Thursday, October 26, 2017

LINCOLN'S LEGACY: PART VI, CONCLUSION. "WOULDN'T IT HAVE BEEN A CATASTROPHE...?"

(Originally published on 03/12/09.  I have made editorial changes and updated the links.)

 On February 12, 1809, two men were born whose lives forever changed this world, one for the good, one for the worse. Abraham Lincoln's preservation of the Union and abolition of slavery guaranteed that the truths contained in the Declaration of Independence, that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, would remain the rationale for this country's existence. In his time Democracy was not the standard by which people were governed. If the Union had been dissolved, Democracy would probably still be on the defensive as a viable form of government. (For a fuller discussion of these issues, see Part V of this series.) If the Union had been dissolved, the world would have been under the control of one or a few world powers. Germany, possibly in its Nazi incarnation, would certainly have ruled much of this hemisphere. Without the United States becoming a world power, much of the world would be under the domination of distant empires. (For a discussion of this last point, see here and especially here for information on German designs on U.S. territory as late as the 20th century.)

Also born on this day, Charles Darwin, whose theory of evolution has to this day challenged the Biblical doctrines of both creation and the special creation of man in the image of God. While the 20th century might still have been the most violent century in man's history, Darwinism played a major part in how many of the 20th century's worst totalitarian regimes treated mankind. No, Darwin was not a Nazi and he would probably have been horrified by the atrocities committed by the Nazi's and Communists. Yet by denying man's place as the pinnacle of God's creation, he made it possible for tyrants and their scientific supporters to declare that man was just an animal. This led to the specific treatment of the Jews that culminated in the Holocaust. For a full discussion of Darwin's impact on history, see here and here.

So we have in one day the birth of one man whose life affirmed the whole human race's dignity as being created in the image of God with inalienable rights, and the birth of another whose life's work denied that special creation and which caused man to be seen as an animal, and to be treated as such.

Wouldn't it have been a catastrophe if Darwin had been born fifty years earlier, publishing "On The Origin Of Species" in 1809, instead of 1859. Had this happened, evolutionary theories would have already been entrenched in the scientific world, and would have been seen as a further bulwark in the defense of slavery. Slaves, such as Frederick Douglass, would have been seen as those who were lower on the evolutionary scale. The defenders of slavery would have contended that slaves were therefore not fully human and incapable of governing themselves as the fully evolved white race, therefore slaves had no rights as they were a lower form of animal. Evolution would have been used to defend the "permanent necessity" of slavery. It would also have been a catastrophe had Lincoln not transformed the war into a fight to end slavery. If slavery remained in existence after his Presidency, then as Evolution became more accepted, it would have been used as a justification to the continue the institution of slavery. That would have guaranteed that not only slaves in America would remain in bondage after 1865, it would have guaranteed that many overseas would remain in chains as well.

(The belief that all men were created equal was was rejected by the spokesmen for the Old South. See Part V of this series.)

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

LINCOLN'S LEGACY: PART V. A CONSERVATIVE DEFENSE AGAINST HIS CONSERVATIVE CRITICS

(This article was first published on 3/6/09. I have revised it, updated the links, and changed the title. There is an audio portion on the original post concerning my background and views on the South, old and new. For technical reasons, I am unable to transfer that portion to this post. If you wish to listen to it, here is a link to the original posted article.)

As this year (2009) marks the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln's birth, I would have liked to have memorialized the occasion with lofty prose. Yet others are better equipped for such a purpose. Instead, I thought I would illustrate Lincoln's greatness through the testimony of ex-slaves as to the evil of slavery, which Lincoln and the North overthrew. Having done that, I would like to address why some fellow conservatives and fellow Christian conservatives view Lincoln negatively, and then challenge these views by citing the historical record.

One reason for negative views of Lincoln among conservatives concerns the present-day designation of the South as the Bible belt. This has led some conservatives to view the Old South as this nation's bastion of true Christianity fighting to protect its heritage against the "Godless" North, which was seeking to overthrow Southern Christianity. This issue has been dealt with at length in the first four articles in this series.

Other criticisms of Lincoln concern the rise of an ever-expanding Federal government. These Conservatives blame the Northern victory for this current unwelcome development. For the most part, this linkage is a wrong view of history. The victory of the North may have played a part in the chain of events that led to today's expansive government, but it is not the primary reason. The roots of big government lie in the unprecedented immigration to America that took place after the Civil War. These immigrants congregated in big cities such as Chicago and New York City. The country was not prepared for so many coming to its shores. Taking advantage of the situation, political machines came into being to organize the new arrivals into powerful voting blocks. Politicians promised services for political loyalty. It was mainly the Democrat Party that practiced this kind of politics which resulted in the rise of powerful big city political bosses that ruled their cities and delivered votes to the candidate that promised rewards for them and their cities. The immigrants came from lands that discouraged individual effort and encouraged relying on the state for assistance.

Added to this influence is the rise of progressiveism, a radical, socialistic political movement that demanded the government side with the poor against the rich. This movement was especially strong in the West among farmers. The chaos we see in California politics today stems from the progressive state constitution enacted one hundred years ago. One of our most economically progressive Presidents, Woodrow Wilson, who created the Federal Reserve Board and helped enact the nation's first income tax in 1913, was Southern by birth, a Virginian.

Preference for expansive government received further aid from philosophical trends in Europe which found adherents in American Universities. The movement to co-opt charitable activities in the U.S. is chronicled most ably in conservative MarvinOlasky's "The Tragedy of American Compassion." In this book, Olasky documents the capacity for private charities and individuals to deal with society's down and out. The takeover of this function by the government was a subtle process. The forces that brought this about WERE PRESENT BEFORE THE CIVIL WAR BEGAN AND OPERATED INDEPENDENTLY OF WHOEVER PREVAILED IN THAT CONFLICT. (When I first posted this, I probably did not know that capital letters signified that the writer is yelling at his readers in print. That was not my intent. The capital letters were merely for emphasis.)

In most Civil Wars, the losing general is either shot, hanged, burned, beheaded, or maybe even eaten. The Confederate Commander expected to at least be imprisoned. Instead, he became the President of what is now Washington and Lee. The Confederate President spent two years in prison, was released, and held several jobs, including selling insurance. He was even able to publish a multi-volume memoir justifying both his actions and those of the South. Many Southern generals and politicians were elected to Congress one year after the war, including the Confederate Vice-President. After a twelve year military occupation by the North, the South was allowed to govern itself as it pleased. Some conservatives believe the slaves were better off under slavery. They certainly suffered inequality in various forms for over the next century, after the North withdrew. Yet at the same time, no black man ever had to fear again that his master would sell his wife or children.  Nor did they have to stand idly by while their masters violated their wives and daughters. They also had the freedom to move where they pleased. Before the advent of big government, black families stayed intact and advanced economically every generation. This is documented in "Black Rednecks and White Liberals" by Conservative African American Scholar Thomas Sowell. There is a hundred year gap between the end of slavery and the effects of the welfare state on the black family. You cannot blame these effects on Lincoln or the Northern victory.

subscribe to The Patriot Post: The Journal of Conservative Record. While I generally agree with the editorial viewpoint, I was disappointed that it ran an editorial debunking Lincoln (2/13/09). Like many who do so, the editor cited no independent historical sources when making his case.

One of the arguments the editor made is that Lincoln's Constitutional arguments are the root of the liberal Constitutional doctrine, "The Living Constitution." The doctrine of the "Living Constitution" states that the meaning of the Constitution changes over time as circumstances change. Lincoln stated that the Union was perpetual and was understood to be such at the country's founding. Lincoln stated that this principal was eternal, not a doctrine that was changeable with the changing of historical circumstances. In fact, Lincoln made his Constitutional case as to the perpetual nature of the Union in his First Inaugural Address, which should be on the list of American historical documents contained on the Patriot Post's website. Lincoln stated his case as follows:

"I hold that in contemplation of universal law and of the Constitution the Union of these States is perpetual. Perpetuity is implied, if not expressed, in the fundamental law of all national governments. It is safe to assert that no government proper ever had a provision in its organic law for its own termination...

"Again: If the United States be not a government proper, but an association of States in the nature of a contract merely, can it, as a contract, be peacefully unmade by less than all the parties who made it? One party to a contract may violate it--break it, so to speak--but does it not require all to lawfully rescind it?

"Descending from these principles, we find the proposition that in the legal contemplation the Union is perpetual confirmed by the history of the Union itself. The Union is much older than the Constitution. It was formed, in fact, by the Articles of Association in 1774. It was matured and continued by the Declaration of Independence in 1776. It was further matured, and the faith of all the then thirteen statesexpressingly plighted and engaged that it should be perpetual, by the articles of Confederation in 1778. And finally, in 1787, one of the declared objects for ordaining and establishing the Constitution was 'to form a more perfect Union.' "

No. One cannot find the roots for the "Living Constitution" in Lincoln's argument, even if he used the word "implied." Even the doctrine of Judicial Review ( in which the Supreme Court is empowered to rule on the Constitutionality of the acts of the Legislative and Executive Branches) is implied, not expressly stated, in the Constitution. Surely that doctrine cannot be the root of current liberal judicial theory, even though it is implied and not stated.

The South had no rational reason to fear a Lincoln Presidency. The previous three Presidents, Fillmore, Pierce and Buchanan, though Northerners, favored the South. Their cabinets were made up primarily of Southerners. Congress was dominated by Southern politicians. Ditto the Supreme Court. In 1850, the South forced the North to accept the Fugitive Slave Act, which subjected Northerners who gave aid to escaped slaves to fines and imprisonment. Lincoln was elected with less than 50% of the vote. While a resident of Illinois, Lincoln was by birth a Southerner and his wife's family was Southern. He made it clear he wished to be generous in dealing with the South. "I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so." (Lincoln's First Inaugural Address) But he was adamant that he would not allow slavery to spread to the western territories. It was the South that commenced hostilities by seizing Fort Sumter. If the North did not contest the seizure of forts by the South, European powers, still possessing designs on American territory and hoping to end America's experiment in Democracy, would have exploited the situation and seized territory the U.S. needed to possess to defend the territorial integrity of the North American Continent.

Some conservatives believe that the war was not fought over slavery at all. They believe that the only motivation of the Confederacy was to defend States Rights. Yes, Southern secession documents mention States Rights, but only in the context of upholding the institution of slavery. In speaking of the matter of fugitive slaves, the South Carolina Declaration of Secession complained that the North was not enforcing laws mandating their return. This was stated as the justification for South Carolina's secession:

"We affirm that these ends which this government was instituted have been defeated and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States. These states have assumed the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in the fifteen states and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them societies whose avowed object is to disturb the peace...the property of citizens of the other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection."

Other declarations of succession, such as from Texas and Georgia, which are in the Patriot Post's list of historic documents (which exclude both of Lincoln's inaugural addresses!) make similar declarations. It sure sounds to me that the South was motivated by preserving States Rights only in the context of preserving slavery. Alexander Stevens, the Confederate Vice-President, describes the basis of the Confederate Government as follows "Our new government is founded on the opposite idea of the equality of the races...Its cornerstone rests upon the great truth that the Negro is not the equal to the white man. This government is the first in the history of the world based upon this great physical and moral truth." (The Civil War: An Illustrated History by Geoffrey Ward, Ric Burns, Ken Burns, P. 30) The Patriot Post states that some historians claim that the South would have ended slavery and rejoined the Union if allowed to leave the Union. Who are these historians? In fact, many in the South wanted to extend their borders into Mexico and Central America for the purpose of forming a vast empire based on slavery. Article 4, section 3 (3), of the Confederate Constitution had this provision concerning newly acquired territory: "In all such territory the institution of negro slavery, as it now exists in the Confederate States, shall be recognized and protected by Congress and by the Territorial government."

It is true that Lincoln shared some of the prejudices his fellow citizens felt toward blacks. The Patriot Post cites his comments from the Lincoln/Douglass debates stating that he did not seek political equality for the black race, that he opposed intermarriage and that the white race should maintain its "superiority." He made this statement because his opponent in a race for the Senate, Stephan Douglass, charged Lincoln with holding views of black equality. The Illinois electorate, as racist as any Southern state, would have forever rejected Lincoln politically if Lincoln allowed Douglass's to define him. But it is also true that Lincoln said this in his debates with Douglass:

"All the powers of earth rapidly are combining against [the slave.] Mammon is after him, ambition follows, philosophy follows, and the theology of the day is fast joining the cry. They have him in his prison house; they have searched his person, and left no prying instrument with him. One after another they have closed the heavy door upon him; and now they have him...bolted in with a lock of a hundred keys, which can never be unlocked without the concurrence of every key, the keys in the hands of a hundred different men, and they scattered to a hundred different places." (Ward, p.24)

Lincoln publicly condemned slavery on the following dates: 3/3/1837, 10/4/1854, 10/16/1854, 3/1/1859, 9/17/1859, 9/11/1858, 7/10/1858, 12/1857, 8/27/1856, 10/15/1858, 5/18/1858, 10/16/1854, 3/5/1860, 3/6/1860. One of Lincolns greatest statements on slavery: if slavery is not wrong, then nothing is wrong. (Lincoln's Virtues: An Ethical Biography by William Lee Miller, p. 285)

In going to war, Lincoln's stated war aim was to preserve the Union, not to end slavery. It was two years into the war that he issued the Emancipation Proclamation. The Patriot Post claims Lincoln issued the Proclamation to prevent the migration of blacks northward to compete for jobs with whites. Again, it cites no historical evidence of this extraordinary claim. And it never will. Because the Proclamation freed only those slaves in states in rebellion against the Union, it is claimed that Lincoln failed to free a single slave. Again, the logic of Lincoln's critics does not line up with the facts. The Emancipation Proclamation changed the war aims of the North, thereby altering the basis of the North's actions from preserving the Union to freeing the slaves. This placed the Union on the moral high ground in world opinion, preventing hostile powers from intervening on the behalf of the South. Everywhere the North captured Southern territory, slaves obtained their freedom, never to be enslaved again. Lincoln and his allies knew that if the South had its slaves freed, the border states, such as Tennessee and Maryland, would not be able to maintain slavery within its borders. The Patriot Post quotes Lincoln's famous reply to abolitionists who wanted slaves freed immediately:

"My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and it is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that..."

The problem with citing this quote to prove that Lincoln did not care about slavery and therefore the war did not concern itself with it, is the context in which he said it. When Lincoln made this statement, the Emancipation proclamation was already drafted. (Lincoln, by David Donald, p 368, 417-418)) Lincoln had wanted to make it public sooner, but William Seward, his Secretary of State, convinced him to wait until the North had won a major victory on the battlefield. Seward convinced Lincoln that to issue the Proclamation earlier would appear to be a desperate attempt by the North to forestall European intervention.

It is true that Frederick Douglass was impatient with Lincoln and the North on the issue of Emancipation, and he made statements critical of Lincoln which are in the public record. But time caused him to view Lincoln's actions in a more positive light, as well as a consideration the pressures Lincoln operated under as well as a comparison between him and the rest of the whites of the North. He came to say that once blacks considered Lincoln to be tardy, cold, indifferent toward freeing the slaves. Later they had to admit that he was swift, zealous, radical and determined in their cause. (Douglass and Lincoln: How A Revolutionary Black Leader And A Reluctant Liberator Struggled To end Slavery And Save The Union by Paul Kendrick and Stephen Kendrick, p. 245)

Lincoln's Proclamation was not popular with many Northerners. There was political pressure on Lincoln to either rescind it or to declare that slaves would be returned to their masters after the war. The controversy caused many in the South to be certain they would win the war in the end. (For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought In The Civil War by James McPherson, p. 63-76) But Lincoln would not go back on his word, even if his reelection was imperiled. "How could anybody propose to return to slavery the black warriors of Port Hudson and Olustee to their masters to conciliate the South? I should be damned in time and eternity for so doing,...The world shall know that I keep my faith to friends and enemies, come what will." (Douglass and Lincoln, p. 527)

As for the reasons why the North fought, I refer the reader to "For Cause and Comrade: Why Men Fought In The Civil War" by James McPherson, p. 117-130. That a great number of Northerners fought out of Christian conviction is demonstrated by this book. True, many Northern soldiers fought only to preserve the Union without any reference in their mind to slavery. Yet even among these, as McPherson demonstrates, many came to see that the conflict between the two sections would never be resolved without settling the question of slavery. Even though many in the North were as prejudiced against blacks as Southerners, many of these were motivated by a desire to end slavery. Like Lincoln, they realized that the U.S. could not remain half slave and half free. These Northerners witnessed the South limit press freedoms to stifle criticism of slavery. Many Northerners feared that they would have their own rights of free speech infringed upon to placate the South. Note the earlier quote from the South Carolina Declaration of Succession, how it complained that anti-slavery groups were allowed to exist in the North. The South sought to have editors of anti-slavery publications arrested and brought trial in the South. Many Northerners objected to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 subjecting Northerners to imprisonment for aiding escaped slaves. Yes, there were other issues between North and South, but itwas the issue of slavery that prevented any settlement between them and what what motivated Southerners to seceed, as their secession declarations, available on the Patriot post website, demonstrate.

Just in passing, it is interesting to note that while Lincoln's critics condemn him for suspending the right of habeas corpus, the Confederate Constitution, available on the Patriot Post's website, contains this clause: "The priviledge of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it." (Article 2, Section 9, clause 3.) Apparently it was wrong for Lincoln to to suspend habeas corpus, but if the South thought it necessary if a state rebeled, it would be fine. By the way, states in the Confederacy had no right to secceed.

All conservatives highly value the 10th Amendment to the Constitution, which states that all powers not exclusively granted to the Federal Government are reserved to the States. Yet this amendment must be seen not as the most valuable of our principles, but as a means to an end to defend what is our greatest principle, expressed in the Declaration of Independence, that all men were created equal and endowed by our Creator with the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In fact, the denial of this highest of principles was a cornerstone in the thought of the Old South. This denial was a justification for slavery and seccession. Even the historical documents available on the Patriot Post's website make this clear. Read how Jefferson Davis interpreted these rights in his farewell to Congress:

"It has been a conviction of pressing necessity--it has been a belief that we are to be deprived in the Union of the rights which our fathers bequeathed to us--which has brought Mississippi to her present decision. She has heard proclaimed the theory that all men were created free and equal, and this made the basis of an attack upon her social instritutions (in other words, slavery);and the sacred Declaration of Independence has been invoked to maintain the position of the equality of the races. The Declaration is to be construed by the circumstances and purposes for which it is made. The communities were declaring their independence, the people of those communities were asserting that no man was born --to use the language of Mr. Jefferson--booted and spurred, to ride over the rest of mankind; that men were created equal meaning of the men of the political community; that there was no divine right to rule; that stations were equally in the grasp of each member of the body politic...They had no reference to the slave."

Again, it sounds to me that the preservation of the institution of slavery was the major factor in causing the South to seceed. And also the South rejected the belief that all men were created equal, that these rights did not apply to the slave.

It was this argument that drove Lincoln to reenter politics in the 1850s. Here are some of his comments on the rights mentioned in the Declaration of Independence:

"...what I do say is that no man is good enough to govern another man, without that other's consent. I say this is the leading principle--the sheet anchor of American republicanism." From the Lincoln/Douglass debates. (Miller, p.243)

"Nearly eighty years ago...we began by declaring that all men were created equal, but now,...we have run down to the other declaration, that for SOME men to enslave others is a 'sacred right of self government.' These principles cannot stand together. They are as opposite as God and Mammon, and whoever holds to the one, must despise the other." (Miller, p.247)

The next two quotes are from the Lincoln/Douglass debates:

"But if the negro is a man, is it not to that extent, a total destruction of self-government, to say that he too shall not govern himself? When the white man governs himself that is self-government; but when he governs himself, and also governs another man, that is more than self-government--that is despotism. If the negro is a man, why then my ancient faith teaches me that "all men were created equal"; and that there can be no moral right in one man's making a slave of another." (Miller, p. 261-262)

"I have quoted so much at this time merely to show that according to our ancient faith, the just powers of governments are derived from the consent of the governed. Now the relation of masters and slaves is, pro tanto [just so far], a violation of this principle. The master not only governs the slave without his consent; but he governs him by a set of rules altogether different from those which he prescribes for himself. Allow ALL the governed an equal voice in the government, and that, and that only is self government." (Miller, p. 262)

The issue as to whether or not the United States would allow all men of all races to pursue life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness was the real issue of the Civil War. The South stated unequivocally that these rights were not available to their slaves, and that this principle was the cornerstone of their political thought and of the Confederacy. The victory of the North over the South guarenteed that all men and women, not without struggle, would be able to live their lives as they saw fit. It was Lincoln who we have to thank for framing the issue in this matter and preserving these rights for all of us. It is a pity that because the President Obama is attempting to co-opt Lincoln's legacy for his own purposes should cause conservatives, Christian and secular, from embracing Lincoln's true legacy. Without Lincoln's legacy, we would not even be able to understand that the principles in the Declaration of Independence extended not only to those already born, but to the unborn as well.

There will be one more article in this series.

Friday, September 29, 2017

LINCOLN'S LEGACY: PART IV. "ARE DOCTORS OF DIVINITY BLIND, OR ARE THEY HYPOCRITES?"

(First published 2/27/09. Some links were updated and a few typos corrected.)

February 12th marked the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln's birth. While most Americans are proud to have such a figure as their own, and many across the world wish to produce statesmen of his caliber, Lincoln does have his detractors. These detractors include some of my fellow conservatives and some of my fellow conservative Christians. The next post will deal with the nature of their negative view towards Lincoln. In the meantime, I have tried to highlight Lincoln's greatness by providing eyewitness testimony to the evil that American slavery was and which Lincoln and the Northern army overthrew. We have been hearing from Frederick Douglass, who wrote Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave, a chronicle of his life as a slave before he escaped. The last excerpt detailed his experiences being under the control of a master who professed to follow Christ. In this excerpt, he contrasts true Christianity with the false Christianity many slave masters professed and practiced:

"I find, since reading the foregoing Narrative that I have, in several instances, spoken in such a tone and manner, respecting religion, as may possibly lead those unacquainted with my religious views to suppose me an opponent of all religion. To remove the liability of such misapprehension, I deem it proper to append the following brief explanation. What I have said respecting and against religion, I mean strictly to apply to the slave holding religion of this land, and with no possible reference to Christianity proper; for, between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference--so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to be the enemy of the other. I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ: I therefore hate the corrupt, slave holding, woman-whipping, cradle plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land. Indeed, I can see no reason, but the most deceitful one, for calling the religion of this land Christianity. I look upon it as the climax of all misnomers, the boldest of all frauds, and the grossest of all libels. Never was there a clearer case of 'stealing the livery of the court of heaven to serve the devil in.' I am filled with unutterable loathing when I contemplate the religious pomp and show, together with the horrible inconsistencies , which everywhere surround me. We have man stealer's as ministers, women-whippers for missionaries, and cradle plunderers for church members. The man who wields the blood-clotted cow skin during the week fills the pulpit Sunday, and claims to be a minister of the meek and lowly Jesus. The man who robs me of my earnings at the end of each week meets me as class leader on Sunday morning, to show me the way of life, and the path of salvation. He who sells my sister, for purposes of prostitution, stands forth as the pious advocate of purity. He who claims it a religious duty to read the Bible denies me the right of learning to read the name of God who made me. He who is the religious advocate of marriage robs whole millions of its sacred influence, and leaves them to the ravages of wholesale pollution. The warm defender of the sacredness of the family relation is the same who scatters whole families, --sundering husbands and wives, parents and children, sisters and brother,--leaving the hut vacant, and the hearth desolate. We see the thief preaching against theft, and the adulterer against adultery. We have men sold to build churches, women sold to support the gospel, and babes sold to purchase Bibles for the poor heathen! all for the glory of God and the good of souls!...The dealer gives his blood-stained gold to support the pulpit, and the pulpit, in return, covers his infernal business with the garb of Christianity. Here we have religion and robbery the allies of each other--devils dressed in angel's robes, and hell presenting the semblance of paradise...

"Such is, very briefly, my view of the religion of this land; and to avoid any misunderstanding, growing out of the use of general terms, I mean, by the religion of this land, this is revealed in the words, deeds, and actions, of those bodies, north and south, calling themselves Christian churches, yet in union with slaveholders. It is against religion, as presented by these bodies, that I have felt it my duty to testify."


Frederick Douglass was not the only former slave to contrast the religion of America that sanctioned slavery with the true Gospel. Another one to do so was Linda Brent. Linda Brent hid herself from her master and the law for years before she escaped to the North. She wrote of her experiences in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Her real name was Harriet Jacobs, but because she escaped in the 1850's, the "Fugitive Slave Act" made it a crime for a Northerner to give aid and shelter to escaped slaves, she had to write under a pseudonym. Like Douglass, Brent was able to distinguish the true Gospel from what her masters proclaimed. Here is a portion of her observations contrasting the two:

"There are thousands, who...for the water of life, but the law forbids it, and the churches withhold it. They send the Bible to the heathen abroad, and neglect the heathen at home. I am glad that the missionaries go out to the dark corners of the earth; but I ask them not to overlook the dark corners of home. Talk to American slaveholders, as you talk to savages in Africa. Tell them it was wrong to traffic in men. Tell them it is sinful to sell their own children, and atrocious to violate their own daughters. Tell them that all men are brethren, and that man has no right to shut out the light of knowledge from his brother. Tell them they are answerable to God for sealing up the Fountain of Life from souls that are thirsting for it.

"There are men who would gladly undertake such missionary work as this; but, alas! their number is small. They are hated by the south, and would be driven from its soil, or dragged to prison to die, as others have been before them. The field is ripe for the harvest, and awaits the reapers...

"Are doctors of divinity blind, or are they hypocrites? I suppose some are the one, and some the other; but I think if they felt the interest in the poor and the lowly, that they ought to feel, they would not be so easily blinded. A clergyman who goes to the south, for the first time, has usually some feeling, however vague, that slavery is wrong. The slaveholder suspects this, and plays his game accordingly. He makes himself as agreeable as possible; talks on theology, and other kindred topics. The reverend gentleman is asked to invoke a blessing on a table loaded with luxuries. After dinner he walks around the premises, and sees the beautiful groves and flowering vines, and the comfortable huts of favored household slaves. The southerner invites him to talk with those slaves. He asks them if they want to be free, and they say, 'O, no massa.' This is sufficient to satisfy him. He comes home to publish a 'South Side View of Slavery,' and to complain of the exaggerations of abolitionists. He assures people that he has been to the south, and seen slavery for himself; that it is a beautiful 'patriarchal institution;' that the slaves don't want their freedom; that they have hallelujah meetings, and other religious privileges.

"What does he know of the half-starved wretches toiling from dawn till dark on the plantation? of mothers shrieking for their children, torn from their arms by slave traders? of young girls dragged down into moral filth? of pools of blood around the whipping post? of hounds trained to tear human flesh? of men screwed into cotton gins to die? The slaveholder showed him none of these things, and the slaves dared not tell of them if he had asked them.


"There is a great difference between Christianity and the religion of the south. If a man goes to the communion table, and pays money into the treasury of the church, no matter if it be the price of blood, he is called religious. If a pastor has offspring by a woman not his wife, the church dismisses him, if she is a white woman; but if she is colored, it does not hinder his continuing to be their good shepherd."

This closes our examination of the personal testimony of former slaves regarding their own experiences and their contrast of true Christianity with what passed for it , North and South. Again, this examination was necessary because there are Christians who have a benign view of slavery because of the current status of the South as the Bible belt. This misapprehension causes them to view Lincoln in a negative light. In the next post, I will examine the case against Lincoln as advocated by some conservatives and some conservative Christians.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

LINCOLN'S LEGACY: PART III. THE OVERTHROW OF A FALSE CHRISTIANITY

(This Post originally appeared on 2/20/09 when the U.S. was observing the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birth. Some links have been updated and a few typos corrected.)

No doubt there were slaveholders in the Old South who were genuine Christians. This was acknowledged by Frederick Douglass who mentioned a few in his memoir, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave. However, some Christians today have been led to believe that because the modern South is the location of America's "Bible Belt", that the Old South was predominantly a Christian land fighting to preserve its religious heritage of true Christianity from the dominance of the "Godless" North. Many Christians view American slavery in a benign light because many slaveholders claimed to be disciples of Christ. Yet the testimony of former slaves, many of them who were Christians themselves, paints a far different picture. The main purpose behind most religious instruction given to slaves was to make them accept their slave status, to do their assigned tasks without complaining (even though their labor and living conditions reduced a male slave's lifespan to 29 years), and to think that to disobey an order or to desire freedom was sin. It is interesting that when slaves were allowed to marry, the charge by the preacher that "...those whom God has joined together, let no man split asunder..." was omitted. This made it more convenient for masters to split families apart to make a profit. When the slaves wished to worship as they felt led, they had to do so secretly, often in wooded areas surrounding the plantations. It was in these secret worship meetings where many of the African American Spirituals came to be.

The following is an excerpt from Douglas's "Narrative" which paints a more accurate picture of religion in the Old South:

"In August, 1832, my master attended a Methodist camp-meeting held in the Bayside, Talbot county, and there experienced religion. I indulged in a faint hope that his conversion would lead him to emancipate his slaves, and that, if he did not do this, it would at any rate, make him more kind and humane. I was disappointed in both these respects. It neither made him humane to his slaves, nor to emancipate them. If it had any effect on his character, it made him more cruel and hateful in all his ways; for I believe him to have been a much worse man after his conversion than before. Prior to his conversion, he relied on his own depravity to shield and sustain him in his savage barbarity; but after his conversion, he found religious sanction and support for his slave holding cruelty. He made the greatest pretensions to piety. His house was the house of prayer. He prayed morning, noon, and night. He very soon distinguished himself among his brethren, and was soon made a class-leader and exhorter. His activity in revivals was great, and he proved himself an instrument in the hands of the church in converting many souls. His house was the preachers' home. They used to take great pleasure in coming there to put up; for while he starved us, he stuffed them. We have had three or four preachers there at a time. The names of those who used to come most frequently while I lived there, were Mr. Storks, Mr. Ewery, Mr. Humphrey, and Mr. Hickey. I have also seen Mr. George Cookman at our house. We slaves loved Mr. Cookman. We believed him to be a good man. We thought him instrumental in getting Mr. Samuel Harrison, a very rich slaveholder, to emancipate his slaves; and by some means got the impression that he was laboring to effect the emancipation of all slaves. When he was at our house, we were called into prayers. When the others were there, we were sometimes called in and sometimes not. Mr. Cookman took more notice of us than either of the other ministers. He could not come among us without betraying his sympathy for us, and stupid as we were, we had the sagacity to see it.

While I lived with my master in St. Michael's, there was a white young man, a Mr. Wilson, who proposed to keep a Sabbath school for the instruction of such slaves as might be disposed to learn to read the New Testament. We met but three times, when Mr. West and Mr. Fairbanks, both class-leaders, with many others, came upon us with sticks and other missiles, drove us off, and forbade us to meet again. Thus ended our little Sabbath school in the pious town of St. Michael's.

I have said my Master found religious sanction for his cruelty. As an example, I will state one of many facts going to prove the charge. I have seen him tie up a lame young woman, and whip her with a heavy cow skin upon her naked shoulders, causing the warm blood to drip; and in justification of the bloody deed, he would quote this passage of Scripture--"He that knoweth his master's will, and does it not, shall be beaten with many stripes."

Master would keep this lacerated young woman tied up in this horrid situation, four or five hours at a time. I have known him to tie her up early in the morning, and whip her before breakfast; leave her, go to his store, return at dinner, and whip her again, cutting her in the places already made raw with his cruel lash. The secret of the master's cruelty toward 'Henny' is found in the fact of her being almost helpless. When quite a child, she fell into the fire, and burned herself horribly. Her hands were so burnt that she never got the use of them. She could do very little but bear heavy burdens. She was to the master a bill of expense; and as he was a mean man, she was a constant offense to him. He seemed desirous of getting the poor girl out of existence. He gave her away once to his sister; but, being a poor gift, she was not disposed to keep her. Finally, my benevolent master, to use his own words, 'set her adrift to take care of herself.' here was a recently converted man, holding on upon the mother, and at the same time turning out her helpless child, to starve and die! Master Thomas was one of the many pious slaveholders who hold slaves for the very charitable purpose of taking care of them."

Douglass had escaped slavery nearly thirty years before it ended. During this time, if his old master, or a bounty hunter, had captured him, he could have been returned to slavery. After 1850, it was the law of the land that any northerner who gave shelter to an escaped slave was subject to fines and imprisonment. Douglass has already been quoted asking whether or not God will visit a land (judge it) for these things. The fact that Abraham Lincoln was not orthodox in his religious views, or the fact that many in the North were racist, does not alter the fact that they were used as divine instruments of deliverance. The Christianity of the old South was by in large a false one, an institution used as a pillar supporting the South's "Peculiar Institution." Most slaves were not treated any better because a master claimed to follow Christ. Here is more of Frederick Douglass on the subject:

"...Another advantage I gained in my new master was, he made no pretensions to, or profession of, religion; and this, in my opinion, was truly a great advantage. I assert most unhesitatingly, that the religion of the South is a mere covering for the most horrid crimes,--a justifier of the most appalling barbarity,--a sanctifier of the most hateful frauds,--and a dark shelter under which the darkest, foulest, grossest, and most infernal deeds of slaveholders find the strongest protection. Were I to be again reduced to the chains of slavery, next to that enslavement, I should regard being the slave of a religious master the greatest calamity that could befall me. For all the slaveholders with whom I have ever met, religious slaveholders are the worst. I have even found the meanest and basest, the most cruel and cowardly, of all others. It was my unhappy lot not only to belong to a religious slaveholder, but to live in a community of such religionists. Very near Mr. Freeland lived the Rev. Daniel Weeden, and in the same neighborhood lived the Rev. Rigby Hopkins. They were members and ministers in the Reformed Methodist Church. Mr. Weeden owned, among others, a woman slave, whose name I have forgotten. This woman's back, for weeks, was kept literally raw, made so by the lash of this merciless, religious wretch. He used to hire hands. His maxim was, Behave well or behave ill, it is the duty of a master occasionally to whip a slave, to remind him of his master's authority. Such was his theory, and such was his practice."

It is my purpose in sharing this testimony with you to highlight the greatness of Lincoln by examining the evil institution which he and those under his authority overthrew. Yes, Lincoln was slow in realizing that the North must act to free the slaves; it was two years into the war when he issued The Emancipation Proclamation. But once Lincoln decided on this course, he never wavered, even in the face of vehement opposition from some sections of the North. He imperiled his own reelection by standing firm on the issue of Emancipation.

To me, it is a miracle that these slaves who had an impossible task of learning the entire Word of God from masters who did not want them to know the whole Gospel, who were forbidden from learning to read God's Word, who had to worship in secret to worship freely, who underwent unspeakable cruelty in the name of the Gospel, these same slaves knew that their masters were not telling them what the Bible really said, and that their masters did not really live up to its commands. For them to be able to know there was a true Gospel, and a God that would hear and one day deliver them, is truly a miracle. In Part IV, Frederick Douglass contrasts real Christianity with the false one their master's proclaimed.