Lincoln to not make peace with the South, and to free the African people. He was a key part, and this is an often untold story.

HORNE: Well I’m happy that you mentioned John Brown. I think he’s a role model whose example should be emulated today by people of all ancestries and nationalities. John Brown, you know, lead the slave revolt–or sought to lead a slave revolt at Harpers Ferry, in what is now West Virginia, in late 1859. He was ultimately executed.

But on the other hand if you go to Haiti, the citadel of abolition in the Caribbean sea, you will find avenues named after John Brown to this very day. John Brown was considered to be a hero in abolitionist Haiti. Speaking of abolitionist Haiti, I should also mention that you cannot discuss the abolition of slavery in the United States of America without discussing the heroic role of Haiti. Not only in terms of Haitian fingerprints being all over the major slave revolts that took place in North America, not least the Nat Turner revolt circa 1831, but also the fact that Haiti’s diplomats were continually lobbying in international arenas against the United States of America.

For example, in the mid-1820s there was a Summit of the Americas in Panama, not unlike the Summit of the Americas that just featured this handshake between President Raúl Castro and President Obama of the United States. Bottom line, abolition can be laid fairly at the doorstep of the Haitian government, and that should be mentioned in any discussion of the assassination, tragically, of Abraham Lincoln.

NOOR: Well Gerald Horne, there’s so much more we could talk about, but we’re going to end it here, and we’ll have you on again soon. Thank you so much for joining us.

HORNE: Thank you for inviting me.

NOOR: Thank you for joining us at The Real News Network.

End

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