Could Abraham Lincoln Be Elected?

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There's a new movie coming out starring Daniel Day Lewis as Abraham Lincoln, so I went looking for a quick read on Lincoln and checked out "Lincoln at Gettysburg" by Garry Wills.

I had forgotten most of the 272-word speech I memorized long ago that Lincoln delivered in three minutes. The main speaker that day, Edward Everett, spoke for two hours.

Wills goes into the making of the man and the making of the Gettysburg Address, which does not directly address slavery. "Lincoln was accused during his lifetime of clever evasions and key silences," Wills writes. "He was especially indirect and hard to interpret on the subject of slavery."

Lincoln dodged the subject in his 1858 debate with Senate candidate Stephen Douglas, and delivered some campaign speeches that would get him branded as a racist today. Here is one Wills quotes:

"I will say then that I am not nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races — that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor of intermarrying with white people. And I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will for ever forbid the two races living together on terms of political and social equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race."

Wills writes that Lincoln's political base, Illinois, had a case of "Negrophobia" and in 1848 amended the state constitution to deny freed blacks the right to enter the state.

"Lincoln knew the racial geography of his own state well, and calibrated what he had to say about slavery according to his audience."

The movie "Lincoln" directed by Steven Spielberg, comes out November 9th and focuses on the year 1865.

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