Friday, February 13, 2009

Lincoln's Legacy: Part II. Death, Bondage And The Pursuit Of The Master

While it is true that Abraham Lincoln always was morally opposed to slavery, he was slow to come to the realization that political action was required to bring about its demise. (It was two years into his presidency that he issued the Emancipation Proclamation.) He was convinced that if slavery was limited to the territory allotted top it by the Missouri Compromise (below the Mason Dixon Line), then the institution would slowly die out. This was the view of many of the original Founding Fathers such as Thomas Jefferson. In the early days of this country, slavery was on the defensive. Many of those who held slaves publicly declared that slavery was not to be actively defended and hoped for its demise. However, the terms of the debate changed so that by the 1850's, the South and its defenders argued that slavery was a positive good. Southern politicians and writers made an all-out assault on the Declaration of Independence which declared that all were created in the image of God and therefore possessed the inalienable rights of "Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Southerners denied this proposition, stating that black people were not as equal as whites and therefore had no such rights the Declaration declared as belonging to all men. The Chief Justice of the United States, Roger B. Tanney, expressed these sentiments in his opinion in the Dred Scott case. This case involved a slaveholder moving to a free territory with his slave, Scott, who soon died. Scott contended that as his master was dead and he was a resident of a free-soil state, he was free. The Supreme Court, under Tanney, declared otherwise, that as a slave he was considered to be property and his fate was to be decided by the laws of property. This assault on the Declaration is what drove Lincoln back into politics. By his actions, and the actions of his supporters, the rights spoken of in the Declaration were preserved in this nation and have been won in other parts of the world. Without Lincoln and company fighting to preserve them, modern day Christians would not have these rights to refer to when fighting for the unborn.


The following is one man's view, Frederick Doulass's, of daily life endured by American slaves in the Old South. His view is by no means unique, as there is abundant supporting testimony from former slaves available. In fact, according to Ken Burn's "The Civil War," the average lifespan for a male slave was 29 years. The following is from "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave":

"Mr. Gore was a grave man, and, though a young man, he indulged in no jokes, and said no funny words, seldomed smiled. His words were in perfect keeping with his looks, and his looks were in perfect keeping with his words. Overseers will sometimes indulge in a witty word, even with the slaves; not so with Mr. Gore. He spoke but to command, and commanded but to be obeyed; he dealt sparingly with his words, and bountifully with his whip, never using the former where the later would answer as well. When he whipped, he seemed to do so from a sense of duty, and feared no consequences. He did nothing reluctantly, no matter how disagreeable; always at his post, never inconsistent. He never promised but to fulfill. He was, in a word, a man of the most inflexible firmness and stone-like coolness.

His savage barbarity was equalled only by the consummate coolness with which he committed the grossest and most savage deeds upon the slaves under his charge. Mr. Gore once undertook to whip one of Colonel Lloyd's slaves, by the name of Demby. He had given Denby but few stripes, when, to get rid of the scourging, he ran and plunged himself into a creek, and stood there at the depth of his shoulders, refusing to come out. Mr. Gore told him he would give him three calls, and that, if he did not come out at the end of the third call, he would shoot him. The first call was given. Demby made no response, but stood his ground. The second and third calls were given with the same result. Mr. Gore then, without consultation or deliberation without anyone, not even giving Demby an additional call, raised his musket to his face, taking deadly aim at his standing victim, and in an instant Demby was no more. His mangled body sank out of sight, and blood and brains marked the water where he had stood.

"A thrill of horror flashed through every soul upon the plantation, excepting Mr. Gore. He alone seemed cool and collected. He was asked by Colonel Lloyd and my old master, why he resorted to this extraordinary expedient. His reply was, (as well as I can remember,) that Demby had become unmanageable. He was setting a dangerous example to the other slaves,--one which, if suffered to pass without some demonstration on his part, would finally lead to the subversion of all rule and order on the plantation. He argued that if one slave refused to be corrected, and escaped with his life, the other slaves would soon copy his example; the result of which would be, the freedom of the slaves, and the enslavement of the whites. Mr. Gore's defense was satisfactory. He continued in his status as overseer upon the home plantation. His fame as an overseer went abroad. His horrid crime was not even submitted to judicial investigation. It was committed in the presence of slaves, and they of course could neither institute a suit, nor testify against him; and thus the guilty perpetrator of one of the bloodiest and most foul murders goes unwhipped of justice, and uncensored by the community in which he lives. Mr. Gore lived in St. Michael's, Talbot County, Maryland, when I left there; and if he is still alive, he probably lives there now; and if so, he is now, as he was then, as highly esteemed and as much respected as though his guilty soul had not been stained with his brother's blood.

I speak advisedly when I say this,--that killing a slave, or any colored person, in Talbot County, Maryland, is not treated as a crime, either by the Courts or the Community. Mr. Thomas Lanman, of St. Michael's, killed two slaves, one of whom he killed with a hatchet by knocking his brains out. He used to boast of the commission of the awful and bloody deed. I have heard him do so laughingly, saying among other things, that he was the only benefactor of his country in the company, and that when others would do as much as he had done, we should be relieved of the 'd---d n-----s.' "

We need not just take the word of former slaves concerning the cruelty of everyday slavery. There is plenty of evidence from the pens of slaveholders themselves. This quote is from Francis Schaeffer's "How Should We Then Live?":



"Anyone with a tendency to minimize the brutality of slavery which existed in the United States should read Charles Dickens's (1812-1870) American Notes (1842). He begins this portion of the book saying 'The upholders of slavery in America--of the atrocities of which system I shall not write one word for which I have not ample proof or warrant....' He goes on to quote pages of newspaper ads which speak profoundly for themselves. Here are four examples out of the dozens which Dicken's quotes: 'Ran away, a negro boy about 12 years old. Had round his neck a chain dog-collar with De Lampert on it.' 'Detained at the police jail, the negro wretch, Myra. Has several marks of lashing, and has irons on her feet.' 'One hundred dollar reward for a negro fellow, Pompoy, 40 years old. He was branded on the left jaw.' 'Ran away, a negro woman and two children. A few days before she went off, I burned her with a hot iron, on the left side of her face. I tried to make the letter M.' "

If a slave survived to old age, this is the fate they could look forward to, according to Frederick Douglass:

"...my grandmother, who was now very old, having outlived my old master and all of his children, having seen the beginning and end of all of them, and her present owners she was of but little value, her frame already racked with the pains of old age, and complete helplessness stealing over her once active limbs, they took her to the woods, built her a little hut, put up a mud chimney, and made her welcome to the privilege of supporting herself there in perfect loneliness; she lives to remember and mourn over the loss of children, the loss of grandchildren, and the loss of great grandchildren...

The hearth is desolate. The children, the unconscious children, who once sang and danced in her presence, are gone. She gropes her way, in the darkness of age, for a drink of water...She stands--she sits--she staggers--she falls--she groans--she dies--and there are none of her children or grandchildren present, to wipe from her wrinkled brow the cold sweat of death, or to place beneath the sod her fallen remains. Will not a righteous God visit for these things?"

It matters not that Abraham Lincoln was not an orthodox believer in Christianity when one argues that he was a righteous God's instrument for ending "these things." Even the unorthodox Thomas Jefferson, when speaking about a possible Civil War over slavery, said "I tremble when I remember that God is just." It appears that on this point Douglass was a better theologian then those slaveholders who claimed to follow Christ. In Part III, Douglass describes what passed for Christianity in the Old South. It is not a history the Church should be proud to acknowledge.

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