Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Lincoln's Legacy: Part I. What No Child Should Ever See

Today marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln. I will not attempt to write an article praising his greatness; other writers can do that better than myself. However, a particular group of people need to be addressed as to why Lincoln is considered our greatest President: Conservatives and Conservative Christians who believe that Lincoln and the North were wrong and that the South was right. I had some spirited discussions on this topic in the Mens' Dorm in Seminary. As to why some of these people have a negative opinion toward Lincoln and think the South was right, that will be addressed in a future column to appear in this series. For now I will express my astonishment that some consider the effort to abolish slavery and subdue the South to be on the wrong side of the theological debate. Some believe that because the South is now designated as the "Bible Belt", that the Old South was a bastion of true Christianity fighting a doomed battle to prevent the Godless modernist North from wiping out the last vestiges of the true faith in this nation. Because some plantation owners professed to follow Christ, some have a benign view of what slavery was like. They don't understand slavery's soul-destroying effects upon those held in bondage. The slaves were denied every vestige of human dignity and the effects of slavery caused Southern whites to live in the grossest of sins. One of the best ways to understand Lincoln's greatness is to understand just how evil the system he was instrumental in destroying actually was. For that purpose, we need to hear the testimony of slaves who actually survived the hell that was slavery in the United States. In the following articles we will hear from two former slaves. Both comment not only on the evil deeds they witnessed, but also on the hypocritical religion that called itself Christianity that made their plight even worse. Both were believers in God and were able to distinguish between the true Gospel and the planter's religion that was used as a further pillar to buttress such an evil system. It signifies nothing that many in the North were racists as well; to read the personal testimony of these former slaves shows the justice of its forceful abolition and just who's side God favored in the conflict. God was on the side of the slaves, and any theology that seeks to argue otherwise is at odds with the heart of God.

The first former slave we shall hear from is Frederick Douglass who escaped from slavery in Maryland in the 1830's and wrote "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave" in 1845. It is from this work that I will quote from. We will begin by reading some of his earliest childhood memories, and how slave owners did all in their power to destroy all the bonds of family among the slaves:

"I was born in Tuckahoe, near Hillsbourough, and about twelve miles from Easton, in Talbot county, Maryland. I have no accurate knowledge of my age, never having seen any authentic record containing it. By far the larger part of the slaves know as little of their ages as horses know of theirs, and it is the wish of most masters within my knowledge to keep their slaves thus ignorant. I do not remember ever to have met a slave who could tell of his birthday...A want of information concerning my own was a source of unhappiness to me even during childhood. The white children could tell their ages. I could not tell why I ought to be deprived of the same privilege. I was not allowed to make any inquiries of my master concerning it. He deemed all such inquiries on the part of a slave improper and impertinent, and the evidence of a restless spirit...

"My mother was named Harriet Bailey...My father was a white man. He was admitted to be such by all I ever heard speak of my parentage. The opinion was also whispered that my master was my father; but of the correctness of this opinion, I know nothing; the means of knowing was withheld from me . My mother and I were separated when I was but an infant--before I knew her as my mother. It is a common custom, in the part of Maryland from which I ran away, to part children from their mothers at an early age. Frequently, before the child has reached its twelfth month, its mother is taken from it, and hired out on some farm a considerable distance off, and the child is placed under the care of an old woman too old for field labor. For what this separation is done, I do not know, unless it be to hinder the development of the child's affection towards its mother, and to blunt and destroy the natural affection of the mother for the child. This is the inevitable result.

"I never saw my mother, to know her as such, more than four or five times in my life; and each of these times was very short in duration, and at night. She was hired by Mr. Stewart, who lived about twelve miles from my home. She made her journeys to see me at night, travelling the whole distance on foot, after the performance of the day's work. She was a field hand, and a whipping is the penalty of not being in the field at sunrise...I do not recollect ever seeing my mother by the light of day. She was with me in the night. She would lie down with me, and get me to sleep, but before long I waked and she was gone...She died when I was about seven years old...I was not allowed to be present during her illness , at her death, or burial. She was gone long before I knew anything about it. Never having enjoyed, to any considerable extent, her soothing presence, her tender and watchful care, I received the tidings of her death with much the same emotions I should have probably felt at the death of a stranger.

"...slave holders have ordained, and by law established, that the children of slave women follow the condition of their mothers, and this is done too obviously to administer to their own lusts, and make a gratification of their wicked desires profitable as well as pleasurable, for by this cunning arrangement, the slave holders, in cases not a few, sustains to his slaves the double relation of master and father.

"My first master's name was Anthony. I do not remember his first name...His farms and slaves were under the care of an overseer. The overseer's name was Plummer. Mr. Plummer was a miserable drunkard, a profane swearer, and a savage monster. He always went armed with a cowskin and a very heavy cudgel. I have known him to cut and slash the womens' heads so horribly, that even master would be enraged at his cruelty, and would threaten to whip him if he did not mind himself. It required extraordinary barbarity on the part of an overseer to affect him. He was a cruel man, hardened by a long life of slave holding. He would at times seem to take great pleasure in whipping a slave. I have often been awakened at the dawn of the day by the most heart-rending shrieks of an aunt of mine, whom he used to tie up to a joist, and whip upon her naked back till she was literally covered with blood. No words, no tears, no prayers, from his gory victim, seemed to move his iron heart from its bloody purpose. The louder she screamed, the harder he whipped; and where the blood ran fastest, there he whipped longest. He would whip to make her scream, and whip to make her hush; and not until overcome with fatigue, would he cease to swing the blood clotted cowskin. I remember the first time I ever witnessed this horrible exhibition. I was quite a child, but remember it well. It was the first of a long series of outrages, of which I was doomed to be a witness and a participant. It struck me with awful force. It was the blood-stained gate, the entrance to the hell of slavery, through which I was about to pass. It was the most terrible spectacle, I wish I could commit to paper the feelings, with which I beheld it...I was so terrified and horror stricken at the sight, that I hid myself in a closet...I had never seen anything like it before...I had therefore been, until now, out of the way of the bloody scenes that often occurred on the plantation."

I heard a theologian say recently that if Christians disobeyed all the verses in the Bible commanding us to protect the most vulnerable, then Christians would be disobeying 60% of the whole Bible. What kind of theology condemns the Civil War fought by the North which would never have occurred but for slavery which resulted in the destruction of that institution that so brutalized its victims such as Frederick Douglass and his family? Any one care to reply?

Part II will cover more of Frederick Douglass's testimony.

3 comments:

axegrinder said...

slavery is wrong, evil and an abomination hated by God. The South was desperately guiltyfor this offense against the image of God. slavery cannot be defended theologically. Douglass was a great man, much more so than Lincoln.

however, you've set up quite the straw man to knock down.

who are these current people who argue that slavery was of God and a practice that can be defended using Christian theology?

the abolitionist movement was as strong, if not stronger, in the South that it was in the North. slavery would have eventually ended without all the bloodshed of both black and white people.

it is very germane to this issue that racism was as strong, if not stronger, in the North than the South. the moral superiority assumed on behalf of the North is without any substance whatsoever.

the War of Northern Agression was not fought to end slavery. such a contention comes from an absurd and anachronistic altering of the historical facts.

how much better was the situation in the industrialized North for black people before, during and after the War? it was not better at all. poor working conditions. poor wages. poor living conditions. ill treatment from factory owners and supervisors. separation of families. child labor. the list equals or exceeds the disgusting abuses in the South.

the North prosecuted their War illegally. the Confederate states had every legal right to secede. the resulting explosion in Federal powers, ramped up under Lincoln, has led to the Leviathan that chokes us to death now. The issue then, as now, was state's rights and individual liberty vs. the unjust and illegal usurping of power conducted by the federal gov't. because the South was wrong on slavery does not make the North right on making war.

Former-Pres Bush's assault on the Constitution and civil liberties echoes the abuses and criminal activities of Lincoln. Jailing and silencing opponents, conducting illegal wars, etc. The irony is Pres Obama will be likened to Lincoln, which will be correct, but it will be considered a positive thing.

The results of the North's War were horrific. The South has never recovered economically or culturally. Neither blacks nor whites were better off as a result.

It is easy to show that men like Grant and Sherman were irreligious, immoral men. While men like Lee and Jackson were incredibly devout and pious Christians. The Confederate troops were markedly and demonstrably more influenced by Christianity than the Northern troops. Again, that doesn't excuse the practice of slavery. But making the War primarily about slavery is simply incorrect.

The South remains Christ-haunted because religion has not been viewed as an enemy of progress. While religion has been devalued in the North as a hinderance to progress-at-any-cost.

John, I could not disagree with you more thoroughly or vehemently on this issue.

Mr. Guthrie said...

Where do I start? First let me correct one misreading of this post as revealed in your comments. I never said that there are theologians who endorsed slavery, I said that there are some who believe that the North was on the wrong side of the theological debate even though slavery was evil. Two historians of note, Mark Knoll and Harry S. Stout, argue this in their recent books "The Civil War as a Theological Crises" and "Upon the Altar of the Nation." Stout of Yale argues that the South's arguement was based on a study of scriptures while the North was unsure theologically of the rightness of its cause. He credits slavery with introducing Christianity to the slaves for their benefit, which is hard to swallow. As my time is short, I will respond in full to their arguements in a later column. I have two more colums to post quoting Douglass.
There was almost NO ABOLUTIONIST MOVEMENT in the South. Press articles opposing slavery in the South were banned and anti-slavery figures were either run out of the South or killed. IT was the South's wish to have the powers to apprehend abolitionists in the North and take them South for trial. You cannot name for me one serious historical work that claims that the abollutionist movement was stronger in the South. This is the first time I have ever heard of such a claim, and I have been studying American History for thirty years.
Yes, racism was strong in the North, yet to say that the slaves lot was worse than the industrial North is poppycock. First, in the North, black laborers had the freedom of movement, they could live where they please. Second, their families had no fear that husbands and wives and children would be sold and taken away from them forever. No husband had to stand by why his employer forced himself on his wife or daughter. Incidents of race hatred occurred in the North, but by in large, black workers did not have to fear being whipped for petty offenses as the slaves in the South did. Their wages might not have been good, but at least they had wages. While some slaves received an allowence, most were entirely uncompensated. If you do not believe that, read accounts by Douglass and other former slaves, or listen to recordings of ex-slaves. The working conditions in the industrial North were not good, yet they paled in comparison to the South, where the average lifespan for a male slave was 29 years old. Again, Douglass contains a comparison between the two in his "Narritive." Not only were blacks better off in the North, so were the whites, according to Douglass. For many ex-slaves, their only fear was being recaptured by their masters or bounty hunters and returned to slavery. After 1850, the South forced the North to accept the Fugitive Slave Act that required Northerers to return all runaway slaves as the price for not leaving the UNion.
The South did not seceed because they saw powers increase under Lincoln: they suceeded before Lincoln ever took office. Lincoln tried negociating with the South, offering them many concessions, but being firm that slavery would not be permitted in new western territories. As the Vice-President of the Confederacy stated, the Confederacy was founded on the proposition tha t the black man was inferior to the white man. Jefferson Davis, along with the rest of the Southern polititians denied that "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness was meant for blacks. He even denied these rights to most whites. These rights were sole property of the rich planters and political class. This can be found in the biography of Davis, "Jefferson Davis, American."These sentiments were given the force of law by the Spreme Courts decision in the Dred Scott case (see part II). In all the South's declarations concerning states' rights, the context was ALWAYS THE RIGHT TO HOLD SLAVES. For years they had had their way. Three Presidents, Fillmore, Pierce and Buchannon favored the South. The Supreme Court was almost all Southern. The most powerful Congressman and Senators were mostly Southerners. In 1860, the Democrats nominated the Senator, Stephen Douglass, whose actions opened up free territory to slavery. But this was not good enough for them, nominating one of their own. When a Republican was elected, one who publicly promised not to interfere with Southern slavery, they didn't get their way, and so in a fit a arrogance and rage, they seceeded. The first act of aggression was the taking of Fort Sumpter by the South. The Federal Government had every right todefend its possession of forts. Had the South been allowed to take U.S. Forts, European powers, still looking for a way to dominate North America and end its experiment in democracy, would have exploited the situation, taking back lost territory.
Yes, the South is a Christ-haunted territory. Yet the historical roots of that state do not lie in the pre-Civil War South. In fact, before the war, the South was notoriously irreligious. Most of the sources for religion in the South had its roots in the North, which printed nearly all the Bibles in the South. I refer you to a work by Conservative African American Scholar and past host for Rush Limbaugh, Thomas Sowell, entitled "Black Rednecks and White Liberals." He points out that while other regions of the U.S. were settled by Christian settlers, the first migrants to the South were from lawless regions in Europe that no religion, Protestant or Catholic, had any contact with. The fact that the South is Christ-haunted now does not mean that it was during the Civil War. And Christianity was still a vital force in the North and many fought for religious reasons. And the Emancipation Proclamation changed the scope of the Northern war effort from just a defense of the Union to a war of liberation. Yes, the South suffered economically from the war, but itwas backward economically before the war, as the work by Sowell points out.
As for the commanding Generals, yes Lee and Jackson were more religious than Grant and Sherman. That has absolutely no bearing on the justice of each others cause.
The library has asked me to finish. I will continue.

Mr. Guthrie said...

I'm back.
There is much to admire in Lee and Jackson,especially Lee. He truely tried to discourage vindictiveness towards the North during and after the war. After the war he publicly took Communion with blacks. However, he disliked slavery not on moral grounds but on utilitarian ones, he felt the whole system wasteful and opposed to order. He showed little empathy for slaves.(Reading The Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee Through His Private Letters.) When Lee's father in law died, the will stipulated that Lee was to free his father in laws slaves in five years. Before the five years wqas up, Lee sold many of those meant to be free into continued bondage. He vigorously pursued runaways. (Robert E. Lee by Emory Thomas) Grant on the other hand always opposed slavery on moral grounds and had his wife give slaves she inherited their freedom. He once bought a slave so he could free him. Grant did have an alcohol problem which most historians attribute to lonliness for family while posted in remote wilderness forts. Grant has no reputation for immorality. He was faithful to his wife. While a good many who served him while President were corrupt, he never lined his pockets. While Grant discussed religion very little, to call him irreligious is a charge made with little if any evidence. Very few victorious generals in history have been as magnanomous toward a defeated foe as Grant and Sherman when they negociated the surrender of Southern armies. My knowledge of Sherman's private life is scanty, so I will not discuss him.
As to the religious motivations that drove the Northern war effort, I recommend James McPherson's "For Cause and Comrade." This is a study of the private letters of Union soldiers; the author read over 25,000 such letters in his research.
In most Civil Wars fought in history, the commanding generals were usually shot, hung, beheaded,or in some cases I am sure, eaten. But in America's Civil War, the commanding general and his officers remained unmolested. The commander became the President of what is now Washington and Lee. The President of the Confederacy had several jobs, including selling insurance. He was able to publish a mult-volume memior. The Vice President of the Confederacy, several southern politicos and military men rejoined the U.S. Congress less than a year after the surrender. The South endured a twelve year military occupation. After that ended, they were given a free hand in running their internal affairs, at the expense of the newly freed slaves. Its not that the South didn't suffer after the war, but it is an astounding tribute to the victor how easily the region was treated as compared to other conquered regions in history.
Yes, many were imprisoned unjustly in the North, yet to charge Lincoln with purely political motives is not true to the historical record. Very few Presidents were so beset with the political criticism he received inside and outside his party and in the press, yet if he wanted to, he could have exerted his influence to cancel the 1864 election, an election for a time he thought he might lose, using the war as an excuse.