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Abraham Lincoln's Racial Perspective

Eugene R. Fingerhut, in the essay "Abraham Lincoln, Negroes and Whites," writes that Lincoln's views on the slaves and on blacks in general gradually evolved from a racist perspective to a more humane one. Fingerhut says this change came about as the result of the Civil War, not simply because Lincoln became a more just man by contemplating the issue of slavery. It is an essay based on a realistic analysis of Lincoln's policy toward slaves and slavery. It does not accept the idea that Lincoln was a champion of blacks and their freedom from beginning to end, but neither does it say that Lincoln should receive no credit because he changed only because he had to change. As Fingerhut points out in what could be a summary of his essay: "The man who was inaugurated President in 1861 still hoped free Negroes would leave America. At his death in 1865 Lincoln was formulating a policy of universal manhood participation for whites and blacks, for former Confederates and Unionists" (18).

Fingerhut points out that Lincoln's roots were in the South, so it should be no surprise to find that he shared some of the views of Southerners on the issue. He came from the "conservative tradition" (22) on the issue of slavery, and even when his views began to be more liberal, it was a slow process created by the necessities of war. In fact, as the essay makes clear, the issue of outright racial equality and equal rights was not an issue in Lincoln's day, at least not for the mass of the public or leading politicians. Lincoln simply would not have been elected had he taken such a stand. This is one of the most important points made by Fingerhut---the issues at hand in Lincoln's time were not the issues at hand today, so we should pause before judging Lincoln as just another racist. Few people at that time believed in complete racial equality, and certainly fewer, if any, elected officials expressed such a view. To Lincoln, "The Union came first; Negroes were...

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Abraham Lincoln's Racial Perspective. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 15:24, December 06, 2021, from