Lincoln

I should have watched Lincoln in October because that movie scared the crap out of me. I paid attention in high school and took an American History course in college. Until this movie, I never knew that The Emancipation Proclamation was an act of war and wouldn’t have resulted in a change in the constitution and ended slavery. Honest Abe had to secure votes by just about any means necessary to get the constitution amended. It passed by two votes, remember, in a congress that didn’t include any representation from the southern slave states.

This seems impossible to fathom. Weren’t northerners against slavery and southerners for it? We have to reflect back to that present in the past. Abolitionists were considered extremists even in the North. The majority of slaves were owned by rich plantation owners. But the U.S. economy was deeply entrenched in the institution of slavery. Northerners and Southerners were three years into a bloody war with people who spoke the same language as them. Slavery was wrong, but was it that wrong? If your only three sons were out fighting would you want an amendment to pass that would extend the war? If you were a poor Southern farmer barely able to feed his family, would you want to risk your kids starving while recently freed slaves started scrapping for the same buck you were scrapping for? Slavery was wrong. It had to end, but did it have to end right then? Lincoln himself, prior to the South’s secession, was ready to compromise and ensure slavery be allowed to continue for fifty more years. Fifty more years! That’s virtually the lifetime of a generation.

Misinformation was floating around. I recall a scientific study that “proved” African Americans had smaller brains. They filled empty skulls of whites and blacks with beads and found more beads fit in the skulls of whites. Well, when the study was repeated with firm beads that had no give, no difference was found. Consciously or not, the scientists were stuffing more beads into the skulls of the whites. But with the results of both studies floating around, how easy would it be to convince someone desperate to rationalize slavery because of their fears of a future without it, that the first study was bullshit? If you’ve spent more than five minutes on the internet, you know.

I hope this movie gets shown in schools. We zip through so much of history, we miss all the intricacies. Nothing is ever as simple as it seems. I only recently learned that Lincoln, the great emancipator, was willing to push the problem of slavery off to a later generation to avoid war. Which, again, reflecting back, seems cowardly, but ending slavery was going to be enormously expensive–in money and lives. Imagine the responsibility. Lincoln was a good person, fundamentally against the enslavement of people. So were many others of that time. Yet the amendment passed by two votes.

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