When Barack Obama takes the oath of office Jan. 20, he will place his left hand on Abraham Lincoln’s Bible.
Much has been made of the Lincoln connection, with the first black man assuming the presidency in the 200th anniversary of Honest Abe’s birthday.
But a few inconvenient truths must be noted about “Honest Abe.”
Lincoln’s thinking on racial matters was truly mainstream for the period. During the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858, for example, he declared: “I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and black races. There is a physical difference between the two, which in my judgment, will probably forever forbid their living together upon the footing of perfect equality.”
Four years later, in an Aug. 22, 1862, letter to New York Tribune Editor Horace Greeley, Lincoln wrote: “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. What I do about slavery and the colored race I do because I believe it helps to save the union.”
When Lincoln penned those words, a draft of the Emancipation Proclamation lay in his desk drawer.
Obama and Lincoln certainly wouldn’t see eye to eye on race today, but they could yet become soul mates on wielding power for the “greater good.”
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