How the Word Is Passed by Clint Smith

How the Word Is Passed by Clint Smith

Author:Clint Smith [Smith, Clint]
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Published: 2021-06-02T00:00:00+00:00

In fact, for much of his political career Lincoln was a public advocate of “colonization,” a plan he pushed for throughout the first half of the Civil War. The idea behind colonization—sometimes called expatriation, the same plan that Jefferson advocated—was that it would be better for both white and Black people if the latter emigrated and resettled in another country, either in Central America, the Caribbean, or Africa. Lincoln thought that abolition paired with colonization was the best path forward, as it ostensibly gave Black people freedom and removed the concern that many Americans had about having to live alongside their Black counterparts. On August 14, 1862, Lincoln brought a group of free Black leaders to the White House in an attempt to convince them to lead a resettlement plan in present-day Panama. The proposal was not met with enthusiasm by the visitors and was roundly rejected by other Black leaders, who saw themselves as every bit as American as Lincoln, when accounts were published in the press. Frederick Douglass scathed Lincoln, saying, “The President of the United States seems to possess an ever increasing passion for making himself appear silly and ridiculous, if nothing worse.”

While some supporters of colonization suggested that millions of free Black people posed a threat to the social order, Lincoln claimed that his support was rooted in a fear of white racism. According to Lincoln, white racism was so deeply entrenched that Black people would never have the chance to be equal members of society. Lincoln’s position was similar to that of many throughout the North, those who believed slavery should be abolished but who did not want to share a society with or live alongside free Black Americans. As Foner notes, “For many white Americans, including Lincoln, colonization represented a middle ground between the radicalism of the abolitionists and the prospect of the United States existing permanently half-slave and half-free.”

It should be noted that Lincoln’s position began to change after he signed the Emancipation Proclamation and after he saw two hundred thousand Black soldiers fight on behalf of the Union. A few days before his assassination he endorsed the prospect of limited suffrage for certain groups of Black people, albeit those he deemed “very intelligent” and “who serve our cause as soldiers.” There is evidence that Lincoln’s position was continuing to evolve on the issue, but because of his untimely assassination after the end of the Civil War, we will never know for sure where he might have ended up.iii

Is Jeff wrong that Lincoln advocated Black inferiority and colonization during a significant portion of his political career? No. The issue, however, is not necessarily the veracity of his comments but the attempt to use Lincoln’s record to obscure the fact that, as the war evolved, Lincoln was in charge of an army that was fighting to free four million Black people, while the other side fought to keep them enslaved.


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