Even Patriotic Good Works May Be Tainted

The overwhelming case against Confederate Monuments is that either those memorialized or their patrons stood for an evil cause — slavery.

But what if Union Monuments — those memorialized or their patrons — don’t stand for a righteous cause — anti-slavery? What if Union Monuments were designed, like the war itself, to preserve the — get this — Union?

Frederick Douglass pointed out that Abraham Lincoln’s motives in the war were not pure, and that those who came to celebrate the 16th POTUS at the unveiling of the Freedmen’s Memorial Monument, also had mixed motives in the war:

It must be admitted, truth compels me to admit, even here in the presence of the monument we have erected to his memory, Abraham Lincoln was not, in the fullest sense of the word, either our man or our model. In his interests, in his associations, in his habits of thought, and in his prejudices, he was a white man

He was preeminently the white man’s President, entirely devoted to the welfare of white men. He was ready and willing at any time during the first years of his administration to deny, postpone, and sacrifice the rights of humanity in the colored people to promote the welfare of the white people of this country. In all his education and feeling he was an American of the Americans. He came into the Presidential chair upon one principle alone, namely, opposition to the extension of slavery.

His arguments in furtherance of this policy had their motive and mainspring in his patriotic devotion to the interests of his own race. To protect, defend, and perpetuate slavery in the states where it existed Abraham Lincoln was not less ready than any other President to draw the sword of the nation. He was ready to execute all the supposed guarantees of the United States Constitution in favor of the slave system anywhere inside the slave states. He was willing to pursue, recapture, and send back the fugitive slave to his master, and to suppress a slave rising for liberty, though his guilty master were already in arms against the Government. The race to which we belong were not the special objects of his consideration.

Knowing this, I concede to you, my white fellow-citizens, a preeminence in this worship at once full and supreme. First, midst, and last, you and yours were the objects of his deepest affection and his most earnest solicitude. You are the children of Abraham Lincoln. We are at best only his stepchildren; children by adoption, children by forces of circumstances and necessity. To you it especially belongs to sound his praises, to preserve and perpetuate his memory, to multiply his statues, to hang his pictures high upon your walls, and commend his example, for to you he was a great and glorious friend and benefactor.

Having said all that, Douglass was willing to honor Lincoln:

Instead of supplanting you at his altar, we would exhort you to build high his monuments; let them be of the most costly material, of the most cunning workmanship; let their forms be symmetrical, beautiful, and perfect; let their bases be upon solid rocks, and their summits lean against the unchanging blue, overhanging sky, and let them endure forever! But while in the abundance of your wealth, and in the fullness of your just and patriotic devotion, you do all this, we entreat you to despise not the humble offering we this day unveil to view; for while Abraham Lincoln saved for you a country, he delivered us from a bondage, according to Jefferson, one hour of which was worse than ages of the oppression your fathers rose in rebellion to oppose.

5 thoughts on “Even Patriotic Good Works May Be Tainted

  1. By all means ear down any monument to anyone or anything wh or that did not meet the most advanced standards of our own time, remembering that tomorrow’s standards will doubtless be different. We will soon have a lot of open space because we will have no monuments. Maybe that’s the goal.


  2. I infer from this speech excerpt that Douglass thinks more highly of the abolitionists than the more pragmatic, effective Lincoln.


  3. See?

    Oh wait a minute. That’s not Coates; that’s Frederick Douglass, speaking about Abraham Lincoln at the dedication of the Freedman’s Monument in Washington DC on April 14, 1876. I took the small liberty of changing the verb tenses, swapping out “immigration” for “slavery” in the fourth sentence, and swapping “Trump” for “Lincoln” in the last sentence. None of these changes alter the argument of the passage. In other words, we have here Douglass arguing that Lincoln is pre-eminently a “white president,” and not the first by any means.

    Of course, if you read the whole of Douglass’s oration, he makes out the case of why Lincoln should be honored, and by extension why the country he led is good and just, despite its obvious failings and mistakes. By comparison Douglass reveals Coates to be the superficial thinker that he is. Because of course many contemporary black thinkers—I suspect Coates is among them—believe Lincoln was a “white supremacist” pure and simple, no better or different than the Confederate leaders whose statues are being removed. A “Black Lives Matter” protest a couple years back featured signs proclaiming “Lincoln was a racist,” and demanding that Lincoln be removed from the five-dollar bill. This is not a brand new charge.


  4. I suppose that’s what history is all about. Those who write history are those who were most “effective” in expanding one nation state for the purpose of killing those from other nation-states. Most abolitionists got on the train with Lincoln but some did not.

    It’s one thing to come out from the pope’s church but quite another to come out from the parish church mandated by your local magistrate. It’s one thing to segregate your killing to your vocation as a secular American (and away from your other kingdom, which is more important but private and spiritual.) It’s quite another to become a fundamentalist separatist who comes out from patriotism itself.

    Fundamentalists are simply not catholic enough to be effective historians. Even with second naivete…or sarcasm.

    Adin Ballou—“I committed myself to total abstinence from all war, preparations for war, glorifications of war, commemorations of war and… any resorts whatsoever to deadly force against my fellow-men. I would neither
    fight, vote, pray for, nor give any approval of any custom, practice or act which contravened the law of perfect love toward God, toward my fellow moral agents or the universal highest good. I would have no deadly weapon on my person or in my habitation

    Tolstoy (1828-1910)–The American Adin Ballou… lived in Hopedale, Massachusetts In the course of fifty
    years, Ballou wrote and edited books dealing mainly with the question of overcoming evil only with good. In these works, which are beautiful in their lucidity of thought and eloquence of expression, the question is
    discussed from every possible side–Jesus forbids me to resist evil-doers by taking eye for eye, tooth for
    tooth, blood for blood, and life for life. To offend another, because he offended us… means to repeat an evil
    deed … to encourage the very demon whom we claim we wish to expel. Satan cannot be driven out by Satan, untruth cannot be cleansed by untruth, and evil cannot be vanquished by evil.

    Click to access ComeOutism.pdf


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