Douglass Out of Context

Armchair historians like Colin Kaepernick often quote Frederick Douglass when making disingenuous points about civil rights history.

Douglass is too often misquoted or valuable context is ignored, most persistently in regards to Abraham Lincoln and emancipation.

In history, context does matter.

abraham_lincoln_o-77_matte_collodion_print

 

Frederick Douglass is often cited as proof that slaves never cared for Lincoln or his deeds.  Ignoring context, Douglass is cited as the authoritative critic of Lincoln….

“you (white people) are the children of Abraham Lincoln. We are at best only his step-children.”

This disingenuous, lazy, line of reasoning…  has created a terrible myth about the creation of the civil rights movement.  Failure to place words in a proper context have terrible implications on historical interpretation.  In the same speech, Frederick Douglass explained to his predominately white audience, his true feelings for Abraham Lincoln:

“Viewed from the genuine abolition ground, Mr. Lincoln seemed tardy, cold, dull, and indifferent; but measuring him by the sentiment of his country, a sentiment he was bound as a statesman to consult, he was swift, zealous, radical, and determined…. infinite wisdom has seldom sent any man into the world better fitted for his mission than Abraham Lincoln.”  Frederick Douglass  April 14, 1876

505px-Frederick_Douglass_c1860s

Remarkable Restraint

Abraham Lincoln could have curried much political favor in the West had he ordered the executions of 303 Dakota Sioux – Instead, he reviewed each case.

Despite the crushing defeat at Second Bull Run, the horrific carnage of Antietam, and the political fallout of issuing the Emancipation proclamation Lincoln still listened to the facts of the 303 condemned to hang in the Minnesota Sioux uprising of 1862.

abraham_lincoln_by_george_peter_alexander_healy

Lincoln pardoned all but 38 of the defendants.  Nearly 800 white settlers had been slaughtered in the uprising, and the public demanded retribution.  Lincoln was not going to allow these murders to go unpunished, but he was determined to use his pardoning power judiciously.

General John Pope encouraged his Commander-in-Chief to order all 303 hangings, sighting the popularity of such a decision on the Minnesota frontier.  Lincoln famously responded,

“I could not hang men for votes…”

 

 

 

Happy Thanksgiving

Students often express disbelief… and disappointment when they are informed of the true history behind the Thanksgiving holiday.  Years of being taught the story of  Pilgrims, Squanto, and the first harvest leave an indelible mark upon young minds.  There is no debate that these events occurred, rather, the effects of the cooperation are what can be considered contentious.  County and state fairs are the true celebrations of the harvest and happen at the appropriate time of year.  The reasonable question is how did we arrive at the last Thursday in November as our National Day of Thanks?

We have Abraham Lincoln to thank… for the holiday.  Issued at the height of the Civil War, Lincoln hoped to unite various state holidays already in existence into a National “festival of Union.”   The original draft was composed by Secretary of State, William Seward.  Lincoln issued the final draft on October 3, 1863.

BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. A PROCLAMATION.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theater of military conflict; while that theater has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battlefield; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed,

Done at the city of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the Eighty-eighth

ABRAHAM LINCOLN

By the President: WILLIAM H. SEWARD, Secretary of State