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Table of Contents

Slavery & Race
The South
Visual Representations
Memorials & Appropriations

Slavery & Race
Sarah Henderson
Joe Levell
Dan Haller
Nick Schradle

The South
Dean DeChiaro
Steve Schaffer
Rick Ramirez

Visual Representations
Alana Lemon
Jon Ingram
Peter Fúster
Aaron Stanton

Memorials & Appropriation
Charles Bennett
Molly Storer
Emma Thorne-Christy

Other Online Exhibits


Slavery & Race


In the wake of the Civil War, the ideology of reconciliation stressed the similarities between the North and South while ignoring the underlying issues that caused the conflict. The following documents were all written in the twentieth Century, and qualify as retrospective evaluations of slavery and race as they pertain to President Lincoln. [more]

These documents offer a diverse collection of perspectives on the status of African Americans during and after the Civil War. Although Lincoln’s true feelings regarding the issue of slavery controversial, there is clear evidence of an evolution in Lincoln’s views of slavery and race over time. Each of the authors emphasize different stages in the evolution of Lincoln’s views in order to frame their own particular arguments about the role of race in American society. Due to this variance, all of these documents pose at least partially — and sometimes completely — conflicting accounts of Lincoln’s attitude toward African Americans.

Only one of the documents, written by white supremacist Earnest Cox, completely embodies the ideal of reconciliation. Cox does so by fixating on the evidence of Lincoln's preference for the colonization of African Americans during the first years of his presidency— a racist sentiment that undermines the legacy of emancipation and bolsters the conciliatory idea that the war was fought primarily in order to uphold the Union. The other documents engage and contradict this ideology. Another white supremacist, Neo-Confederate Giles B. Cook, argues that Lincoln's motivation for emancipation stems from his aspirations for personal glory. This sentiment undermines Lincoln’s legacy but does not truly embody the spirit of reconciliation. The other documents directly challenge reconciliation by focusing on the legacy of emancipation and expressing Lincoln’s centrality in its deliverance. In the pamphlet “The Slavery Atmosphere of Lincoln’s Youth,” Louis A. Warren argues that the anti-slavery social climate of Kentucky, and Lincoln’s personal encounters with slavery in adolescence, engendered his empathy for the plight of slaves and culminated in the Emancipation Proclamation. Finally, African American scholar Robert Moton’s pamphlet, “The Negro's Debt to Lincoln,” emphasizes Lincoln’s role as the Great Emancipator of the African-American people. While American culture was tempted by reconciliation in the decades following Reconstruction, these documents show that disparate ideologies grounded in egalitarianism and white supremacy challenged this dominant ideology.

Lincoln's Negro
Cox, Earnest Sevier. Lincoln’s Negro Policy.
Richmond, Va.: The William Byrd Press. 1938.

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- Sarah Henderson

Earnest Sevier Cox was a committed white supremacist who published Lincoln’s Negro Policy to portray the theme of colonization. Cox examines both Lincoln’s abolition of slavery and colonization efforts. This pamphlet examines a period of time, the late 1930s, when the question of negro repatriation was presented to congress for the first time since Lincoln’s death. The idea of repatriation sparked Cox’s interest, and he begins by explaining that in his opinion Lincoln was “classed as the outstanding advocate of the cause of Negro colonization” (Cox, 6). Cox writes that for every solution Lincoln considered for the slavery problem, the idea always fell back on colonization. Cox depicts Lincoln in a positive light, explaining that he gathered Negros together to emphasize the peaceful and voluntary separation of the races. Additionally, Cox discusses that Lincoln offered Federal aid to any African Americans that would volunteer for colonization.

When discussing the treatment of African Americans after emancipation and the idea of the lost cause, Cox uses similar techniques to those described in David Blight’s Race and Reunion [1] . Cox shares similar opinions to Jefferson Davis regarding the treatment of African Americans after the emancipation proclamation. Cox argues that in both the North and South there was an unwillingness to give the Negro a nation of his own. Cox uses his piece not only to show his Southern views, but to depict his idea of truth in the North. Although Cox is able to use quotes from Lincoln to show that at some point Lincoln agreed with colonization, there is no solid evidence that this was the case after 1863.

[1] Blight, David W. Race and Reunion. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001.

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Cook, Giles B. et al. “Confederate Leaders and Other Citizens Request the House of Delegates to Repeal the Resolution of Respect to Abraham Lincoln, the Barbarian... ”
1928. Pg 6-8.

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- Joe Levell

The Confederate and white supremacist argument regarding slavery offers an opinion that is far from the popular image of Lincoln the gracious emancipator. Known as ‘the lost cause argument,’ Confederate members deny the critical nature of slavery to the war and depict Lincoln as a war mongerer rather than a national hero. David Blight explains the lost cause by saying it “took root in a Southern culture awash in an admixture of physical destruction, the psychological trauma of defeat, a Democratic Party resisting Reconstruction, racial violence and with time, an abiding sentimentalism” [1]. The Confederate memory became a defense of Southern war aims, turning the South’s identity from racist slaveholders to oppressed patriots.

This pamphlet includes letters to politicians and an biography of Lincoln. Written in the twentieth century, it offers an interpretation of the war that has developed over time rather than an instinctive reaction. G.W.B. Hale, author of “A Concise Life of Abraham Lincoln and the Memorial Act of Lincoln Passed by the House of Delegates of Virginia,” suggests that “while pretentiously claiming that slavery and the Union were the main factors that impelled the war on the States, the real inwardness of the instigators of that war was to perpetuate the Republican party”  (Cook, 6). Instead of suggesting one of the main factors of the war was both slavery and the preservation of the union, Hale  argues that it was purely political. By splitting the war’s moral and political roots, Lincoln comes across as a ambitious and arrogant President who put Presidential glory before the best interests of the population. By heavily focusing on Lincoln’s lack of religion, Hale argues that the consequential lack of Christian morality proves Lincoln could not have been the true savior of the slaves. “Lincoln did not save the Union as it was (as our forefathers made it) but only the Republican party. He defeated the South and trampled under foot the Constitution of the United States in doing so” (Cook, 8). Lincoln, by freeing the slaves, only maintained the power and status of the Republican and destroyed the balance of power in the South. Such an argument is key to the Southern white supremacist view and denies the South’s loyalty to slavery, a role that caused the biggest split within American society.

[1] Blight, David W. Race and Reunion. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001.

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                                              Negro's Debt to Lincoln

Moton, Robert Russa  “The Negro’s Debt to Lincoln”

- Dan Haller
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On May 30th, 1922 the Lincoln Memorial was officially dedicated and opened to the public in Washington, D.C. Robert Russa Moton, then the Principal of the Tuskegee Institute, delivered one of the addresses. Moton, who succeeded Booker T. Washington as the head of Tuskegee after Washington’s death in 1915, was the only African-American invited to speak at the event.

While other speeches given during the dedication ceremony celebrated Abraham Lincoln's preservation of the Union, Moton chooses to celebrate Lincoln in a way that had been nearly forgotten by the 1920’s: Lincoln as the “Great Emancipator.” It is obvious that for Moton, and for most African-Americans, Lincoln’s greatness resided in the fact that he “spoke the word that gave freedom to a race, and vindicated the honor of a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal” (Moton, 5). Rather than speculating on what Lincoln thought about slavery and race, Moton emphasizes the fact that at the bleakest moment in the history of the nation Lincoln chose to fight for the “common humanity” of all men. Moton casts Lincoln into the role of a messiah who gave his life so that all the people in the Union could enjoy equal opportunity and freedom. Thus all men, Black as well as White, owe a great debt to Lincoln.

The ideas expressed by Moton parallel much of our readings that cast Lincoln as the “Great Emancipator” and the Martyr who gave his life to save the nation. In Sarah Vowell’s
Assassination Vacation, we find a sentiment that is very similar to the one expressed by Moton. Vowell’s empasized that, whether or not Lincoln originally planned to end slavery from the start, that is precisely what he did [1].  For Vowell as well as Moton, Emancipation itself is the legacy for which Lincoln should be most celebrated.  It was his ability to feel empathy to those bonded in servitude, and the fact that Lincoln ultimately died for what he believed in, that continues to cement his place in American History.

          [1] Vowell, Sarah. Assassination Vacation. Simon and Schuster, 2005. Pg 36.

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Slavery Atmosphere of
                                              Lincoln's Youth
Warren, Louis A. The Slavery Atmosphere of Lincoln's Youth
Fort Wayne: Lincolniana Publishers. 1933. Pg 4-9.

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- Nick Schradle

In 1933, on the 70th anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, the director of the Lincoln National Life Foundation Louis A. Warren penned the pamphlet “The Slavery Atmosphere of Lincoln's Youth.” This small, fourteen page document posits new historical evidence about Lincoln's early life and questions part of Lincoln historiography. Specifically, Warren defends Lincoln's legacy from critics who, he perceives, doubt the moral intentions behind the release of the Emancipation Proclamation. Warren's pamphlet offers a broad array of circumstantial evidence, as well as pure speculation, that frames Lincoln's experiences in childhood and adolescence as integral to his presumed early moral opposition to slavery, and ultimately his issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation. In his book Race and Reunion, David W. Blight argues that the Lost Cause discourse, an occlusion in the South's collective memory about the origins of and justifications for the Civil War, undermined the significance of emancipation. This discourse sought to deny the legacy of emancipation—which for many, provided the ultimate justification for the Union war effort—by recasting slavery as a benevolent institution for its African American subjects. [1] Warren's purpose is to defend the legacy of the Emancipation Proclamation by constructing an argument implicitly supporting Lincoln's personal reasons for issuing the declaration.

Louis Warren's argument is presented chronologically over a broad temporal scope. The first argument in this chronology details the existence of strong anti-slavery elements in the slave state of Kentucky, extending back to the childhood of Lincoln's parents. Warren offers circumstantial evidence, collected from the records of several anti-slavery Baptist congregations, that Thomas and Nancy Lincoln may have imparted anti-slavery views, originating from their own childhoods, on the young future president (Warren,
4). Warren's second argument focuses on the controversy of slavery during Lincoln's childhood in Hardin County, Kentucky. He notes that young Abraham and his family attended Little Mount Church, a congregation headed by the avowedly anti-slavery Baptist preacher, David Elkins (Warren, 8). To bolster his argument, Warren includes several letters written by President Lincoln in correspondence with colleagues and friends, in which the President makes general reflections about his early aversion to slavery. Engaging in a bit of historiography, he admonishes (in)famous Lincoln biographer William Herndon for downplaying these circumstances in shaping Lincoln's moral opposition to slavery (Warren, 8). Warren posits that Lincoln's first, and presumably negative, encounter with slavery as an adolescent probably occurred along Cumberland Road—a main thoroughfare for the slave trade between Louisville, Kentucky with Nashville, Tennessee (Warren, 9). Finally, Warren identifies the Lincoln family's move to Indiana, and young Abraham Lincoln's subsequent experience with slavery while taking a river boat to New Orleans, as another key factor concretizing his early anti-slavery beliefs.

This document should be viewed in light of the increasingly pervasive rhetoric in the decades following Reconstruction of the South's “Lost Cause,” which sought to exclude slavery and race as factors contributing to the Civil War. This pamphlet is an attempt, with the limited evidence available to its author Louis Warren, to reemphasize the significance of emancipation by legitimizing the budding moral sentiments and early emotional experiences of the Emancipation Proclamation's storied author.

 [1] Blight, David W. Race and Reunion. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001. Pg. 344-345.

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About this Project / Acknowledgements

Occidental College's "Lincoln Legacies" Research Seminar was developed by
Dr. Jeremiah B.C. Axelrod, Adjunct Assistant Professor of History.

The library project is developed in collaboration with the Special Collections Department:
Dale Ann Stieber, Special Collections Librarian with student staff
Alana Lemon and Brittany Todd.

Main graphic images:

Page last edited on 03/12/2013.
Occidental College Library Special Collections & College Archives
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