Monday, November 12, 2012

Lincoln led from behind

I don't see many movies in a real cinema anymore, but I think I should do for Spielberg's "Lincoln." Daniel Day Lewis is a superb actor -- and who couldn't be excited by a movie about the legislative process [passing the 13th amendment]?

Among the articles discussing the Civil War as we commemorate its sesquicentennial is this piece in The American Scholar by Professor Louis P. Masur of Rutgers.

I knew from my own research and writing that Lincoln was slow to accept abolition f slavery as a war aim and that he withheld the emancipation proclamation until Union forces won the bloody battle of Antietam.

I was especially struck by Masur's citation of some white soldiers' letters admitting that they had changed their own views as a result of the war and of seeing black soldiers fighting for the Union.
The Emancipation Proclamation and black military participation transformed the  thinking of many white soldiers. Charles Wills, who enlisted as a private with the 8th Illinois and rose to be a lieutenant colonel with the 103rd Illinois, marveled at his own transformation. In summer 1863, Wills confessed, “I never thought I would, but I am getting strongly in favor of arming them [blacks], and am becoming so blind that I can’t see why they will not make soldiers. How queer. A year ago last January I didn’t like to hear anything of emancipation. Last fall accepted confiscation of rebel’s negroes quietly. In January took to emancipation readily, and now believe in arming the negroes.” Another soldier, Silas Shearer of the 23rd Iowa, had a similar experience. “My principles have changed since I last saw you,” he informed his wife. “When I was at home I was opposed to the medling of Slavery where it then Existed but since the Rebls got to such a pitch and it became us as a Military needsisity … to abolish Slavery and I say Amen to it and I believe the Best thing that has been done Since the War broke out is the Emancipation Proclimation.”
This is further proof that Lincoln led the country not by jumping into the radical forefront but by pushing it from behind until it reached the conclusions that he held.

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