Re: Ch. 6 - John Brown and Abraham Lincoln: The Invisibility of Antiracism in American History Textbooks
"Morally bankrupt" should probably be reserved for more extreme cases. It implies there is not enough moral credit to cover the moral debits. I have forgotten the specifics of why Lincoln applied the Emancipation Proclamation to the rebel states only, but vaguely it was some combination of limited legal power (he proclaimed it as war leader, not as a usurpation of legislative power) and strategic maneuvering (border states still included many slave owners who for some reason harbored hopes that they would be able to hold their slaves after the shooting was done - Lincoln's Attorney General, Edward Bates, was from Missouri and opposed emancipation.)
Now that I am finished with this chapter I wanted to raise a question or two of my own. First, I appreciated Loewen's recounting of the true nature of anti-racism at the time, and how it was dauntingly outnumbered. People I respect such as Lincoln and Greeley were caught in the confirmation bias which agrees that the oppressed deserve their oppression, based on their manifestly inferior status and accomplishments. A person hates to recognizing one's own moral failings as part of a pattern contributing to uneven results. Hard to even resist the bias, much less to overcome.
John Brown's daring resistance to the vigilantes from Missouri who attacked Kansans reminds me of the organized resistance by blacks (and anti-racist whites) in the South before Civil Rights, when white authority was ready to beat them for walking instead of riding the bus (this same segment of society now claims that socialist intrusive government opposes the continued exploitation and repression). By raising the profile of the issue, they made it impossible to just look the other way and avoid a moral position. Such confrontation is now considered one of the pillars of restorative justice, or reconciliation if you prefer. A bully, or abuser, or criminal, or oppressive regime, should not just be restrained but should be required to consider the effect on others whom they have harmed "because they can."
Second, I thought that Loewen engaged in a little distortion of his own. His section on Lincoln's effort to save the Union points out some problems with the theory that it was his only goal, but does not address the likely case that it was his main goal. Maybe more to the point, he fails to acknowledge the importance of that goal. Lincoln rightly recognized that the rhetoric about a struggle to determine whether "any nation so conceived and so dedicated could long endure upon the earth" went to the heart of the matter - if secession was permitted as an option for those who don't get their way, a democracy would splinter and democracy as an alternative to rule by force would perish.
Any American who studied a bit of history, and that would be most lawyers, would understand that Europe's history and the world's history had been a story of rule by violence, and that the struggle even to substitute legitimacy for violence was one that was not easy to win. How much harder to have commoners take a role and have a say. If splintering into republics of one was the inevitable result, then democracy was doomed. Even the enormous issue of slavery has to take second place to democracy in a moral hierarchy of priorities.
There are hints of this issue in Loewen's interesting observations about the "ideological contradictions" in the Confederacy. Because slaveowning was the economic prop to large estates, but not to ordinary farmers, most Confederates were not in agreement that they should fight for a slavery regime. Having proposed that secession was a solution, how could the Confederates refuse the secession of the Republic of Jones and West Virginia and the others? It was a tangle of inconsistencies and made the inconsistencies of the North, such as Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus to stop Maryland's legislature from voting to secede, look mild.
His treatment of the Gettysburg Address, which I agree with, did some justice to the priority of the Union, but it could have been more helpful.