Twist and Shout
While Lind quotes Lincoln's white supremacist statements out of context, he also tends to ignore or gloss over contrary or extenuating evidence. The reader of this book will not find any reference to an 1858 speech by Lincoln in which he declared: "Let us discard all this quibbling about this man and the other man, this race and that race and the other race being inferior, and therefore they must be placed in an inferior position.... Let us discard all these things, and...once more stand up declaring that all men are created equal." Almost absent from What Lincoln Believed is any discussion of Lincoln's commitment by 1863 to the enlistment of black soldiers in the Army, his praise for their contribution to Union victory and his belief that they had thereby earned equal citizenship. Lind does quote Lincoln's famous statement in 1863, read by millions, that if the North were to win the war "there will be some black men who can remember that, with silent tongue, and clenched teeth, and well-poised bayonet, they have helped mankind on to this great consummation; while, I fear, there will be some white ones, unable to forget that, with malignant heart, and deceitful speech, they have strove to hinder it." But Lind misses the main implication of these words--that black men who fought for the Union were more deserving of rights than white men who fought or spoke against it. Several times over the last two years of the war, Lincoln explicitly stated his belief that black veterans, along with literate blacks from civilian life, deserved the right to vote in postwar America. For Lind to acknowledge this belief, however, would undermine his continued insistence that Lincoln's preferred legacy was an all-white America purged of an African-American presence.
By either misreading evidence or by relying on untenable evidence, Lind misunderstands Lincoln's position on the issue of emancipation in 1862 and on Reconstruction in 1865. In July 1862 Congress passed a bill that confiscated the property (including slaves) of Confederates as a punishment for treason. Lincoln threatened to veto the legislation on technical grounds and because it violated the constitutional ban on bills of attainder. Lind mistakenly claims that the basis of Lincoln's objection was that the act "permanently deprived slave owners of their property without compensation." This is false. In his threatened veto message Lincoln explicitly endorsed permanent freedom for confiscated slaves; his objection concerned permanent confiscation of real property (slaves were chattel property), to which the bill of attainder clause in the Constitution applied. Congress modified the law to meet Lincoln's objections, whereupon he signed it. And while getting this matter wrong, Lind also neglects to mention that at precisely this time (July 1862), Lincoln wrote and presented to the Cabinet the first draft of his Emancipation Proclamation, which declared that slaves in rebellious states shall "forever be free."
Lind's treatment of Lincoln's conception of Reconstruction illustrates many of the problems of evidence, and its interpretation, that plague this book. "If Lincoln had lived," he writes, "it is unlikely that he woud have supported anything like the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments." As evidence for such an assertion, Lind cites an article in the New York Times from August 28, 1860! Lincoln "declares his opposition to negro suffrage," reported the Times, "and to everything looking towards placing negroes upon a footing of political and social equality with the whites; but he asserts for them a perfect equality of civil and personal rights under the Constitution." To cite a secondhand statement from 1860 to describe what Lincoln might or might have done after 1865 is a perfect illustration of how not to write history. Moreover, the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments had nothing to do with social equality; the Fourteenth in 1868 mandated precisely the equality of civil and personal rights that, according to the Times, Lincoln had supported in 1860. And during the last year of the Civil War Lincoln moved step by step toward support for black voting rights, which the Fifteenth Amendment stipulated in 1870.
In what turned out to be his last public speech, on April 11, 1865, Lincoln discussed the question of Reconstruction before a crowd that had gathered at the White House to celebrate (most of them, at least) Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox two days earlier. Looking toward the future, Lincoln expressed a preference for enfranchisement of literate freedmen and black Union army veterans in the postwar South. He also promised an announcement, in the near future, of his new policy for restoration of the South to the Union. "That means nigger citizenship," snarled John Wilkes Booth to a companion in the crowd. "Now, by God, I'll put him through.... That is the last speech he will ever make." Like Martin Luther King Jr. a century later, Lincoln was murdered by an instrument of the very idea of white supremacy that this flawed book would have us believe formed the core of his beliefs.