Had enough of Abraham Lincoln? Of course you haven't. In the bicentennial year of his birth, Lincoln is more interesting than ever.
There are two Lincolns -- the one we studied in school, the one full of myths that we fashioned into the image we wanted him to be, and the other, the real Lincoln, warts and all.
Many believe, erroneously, that because Lincoln signed The Emancipation Proclamation, he was always against slavery and an advocate for black people. Many also believe that the Proclamation freed all slaves immediately and forever.
These myths are debunked in a new book and TV program ("Looking for Lincoln" airing Feb. 11 on PBS). The book ("Lincoln on Race and Slavery") and the TV documentary are the works of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., who adds to his excellent body of material on race and African-American roots.
Far from diminishing Lincoln, the book and film deliver the real Lincoln as a man who struggled, along with his country and culture, over the inherent worth of black people. In short, he becomes fully human, not a mythical figure above the temptations and frailties of average mortals.
Lincoln evolved in the best sense of that word. Though like many in his and our time, he wrestled with his inner demons. As Gates writes, "... He seems to have wrestled with his own use of the 'n-word,' which he used publicly until at least 1862, and which most Lincoln scholars today find so surprising and embarrassing that they consistently avoid discussing it ..."
Yet, in a letter to Albert G. Hodges on April 4, 1864, Lincoln wrote. "I am naturally anti-slavery. If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong. I can not remember when I did not think so, and feel."
Is this a contradiction, even hypocritical? Not in Lincoln's mind. At several points, extending into the early 1860s, Lincoln seriously considered a proposal to deport all black people and colonize them in Liberia, the Caribbean and/or Latin America. He was dissuaded primarily by the high cost, not by the immorality of such a venture.
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