|Image via Bartleby's Second Inaugural page|
Reality? The Klan arose during the first half of Andrew Johnson's administration, precisely because Johnson was too soft. And, as partial illustration? The Klan's leadership was first offered to Robert E. Lee, before Nathan Bedford Forrest. Lee turned it down but not on moral principles. Rather, it appears he thought such type of work was beneath him and his position in the Southern social hierarchy and caste.
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.
The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.”
Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’
And, while the movie was already 2:30, I partially agree with this NYT critic that a more forceful black American could have had more airtime. Fred Douglass was initially turned away from the inaugural soiree, before Lincoln personally intervened with gala security, then talked with him. That scene could have been inserted before the scene about Lincoln and the black vote.
And, far beyond a relatively young Northwestern professor, let's look at the man arguably the dean of modern Civil War scholars. Eric Foner also says the movie has a limited view, namely that Lincoln didn't start the push for emanicipation in general or the 13th Amendment in particular.
In a video interview with CNN, Foner also says the movie overdramatizes things. True, the next Congress was not set for regular session until December, but Lincoln had pledged to call it into special session in March if necessary.
But, to nuance Foner, Lee surrendered April 9, and Lincoln had no idea if an event like that might happen earlier. So, I'd have to criticize that criticism of his. And, per Lincoln not jumping on the "amendment bandwagon" until the middle of 1864, Foner himself writes enough about Lincoln's political skills, and evolution on slavery in general, in his latest book, that one could honestly wonder if, although not to the degree an Amazon reviewer claimed, that there's not a small bit of sour grapes at work.
At the same time, Foner defends Lincoln well from the claims he was a racist slave supporter. He's right that Bennett is overwrought and "cannot take yes for an answer."
Which was the real Lincoln — the racist or the opponent of slavery. The unavoidable answer is: both. Bennett cannot accept that it was possible in nineteenth-century America to share the racial prejudices of the time, and yet simultaneously believe that believe that slavery was a crime that ought to be abolished.Foner goes on to note that the Emancipation Proclamation was a turning point for both Lincoln and the country. After it, he more openly accepted blacks serving in the Army and also let go of his earlier colonization schemes, Foner claims.
However, Foner is wrong, at least on colonization. He mentioned it on Dec. 1, 1862, in his second State of the Union. And, he continued to push it at least in the early part of 1863. Sebastian Page lists what's well known to Civil War historians less exalted than Foner. Indeed, Lincoln didn't write finis to the Haitian scheme until 1864.
In light of that, including the overly generous assessment of Foner, it is clear Lincoln was grasping for how black and white would live side by side in postwar America. Perhaps he was even recognizing that blacks would theoretically be free to move North, bluntly confronting states with "black codes" like his own Illinois. And, that's why Corey Robin's words about Thomas Jefferson allegedly looking to that end are much more applicable to Lincoln, as I have blogged.
So, while the movie may be somewhat hagiographic, it perhaps as much as it could be. And, it's not a documentary. Do we want Ken Burns to do a sequel to the Civil War, with eight episodes on Lincoln? If so, no Bennett and no Thomas diLorenzo. Fortunately, Shelby Foote is dead.
That said, Lincoln's ongoing interest in colonization, not just in 1864 but even 1865, possibly, also means that Foner may also be wrong for criticizing someone like Donald Miller who claims Lincoln was too passive, too often. On colonization, at least, in the face of continued support for it by the more clearly racist types, Lincoln may just have been too passive.
Update, Jan. 13, 2013: Speaking of Foner, per his "The Fiery Trial," the movie does have at least one historical inaccuracy. In the opening sequence, when the more outspoken of the two black soldiers mentions pay inequality? Congress fixed that in the middle of 1864. Also, having now read that book, I feel more confidence in my thought that Lincoln would eventually have had a sterner Reconstruction plan than what Andrew Johnson thought, or projected, Lincoln had.
First, Lincoln would have recognized the way the north in general and his party in particular were headed.
Second, postwar activities, above all the start of the Klan, would have disabused him of much of his remaining thought about likely degrees of cooperation among white southerners.
That said, I think he still would have worked for a more in-depth solution than the Radicals had in mind, while recognizing the power of the legislative branch.