Mr. Lincoln, Slavery and the 21st Century

Various sources estimate there are 21 million to 30 million human beings hold in some form of involuntary servitude in the world today. Most of these beings are held in Africa, Asia and India. This is a number more than double the estimated number of African slaves imported to the United States during four centuries of the African Slave Trade.

Some 150,000 persons live in slavery in the United States today. Most of the post-modern American slaves are imported here from Asia for the sex trade. The vast majority of these slaves are young and female.

In 1820, the year of the much bally-hooed Missouri Compromise, the United States enacted legislation to make the slave trade equivalent to piracy (since the slaves were brought by sea). The Congress set a maximum penalty of death by hanging for anyone caught in the act of slave trade piracy.

Mr. Lincoln used slavery as a political issue to wend his way to the top of American politics. I cannot look at Mr. Lincoln’s career without coming to this conclusion. Our 16th President may have hated slavery, as he claimed, but he loved political power more than anything. Mr. Lincoln married the daughter of a slave-owning plantation farmer and often visited her family plantation in his courting and early marriage. He never voted for immediate abolition of slavery. He carried the beautifully crafted Emancipation Proclamation around in his coat pocket for a year, waiting, patiently, for a Union battle victory that would make his Proclamation politically effective, little caring for the human suffering continuous in that year. When, at Antietam, the Union armies finally provided him with something other than the usual disaster, he issued his proclamation, skillfully worded to disturb American slavery to the least possible degree.

Mr. Lincoln was an ethicist of the highest order possible in his day. His “ancient faith” was religious in background but cannot be said to be actually religious in any way. He usually cited his “ancient faith” to point to the equality of humans before the law. In fact, his “ancient faith” was no older than the US Constitution. He loved the ethics, the oughtness of religion, though he never actually professed any religion of his own, in a day when this was pro forma for American politicians. In fact, Mr. Lincoln would have benefited politically by religious profession but still held to his irreligious principles.

In fact, it is difficult to see how Mr. Lincoln could have opposed slavery as effectively as he did if he had held strictly to any of the religions available to him. Lincoln can be said to have held all religions in wonder, but felt their application, as he saw them, was too deterministic to be helpful, or even believable. He did not discriminate against any religion. He just looked for a way to use political power to bend religious ethics to make  the Union stronger and the world better.

What would Lincoln do in light of the breath-taking spread of slavery around the world? I believe he would revert to his Whig impulses to make slavery disappear through economic changes. He tried to eliminate African slavery in America with legislation aimed at making the spread of slavery impossible because he believed that slavery would fail as an economic system if barred from American expansion. He may have believed as he did because his own father, the despised Thomas Lincoln, moved his family from Kentucky to Illinois because he could not compete with large slave plantations as a free-labor farmer.

Mr. Lincoln was probably wrong in his professed economic belief but, fortunately, he was on the right side of history. His stance on limited slavery expansion and gradual manumission eventually (not inevitably) led him to damn slavery immediately on all fronts, as soon as he could lay his hands on the political power to strangle it. He was a great molder of consensus but he would have been useless, frustrated and even more melancholy, if he had been born as anything other than what he was in fact; white, male and American, with some educational possibilities. He took no recreation, other than an occasional carriage ride with Mary, his beloved wife, who often so savaged him on these rides he wished he were the horse, as he said, and could ride up front. He was an indifferent sleeper, an absent minded eater and was often so guarded around people he would lapse into frontier anecdotes to keep them at bay. The Blairs thought him a fool. Even Stanton, who came to adore Lincoln, thought him too melancholy for words, apart from his silly stories.

Lincoln loved responsibility. He wanted to make a mark on the world. He would undoubtedly do even greater things in our day, if he could get elected.

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