Lincoln: The Movie = A+

November 26, 2012

The movie Lincoln directed and produced by Steven Spielberg is a masterpiece for the ages. Hollywood and historical accuracy are all too often oil and water.

This movie, on the other hand, is stunning on a number of levels. It is not only accurate on the major details, but it manages to capture the complexities of the political process that surrounded the abolition movement and the passing of the 13th amendment.

In recent years there has been an effort on the part of pseudo-historians to reinterpret the leadership and commitment of President Lincoln to the cause of abolition. Most of these re-writers of history have used Lincoln’s first inaugural address which was given as the southern states were actively dropping out of the union.

I thought I would put together a timeline of the abolition movement in the USA so MH Reporter readers could get a better context of the movie.

A timeline is a good way to quickly get a large view of the overall strategy, actions, and reaction in the War for Abolition. The first thing the reader should notice is the length of time it took to achieve abolition. Great moral victories are rarely won in a moment. Great victories require extreme patience, extreme dedication, passion, careful strategy, education, money, and marketing. Violence, impulsiveness, laziness, and lack of intellectual rigor are non-God like qualities that cause a movement to lose ground. The second thing the

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reader should notice is the number of individuals involved at every level of the movement across the generations. Great movements are not about a single person. If you want to be great in God’s Kingdom you must learn to be the servant of all.

The radical Christianity-inspired American abolition movement experienced their first political victory in 1780 and soon, victory after victory followed.

Time Line 1780 to 1820

1780 Pennsylvania started the process of gradually eliminating slavery by freeing all future children of slaves.

Lesson: The state with the most Quakers made the first step. Before you worry about others, clean up your own house first.

1783 Massachusetts abolished slavery

1783 New Hampshire gradually abolished slavery

1784 Connecticut gradually abolished slavery

1787 The Northwest Ordinance was affirmed. The Ordinance established the organization of the Northwest Territories made up of modern day Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and parts of Minnesota. Slavery was banned from this new territory.

Lesson: It is extremely hard to convince people to accept any action that goes against their immediate economic interest. Thomas Jefferson, a slave holder himself, was willing and even advocated the proper moral position on

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slavery so long as he was not directly affected. He was instrumental in the Northwest Territories being set up as future free states. So play the long game and accept the victories that will pay off in the future. Time goes by faster than anyone one of us would like to believe.

1799 New York gradually abolished slavery

1804 New Jersey gradually abolished slavery

1808 The USA banned the import and export of slaves. Economically, many slave markets and slave traders were forced out of business, sent off shore, or were force into an illegal black market reducing the number of economic supporters of slavery.

Lesson: With the Northern States now on the path to abolition, the abolition movement started the strategy to isolate slavery economically to fewer people and geographically to the Southern States, and then involved the Federal government in the cause. Isolation is a key strategy for victory against many problems.

Geographically the Northern States formed the upper boundary, the Atlantic Ocean an Eastern boundary, the Gulf of Mexico a Southern boundary. At this moment in history, there was no American western limit to slavery.

Politically the Federal government became involved in stopping the slave trade. Naval boat builders were able to derive a profit from stopping the trade. Military leaders had their careers in part tied to their success in catching slave traders. Even though the US Constitution allowed for slavery, the US Government was essentially acknowledging that slavery was wrong.

When the average person derives their pay check from any institution, they are usually biased in favor of that institution. A key strategy in winning a victory is to limit the number of people that have an incentive to oppose you and maximize the number of people with an incentive to support your position.

1817 New York set a date for complete abolition: July 4, 1827.

The abolition movement had much healthy passionate debate on the best course to take politically and practically. Their decisions had consequences for millions of slaves. Most abolitionists advocated immediate freedom for all slaves. Other abolitionists believed that immediate freedom for uneducated older slaves was tantamount to abuse and that the current slaveholder was obligated to take care of their slaves until death. Some believed slaves should be freed gradually to prevent mass homelessness. Still others advocated for a back to Africa strategy. These abolitionists extrapolated the collective American experience of leaving Europe under religious oppression and colonizing America on to the

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freed slaves. President Lincoln and many others not only fantasied about but actively promoted and raised money for freed slaves to set up free colonies in Liberia with some success. The British set up Sierra Leone for the same purpose. There were white supremacists and class exploiters in both the North and South who advocated removal of blacks from the North America. Modern day religious hating authors who write on this topic, often exploit abolition debates and material from non-abolitionist racists to throw their childish historical insults at our great men and women of faith by claiming that those who were not for immediate release of slaves, were immoral, or “Back to Africa” abolitionists were white supremacists. Lost in their insults is that fact that all variations of the abolition movement believed that all men were endowed by their Creator God with the unalienable right of Liberty. With 20/20 historical hindsight, we can see that the “Back to Africa” and gradual abolition thought, while sincerely held views by good people, were in the end not good ideas.

The battle against slavery in the US must be understood in the context of a giant geo-political chess match. The Lincoln movie does a great job of shedding light on the complexities. The grand abolitionist strategy was first to contain slavery to the southern states, then gain control of the federal institutions through a greater number of Senators and Congressmen representing free states, and finally pass laws and use civil disobedience to make slavery an increasingly expensive proposition while converting hearts and minds to the evils of the institution through the wide spread dissemination of specific examples of slave abuse.

Lincoln’s famous Peoria speech clearly outlines most of the abolitionist strategy. Pacifist Quakers play a long game.

The following are some of the key events from 1820 to the beginning of the Civil War. Only through an understanding of the abolition strategy and the South’s pro-slavery efforts are we able to comprehend the impact of the Fugitive Slave Law, the Kansas Nebraska Act, and why so many Whigs opposed the Mexican American War.

1820 Congress passed the Missouri Compromise. This compromise set a line at the 36º30’ North parallel which the northern limit of legal slavery with the exception of Missouri. In addition, it established the principle of an equal number of free vs. slave states by linking the acceptance of slave state Missouri into the Union as the same time as the free state of Maine.

1833 American Anti-Slavery Society established by William Lloyd Garrison and Arthur Tappen. Fredrick Douglas is often associated with this organization.

1834 July 9 to 11 In New York City thousands rioted against abolitionists, burning their property and vandalizing their businesses and churches. Abolitionist Tappen’s store was defended by his armed staff. The largest New York City newspaper was supportive of the Whig Party but also highly racist.

1836 Jun 15 Arkansas entered the Union as a slave state

1837 Nov 7 Abolitionist newspaper editior Elijah Lovejoy was killed by a pro-slavery mob in Alton, Illinois after an exchange of gun fire.

1842 US Supreme Court ruled that states did not have to offer aid in the recapture of slaves

1844 Amistad Case

1844 Whig Henry Clay ran on “No Extension of Slavery”

1845 May 19 Even the anti-slavery Whig papers reported “The Fanatics” of the American Anti-Slavery Society under Garrison were calling for the dissolution of the Union and over throw of the Christian Churches.

1845 May Southern Methodist and Southern Baptist separated from their brethren in the North

1845 Texas joined the US as a slave state

1845 Cassius Marcellius Clay founded “True American” an anti-slavery journal. Cousin of Henry Clay. Muhammad Ali the boxer was named at birth Cassius Clay in honor of this Great American.

1846 Apr 26 Mexican American War started as Mexican cavalry attacks a 70 man US patrol in the contested Rio Grande region

1846 May 13 Congress approved the declaration of war against Mexico. 76 Whigs voted against the war as they feared the expansion of US territory in the slave-holding south

1846 Aug 8 The Wilmot Proviso is introduced as a rider on a $2M appropriations bill to pay for the war. The rider would ban slavery from territory acquired from Mexico. It failed but exposes deep regional differences on the issue of slavery with North/South congressional voting patterns. The Wilmot Proviso was introduced many times without success. Abraham Lincoln mentioned voting for it maybe “forty times”.

1847 Pennsylvania had previously passed a gradual abolition, but in 1847 set all slaves free

1848 Feb 2 Mexican American War was won

1850 Compromise of 1850 was passed as a series of 5 bills. The compromise was a joint effort by the Whig Henry Clay and Democrat Stephen Douglas. The following is a list of the key points of the 1850 Compromise.

The New Mexico territory was carved out of Texas in exchange for debt relief

The New Mexico and Utah territory will have the issue of slavery determined by popular sovereignty

1850 Sep 9 California became part of the US as a free state

1850 Sep 18 A tough Fugitive Slave Act was passed which held all Federal officials in all states personally liable for failure to arrest a suspected slave. This act was be a Northern flash point as it required their involvement in the abhorent business of catching and returning slaves. The act became a Southern flash point as the North’s consistent efforts to undermine the act and uphold the rule of law eventually became a reason for succession.

1850 Vermont Legislature approved Habeas Corpus Law making the Fugitive Slave act unenforceable.

Ironically, the South who demanded states’ right for legalized slavery, began seeking Federal support against the State right of Vermont and other governments who did not participate in the enforcement of Slavery. This Southern states’ right hypocrisy did not go unnoticed in the North.

As part of the abolitionist strategy Northern states, counties, and cities passed laws designed to impede the return of escaped slaves to the South. These laws infuriated the pro-slavery lobby. These laws had the happy effect of making slavery a more expensive proposition and thus less desirable. The Southern states bordering the North increasingly found slavery to be unprofitable as it was relatively easy for the most able slaves to flee the short distance north. Every year hundreds of slaves escaped their slave bonds and made use of the Christian organizations like the Underground Railroad. Many headed north to safe havens in places like Cass County, Michigan or Canada.

The period press was filled with escaped slave stories and local authorities attempting to frustrate the Southern bounty hunters.

1852 President Fillmore was not re-nominated by the Whig Party in favor of Winfield Scott as the Abolitionists Whigs were upset over the Compromise of 1850. Particularly galling to the Whig abolitionists was the Fugitive Slave Act which forced all Americans to be actively involved in the suppression of Black freedom. The internal party politics became so severe over the issue of slavery that the Whig Party self-destructs. The breakup of the Whigs left the Democrats as the only truly national party. Whigs who supported slavery now began to shift to the Democrats.

1852 Nov The Democrats suddenly found themselves as the only national party with a large influx of pro-slavery Southern Whigs. The new demographics of the Democrat Party become strongly Southern and more pro-slavery. Against the fragmented opposition, 1860 November election was a huge success for the Democrats and the pro-slavery lobby. he Democrats found themselves with large majorities in the House and Senate and their man, President Franklin Pierce, in the White House.

1854 May 30 The large political majorities of the pro-slavery Democrats wasted little time in breaking out of the territorial slave constraints imposed by the Missouri Compromise of 1820. The Kansas Nebraska Act was reported to the Senate on Jan 4, 1854 to repeal the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and created the new territories of Kansas and Nebraska. This Act was viewed by most abolitionists as a huge political loss to the slave holding lobby as it temporary crushed their hopes to limit slavery to the Deep South. Great losses have great consequences. The abolition movement completely reorganized and emerged far stronger, more energetic, and in a position to eliminate slavery from North America. They lost the battle, but won the war. There were four main consequences of the Kansas Nebraska Act.

First, the collapse of the Whig Party coupled with the anger that the Kansas Nebraska Act generated set in motion the creation of the anti-slavery Republican Party. The Republican Party quickly became the largest political party in the North and

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was solidly dedicated to the elimination of slavery. Its single-mindedness was far more effective for abolition than the former Whig Party containing both anti-slavery and pro-slavery factions.

Second, the pacifist Quaker and Evangelical Christian abolitionist’s strategy of containment, then being viewed as a failure by radical abolitionists, had to compete with more aggressive and violent viewpoints. Radical abolitionists could argue that peace had failed and the evil institution of slavery needed to be violently suppressed, the slaves armed for insurrection, and even going so far as to support the succession of the North for the purpose of removing the Fugitive Slave Laws. The Radical abolitionists were not all talk as we will soon see.

Third, the act allowed for “popular sovereignty” which allowed the citizens of each territory to decide for themselves if slavery should be legal or not. The concept of popular sovereignty appealed to both Northern and Southern Democrats who would loudly proclaim a state’s right mantra and strict adherence to the Constitution.

Finally, with the Southern Whigs joining the Democrats, the Southern Democrats became the dominate power in their party. While the Northern Democrats were generally highly racists, many became increasingly uncomfortable with the succession talk of the Southern Democrat. As a result, the Democrat Party began to fragment.

1854 Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled Fugitive Slave act unconstitutional

1854 Jun 6 Republican Party was founded by anti-slavery expansionist activists

1854 Jun 29 Andrew Horatio Reeder was appointed the first governor of the Territory of Kansas by President Franklin Pierce.

1854 Oct 16 Abraham Lincoln gave his famous “Peoria Speech.” First and foremost, Lincoln stated his hatred of slavery in uncompromising terms as shown in the quote below.

“This declared indifference, but as I must think, covert real zeal for the spread of slavery, I cannot but hate. I hate it because of the monstrous injustice of slavery itself. I hate it because it deprives our republican example of its just influence in the world—enables the enemies of free institutions, with plausibility, to taunt us as hypocrites—causes the real friends of freedom to doubt our sincerity, and especially because it forces so many really good men amongst ourselves into an open war with the very fundamental principles of civil liberty—criticizing the Declaration of Independence, and insisting that there is no right principle of action but self-interest.” – Abraham Lincoln, 16 October 1854 Peoria Illinois

However, his speech was also pragmatic. Lincoln clearly articulated the original abolitionist Quaker goal of limiting legalized slavery to the existing slave states. Going further, Lincoln explained his congressional anti-slavery votes, support for the Wilmot Proviso, and against extending the Missouri Compromise line through Texas. His deep understanding of Abolition issues and his sensitivity to keeping the Union intact was well illustrated as he outlined the compromises which let California joined the Union as a free state.

1856 Jun 17 First Republican Nomination convention in Phildelphia

1857 Dred Scot decision

1858 May 11 Minnesota became part of the US as a free state

1859 Feb 14 Oregon became part of the US as a free state

1859 Abolitionists Republicans were elected across Kansas. This event was of enormous importance. The slave holding lobby had been screaming for states’ rights and popular sovereignty. Having emerged victorious in the political battle which produced the 1854’s Kansas Nebraska Act, the first fruits of their victory were total and complete pro-slavery disasters. Kansas was freely choosing to be free. Nebraska was freely choosing to be free. This meant that soon new abolitionists, Republican senators and congressmen ready to make slavery a poor economic choice through excessive regulation, were headed to Washington DC. Further, a contiguous region with legalized slavery extending beyond the Deep South was blocked again.

With the Kansas elections of 1859, the abolitionists had check mated the pro-slavery forces in the geo-political chess match. Freedom had won. It was only a matter of time before slavery would be illegal in the US. Increasing numbers of families from the Northern states and anti-slavery immigrants from Europe were settling in the Mid-West and Pacific Coast. There was no hope for the pro-slave lobby that they would ever again hold a majority in Congress.

Adding salt onto their pro-slavery wounds, the Republican were set to make huge gains in the upcoming 1860 election cycle as the Democrats were struggling to hold onto the pro-Union Democrats. The argument for popularity sovereignty now seemed best suited to an abolitionist. The South’s argument for state’s rights was utter hypocrisy as they had to plead for Federal support to uphold the national Fugitive Slave laws. The South saw the proverbial handwriting on the wall that left only two choices; capitulate or succeed. The Southern state’s right issue devolved into an a simple argument for succession.

The Southern states understood the results of the 1859 Kansas elections quite well as did most of the responsible pacifist Abolitionists. Unfortunately, the radical abolitionists did not. After the Kansas elections, the Republican Party and the reasonable abolitionists changed tactics to one of securing their victory. There was no point in focusing on slavery, that battle was effectively won. The battle was to avoid the succession of the South and prepare for complete abolition.

1859 Aug 1 Ohio allows anyone more than 50% white to vote

1859 Oct 16 John Brown and his group took over Harper’s Ferry Arsenal. The raid was strongly condemned by Republican and Democratic leaning press.

1859 Dec 2 John Brown hanged

1860 Trade in slaves from Africa to North and South America continued despite aggressive British and American efforts to stop it. The American Navy captured more than 103 slave ships between 1837 and 1862. These arrests continually undermined the pro-slavery lobby’s legal credibility when they asked for private property rights to be respected and the Fugitive Slave Act adhered to. These slave ships were illegal carrying illegal cargo so how could slave holders claim slaves as property if there was no legal property deed? The following is a list of slave trading boats captured in 1860.

1860 Apr 26 The Clipper “Wildfire” caught off Paredon Grande with 615 slaves from the Congo

1860 May 9 The Bark “William” caught near the Isle of Pines with 570 slaves on board from the Congo

1860 May 23 The Bark “Bogota” caught off the north coast of Cuba with 411 slaves from the slave trading port of Whydah

1860 Oct 1 Steamship “City of Norfolk” captured in Cuba having landed 800 slaves from Africa


1860 Nov 6 The election of Republican Abraham Lincoln as President

1860 Nov 14 Fairfax Virginia a Lincoln voter was dipped in black ink

1860 Nov 21 Abolitionist Capt Montgomery with 300 to 500 supporters attacked Fort Scott, Kansas

1860 Dec 20 South Carolina secceeded from the Union

1860 Dec 22 Lincoln objected to the Crittenden Compromise and it was rejected 7-6. The Crittenden Compromise were concessions to the southern states contemplating succession. The concessions included:

  • Extending the 36º30’ latitude demarkation below which slavery would be legal to the Pacific,
  • The Federal government could not prohibit slavery at Federal institutions in Slave states;
  • The Congress could not abolish slavery in the District of Columbia while Virginia and Maryland allowed it
  • Congress could not prohibit interstate slave trade
  • Congress would compensate owners of fugitive slaves
  • No future Constitutional could change these conditions
  • Fugitive slaves laws would be constitutional and faithfully enforced
  • No state could pass personal liberty laws designed to undermine the fugitive slave laws
  • Laws for the suppression of the African slave trade would be enforced

Ironically for those that hold the position that the Civil War was not about slavery, it is interesting to note that every single clause of the last ditch effort to save the Union by a Kentucky Senator was on the issue of slavery and nothing about state’s rights. President-elect Abraham Lincoln rejected it outright. Given the choice, Abraham Lincoln did not choose the Union over the abolition of slaves.

1861 Jan 16 The Republican led Senate rejected the Crittenden Compromise

1861 Jan Rhode Island repealed Personal Liberty Law (anti-Fugitive Slave Act Legislation) as an olive branch to the South in hopes of preserving the Union

1861 Jan 29 Kansas became part of the US as a free state

April 12th, 1861 Civil War began at Fort Sumter


One Response to Lincoln: The Movie = A+

  1. Arjun on November 27, 2012 at 3:06 pm

    Great Article to read.

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