The Fiery Trail
In The Fiery Trail Mr. Foner the author has worked hard at making "white of black and black of white." He has made the "Great Emancipator" into the "Great Enslaver" while accusing him of "ethnic cleansing." According to Foner, "If Lincoln had had his way; there would be no Blacks in America. "Lincoln's real purpose as president was not to free the slaves, but to prolong slavery until he could put a plan in place to deport all Blacks to a foreign shore. Foner writes: "[Lincoln] did everything he could to deport Blacks and to make America a Great White Place."( Pg 22) Sound strange? It is. But, to his credit, Mr. Foner does not claim his book as history. He does not even claim it is historical biography. He describes it as a "political" history, and indeed it is -- a "politically correct" history (Pg 88). By selecting Lincoln's words carefully and placing his own interpretation on their meaning, Mr. Foner is able to weave an ugly view of Abraham Lincoln that turns history on its ear and furthers the latest revisionist theory that the slaves freed themselves. Foner begins his book with the notion that Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation did not free a single slave and that Lincoln deliberately exempted slaves in those areas under Union control to keep slavery alive as long as possible. According to Foner, Lincoln used his proclamation to forestall the liberating effects of the First and Second Confiscation Acts which Foner believes would have freed the slaves before Lincoln interfered by issuing his ineffective proclamation. Behind this deliberate delay, is Lincoln's insidious scheme to deport Blacks. Foner is correct in concluding that the Emancipation Proclamation freed few if any slaves. But Foner misses the point. The Declaration of Independence didn't free a single American. It took a war to do that. But the Declaration of Independence established the principle under which a war would be fought and freedom would be won. In a similar vein, the Emancipation Proclamation did not end slavery, but it established the principle under which the civil war would be fought and freedom would be won. “The rows upon rows of white headstones throughout our Nat” (Pg 201) Foner writes as if Abraham Lincoln held the power to abolish slavery at any time he chose. Foner is wrong. Neither the President nor the Congress of the United States had the power to abolish slavery by executive order or by legislation. Slavery was protected by the Constitution and the only way to abolish the peculiar institution legally was by amending the Constitution. That, of course, happened in December 1865, and it happened because of Lincoln's political will.
As a prelude to amending the Constitution to abolish slavery, Lincoln decided to issue a proclamation declaring those slaves held within Confederate (enemy) territory "thenceforward and forever free."( Pg 206) How could he do this if the Constitution protected slavery? He did it by turning to the war powers granted the President under the Constitution. These powers allow the Commander-in-Chief to take certain steps to hurt the enemy and lessen his ability to wage war. Lincoln's proclamation did not free slaves in those areas under Union control because Lincoln had no Constitutional authority as president to free them. The Emancipation Proclamation's justification was as a military order designed to hurt the enemy, plain and simple. A careful reading of the Constitution as well as Lincoln's lengthy explanation of his action would have helped Mr. Foner to understand this important point. Lincoln's proclamation also called for the enlistment of Black men into the Union army, an enormous step toward lowering the bar on the road to equality. Foner would have us believe that Lincoln did all of this against his will because he was "forced" to do so by idealistic abolitionists who came to...
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