There seems to be a move to revise history here in the United States. It’s most obvious in the hullabaloo of tearing down all Confederate reminders in the south.
Get rid of all Confederate battle flags. Get rid of all Confederate statues. As if getting rid of them would erase what those pieces of history represented. To paraphrase what Michelle Obama once said, “Barack knows we have to change history.” Too late, young lady. History has already happened. Learn from it. Remember this adage? “Those who don’t remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”, or various other versions of Santayana’s famous quote.
The internet is filled with good, poor, or totally inaccurate revisionist “historical” information. It is often the source of doubtful history revisions. Last week, I saw, side by side, a picture of Robert E. Lee and Abraham Lincoln. Lee was quoted as saying, “There is a terrible war coming, and these young men who have never seen war cannot wait for it to happen, but I can tell you, I wish that I owned every slave in the South, for I would free them all to avoid this war.” Lincoln was quoted as saying, “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it.”
These quotes make it appear as if Lincoln was in favor of slavery and Lee was not. I did my homework (a lot of it, by the way.) and found that several historians have tried to find the source for this supposed quote from General Robert E. Lee and could find no evidence that it was said by him at all. There are no written statements with that “quote” in it in Lee’s history.
It was easier to find Abraham Lincoln’s quote, because I already knew its source. All I had to do was find where I had remembered reading it. Its source is easily found and verified. It came about because of an editorial written on Aug. 22, 1862, by another famous American, Horace Greeley. It was entitled, “A Prayer of Twenty Millions”.
Greeley was an Abolitionist and took Lincoln to task because he felt Lincoln was being too moderate in his approach to slavery. Greeley felt that Lincoln was being controlled by the Border Slave States and was not doing enough to free the slaves. Greeley did not know that Lincoln was waiting for what he felt was the appropriate time for his emancipation of the slaves and he did not enlighten Greeley on his private decision.
It has been debated off and on over the years whether the Civil War was fought to free the slaves or to preserve the Union. I don’t know why this point was ever debated at all. It was clear in Lincoln’s reply to Greeley what his reasons were. Simply put: First, to preserve the Union. If the Union was not saved, emancipation was a moot question. If the South had won the war and divided the Union, without the existence of a free North, slavery would almost certainly have spread throughout many of the existing and future states.
He stated in his reply to Greeley, “... I would save the Union. My paramount objective in this struggle is to save the Union and is not to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.”
He ended his letter with these words, “... I have here stated my purpose according to my view of my official duty; (Lincoln did not believe the Constitution gave him the power to abolish slavery.) and I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men every where could be free.” He waited until after the Union victory at Antietam to justify issuing the Emancipation Proclamation which ended slavery everywhere in the Union.
So, you can see from this example of cherry-picking words or sentences way out of context or creating words never spoken, you can revise history. I wonder how many people reading that comparison actually believed Lincoln was pro-slavery.
Bud Simpson writes a weekly column published in The Logan Daily News. The views of this column may not necessarily reflect that of the newspaper.