Religious right broadcaster Kevin Swanson agreed with one of his guests that Abraham Lincoln imposed socialism on the United States during the “war against the South” – more commonly known as the Civil War.
Swanson hosted neo-Confederate author Walter Kennedy last month on his radio program, reported Right Wing Watch, where the pair argued the Republican Party had been founded by “radical socialists and communists.”
“The Democrats, both Northern and Southerners, believed in limited government, and the Marxists hated that concept,” Kennedy said. “They wanted to do away with states’ rights and limited government so that they’d have one big all-powerful indivisible government that could force its will upon the American people.”
The broadcaster – who has argued the Disney hit movie “Frozen” was a satanic tool for indoctrinating girls to become lesbians — agreed with his guest, saying Lincoln and Mark Twain helped ruin the U.S. by replacing Southern slavery with socialist slavery.…
The author told Swanson that Lincoln had given a “big boost” to communism by winning the Civil War and then created a federal government that began an “incessant attack on religious values in America.”
“What Marxist dictator could ask for less?” Kennedy said. “All of these communists that have wormed their way into power, into powerful positions, they began to influence other people to pursue this objective of a big, indivisible government, and government supplants God as being sovereign.”
Category Archives: Abraham Lincoln
You hate to generalize about people, but modern apologists for the Confederacy tend to be really, really bad at using primary sources. As Andy Hall once said while discussing a particularly hilarious example, “Forget interpretation. Forget analysis. Forget trying to understand the document within the context of the time and place it was written; these people don’t even seem capable of reading the documents they cite.”
Now Brooks Simpson has drawn our attention to the latest instance of a neo-Confederate trying to make sense of a document and failing spectacularly. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s a doozy.
Over at Cold Southern Steel, a diligent researcher and defender of Southron Heritage presented what he believed to be evidence that Lincoln had a slave. This supposed evidence had been hiding in plain sight in the 1860 U.S. census, but had apparently gone unnoticed for lo these 150 years.
Here’s a close-up of the census list which was posted to Cold Southern Steel. As you can see, it indeed names one Abraham Lincoln of Springfield, IL, occupation “Lawyer,” along with the members of his household.
Included in the list is “M. Johnson,” an eighteen-year-old female. Her occupation?
So right there it is, proof that Abraham Lincoln had a “servant” in 1860. Ergo Lincoln was a slaveowner. Right?
Well, no. “M. Johnson” was not a slave. She was Mary Johnson, a free white girl employed by the Lincolns.
In this context, “servant” doesn’t mean an enslaved person. It’s a job description. In the nineteenth century, many middle-class families employed young women and girls as house servants, often on a live-in basis. A lot of these women were immigrants from Ireland or Germany. In Springfield, about one-fourth of the homes had hired help of this kind around the time Lincoln lived there.
As a prospering family headed by a respectable lawyer, the Lincolns employed several women over the years, some of them as live-in servants. For example, eighteen-year-old Catharine Gordon was working and living with the Lincolns in 1850, and appears in the census for that year. In 1860, the same year that Mary Johnson turned up in the census, Mary Todd Lincoln employed a Portuguese teenager named Charlotte Rodruiguis as a seamstress. A woman named Margaret Ryan claimed that she witnessed some of Mary Todd Lincoln’s worst behavior during her employment in the house, although the chronology behind her claims is iffy. (Richard Lawrence Miller discusses the Ryan evidence in the third volume of Lincoln and His World.) These women and girls were not slaves bound to work for life. They were not the property of the people in whose homes they worked.
Now, here’s the really funny part. The proof that Mary Johnson was a free woman is right there in the 1860 census, the very source being offered as evidence that she was a slave. In other words, the problem here is that the blogger in question simply doesn’t know how to read the document.
Here’s the page in question.
See the very top, where it says “SCHEDULE 1.—Free Inhabitants”?
That’s sort of an indicator that all the folks in that list were, you know, free inhabitants of Springfield. The 1860 census counted slaves separately. You’re not going to find any slaves officially listed in a census list of free inhabitants.
Of course, you’re not likely to find many slaves documented in the census lists for Illinois at all, since Illinois was a free state. (Funny thing you’ll notice about slave states and free states: the slave states tended to be the ones with slaves. An interesting coincidence, that. You know how Peanut M&M’s are the ones with peanuts, whereas the plain M&M’s are the ones without them? It runs somewhat along those same lines.)
Now, check out the very bottom of the list, where all the individuals are tallied up by race and gender.
Twenty-six white males, fourteen white females. All forty people on the page present and accounted for, and each one of them white. This list does not include any African-American residents of Springfield, let alone enslaved ones. Incidentally, the Lincolns did employ a free black woman named Mariah Vance as a cook and laundress a couple of days a week for ten years.
Now, just because these women and girls were free doesn’t mean their lives were all beer and skittles. By many accounts, Mary Todd Lincoln was an absolute Gorgon as a boss, difficult to please and tight-fisted. She was particularly critical of Irish girls—the “wild Irish,” as she referred to them in a letter to a relative. According to the NPS, Mary Johnson was of Irish background herself, so she was probably on the receiving end of Mrs. Lincoln’s temper at one time or another. (For information on Mary Todd Lincoln’s domestic help, check out Jean Baker’s fine biography, pp. 105-08).
But the women and girls who worked for the Lincolns were not chattel slaves, and were not the family’s property, despite the fact that they worked in the home and sometimes lived there.
There’s a lot of neat information to unpack in that list of names. It shows us a time when middle-class Americans were very conscious of their status, when hired help was an indicator of that status, and when working in someone else’s home was the fate of many a young European-born immigrant girl. It tells us a lot about the Lincoln family’s economic and social circumstances, about how they saw themselves and wanted to be seen by others. It offers us a glimpse of a world somewhat similar to our own, but also strikingly different in terms of the way people conceived of their ranks and roles.
But it doesn’t show us evidence of slavery, and it takes a spectacularly negligent misreading to make it say otherwise. Primary sources are wonderful things, but only if you know how to make sense of them.
UPDATE: Now the guy is claiming that he never said the Lincolns had slaves, despite the fact that he titled his post “Lincoln and his slave.”
In 1862, as Lee carried the Civil War into Maryland and Lincoln prepared to turn the struggle for the Union into a battle of liberation, a bloody sideshow played out in Minnesota. Exasperated by broken promises and corruption among traders and federal agents, Dakota Indians launched attacks against settlers and the Lower Sioux Agency, setting off a conflict variously known as the Dakota War, the Sioux Uprising, Little Crow’s War, and a handful of other names. Lincoln’s Bishop: A President, a Priest, and the Fate of 300 Dakota Sioux Warriors by Gustav Niebuhr has joined a relatively short shelf of books devoted to the uprising.
The key player in Niebuhr’s account is Henry Whipple, a New York native who became Minnesota’s first Episcopal bishop and an advocate for better treatment of the frontier’s original inhabitants, working to change a system in which Indians were victims of corrupt officials and unscrupulous traders.
Whipple’s concern for the Indians was unusual for a nineteenth-century white American, and an especially unpopular position for any resident of Minnesota in 1862 after four Dakota hunters initiated the war by attacking white homesteads and killing five settlers. As often happened in Indian wars over the course of American history from the seventeenth century to the late nineteenth, many whites reacted to the uprising by calling for the extirpation of the Dakota, assuming that all the Indians on the frontier had settlers’ blood on their hands. As Niebuhr shows, the conflict was never so simple, even from its very beginning. Individual Dakota intervened to save the lives of settlers, sometimes because of previous acquaintance and sometimes out of simple humanity. Some whites, too, urged their vengeance-hungry countrymen to differentiate among the Indians, some of whom had converted to Christianity (partly through the efforts of Whipple, who supported Indian missionary efforts) and taken up farming. Whipple was thus the most prominent of a small number of people caught up in a volatile situation who nevertheless refused to engage in the collective demonization of the other that was so prevalent in white-Indian warfare.
The bishop wasn’t unsympathetic to the plight of settlers in the uprising’s path—in fact, he helped organize relief for white refugees displaced by the attacks and tend to the wounded—but he considered the Indians’ poor treatment at the hands of the government the ultimate root of the problem. He had been lobbying authorities to reform Indian relations for some time before the revolt, having tried without success to bring President Buchanan’s attention to the problem. Most men would have considered the outbreak of the Dakota War a most inauspicious occasion to persuade Washington of the need for better treatment of Native Americans, but Whipple was undaunted, heading to Washington, D.C. again in 1862 to plead the Indians’ case with Abraham Lincoln.
The bishop’s first impressions of Lincoln on the latter’s accession to office had not been favorable. And, as Niebuhr shows in a chapter devoted to Lincoln’s personal history of the Indians, the president wasn’t unaware of the misery marauding Native Americans could unleash. After all, an Indian had murdered Lincoln’s grandfather and namesake in Kentucky. As a young man, Lincoln himself had served in the Black Hawk War; while biographers tend to downplay this period in his life, emphasizing that he saw no combat, Niebuhr points out that Lincoln did witness firsthand some of the devastation of that war during his stint in the militia.
But Whipple had a few things working in his favor on his 1862 lobbying trip. The first was Lincoln’s personal tendency toward leniency and mercy. Thirty years before, while a volunteer against Black Hawk, he had intervened to stop vengeful whites from murdering an Indian captive. His tendency toward clemency and compassion remained evident during his presidency, when he routinely spared the lives of condemned soldiers and favored a moderate course in dealing with a conquered South. Like Whipple, Lincoln seemed to have a sort of innate immunity to the urge to dehumanize the other side which is so common in warfare, especially war between different races and cultures.
Second, as Niebuhr argues, there was a sense in which the timing of his visit actually worked in Whipple’s favor. The Dakota uprising coincided with a transformation in Lincoln’s thinking about the Civil War. As the Minnesota frontier erupted in violence, the president had determined that more extreme measures were necessary to preserve the Union and was preparing to issue the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln considered slavery a national shame and a cancer in the body of the nation which had finally led to the rebellion; similarly, Whipple referred to mistreatment of the Indians as a great sin which led to the devastation of the Dakota uprising. Thus, for some months before Whipple’s visit, Lincoln’s concerns had been along some of the same lines as the bishop’s.
The timing of Whipple’s trip was fortunate in another way. Niebuhr argues that by bringing Lincoln’s attention to the poor treatment of the Dakota at the very time when the wounds from their uprising were still fresh, the bishop shaped the president’s thinking about the Minnesota revolt, framing it as a symptom of the government’s mistreatment of the Indians. As Niebuhr explains, “Whipple got access to the president before Lincoln heard any extended discussion about the war from anyone else in Minnesota. What the bishop managed to do was set the war within the context of federal government corruption and ineptitude. He created for Lincoln a lens through which to view the war.”
Lincoln proved more receptive to Whipple than his predecessor, giving him access to government records of Dakota relations to help bolster his case. But there was still the matter of Indians captured in the wake of the uprising. A military tribunal sentenced over 300 of them to hang for participation in the war. Despite warnings that failing to execute them all would inflame white opinion on the frontier, Lincoln spared the lives of nearly nine-tenths of the condemned. The result was still the largest public execution in United States history, as thirty-eight Dakota men went to the gallows on December 26, 1862. And it’s important to remember that Lincoln’s record on Indian affairs was not spotless. Biographer David Donald notes that the president remained largely ignorant about Native Americans; like most other nineteenth-century whites, he considered Indians less civilized and more prone to violence than Euro-Americans.
Still, Lincoln’s receptivity to Whipple’s pleas for reform and his intervention in the executions are notable examples of Lincoln’s leniency, his aptitude for mercy, and his basic humanity—the traits which have made him one of the most beloved figures in American history.
Niebuhr’s book should spark wider interest in this often overlooked aspect of Lincoln’s presidency and bring greater attention to Whipple’s crucial role as a mediator between the government and the Dakota. It’s an enlightening piece of historical research, but also a very inspiring book, a reminder that the forces which Lincoln famously called “the better angels of our nature” can work their magic even in the most violent and divisive of circumstances.
From Lincoln’s remarks delivered at Independence Hall on Feb. 22, 1861:
I am filled with deep emotion at finding myself standing here in the place where were collected together the wisdom, the patriotism, the devotion to principle, from which sprang the institutions under which we live.…[A]ll the political sentiments I entertain have been drawn, so far as I have been able to draw them, from the sentiments which originated, and were given to the world from this hall in which we stand. I have never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence. I have often pondered over the dangers which were incurred by the men who assembled here and adopted that Declaration of Independence—I have pondered over the toils that were endured by the officers and soldiers of the army, who achieved that Independence. I have often inquired of myself, what great principle or idea it was that kept this Confederacy so long together. It was not the mere matter of the separation of the colonies from the mother land; but something in that Declaration giving liberty, not alone to the people of this country, but hope to the world for all future time. It was that which gave promise that in due time the weights should be lifted from the shoulders of all men, and that all should have an equal chance. This is the sentiment embodied in that Declaration of Independence.
I can understand why the folks at Glenn Beck’s news outlet would get a kick out of Hillary’s Lincoln mistake. But the admonition against removing a speck from your neighbor‘s eye seems awfully appropriate here.
Hillary Clinton was speaking in Chicago yesterday, and this happened:
A senator from Illinois named Lincoln? There might’ve been, if a guy named Stephen Douglas hadn’t gotten in the way. Lincoln served a term in the House of Representatives, but not the Senate.
I never know how much to make of it when politicians trip over history like this. When it’s something said in passing, it’s hard to tell if the person just misspoke, or if it’s really a case where an eminent public figure genuinely has no idea what they’re talking about.
To me, the really interesting thing here isn’t the flub about Lincoln, but the way Clinton has assimilated the whole Team of Rivals thing into her personal history, with herself cast in Seward’s role as the frontrunner who becomes a member of the victor’s cabinet. It shows you how deeply Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book has penetrated into the way American political leaders remember and make use of history.
Word of advice, dude: Lincoln has dealt with rebel militants before. Might want to reconsider.