My Piece Today at Religion News Service: “Trump’s evangelicals bewail a ‘civil war’ while still profiting from the last one”

Trump Jeffress

Here is a taste:

But Jeffress also seemed to forget another important point about American civic life in his civil war comment. The United States, after all, had a real Civil War, in which over 600,000 lives were lost.

Did the country heal after this war?

The United States still exists, implying that some healing certainly took place. But the war also left us with some open wounds. The war brought an end to slavery, but it did not bring an end to the racism upon which slavery was built.

These wounds are still open and Jeffress’ own First Baptist Dallas, with its long history of segregation, has contributed to keeping them open. His congregation was built upon a Civil War fracture that has not yet healed. Under his leadership, it has failed to confront its long-standing commitment to racial injustice in any meaningful way.

We don’t need to fear a new civil war. Instead, to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln in his Second Inaugural Address, we still need to bind the wounds of the old one. The impeachment and removal of Trump will be a step toward the ongoing work Lincoln called us to do.

Read the entire piece here.

If Not For Abraham Lincoln’s Hat, Trump Would be the “Most Presidential” President in American History

Lincoln cartoon

In addition to suggesting that the whistleblower should be executed, announcing that Congressman Adam Schiff has a thick neck, stating Joe Biden is “dumb as a rock,” and calling the press “animals,” Trump also made another Abe Lincoln reference in his recent closed-door meeting with U.S. diplomats.  Here is Yahoo News:

At one point, Trump said his only predecessor to appear more presidential than he was Abraham Lincoln.

“I’m the most presidential except for possibly Abe Lincoln when he wore the hat. That was tough to beat,” Trump said. But he added: “I have better hair than him.”

Read the entire Yahoo piece here.

Is David Brooks the Last American Whig?

Brooks speaking

No newspaper, magazine, or website is credible these days until it publishes a “David Brooks spiritual pilgrimage” article. 🙂

Most of these pieces are reviews of his latest book The Second Mountain.  Check out examples of this genre at The Washington Post, The New Yorker, Columbia Journalism Review, Religion News Service, Christianity Today, Times of Israel, The Atlantic, The New Republic, and The Christian Century.

The latest Brooks spiritual pilgrimage piece can be found at America magazine where writer Bill McGarvey explores The New York Times columnist’s interest in the writings of St. Augustine and Dorothy Day.

What struck me most about McGarvey’s piece was a paragraph in which writer E.J. Dionne calls Brooks “the last living, surviving American Whig:

“David is the last living, surviving American Whig,” says E. J. Dionne Jr., a Washington Post columnist and Brooks’s frequent debate partner on NPR. In the mid-19th century, the Whig Party—typified by Henry Clay and Abraham Lincoln—advocated for “old national greatness conservatism…internal improvements, use the government to build the country and its competitive capacity. But there was also a very strong moral and religious strain to the Whigs,” he says. “Even in David’s most conservative period, he was always drawn to the communitarian strains of conservatism.”

Read the entire piece here.

If you want to learn more about the Whig Party, start with Daniel Walker Howe’s book What Hath God Wrought or Allen Guelzo’s Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer PresidentIf you want to go even deeper, check out Howe’s The Political Culture of the American Whigs or Michael Holt’s The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party.

David Blight: The GOP is No Longer the Party of Lincoln

Lincoln GOP

David Blight teaches history at Yale University and is the prize-winning biographer of Frederick Douglass.  In a recent op-ed at The New York Times he argues that today’s Republican Party would be unrecognizable to Abraham Lincoln, the party’s first president.  Here is a taste of his scathing piece:

In 2012, I took part in the Congressional Civil Rights Pilgrimage, an annual trip to Alabama led by Representative John Lewis. On a Sunday afternoon I walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma next to Kevin McCarthy, now the Republican House minority leader, his wife and children at his side.

At the time, Representative McCarthy seemed to embrace the nature and purpose of this excursion to the sites of some of the transformative events of the civil rights struggle. I saw him smiling, even singing along with the ever-present freedom songs that animated that amazing experience.

Today, that memory makes me wonder: What does Mr. McCarthy — or any Republican, for that matter — tell his children about his place in a party that continues to sink deeper into the grips of Donald Trump and his personal brand of racial divisiveness?

Last week a reporter asked Mr. McCarthy if the president was a racist, following his derogatory comments about four Democratic congresswomen. Mr. McCarthy not only vehemently denied the charge, he also insisted that the furor over the president’s remarks was not a problem for Republicans, because it was the “Party of Lincoln.”

Read the rest here.

Historicizing the “Politics of Touch”

Biden grab

We now know that Joe Biden likes to touch people in ways that some might deem inappropriate.   According to University of South Carolina historian Mark M. Smith, Abraham Lincoln was also kind of handsy.  Here is a taste of his piece at The Conversation:

Amidst the furor over former Vice President Biden’s handsy habits – and with examples of inappropriate touching by current and former U.S. presidents still lingering – it might be a good time to recall how past politicians learned to use touch not to molest, intimidate or cow but to connect, engage and inspire.

No one was better at tactile politics than Abraham Lincoln.

Lincoln lived in a time when American political culture valued touch. Handshaking had long been important as a sign of political and social etiquette.

Quakers, for example, preferred the handshake over doffing hats and bowing because the act had something of a democratic ring to it, denoting a rough equality.

By the early 19th century, handshaking was becoming both more American and masculine. French and British gentlemen were less inclined to shake hands and considered the American habit of sweaty handshaking “disgusting.”

Lincoln and American politicians cast their touch as a necessary part of political culture and engagement.

I’m a scholar of sensory history, and in my research I have found that elected and electable leaders during the 19th century especially had to touch voters, metaphorically and literally, a point Lincoln probably learned while glad-handing as a young traveling lawyer.  

Read the rest here.

Lincoln Impersonators Unite!

Gettysburg 5

On Saturday, during a visit to Gettysburg with my Pennsylvania history class, I met Abraham Lincoln.   It was actually George Buss, a former teacher who has been impersonating Lincoln for over thirty years.

I though about George today when I read Olivia Waxman’s Time article about a gathering of Lincoln impersonators.  Here is a taste:

For Lincoln impersonators like Tom Wright, the work is serious business.

“When you’ve got this outfit on, you’ve got to be proper, and make sure you don’t do anything that would take away from Abraham Lincoln,” says Wright, a 71-year-old from Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

Indeed, when it comes to historical second skins, the attitude is as important as the accoutrements. “To me, this guy was important to the country because he saved the Union,” says Wright. He and his wife, Sue Wright, recently joined dozens of other faux-Lincolns for the 25th annual Association of Lincoln Presenters, a conference of reenactors, amateur historians, and other Honest Abe enthusiasts held April 11-14 at the Amicalola State Falls Lodge in Dawsonville, Georgia.

There were 22 Abrahams, 12 Mary Todds, one Robert Todd, one Jefferson Davis, and even one George Perkins Marsh (Lincoln’s ambassador to Italy) present at the event, which began in 1990. The Abrahams, of course, always steal the show.

Read the entire piece here.  I wonder if George was there.

Gettysburg 6

 

When Lincoln Gave Reparations to Slaveholders

Slaveholders

Tera Hunter, Edwards Professor of American History at Princeton, calls our attention to a bill signed by Abraham Lincoln in 1862 that paid up to $300 for every enslaved person freed in the District of Columbia.  Here is a taste of her piece at The New York Times:

On April 16, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill emancipating enslaved people in Washington, the end of a long struggle. But to ease slaveowners’ pain, the District of Columbia Emancipation Act paid those loyal to the Union up to $300 for every enslaved person freed.

That’s right, slaveowners got reparations. Enslaved African-Americans got nothing for their generations of stolen bodies, snatched children and expropriated labor other than their mere release from legal bondage.

The compensation clause is not likely to be celebrated today. But as the debate about reparations for slavery intensifies, it is important to remember that slaveowners, far more than enslaved people, were always the primary beneficiaries of public largess.

The act is notable because it was the first time that the federal government authorized abolition of slavery, which hastened its demise in Virginia and Maryland as runaways from these states fled to Washington. It offered concrete proof to enslaved people and their allies that the federal government might facilitate the destruction of slavery everywhere. And it confirmed the worst fears of their foes about an interloping tyrannical president.

Read the rest here.

Thoughts on Mike Pompeo and Queen Esther

Here is Mike Pompeo talking with the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN):

Sarah Pulliam Bailey gets us up to speed at The Washington Post.  Read here piece here.

Here are some really random thoughts about Pompeo’s remarks:

The fact that CBN asked Pompeo to compare Trump to Queen Esther in interesting in and of itself.  Let’s be clear:  Pompeo was responding to a question, not offering-up his religious views on Middle East foreign policy in an unsolicited fashion.

CBN has a long history of trying to connect biblical prophecy to developments in the Middle East.  The people at CBN believe, along with millions of other evangelicals, that God still has a special place in His plan for the nation of Israel.  The establishment of the state of Israel will be a sign that Jesus Christ’s return is coming.  This theology is often described as dispensationalism.  Those at CBN understand their mission in terms of 1 Chronicles 12:32.  In this Old Testament passage, David builds an army at Hebron to overthrow King Saul.  It says that “the men from Issachar” were men “who understood the times and knew what Israel should do….”  Today CBN wants to “understand the times” so that it can help evangelicals win the culture war and shape foreign policy.

Pompeo’s answer reveals that he also believes God still has a plan for Israel.  His answer makes it clear that he favors a pro-Israel foreign policy partially for dispensational or “end times” reasons.  It does not surprise me that he would see Iran as Haman and Esther as Trump.  What is most telling is that Pompeo is not running for office (like Trump) and thus does not have to appeal to evangelicals to shore-up an electoral base for 2020.   Unlike Trump, he seems to really believe this stuff.

One illustration of the evangelical love of Israel comes from Peter Lillback, the President of Westminster Theological Seminary, an evangelical Reformed seminary in the Philadelphia area. In 2011, Lillback wrote an entire book arguing that George Washington was a supporter of Israel.  Here is one of his arguments: “If there had been no George Washington, there would have been no American Independence.  If there had been no American Independence there would have been no United States.  If there had been no United States, there would have no super-power to support the existence of Israel.  If there has been no super-power to support Israel, there would be no Israel.”  He then concludes that George Washington was part of God’s plan for “the destiny of Israel.”

Trump has also been compared to King Cyrus. Some evangelicals make this comparison metaphorically—Trump is a pagan ruler who set the evangelical church free from the captivity of the Obama administration much in the same way that Cyrus, a pagan ruler, set the Israelites free from Babylonian bondage.  Others apply the Cyrus example to Israel.  Mike Evans, a Christian Zionist, has said that God used Trump to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem much in the same way God used Cyrus to advance biblical prophecy as related to a future for Israel.  I wrote extensively about this in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

It is worth noting that Harry Truman was also hailed as a King Cyrus after the state of Israel was established in 1948.

Back in 2012, Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu gave Barack Obama a copy of the Book of Esther.  It was a clear message that Obama, according to Netanyahu, was NOT acting as an Esther in his support of Iran over Israel.

Many evangelicals compared Sarah Palin to Queen Esther when she was John McCain’s vice-presidential candidate in 2008.  (She would save Christian America from the threat of an Obama administration and secularism.

Abraham Lincoln was compared to Queen Esther for freeing the slaves.  (He was also compared to Moses).

And that brings my random thought to an end.  🙂

Thank God for Big Government (Socialism?)

Lincoln socialist

Was this man a socialist?

Mike Pence recently railed against socialism.  Here is a taste of a Newsweek article about what he said at the 2019 Conservative Political Action Conference:

Vice President Mike Pence continued the Republican attacks on what they claim is socialism infiltrating the Democratic Party, making the dubious claim Friday that it was “freedom, not socialism, that ended slavery and won two World Wars.” Pence, speaking at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, did not mention what started slavery in the United States.

“It was freedom, not socialism, that ended slavery, won two World Wars and stands today as the beacon of hope for all the world.”

If it was freedom that ended slavery then presumably it was also freedom that allowed it, with a provision written into the Constitution that specifically referred to slaves and the “three-fifths compromise,” whereby they were counted as less than free people. Moreover, Southern states continued to argue for the freedom to keep slavery in place as the country descended into the Civil War. It was also not capitalism, which Pence appeared to be referring to, when he said it was freedom that ended slavery. Indeed, many historians have noted the explicit links between slavery and the birth of American capitalism. 

Read the rest here.

What the Union did to the South after the Civil War was not described as “socialism,” but it was an attempt by a powerful federal government to seize what the South (and the Supreme Court in Dred Scott) believed was private property, namely slaves.  Southern slaveholders were fighting for their own liberty and “freedom” to own slaves.  Lincoln used government power to take away this liberty.  For Lincoln, morality trumped the South’s “freedom” to hold another person in bondage.  This was the ultimate example of the United States government seizing private property and redistributing it (through emancipation).

The Author’s Corner with Brian Dirck

the black heavens abraham lincoln and death

Brian Dirck is a Professor of History at Anderson University. This interview is based on his new book, The Black Heavens: Abraham Lincoln and Death (Southern Illinois University Press, 2019).

JF: What led you to write The Black Heavens: Abraham Lincoln and Death?

BD: This book actually began as something quite different. I originally planned to analyze Lincoln’s leadership during the last summer of the war, when he believed he would not be re-elected, when his emancipation policies were being widely criticized, and especially when Grant’s Wilderness campaign was creating a horrendous body count. I wondered how Lincoln was able to get Americans to accept such high numbers of casualties. This led to a more general question: so, what did Lincoln think of death and dying generally? And it turns out very little has actually been written about that; a few things here and there, but on the whole, surprisingly little. So, my book morphed into a general study of how Lincoln confronted and managed death and mourning, all the way back to his childhood.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of The Black Heavens: Abraham Lincoln and Death?

BD: I argue that the popular image of Lincoln as haunted by a hyper-emotional, tragic spectre of death is misplaced. In fact, throughout his life Lincoln learned to increasingly put emotional distance between himself and dying, which was the only way he could effectively lead the nation through the Valley of Death that was the Civil War.

JF: Why do we need to read The Black Heavens: Abraham Lincoln and Death?

BD: My book fills a hole in the vast Lincoln literature (and yes, there are still holes) by looking in depth at a subject too long neglected. Death could easily compete with emancipation and the Union as key themes in Lincoln’s life, and so we need a better understanding of how he handled all the death and dying with which he was surrounded. I also believe this is a contribution to the growing body of literature on what we might call the Civil War’s “dark side,” begun with Drew Gilpin Faust’s excellent study of death during the war. I hope my book in this way contributes not just to Lincoln studies, but Civil War scholarship in general.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

BD: I think my interest in history and the Civil War began with my grandma telling me stories about the war as I grew up in central Missouri, stories about the guerrilla conflicts in the area, etc. She gave me a fascination with the era, and stories of the past generally. I was then blessed with the great fortune to study history as an undergrad at the University of Central Arkansas under Dr. Gregory J. Urwin (now at Temple), and then graduate work under the late Dr. Philip Paludan at the University of Kansas. Greg and Phil together gave me their infectious enthusiasm for teaching and writing about history, and Phil helped spark my ongoing interest in Lincoln’s life and career.

JF: What is your next project?

BD: I have begun work on a study of free speech during the war, focusing particularly on the conflicts between Lincoln and Clement Vallandigham.

JF: Thanks, Brian!

Did Lincoln Offer a “verbal cake and ice cream” to slaveowners?

Who was responsible for the Emancipation Proclamation?  Was it Lincoln?  The Republican Party? The slaves themselves?  Gettysburg College Civil War scholar Allen Guelzo makes a case for Lincoln in his recent piece in The Wall Street Journal.  Here is a taste:

In an age when rocking century-old statues off their pedestals has become a public sport, no historical reputation is safe. That includes Abraham Lincoln, the Great Emancipator.

It is “now widely held,” Columbia historian Stephanie McCurry announced in a 2016 article, that emancipation “wasn’t primarily the accomplishment of Abraham Lincoln or the Republican Party, but of the slaves themselves, precipitated by the actions they took inside the Confederacy and in their flight to Union lines.” Ebony editor Lerone Bennett put this argument forward in his 2000 book, “Forced Into Glory: Abraham Lincoln’s White Dream.” The Zinn Education Project, which distributes Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” to students, claims that Lincoln offered “verbal cake and ice cream to slaveowners,” while slaves themselves did “everything they could to turn a war for national unity into a war to end slavery.”

The case against Lincoln is a lot less energizing than it seems. Slavery, as it emerged in American life and law, was always a matter of state enactments. There was no federal slave code, and Madison had been particularly eager to ensure that the Constitution gave no federal recognition to the idea that there could be “property in man.” But there was also no federal authority to move directly against slavery in the states.

The attempt by the Southern slave states to break away in 1861 seemed to offer several ways to strike at slavery. Some U.S. Army officers attempted to declare slaves “contraband of war,” and therefore liable to seizure like any other military goods. But the “contraband” argument fell into the error of conceding that slaves were property, and, anyway, no legal opinions on the laws of war regarded such property seizures as permanent.

Congress tried to put a hand on slavery through two Confiscation Acts, in 1861 and 1862. But “confiscating” slaves wasn’t the same thing as freeing them, since the Constitution (in Article I, Section 9) explicitly bans Congress from enacting “bills of attainder” that permanently alienate property. Confiscation would also have had the problem of ratifying the idea that human beings were property.

Lincoln tried to dodge the constitutional issues by proposing, as early as November 1861, a federal buyout of slaves in the four border states that remained loyal to the Union—Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland and Missouri. But the representatives of those states rebuffed the offer, telling Lincoln that they “did not like to be coerced into Emancipation, either by the Direct action of the Government, or by indirection,” as a Maryland congressman reported.

Many slaves didn’t wait on the courts or Congress, and instead ran for their freedom to wherever they could find the Union Army. But the Army wasn’t always welcoming, and there was no guarantee that the war wouldn’t end with a negotiated settlement including the forced return of such runaways. Fugitive slaves were free, but their freedom needed legal recognition.

If you can get past The Wall Street Journal paywall, you can read the rest here.

What Would Lincoln Say?

trump fast food

As Donald Trump served hamburgers and fries to the Clemson University football team, Abraham Lincoln sat and watched.  Here is a taste of Amy Wang’s piece at The Washington Post:

There he was, the legendary statesman who had guided the United States through the bloody Civil War, now peering at stacks of either 300 hamburgers or “over 1000 hamberders,” depending on whom or when you asked.

It didn’t help that Trump gleefully presided over the spectacle while standing directly beneath Honest Abe.

“I like it all. It’s all good stuff,” Trump declared as a White House staffer finished lighting two majestic candelabras flanking the spread. “Great American food!”

Above him, a great American hunched deep into his chair, chin in hand, pondering life, liberty and the rights of man. If paintings on walls could talk, what might Lincoln even say?

Read the entire piece here.

Historian H.W. Brands Paints a Scenario in Which the Battle Over Abortion Might Lead to Civil War

john Brown

H.W. Brands‘s piece at The Washington Post is worth pondering.  Here is a taste:

Suppose Roe is reversed, and the states are allowed to restrict abortion as they see fit. Red states reduce access to abortion, in some cases nearly eliminating it. Blue states maintain or even liberalize their existing laws. The red states proclaim themselves right-to-life, the blue states right-to-choose. Women seeking abortions travel or move to the blue states, leaving the red states redder still.

Having repealed Roe, opponents of abortion would be tempted to push for a further step: the restriction or outlawing of abortion nationwide. Just as Massachusetts abolitionists felt compelled to condemn slavery in Georgia, so anti-abortionists in Texas would feel conscience-bound to try to prevent abortions in California.

They might not succeed, but the effort alone would cause many Californians to ask themselves whether their liberties were safe any longer in a Union with such people. California’s economy would rank it fifth in the world if it were an independent country. Californians might conclude that they could stand on their own and vote to secede. Perhaps they would be joined by Washington and Oregon, adding Amazon, Microsoft and Nike to the economic heft of the Pacific republic.

What would happen then is anyone’s guess. Would the heartland fight to keep the left coast in the Union? Maybe not. It’s worth noting that when the South seceded in 1860-61, many Northerners, not all of them abolitionists, applauded its departure. Lincoln took the opposite view, but another president might have let the South go. In fact, another president did let the South go: James Buchanan stood by amid the first wave of secession.

Read the entire piece here.

 

Lepore: “Anyone who makes an identity-based claim for a political position has to reckon with the unfortunate fact that Stephen Douglas is their forebear, not Abraham Lincoln or Frederick Douglass”

These TruthsEvan Goldstein of The Chronicle of Higher Education recently interviewed Jill Lepore about her new book, the academy, identity politics, and writing.

Here is a taste:

Q. How is the academy implicated in or imperiled by this moment of epistemological crisis?

A. The academy is largely itself responsible for its own peril. The retreat of humanists from public life has had enormous consequences for the prestige of humanistic ways of knowing and understanding the world.

Universities have also been complicit in letting sources of federal government funding set the intellectual agenda. The size and growth of majors follows the size of budgets, and unsurprisingly so. After World War II, the demands of the national security state greatly influenced the exciting fields of study. Federal-government funding is still crucial, but now there’s a lot of corporate money. Whole realms of knowing are being brought to the university through commerce.

I don’t expect the university to be a pure place, but there are questions that need to be asked. If we have a public culture that suffers for lack of ability to comprehend other human beings, we shouldn’t be surprised. The resources of institutions of higher learning have gone to teaching students how to engineer problems rather than speak to people.

Q. The university has been convulsed by debates around identity politics. You point out that identity politics, by other names, has always played a role in American life.

A. It’s impossible to talk about without pissing off a whole bunch of people no matter what you say, which is a flag that something is terribly wrong about the framing of the conversation.

Making political claims that are based on identity is what white supremacy is. To the degree that we can find that in the early decades of the country, it’s the position taken by, say, John C. Calhoun or Stephen Douglas arguing against Abraham Lincoln. The whole Lincoln-Douglas debate in 1858 comes down to Douglas saying, Our forefathers founded this country for white men and their posterity forever. And Lincoln, following on the writings of black abolitionists like Frederick Douglass and David Walker and Maria Stewart, says, No, that’s just not true! Lincoln read in the founding documents a universal claim of political equality and natural rights, the universality of the sovereignty of the people, not the particularity. Anyone who makes an identity-based claim for a political position has to reckon with the unfortunate fact that Stephen Douglas is their forebear, not Abraham Lincoln or Frederick Douglass.

Q. You get asked about your productivity a lot. I gather it’s a question you don’t like.

A. I sometimes say to people — this is like a 1930s thing to say, you can picture Barbara Stanwyck saying it in a noir film — it’s like complimenting a girl on her personality. It’s not about “You do good work,” it’s about “You do a lot of work.”

For a lot of people writing is an agony; it’s a part of what we do as scholars that they least enjoy. For me writing is a complete and total joy, and if I’m not writing I’m miserable. I have always written a lot. For years, before I wrote for The New Yorker, I wrote an op-ed every day as practice and shoved it in a drawer. It’s not about being published, it’s about the desire to constantly be writing. It’s such a strongly felt need that if it was something socially maladaptive it would be considered a vice.

Read the entire interview here.

The Problem of “Reconciling Irreconcilable Values”

FugitiveAndrew Delbanco‘s new book is titled The War Before the War: Fugitive Slaves and the Struggle for America’s Soul From the Revolution to the Civil War.  While I was on the road last week I listened to Delbanco’s interview with Terry Gross of National Public Radio.  I recommend it.

Over at The Atlantic, Delbanco explains what the 19th-century debate over slavery can teach us about our own contentious political moment.  Here is a taste:

With the united states starkly divided and with many Americans asking what kind of nation we are, it seems a good moment to look back to November 1863 in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, when Abraham Lincoln tried to answer the same question. Consecrating a Civil War battlefield where thousands of young men and boys had died four months before, he spoke of a nation “conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” For most Americans since, and for much of the world, those words have at­tained the status of scripture. We draw our sense of collective identity from them. They were, however, not strictly true, and Lincoln knew it.

Five years earlier, he had been more candid. Speaking in Chicago in the summer of 1858, Lincoln noted that when the republic was founded, “we had slavery among us,” and that “we could not get our Constitution unless we permitted” slavery to persist in those parts of the nation where it was already entrenched. “We could not secure the good we did secure,” he said, “if we grasped for more.” The United States, in other words, could not have been created if the eradication of human bondage had been a condition of its creation. Had Lincoln said at Gettysburg that the nation was con­ceived not in liberty but in compromise, the phrase would have been less memorable but more accurate.

The hard truth is that the United States was founded in an act of accommodation between two fundamentally different societies. As one Southern-born antislavery activist wrote, it was a “sad satire to call [the] States ‘United,’” because in one-half of the country slavery was basic to its way of life, while in the other it was fading or already gone. The Founding Fathers tried to stitch these two nations together with no idea how long the stitching would hold.

Read the rest here.

The Author’s Corner with William Green

image_miniWilliam Green is Professor of History at Augsburg University. This interview is based on his new book The Children of Lincoln: White Paternalism and the Limits of Black Opportunity (University Of Minnesota Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write The Children of Lincoln?

WG: After 1870, when it seemed that African Americans were about to begin a period of unprecedented freedom with the ratification of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments, white supremacy grew even more emboldened throughout the South as racial discrimination deepened throughout the North. Notably, all of this happened on the complaisant watch of Republicans who controlled the federal government and had in various ways emancipated and enfranchised the African American in the name of their martyred president. I wanted to know whether a similar dynamic – complaisance in the face of, what Eric Foner termed, “America’s unfinished revolution” – occurred in Minnesota.

I had just finished Degrees of Freedom, which examined the origins of the civil rights in Minnesota, and I found through the experiences of black residents, traits that were similar to what I saw nationally. But that book looked at the history through the experiences of black Minnesotans. The Children of Lincoln sets out to understand the motivations of often well-intended white patrons who amended the state constitution to establish black suffrage only to conclude that they had done their part, failing (or refusing) to acknowledge that voting rights alone did little to secure opportunity (i.e., farms and apprenticeships for skilled jobs) and end racial discrimination (i.e., denied service in restaurants and theatres). And yet, their expectation of gratitude from African Americans had the effect of quashing any chance for candid discussion between supposed black and white friends. I wanted this book to detail why white patrons who had fought for black equality settled for second-class citizenship, not even five years after Appomattox.

To gain insight into this dynamic, I profiled four Minnesotans – a Radical Republican senator whose public service straddled the years of war and reconstruction, an Irish Protestant immigrant farmer who enlisted in the U.S. Colored Infantry, the founder of the postwar women’s suffrage movement in Minnesota, and a St. Paul businessman and church leader who was key to founding Pilgrim Baptist Church, that would become Minnesota’s oldest black congregation. Each profile offers an often overlooked corner of Minnesota history, which, when pieced together, much like a mosaic, detail a uniquely multifaceted portrait of 19th century liberals.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of The Children of Lincoln?

WG: 1) The paternalism of white “friends”, though seemingly benign, was as duplicitous to black opportunity as the actions of a bigot; and 2) Self-satisfaction with one’s high-minded work was the surest way to watch the purpose and success of that work fade away.

JF: Why do we need to read The Children of Lincoln?

WG: The Children of Lincoln reminds us that after the war, with the massive influx of immigrants, farmer and labor tensions, agitation for women’s suffrage, railroad policy, expansion of industrial growth and monopolies, railroad expansion, the growth of urban centers and relocation of African Americans, the North needed its own policy of reconstruction.

I also think that The Children of Lincoln uniquely examines how little the “friends of black people” understood the nature of racism, and in particular, when blinded by hubris, were unable or unwilling to see it in themselves.

The book’s title is lifted from the address by Frederick Douglass during the dedication of the Emancipation Memorial when he said to the white listeners who had assembled for the unveiling, “You are the children of Lincoln, but we (African Americans) are at best his step-children.” He uttered these words under the likeness of the martyred president standing with outstretched arms over a freed slave forever huddled at his knee, now frozen in bronze. To white observers, the statue seemed majestic but to black onlookers, the statue seemed to commemorate the eternal duty of blacks to be both unequal and grateful to their white patrons. One year after the dedication, Rutherford B. Hayes, the Republican President-elect, withdrew federal troops from the South to mark the end of both reconstruction and federal protection.

The Children of Lincoln examines how the actions of four Minnesotans who did not know each other, came to mirror what the national party leadership did. The book explores how the welfare of the African American came to be the welfare of an abstraction, for “the Children” had allowed the idea of freedom to supplant its reality. As such, I think the book gives an important perspective, and offers issues for discussion on the nature of race relations that carries over to today.

Readers of history – lay and professional – who are interested in Minnesota, Civil War, Dakota War, reconstruction, civil rights, black history, women’s suffrage, and church history, will be interested in The Children of Lincoln.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

WG: I suppose I always had the inclination to be an American historian. Born in Massachusetts and growing up in Nashville and New Orleans, I was surrounded by history and I enjoyed learning about the events of long ago. But those were the days when I was “only” a student of history. It wasn’t until I researched material for what would be my first publication – an account of an 1860 Minneapolis slave trial – when I felt that I had become a historian. I learned the thrill of the hunt, peeling away the layers, going ever deeper into the lives and actions of people who initially only revealed pieces of themselves, discerning how my subject and the larger context affected the other, interpreting the past and acquiring the courage to follow the evidence, honing the skill of engagingly telling the story, trying always to be disciplined, patient and just in doing the work.

JF: What is your next project?

WG: I have a manuscript on the history of liberalism in mid-19th century Minnesota that is being reviewed for publication; and I’m presently working on a biography of an African American woman who was active in the colored women’s club movement and women’s suffrage, and who drafted and successfully lobbied for passage of an anti-lynching bill in 1921.

JF: Thanks, William!

When Abraham Lincoln “Visited” 40 Plantations

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Check out Rice University doctoral student William R. Black‘s fascinating piece at The Atlantic: Abraham Lincoln’s Secret Visits to Slaves.”  A taste:

Shortly before the election of 1860, a man came upon a plantation near Marlin, Texas, some 20 miles southeast of Waco. Though nobody knew who he was, the plantation owner took him in as a guest. The stranger paid close attention to how the enslaved people working on the plantation were treated—how they subsisted on a weekly ration of “four pounds of meat and a peck of meal,” how they were whipped and sometimes sold, resulting in the tearing apart of families. Eventually, the stranger said goodbye and went on his way, but a little while later he wrote a letter to the plantation owner, informing him he would soon have to free his slaves—“that everybody was going to have to, that the North was going to see to it.” The stranger told the owner to go into the room where he’d slept, and see where he’d carved his name into the headrest. And when the slaveholder went and looked, he saw the name: “A. Lincoln.”

At least that’s what happened according to Bob Maynard, who was born a slave and recounted the story as an old man in an interview with an employee of the Federal Writers’ Project (FWP), a New Deal program created to put writers to work and enrich American culture. In 1936, the FWP began collecting interviews with former slaves, amassing thousands of pages of oral histories which, though often filtered through the racism of white interviewers and their supervisors, provide an invaluable snapshot of how more than 2,000 survivors of slavery lived and thought.

Nearly 40 of those interviewed claimed Abraham Lincoln visited their plantation shortly before or during the Civil War. They said he came in disguise as a beggar or a peddler, bummed free meals off his unsuspecting white hosts, snooped around to find out what slavery was like, and told the slaves they would soon be free.

The stories weren’t limited to one corner of the South. Lincoln didn’t just visit central Texas; he also visited the Mississippi Delta, the Kentucky Pennyroyal, and the Georgia Piedmont. In fact, as late as the 1980s, African Americans in the South Carolina Sea Islands claimed that Lincoln traveled there in 1863 to announce the Emancipation Proclamation in person; some even said they knew the exact tree under which he stood.

Though there’s no evidence Lincoln actually made any of these incognito visits to the South—and ample documentation to suggest these visits were wholly fictitious—it’s important that many former slaves believed he did. Today, historical debates over emancipation often focus on whether it came from the top down or the bottom updid Lincoln free the slaves, or did the slaves free themselves? But the stories of Lincoln coming down South suggest many freedpeople didn’t see this as an either/or question.

Read the rest here.

My Boston Trinity Academy Chapel Talk on Rural America

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Get the context here.  I gave this short chapel talk to the faculty and students of Boston Trinity Academy on January 16, 2018–JF

I am so pleased to be back at Boston Trinity Academy. (BTA)  I continue to reflect fondly on my last visit in May 2014 when I had the honor of serving as your commencement speaker.  It is great to see old friends and I have already made some new ones.

Students: please know how privileged you are to be at this place.  BTA is a school committed to the integration of Christian faith and learning at the highest level.  There are few places like this in the country.  Cherish your education here.  Thank God for it every day.  And be attentive to God’s voice so that you can obtain the wisdom necessary to know what you should do with this great gift you are receiving.

I am also excited for all of you as you spend your J-Term exploring the culture of rural America.  I wrote my first book about rural America.  It focused on a young man living in the 1760s and 1770s.  His name was Philip Vickers Fithian.  Philip left rural America, went to college at Princeton, and served his country during the Revolutionary War. But he never forgot the people from the rural community who raised him and taught him how to love God and others.  Philip’s path of education and self-improvement always seemed to lead him home.  So, needless to say, the topic you are studying this week is near and dear to my heart and I look forward to working with you today– the first day of your journey.

The countryside.  The frontier.  The hinterland.  The backcountry.  Whatever you want to call it—rural America played a powerful role in our understanding of who we are as Americans.  One of my favorite rural novels is Willa Cather’s My Antonia (if you haven’t read it, you should!).  I teach it at Messiah College in a course I offer on the history of immigrant America.  In this novel we meet a young man named Jim Burden.  He grew up on the East Coast, but after both his parents died he was sent to Nebraska to live with his grandparents.  As Jim gets a first glimpse of the Great Plains he says: “There was nothing but land: not a country at all, but the material out of which countries are made.” Several days later he adds: “Everywhere, as far as the eye could reach, there was nothing but rough shaggy red grass, most of it as tall as I.”

As he stands in the Nebraska fields, Jim starts to consider his own smallness: “Between that earth and that sky I felt erased, blotted out…  that is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great.” Jim Burden teaches us that rural America—with its pristine meadows and vast expanses of land—can have a humbling effect on those who experience it.  The rural writer Kathleen Norris, in her introduction to the edition of My Antonia I use in class, writes that Jim is “obliterated by the landscape.”

Thomas Jefferson, our third president and author of the Declaration of Independence may have related to the fictional experience of Jim Burden.  “Those who labour in the earth,” Jefferson wrote, “are the chosen people of God, if ever he had a chosen people, whose breasts he has made his peculiar deposit for substantial and genuine virtue.”  Jefferson wanted to build the United States around the character traits that he saw in the ordinary farmer.  He used the word “yeoman”—a common term for a landholder—to describe this kind of farmer.

Throughout American history farmers have been committed to local places, to living lives in community and to the importance of family.   They understood the dignity of hard work.  They were often portrayed as healthy and strong.  They were people of faith—the kind of faith needed to place complete trust in a God who controls the weather.  They were patient folk who knew how to wait on the Lord.

At the same time, farmers were independent–the kind of people needed to sustain a nation founded upon freedom.  In other words, they were not dependent on others—such as manufacturers and bank owners–to survive.  They were not defiled by the corruption and self-interest of cities—urban centers filled with workers who were at the mercy of factory owners. Jefferson envisioned a country filled with landowners who would spread out across the continent.  Manufacturing and urbanization did not play a major role in his vision.  These things were part of the vision of his political rival Alexander Hamilton.

Jefferson’s rural vision for America died after the Civil War.  It gave way to industry and railroads and factories and markets.  If Jefferson were alive today he would probably be appalled by how dependent we are on food processed by big companies.  He would not be happy that we pursue the American dream by going into debt to credit card companies and mortgage firms and banks. (This, despite the fact that Jefferson spent most of his adult life in debt).

Indeed, we don’t live the kind of independent lives Jefferson envisioned.  We trade the patience of the farmer for immediate gratification.   We want it all—and we want it now.  But the American rural dweller,–the farmer–teaches us to slow down and listen.  To endure.  To trust God for our most pressing needs.  Maybe even to suffer—as many farmers did when the weather did not cooperate.  Farmers understood (and understand) that that suffering produces perseverance.  They understood that perseverance produces character. They understood that character leads to hope (Romans 5:4)

There is a lot to commend in this vision of America.  But it also easy to get nostalgic about it.  The warm and fuzzy feeling we get when we read about Jim Burden or study Thomas Jefferson’s America can blind us to another side— a dark side—of the history of rural life.  Maybe you have heard of this term, “nostalgia.”  I think of it as a sort of homesickness for a time in the past when everything was wonderful or when we at least thought that everything was wonderful.   But nostalgia is an inherently selfish way of thinking about the past because it often fails to see how other people—people who are not like us—lived through the same era and did not think it was so great.

With this in mind, as we gather on the day after Martin Luther King Jr. birthday, we would be remiss, and historically irresponsible, if we did not think about this other side of rural America.  After all, for most of American history the countryside was the home of forced labor camps—white people called them plantations—where millions of enslaved Africans and their families cultivated the land. Abraham Lincoln described slavery in his First Inaugural Address as “250 years of unrequited toil.” The whip of the slaveholder drove the Southern cotton economy and contributed to the success of Northern manufacturing and industry.  The growth of American power went hand in hand with the growth of slavery.  The rise of American capitalism would be impossible without the labor of the enslaved.

Slavery ended officially in 1865, but the enslaved—now called freedmen—had a hard time escaping rural America.  Many of them returned to the fields as sharecroppers—a system of work that could be just as degrading as slavery. And they also came face-to-face with white rural Americans who were not happy that they were free.  For the next century these white Americans in the South would do everything in their power to deny African Americans the liberties they were entitled to.

Martin Luther King and the other leaders of the Civil Rights Movement knew this history of rural America very well.  But they refused to let the past have its way with them. They fought to bend the trajectory of America’s future toward justice.  By the time of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s, many African-Americans had left rural life in search of opportunities beyond the cotton plantations of the South.  They traveled to northern cities like Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland, Philadelphia, New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and St. Louis.  They came to work in the factories of Buffalo, Boston, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Kansas City, Cincinnati, and Indianapolis.  Even those who stayed in the South left the farm for cities like Greensboro, North Carolina; Atlanta, Georgia; Montgomery, Birmingham, and Selma, Alabama; Little Rock, Arkansas; and Memphis and Nashville, Tennessee.  Ironically, it was in cities like these where Martin Luther King Jr. fought against the racism born in the fields of rural America.

Today about 10% of African-Americans live in rural areas.  This makes rural America largely the domain of poor white men and women who do not have the financial resources to get out. They often live alongside immigrant laborers—most from Central America—who do farm work for the big corporations that now control most of American agriculture.

As the urban population of America grows, the rural communities of the United States lose about 30,000 people per year. Donald Trump was right when he described a rural America of  “rusted-out factories” scattered “like tombstones across the landscape.” Once-thriving town-centers in rural communities are now filled with closed storefronts.  People in rural America have limited access to doctors and are now more likely to suffer from diabetes, heart disease, and cancer than people living in the cities and the suburbs.  Suicide rates in rural areas are double that in urban areas.  People are living in despair.  Access to a good education is becoming more and more difficult.  If you want to get a glimpse of rural America’s decline in places like Kentucky and Ohio I encourage you to pick-up a copy of J.D. Vance’s book Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of Family and Culture in Crisis.  I re-read some of it on the plane on the way here.  It explains a lot about why so many rural Americans saw Donald Trump as their savior in 2016.

So what happened to Jefferson’s vision of a country built upon yeoman farmers?  Does Jim Burden’s Nebraska still exist?  What has the long legacy of slavery and racism done to rural places?  These, I hope, will be the questions you will try to answer this week.

As I close, let me suggest that your task in making sense of rural America must be guided by the practice of at least three virtues essential to any kind of educational endeavor:

The first is empathy.  For many of you here in Boston, “rural America” might as well be a foreign country.  Empathy will be your passport for entry into this strange land.  This is going to take some discipline on your part.  You will need to walk in the shoes of those who live in rural America.  Your mind must be open to the experiences of the people who have inhabited and continue to inhabit these places.  As historian John Lewis Gaddis has written, to practice empathy means you must make every effort to “understand their hopes and fears, their beliefs and dreams, their sense of right and wrong, [and] their perceptions of the world.” I challenge you to see life on their terms, not yours.  Pray about this.  Ask God to open your eyes and ears to people who are different.  This, after all, is what school is all about.  The Latin word for education literally means to “lead outward”—to grow personally by encountering others.

This kind of empathy will ultimately lead to a second virtue:  humility.  Like Jim Burden, who felt overwhelmed and small from staring into the Nebraska sky, your experience with people who are different should make you realize that you are part of something much larger than this moment, this particular place, and this particular time.  As an individual, you are important.  You are a child of God.  That gives you a dignity that no one can take away.  But at the same time, it’s not all about you!  To take a deep dive into another culture or another part of the world, or even another part of the United States, is to realize that God’s human creation is much more diverse, much larger and wonderful, than the tiny little slice of the world that you experience here in Boston or through the screen on your cell phone.   Pray for humility this week.  Whenever we study people who are different we see the awesomeness of God’s glorious creation.  This kind of encounter should humble us.  If it doesn’t, the problem is not with the rural Americans you will be studying this week.  The problem is with you!

Third, welcome the stranger.  During J-Term you will be meeting people who live in rural America.  You will also encounter the voices of rural America visiting your classroom in the form of historical documents and pieces of literature and videos and online sources.  Listen to these voices.  Make them feel at home in your classrooms. Make them your guests.  I know that sounds kind of strange, but unless you show hospitality to the texts you read and the people you encounter—even in a virtual or imagined way—you cheat yourself and are rejecting an opportunity to learn.

So I wish you well in this educational and intellectual journey for which you are about to embark.  Remember that Boston Trinity Academy is a place where your teachers love you.  And because they love you they want to encourage you to love the Lord with your minds.  And for that we can say “thanks be to God.”

Did Lincoln’s Reliance on “Providence” Make Him an Incompetent President?

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This semester my Civil War class is reading Allen Guelzo’s Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer PresidentIt is, without peer, the best book on Lincoln’s intellectual and religious life.  Others seem to agree.  In 2000, Guelzo’s biography received the prestigious Lincoln Prize for the best film or book about the Civil War era.  Last night we discussed chapter 8: “Voice Out of the Whirlwind.”

Guelzo argues that Abraham Lincoln, at least in his adult life, was never a Christian, but he did spend a lot of time reflecting on big questions about free will and determinism and their relationship to a force or supreme being that governed the world.  Lincoln, in his pre-presidential years, believed in what he called the “Doctrine of Necessity.”  He wrote: “I was inclined to believe in what I understand is called the “Doctrine of Necessity”–that is, that the human mind is impelled to action, or held in rest by some power, over which the mind itself has no control…”  Guelzo compares Lincoln’s view here to the philosopher John Stuart Mill’s “philosophical necessity,” a believe “that human beings possess neither free will nor the moral responsibility for the right or wrong actions that is supposed to follow the exercise of free choices.” (p.117).

During his presidency, Lincoln’s “Doctrine of Necessity” took on a more religious flavor.  He began to use the word “providence” to describe this “power, over which the mind has not control.”  He came to embrace a “divine personality” that intervened in human affairs. (p.328).

Guelzo argues, and quite convincingly I might add, that the Civil War led Lincoln to apply his view of “providence” to the political decisions he made as POTUS.  This was particularly the case in his decision to issue the Emancipation Proclamation.  The Proclamation was issued days after the Union victory at the Battle of Antietam.  In a cabinet meeting following the battle, Lincoln uttered what Guelzo calls “the most astounding remarks any of [the members of his cabinet] had ever heard him make.”  Lincoln told the cabinet that he had become convinced that if the Union won at Antietam he would consider it an indication of the “divine will and that it was his duty to move forward in the cause of emancipation.” (p.341).  He added, “God had decided this question in favor of the slaves.”  Indeed, the Emancipation Proclamation changed the course of the war.  The Proclamation made it a war that was less about preserving the Union and more about freeing the slaves.  It could be argued that it was the turning point of the Civil War.  And Lincoln made his decision by somehow interpreting (with much certainty) the providence of God.

After class, a student asked me if I thought a United States President could get away with this kind of presidential leadership today.  What if George W. Bush, Barack Obama, or Donald Trump made a republic-altering decision and said that it was based upon his reading of God’s providence? (Bush came close on numerous occasions).  There would be many evangelicals who might love such a claim.  But most Americans, including many evangelicals who believe in the providence of God but do believe we can know God’s will in every matter on this side of eternity, would think that such a decision-making process might be the height of presidential incompetence.