Friday, July 20, 2012

A House Divided - Lincoln's Concern

"—I do not expect the house to fall, but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the spread of it and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction, or its advocates will push it forward until it shall become alike lawful in all the States, north as well as south."

Lincoln, Abraham (2011-03-24). The Writings of Abraham Lincoln — Volume 3 The Lincoln-Douglas debates (Kindle Locations 248-251). . Kindle Edition.

The above quote from Abraham Lincoln sets forth a concern in pre-Civil War America that doesn't get much play in popular history. As you read Lincoln's statements from the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates, the concern being expressed is that the Nebraska=Kansas Act of 1854 in conjunction with the Dred Scott decision of 1857 had created a legal-political climate where free states would be eventually forced to accept slavery within their respective borders.

In the words of Lincoln:

"We shall lie down pleasantly dreaming that the people of Missouri are on the verge of making their State free, and we shall awake to the reality instead that the Supreme Court has made Illinois a slave State."

Lincoln, Abraham (2011-03-24). The Writings of Abraham Lincoln — Volume 3 The Lincoln-Douglas debates (Kindle Locations 113-115). . Kindle Edition.

All of this illustrates the complexity of the issues leading up to the American Civil War; that things were not as black and white as either the "lost cause" crowd, or others wants to make it.

Consider for example the hollowness of the "states rights" mantra in relation to the Civil War. The "states rights" mantra is oft opined in relation to the rights of the slave states, but where in the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 and in the Dred Scott decision was the respect for the "states rights" of the free states to indeed truly be free states?

I believe one of the reasons for the current lack of popular understanding and knowledge of those six critical years before the Civil War has much to do with how the country choose to popularly remember the Civil War in the immediate aftermath of its ending in 1865; that selective remembering driven by the desire to foster an understanding of the war that would encourage national reconciliation. But sadly, that lack of understanding fails to bring to light some of the real concerns and issues leading up to the outbreak of hostilities in 1861.

We may be unable to fully avoid selective historical memory. But as much as we are able, we need to tell the full story. Concern for truth and accuracy will not allow us to do otherwise.

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