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tv   Abraham Lincoln and Immigration  CSPAN  July 28, 2016 8:00pm-9:06pm EDT

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up next on american history tv, historian jason silverman talks about his book describing abraham lincoln's encounters with immigrants including haitians, germans and cubans. mr. silverman concludes that these encounters boosted america's economy. the lincoln group of district of columbia hosted this event. it's about an hour. >> and now for our speaker this evening. jason h. silverman is the professor of history at winthrop university. where he has taught for 31 years. prior to that he taught at yale
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university for four years. author or editor of 11 books, several of which nominated for national book awards, his recent work "lincoln and the immigrant" is a volume in the series con size lincoln library series published by southern illinois university press and was released in september. of the 16,500 and counting volumes published on abraham lincoln, this is the first full length study of its kind. dr. silverman received his undergraduate degree at the university of virginia and his graduate degrees at colorado state and the university of kentucky. he has received many distinguished teaching awards. is currently working on a companion volume detailing president lincoln's reputation in 19th century europe. he also served two elected terms on his local school board. so let's welcome professor jason silverman.
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[ applause ] >> thank you so much. that last part about the eight years on the rockhill school board, forget about all my education. that's when i learned the real meaning of civil war. i have a been interested in abraham lincoln since the fourth grade. we had a parents' night which we were going to do silent vignettes. amelia earhart, iwo jima, the signing of the declaration of independence, all sorts of things. one of the silent vignettes was going to be the lincoln/douglas
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debates. and my fourth grade teacher told me you can't be abraham lincoln, you're not tall enough. to add insult to injury, she said, you have to be steven douglas. so i swore by all that was sacred that i was going to study abraham lincoln for the rest of my life and try to make a contribution. now, i grew up right across the river in alexandria, virginia. i'm a product of the virginia public schools and i can tell you that very little about abraham lincoln was said flatteringly in the state of virginia as i was growing up. but those comments were glowing compared to what i encountered when i first came to south carolina in 1984. so one of my proudest accomplishments is the fact that
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for 32 years now, i just finished my 32nd year, i've been teaching courses to packed classrooms on abraham lincoln in the state of south carolina, which i don't think is a small accomplishment whatsoever. [ applause ] so i'm going to tell you what i tell my students before each class. come back with me in history. fasten your seatbelts. we're going to take a magic carpet ride tonight through the study of abraham lincoln and his relationship with immigrants. may 4th, 1865, oakridge cemetery, springfield, illinois. the weather is warm and the sun
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is peeking through the clouds. the day is peaceful and a slight wind blows from the west. everybody in springfield is on the streets, silent and mournful. their sorrow is all encompassing and they don't know where to go or what to do. the landscape is beautiful and has been especially cared for on this occasion. the clergyman is a tall, distinguished looking academic sort who spoke with a softness that belied his younger more evangelical days. bishop matthew simpson was delivering the funeral sermon. he quoted the deceased in words of deep conviction. words that spoke of a great work to be done. they conjured up the spector of an evil in the land. broken by it, i may be, bow to
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it, i never will. the probability that we may fail in the struggle ought not to deter us from the support of a cause which we believe to be just. it shall not deter me. if ever i feel the soul within me elevate and expand to those dimensions, not unholy worthy of itsal almighty architect, it is when i contemplate the cause of my country. deserted by all of the world besides and i standing up boldly and alone hurling defiance at her victorious oppressors. the declaration was that of a young abraham lincoln on the day after christmas, 1839. the bishop interpreted his text in a way and with an authority that seemed holy natural to the mourning nation.
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here was the testament of the beloved martyr dedicating himself in his youth to the great slave power. fighting it with all of his energy. bishop simpson quoted lincoln accurately. he had unearthed a long lost speech that would soon be lost again. but he did make one error, however. lincoln's speech had nothing to do with slavery. its subject was banking, industry, and immigrant labor. the log cabin labor and industry, the combination should not surprise us. in more than three decades of public life, lincoln probably talked more about economics and labor to use the terms broadly, than any other issues, slavery included.
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the bulk of his discussions with an economic focus preceded his period of fame and for a while went unrecorded. but the main lines of his thinking survived as do frequently the details. immigration, abraham lincoln, absolutely. lincoln lived in an era when immigration was as much a controversy as it is today. between 1840 and 1860, 4.5 million newcomers arrived. most of them from ireland, the german states and scandinavian countries. many more crossed back and forth across the border with mexico, newly drawn in 1848. but from an early age, lincoln developed an awareness and tolerance for different people and different cultures. while no doubt a product of his
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time, lincoln nevertheless refused to allow his environment to blind him to the strengths of diversity and throughout his legal and political career, he retained an infinity for immigration, especially the irish, the germans, the jews and the scandinavians. indeed, immigrants and their plight were never far from lincoln's thoughts or his plans. his travels down the mississippi river to the port of new orleans exposed lincoln to the sights, the sounds, and the tastes of a world hither to he could only have dreamed about. more importantly, however, it established a foundation and a sympathy for the rest of his life when it came to the foreign born as well as to the enslaved. it must have been an odd sight
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to see that tall, lanky, boy sailing down the mississippi river in 1829 with his companions looking wide eyed and in awe of everything that he saw. just 22 years old and finally freed of the obligations to his father and his farm, lincoln set off from illinois on a flat boat journey with his stepbrother, cousin and employer. sailing on what must have been an amusing sight, a log cabin on a raft with barrels and logs and hogs. lincoln, john johnston, john hanks and dennis offette set off on the adventure of a lifetime. for the first time in his young life, abraham lincoln was traveling afar and while he could not know it, what he would see would shape his thoughts for
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the remainder of his life. during this trip, lincoln would first come in contact with foreigners in the exotic city of new orleans. and although he probably couldn't and didn't distinguish swedes from dutchman from italians from spaniards, norwegians, russians, he encountered them all. on the streets and on 2 wharfs of the great cosmopolitan city. he realized for the first time in his young life that immigrants from many lands formed a significant part of the american population. lincoln's two flat boat voyages to new orleans were exceptionally important in his development. they formed the longest journeys of his life. his first experiences in a major city. his only visits to the deep south.
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his sole exposure to the region's brand of slavery and slave trading. his only time in the subtropics and the closest he ever came to immersing himself in a foreign culture. lincoln never wrote or spoke very much of his trips. but you know what? anybody who studies lincoln gets frustrated because this is a man who was as secretive as they come, who kept no journal, who kept no diary, and for those of us who study abraham lincoln, you think you know him and he slips right out of your hands and you don't know anything about him. you have to start all over again. others wrote about his trips though. his cousin, john hanks, joined lincoln on his second trip departing illinois in 1831. lincoln's eventual law partner
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and his biographer william herndon recorded that hanks had said in may we landed in new orleans. i can say knowingly that it was on this trip that he formed his opinions. it ran its iron in him then and there. may, 1831. i've heard him say that often and often. lincoln's two flat boat journeys exposed him for weeks on end to the vastness of the american landscape. no subsequent travels in lincoln's life would ever match the length of these journeys. and they also immersed him in the subject of the relationship between transportation and the economic development in the west. lincoln understood and preached that a better form of transportation would improve the economic life of the state of illinois. it would raise living standards
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for all and it would enhance property values. but his river journeys also showed him that by controlling unsettled domains in the state of illinois, you could accelerate immigration. he resided in a sparsely populated region so it was understandable for abraham lincoln that wealth and population were practically synonymous to him. immigrants would bring economic growth and all that it implied. indeed, seeing america firsthand from a flat boat at a young age transfixed on abraham lincoln the core of his wig party beliefs. free labor, transportation modernization, internal improvements, and most assuredly, the need to attract immigrants.
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lincoln's trip to new orleans also represented his first and only journey deep into the slave south and into places where enslaved african-americans not only abounded but predominated overwhelmingly. new orleans ranked as the largest city the young lincoln had ever seen, and it would remain so until he stepped on the national stage as a young congressman in 1848. more importantly, it represented the most ethnically diverse and culturally foreign city in the united states. while lincoln would take a day trip to niagara falls, canada, in 1857, new orleans really would represent the closest abraham lincoln ever came to entering another country. i've been to niagara falls.
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that is a stretch to say that you're going into another country. i've been to new orleans. it isn't a stretch to say that. and while lincoln occasionally encountered french or spanish speaking immigrants or catholics or catholicism in his early years in indiana or illinois or on the ohio river, lincoln's trip to new orleans engulfed him in a different culture's ethnicity, ancestry, religion, language, race, cuisine, class, caste, architecture, and just shear urban size. it gave him the perspective that no other place in his life would provide. into the midst of this complex and contentious social, economic and political landscape walked a young abraham lincoln in 1828 and again in 1831.
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there was ethnic tension everywhere that lincoln went in new orleans. it was in the streets. it was in conversations. it was in the local press. newspapers, local newspapers, were filled with prejudice and scorn for one group or another. editors promised to their readers that their principles would be purely american. whatever that meant. an obvious portent to the american or no nothing party that would rise in the 1850s to exploit american xenophobia. lincoln would have seen firsthand that some immigrants in the city were discriminated against by a large element of other people. lincoln was present when the creoles in particular suffered at the hands of americans who
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would eventually become members of the know nothing party. when alliances were established between them and the german and irish immigrants, the creoles quickly became an object of scorn. their presence, experience and treatment had an enormous effect upon abraham lincoln. the impression of discrimination and prejudice against a group because of who they are, what they look like or how they sound would last abraham lincoln a lifetime. in new orleans, lincoln saw the nation's largest concentration of free peoples of color and the best educated people of african ancestry anywhere. lincoln understood this and was enthralled by the multitudes of cultures that he first witnessed in the largely catholic and foreign-born population of new orleans. later in his life he would
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remember what he saw as a youth, and he would forcefully oppose the nativist movement of the 1850s and the know nothing party, which i mentioned just a few moments ago. in fact, there was a part of new orleans that even followed lincoln back to springfield. william billy florville, a free black of french-african ancestry found new orleans to be a hostile place to free people of color in the 1820s. fearing kidnapping and enslavement, floraville fled new orleans for st. louis, and then he found his way up the illinois river in 1831. while approaching the village of salem, a county history records, he overtook a man wearing a red flannel shirt. a tall man was he and carrying an ax on his shoulder.
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they fell into conversation, and they walked to a little grocery store together. the tall man was abraham lincoln who soon learned that the stranger was a barber and he was out of money. mr. lincoln took him to his boarding house and told the people that this man needed help. and his business needed support. and that opened the way for an evening's work among the boarders as they allowed william to cut their hair. lincoln was taken with him. and he convinced floraville to stay and settle in illinois. floraville stayed and he married. he raised a family and he prospered as a barber to hundreds of springfield's men and children, including lincoln, who knew him endearingly as billy the barber.
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it was floraville who groomed lincoln through his attorney days, through the ups and downs of his forays into politics, and just before he made that fateful and final departure from springfield to become president of the united states. over the years, lincoln enjoyed many conversations at fleurville's barber shop on east adam street about new orleans, about immigrants, about slavery, life on the mississippi river. fleurville was bilingual, catholic, french, african, haitian, american. he became lincoln's friend. their conversations were many times of substance and certainly the foundations of a genuine friendship because late in 1863, fleurville wrote lincoln a warm letter of gratitude for the emancipation proclamation that had gone into effect the year before. i thought it might not be improper for one so humble in
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life and occupation to address the president of the united states, wrote fleurville, yet i do so feeling that if it is received by you, it will be received with pleasure as a communication from your dear friend, billy the barber. in all likelihood, lincoln first learned of the situation in haiti -- heck, he probably first learned about haiti through billy the barber and the conditions that fleurville had told him when the men first met in 1831. coincidentally, maybe? ironically, maybe? three decades later, president abraham lincoln established diplomatic relations with the independent caribbean nation of haiti. thanks to billy the barber. ironically, it was through lincoln's connection with the port of new orleans and the
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efforts of several immigrants that the great emancipator freed one of the first people of color, john shelby, a free black, and one of florville's african american barbers in springfield, while traveling in new orleans in 1856 found the same hostility that fleurville had found. not having the proper papers, shelby was arrested and imprisoned. somehow shelby made contact with a springfield raised new orleans now attorney by the name of benjamin jonas. and shelby suggested to jonas that he contact a prominent lawyer back home in illinois whose influence might help him get released. jonas, the lawyer, recognized the name abraham lincoln because lincoln was a friend of jonas' father. a man by the name of abraham jonas, who was one of the first
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jewish settlers in and around springfield, illinois. word spread upriver to shelby's mother and then to lincoln. mr. lincoln was very much moved, wrote one of lincoln's early biographers, and requested that mr. herndon go over to the state house and inquire of if there was not something that would be done to obtain the possession of the negro. mr. herndon made the inquiry and returned with the report that the governor regretted to say he had no legal or constitutional right to do anything in new orleans and in the state of louisiana. at which point mr. lincoln rose to his feet in great excitement and exclaimed, "by the almighty i'll have that negro back soon or i'll have 20 years agitation in illinois until the governor does have a legal and constitutional right to do something in the premises."
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wouldn't it be nice if politicians spoke like that today? lincoln knew he didn't have any legal legs to stand on. and he knew that new orleans and the state of louisiana had the law on their side. so what lincoln and herndon did is they drafted $60.30 out of the new york metropolitan bank and sent the funds from their springfield law office to benjamin jonas' office in new orleans. jonas paid the fine, and by early june, shelby's release occurred and he made his way safely back to springfield. john shelby thus became among the first african-americans ever freed by abraham lincoln. lincoln's affection for the
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jonas family determined he would take action as much for them as for shelby himself. lincoln regarded abraham jonas, and i quote lincoln, one of my valuable and trusted friends, unquote. and their friendship dated back to the 1830s. lincoln never forgot nor did he minimize the role in his person development that his experiences in the port of new orleans and those as a flatboat operator played. many times when he was on the campaign trail, lincoln would portray his flatboat voyages as an affirming dues paying experience, assuring anybody who would listen that he was a man of the people because he was of the people. it would astonish, if not amuse the older citizens in the county, said lincoln on a
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campaign trail, who 12 years ago knew me as a strange, friendless, uneducated penniless boy working on a flat boat at $10 per month to learn that i have been put down here as a candidate of pride, wealth, and aristocratic family distinction. i can assure you, i am not an aristocrat, unquote. 20 years later, lincoln returned to the same theme. free society is such that a poor man knows he could better his condition. he knows there's no fixed condition of his labor for his whole life. i am not ashamed to confess that 25 years ago i was a hired laborer, mauling rails at work on a flat boat, just what might happen to any poor man's son, unquote. on a personal and little-known episode in lincoln's life, he became friends with the reverend
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lars paul esborn, who was a professor at illinois university, a lutheran school in springfield. lincoln's oldest son robert attended some of his classes. lincoln frequently called on the professor to discuss his son's studies. and this is sometimes reminds me all too frequently of the classes that i've had over a number of years. robert wasn't at that time an enthusiastic student. he needed to be motivated, and i can relate to that, i assure you. lincoln served on the board of the directors of the school. esbjorn had experience as a member of the city council in illinois. he was an outspoken opponent of strong drink and slavery, and lincoln took a liking to him since they shared similar
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political beliefs. esjorn became a loyal and consistent supporter of lincoln both in the press and on the stump. his sons enlisted in the union army with one of them being the first swedish soldier to fall in ballots during the american civil war. but before we start patting lincoln on the back, we need to realize like so many in the mid 19th century, lincoln's philosophy about immigrants was far more complicated than merely that which pertained to a labor economy -- free labor economy. abraham lincoln was a product of his times and of his environment. despite whatever economic advantages immigrants might represent, many men of his era saw ethnic group, immigrant groups monolithically, whether irish, german or swedish.
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they saw the immigrants as all the same and painted them with a very, very broad brush. to his credit, lincoln tended to perceive each individual and each group as distinctive in its own right, because he saw the diversity, the value in diversity of these groups, he did not assign them as foreigners or savages. his relationship with different individuals of different ethnicities as well as groups many times was as inconsistent as the man himself. like most westerners, lincoln had a low opinion of latin american civilization, and his references to hispanics were never very flattering. in this debate with steven douglas at galesburg, illinois, lincoln attacked the concept that steven douglas believed in so fervently, popular sovereignty.
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douglas' notion that people in a territory should decide for themselves whether they wanted slavery. lincoln asked a hypothetical question as to whether douglas would apply the doctrine of popular sovereignty in an acquisition like mexico, where the inhabitants were nonwhite. when we shall get mexico, lincoln asserted, i don't know whether judge douglas will be in favor of the mexican people, because we know that the judge has a great horror for mongrels, and i understand that the people of mexico are most decidedly a race of mongrels, unquote. lincoln continued by explaining i understand that there's not more than one person there out of eight who is pure white. and i suppose from the judge's declaration that when we get mexico or any considerable portion of it, that he will be in favor of these mongrels
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settling the question. that would bring him somewhat in collision with his horror of an inferior race, unquote. even if you make allowance for the fact that some of these comments occurred by abraham lincoln in a hotly contested debate in which there was a great deal of race baiting, lincoln still used derogatory comments about hispanics when apparently there wasn't any motive. in describing cubans, lincoln pulled no punches. their butchery was, as it seemed to me, lincoln said in 1852, most unnecessary and inhuman. they were fighting against one of the worst governments in the world, the spanish. but the fault was that the real people of cuba had not asked for their assistance, were neither desirous of it nor fit for it or civil liberty, unquote.
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later in another speech ex-tolling the brilliance of young america and comparing it with old fogy countries -- i got to tell you, the older i get, the less i like that phrase old fogy, you know what? abe's going have to work on that. that's all there is to it. he's going to have to work on that. lincoln concluded -- but for the difference in the habit of observation, why did yankees almost instantly discover gold in california, which would been trodden upon and overlooked by indians and mexican greezers for centuries, unquote. yes, it was in this same speech that abraham lincoln made one of his fuse remarks about people of asia. the non-white group with whom he had the least acquaintance and the least opportunity to think about. for one who had never been to
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asia or arguably for that matter, as i her mentioned, outside the united states, lincoln prejudicially claimed that intellectual curiosity and scientific progress was the exclusive domain of the western world. he recognized that asia was the birthplace of, quote, the human family, and he concluded that asians like african-americans were indeed human beings. but he believed that asia was an ancient, crumbling civilization whose time had long passed. the human family originated as is thought, somewhere in asia, lincoln said, and have worked their way principally westward. just now in civilization, and in the arts, the people of asia are entirely behind those of europe. those of the east of europe behind those of the west of it, while we here in america think we discover and invent and
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improve faster than any of them, unquote. i think maybe when he said that lincoln recognized he was on a bit of thin ice, because he said -- they may think thinks this is arrogance, but they cannot deny that russia has called on us to show her how to build steamboats and railroads, while in other parts of asia they scarcely know that such things as steamboats and railroads exist. in anciently inhabited countries, the dust of ages, a real downright old fogey-ism. there he is using that damn word again -- seems to settle on and smother the intellectual energies of man. while neither respecting nor appreciating the culture of asia or latin america, lincoln like many 19th century nationalists pandered to his audience by
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emphasizing the attributes and virtues of the united states. at the expense of degrading other people, it was lincoln's intention to convince his fellow countrymen that their nation would be next on the great stage of history. it was a successful strategy to flatter voters into thinking about the ascent into national prominence, but lincoln did put his money where his mouth was. and just recently it was discovered that during his one term as a member of the house of representatives, he, like many other americans contributed $10 -- which is roughly $500 in today's money to the irish relief fund during the great famine. maybe this was because lincoln's first teacher in harlan county, kentucky had been of irish descent. master zachariah rhiny was
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described as man of excellent character, deep piety and fair education. he had been reared a catholic, but made no attempt to proselytize. and the great president always mentioned him in terms of grateful respect, wrote one of lincoln's early biographers. whether rhiny left a lasting impression on lincoln or not, lincoln was always interested in irish culture. he knew and recited robert emmitt's speech from the dock by memory. especially the closing words. when my country takes her place among the nations of the earth, then and not till then, let my epitaph be written i have done, unquote. lincoln's favorite balance was helen selena, lady durham's poem, the lament of the irish immigrant, set to music.
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many of lincoln's quips also as a politician often resorted to irish analogies. sometimes they were caustic, and perhaps a bit insulting to make a point. his first reported jibe about a poor irishman comes from one of his congressional speeches on the need for sensible improvements when he described an irishman who had a pair of new boots. quoting lincoln -- i shall never get him on, said patrick, until i wear 'em a day or two and stretch them out a bit, unquote. late in the war, an observer recalled that lincoln said "there was a cabinet meeting in the afternoon. general grant who had just returned gave a very interesting account of the state of the south and the good feeling manifested by the officers of the confederate army.
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they all said they were ready to lay down their guns and go home clothe. and then lincoln said is, "some of you just said something about hunting up old jeff davis. well, i for one hope he would be like paddy's flea. hen they get their fingers on him, he just wouldn't be there." this comment was quite consistent with lincoln's desire to avoid show trials or any kind of punitive commissions. he wanted reconciliation, and lincoln often used jokes, many times ethnic ones, to soften a message of mercy, or to conceal a willful blindness to past wrongs. these jests comparatively speaking to his contemporaries were not very racist or harsh. and they show an awareness for the poor man's plight, chiding him mildly for his poverty and for his traditions.
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doubtless in that day nearly everyone, most especially poor immigrants understood the problems of fleas and ill-fitting footwear. lincoln when we he became a member of the republican party vastly opposed anything that the know nothings stood for. any attempt to change naturalization laws abraham lincoln opposed. he advocated that a full and efficient protection of the rights of all classes of citizens, whether native or naturalized both at home and abroad be guaranteed. throughout his life there was no group closer to him than the germans. they supported him from the very, very beginning and actively participated in his campaigns. lincoln enjoyed the germans, and he enjoyed their culture.
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on the way to cincinnati, as president-elect, he stopped one night and he was in his hotel room when outside a group of german workingmen came to serenade him. one observer wrote mr. lincoln had put off the melancholy mood that appeared to control him during the day. and he was entertaining those germans present with genial, even lively conversation. lincoln went to his balcony to find nearly 2,000 more of the substantial german citizens who had voted for him because they believed him to be a stout champion of free labor and free homestead. the germans like abraham lincoln. they concluded by saying if you ever need us, we stand ready to risk our lives in the effort to maintain the victory that you now seek over slavery. it would soon prove that the
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when the war came, the germans surely delivered on their promise. lincoln understood immigrants. as a lawyer practicing land law at times and a politician representing a rural district, he had to pay attention to the national debate over the future of public lands. to the issues linked to real estate taxes, to the relationship between town and country, and to the importance of the foreign-born as their presence increased in the american labor force. lincoln knew firsthand what it meant to be poor and he knew firsthand what america represented as a land of opportunity. where somebody could rise to become president of the united states. and so his commitment to the american dream, as lincoln liked to think of it, existed his entire political life.
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lincoln possessed an enormous amount of sympathy for the, quote, the many poor, as he called him, since he himself had lon been one. his compassion materialized into a full-blown political ideology that lincoln carried into the white house. he believed the civil war would represent as opportunity, but the war drastically reduced the number of immigrants. and at first the lincoln administration attempted to meet the difficulty through unofficial state department efforts. but lincoln knew that wasn't sufficient. so by the end of 1863, he asked congress for assistance. in his annual message to congress in december of 1863, he spoke of immigrants as, and i quote, a source of national wealth. tens of thousands of persons
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destitute over remoontive operation desire to come to america, but they needed assistance to do so. he asked congress to pass a bill, and congress responded on july 4th, 1864 with the first, last, and only time america passed a law to encourage immigration. lincoln's act to encourage immigration was a signature piece of legislation that many of you who i know have been familiar during the sesquicentennial of the civil war where everything was celebrated went by without a single moment's attention. lincoln knew that immigrants played a major role in the building of industrial america. and to his dying day he related to the immigrant in a manner that few of his contemporaries would or could. he told an amusing story about being poor and being able to
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relate to immigrants. once again, he went back to his flat boat voyage. $8 a month he earned, and he owned one pair of buck skin breeches. now, if you know the nature of buck skin, when wet and dried in the sun is, it will shrink. my breeches kept shrinking until they left several inches of my legislation bare between the tops of my socks and the lower part of my breeches. whilst i was growing taller, they were becoming shorter, and so much tighter that they left a blue streak around my legs that could be seen to this day. if you call this aristocracy, i plead guilty to the charge. to lincoln, america was the land of opportunity. and he welcomed immigrants to the shores long before the words were immortalized on the statue
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of liberty by emma lazarus. to lincoln, the son of a poor farmer, barely literal, to rise to the presidency meant that anybody with a chance, with self-determination and self-motivation could rise as he had. lincoln often spoke about his past. but he also spoke about the future. the act to encourage immigration was passed. lincoln did not live to see the attack on it. by politicians, and by labor union leaders, who had it all but repealed by 1868. first, last and only law in american history encouraging immigrants.
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this is a time to think about abraham lincoln. this is a period in american history to understand abraham lincoln and recognize what he stood for. oftentimes when he was in the telegraph office, pacing or pondering and driving the awestruck soldiers serving there crazy with news, at the end of the day with the shawl around him when he stood up, he would say, well, boys, i am down to the raisins, which meant he had completed his task. i think i'm down to the raisins right now. and i would like to thank each and every one of you for being such a wonderfully attentive audience. it was a great honor to address the group of the lincoln group. thank you so much. [ applause ] >> sure.
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>> anyone have questions for our speaker? >> how would lincoln approach the know nothing voters during the 1860 campaign? did he denounce them or they're remember probates or try to win them over to the republican cause or how did he finesse all that? >> that's a very good question. he was asked on a number of indications what is your strategy? how do you want to recognize these people? he said i will welcome the know nothing if they will accept in its entirety the republican platform, which does not include exclusion. so when lincoln's people went out and campaigned, and somebody would say well, what does your boy think about immigration, lincoln instructed them to tell them that there will be no prejudice at all based on immigration and ethnicity, and they're more than welcome to vote for the republican ticket, meaning him, but they should not expect that naturalization laws will be increased.
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they should not expect that there is going to be any one group preferable for the other. and if he had his way, they should expect there to be some significant encouragement of immigrants to fulfill the labor shortage that the civil war created. so he did not turn anybody away, but he made it abundantly clear that if you vote republican and you enter the republican party, you enter a republican party on the basis of our platform, not yours. yes, sir? >> i'm glad you brought up -- thank you. glad you brought up the german american -- the german community. isn't it true, i think this was in harold hallser's book, that he actually bought a german newspaper. >> very good question. >> in order to get the german vote. >> lincoln was -- superb question. lincoln was a spligs. and in lincoln's defense, i don't use that in the kind of nasty sense that i would describe somebody today as a
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politician. but lincoln understood. and there was a german newspaper -- several german newspapers in illinois at the time. one of them was going bankrupt. the editor of the newspaper was a man by the editor of the newspaper was a man by the name of theodore, and lincoln said to him, i'll tell you what, i will buy the press, i'll buy the machinery, i'll buy everything and you can continue your newspaper along the lines of what you just asked me, you can continue your newspaper in german as long as you don't violate one aspect of the republican party platform. and so consequently, the transaction was struck and theodore, who liked abraham lincoln, in fact, would ultimately have a diplomatic position. published the newspaper and basically it was a republican outreach to the german population in and around springfield, illinois, designed so they could read in their native language that abraham lincoln was the proper candidate and they would get what they
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needed from abraham lincoln. the sad part about all of this is, not one single issue of that newspaper exists. nobody has found a single issue of that newspaper. wrilt yes, ma'am? >> thank you for this wonderful, i guess you call it an address. did lincoln ever meet any asian people? >> as a matter of fact, he did. not many, not many, but he met two young men over the course of five, i guess, maybe five or six years, who had come to the united states, settled in the san francisco area, made their way eastward, and became part of
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a congressional group that came to the white house to meet abraham lincoln, but that was the extent of it, the only extent was a short conversation. so basically his comments about asia was based on very little experience and virtually no firsthand knowledge. the interesting thing about lincoln, you've got to recognize him, warts and all, so consequently in his era, he was enlightened and progressive, but he had a few blind spots and the quotes i read to you tonight indicated that. any of these groups of immigrants in their language? i know mary todd spoke french.
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did lincoln ever speak french? >> no, he didn't, but it's an excellent question because he knew a number of the germans, they actually encouraged him to sit in on a class to learn the german language, so lincoln learned a couple three, four words and a phrase. and what he liked to say to somebody who was fluent in german, most of the people, accounts that i read with him, said he liked to tell stories more than he liked to listen and learn german. >> did lincoln have any platforms or profound thoughts about native americans? >> you know, that's a superb question. when i first started my book about five, six years ago, i was going to include them. but then i thought, wow, okay.
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that really broadens the topic. because native americans are not immigrants. and now you're talking about that fine line between race and ethnicity. it depends on who you ask. there are some people who will tell you that abraham lincoln was as prejudiced toward indians as any westerner would have been, and participated in the execution of a number of indians in minnesota. on the other hand, if you take the other side, they would say that he reviewed each case individually, reduced the number of those scheduled for execution by two-thirds, and consequently saved a number of indians. so it really -- it's kind of like everything with abraham lincoln. it depends on what side of the fence that you were on.
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but if you're asking me have i ever come across anything in which he said that native americans were part of this american dream and should be given jobs, no. not at all. i think in that regard, lincoln was a westerner. but his short military experience in the black hawk war where he said on a number of occasions the only blood that was shed was because he was bitten by mosquitos, he saved an elderly indian from being shot by one of his fellow soldiers because lincoln could not face the fact that he would just be executed because he was an american indian. my personal opinion is, lincoln had a good gyroscope. deep down inside i think he had probably much more compassion for his fellow man and woman of all races and ethnicities than
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virtually anybody in his era. but one thing i caution my students about for years and years, and i think some professional historians need to be cautioned about this as well, that is, it is very unfair to evaluate abraham lincoln by 2016 standards. if you went up to abraham lincoln and said you were a racist, he wouldn't even know what that word was. so if you suffer from presentism, meaning you evaluate a historical character on the basis of what we now know today, you're doing everybody a disservice, including yourself. so i feel pretty comfortable standing with the belief that lincoln was as enlightened a human being as possible that came from the west in the middle of the 19th century. >> all right. i'll ask. relating lincoln's policies to
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what seem to be republican platforms today with regard to immigration, isn't it fair to equate them? >> no. >> okay. >> no. i'm glad you asked me that and i'm glad this is on television, too. so there will be no mistake about what i think about this. i think lincoln would have fits with the republican party. i don't think he'd recognize it as his republican party. i don't think abraham lincoln -- and this, you know -- i tell my students on an ongoing basis, because i obviously, in south carolina, i come from a red state. and so whether it's red or blue, republican or democrat, i tell my students, with a great deal of sincerity, that i hate them all. i have no use for politicians in that sense, which was lincoln wasn't.
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but lincoln would not be able to relate to a giant wall that was being built. he would not be able to relate to the deportation or the punitive measures taken against any group because of who they are. lincoln had this extraordinary ability to look at people as individuals and not form these incredibly broad generalizations and act on them. now as a westerner, those broad generalizations might filter into his vocabulary. but take the comments about asians. were lincoln alive in the 1880s, i can't even imagine that he would have participated in the chinese exclusion law. i can't. that just wasn't him. so for people to latch on to abraham lincoln today, it sort of saddens me a little bit that they don't understand abraham lincoln and they misuse a great deal of what he said and how he said it. there was a very famous
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"newsweek" editorial. i believe it was written back when i was an undergraduate in the stone age. the title of it was "getting right with lincoln." and basically what it was, was how every president -- this was during nixon and watergate and the vietnam war, how every president, including nixon, tried to get right with lincoln. that's what i think people do today. they try to get right with lincoln. but the republican party of today i don't think lincoln would be able to relate to or identify at all. i also think -- and lincoln knew some dirty politics. i mean, you know, they were in the angels back then. the lincoln/douglas debates were pretty brutal. lincoln was a politician so he knew how to get beaten up in everything. but were he alive and witnessing some of what has happened in this presidential campaign season, i think he would be just appalled.
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i really do. and i don't think he would be able to support anything about exclusion of immigrants just because of who they are. >> thank you, professor. >> oh, wow. thank you so much. thank you so much. book tv on c-span2. 48 hours of non-fiction books and authors every weekend. here are some featured programs this weekend. at saturday at noon eastern, the 18th annual harlem book fair.
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it's the largest african-american book fair and the premier black literary event in harlem. our subject includes black writers and the state of literature, diversity and book publishing. a panel of discussion, and author eddie glaud discussing his book, "democracy in black: a race still in slaves the american soul." at 10:00 p.m. eastern saturday, afterwards, eric fair, author of "consequence: a memoir," talks about his experience as an interrogator in iraq. he's interviewed by the director of national security advocacy for human rights first. >> there was a great deal of nudity, it was cold, it was december, and the image of a number of men chained to their cell doors with their hands down between their legs, which was essentially forced standing, which was an enhanced technique.
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i can tell you, seeing someone in a forced standing position has nothing to do with standing at a standing desk. it was torture. >> sunday night at 10:00 p.m. eastern, fdr and churchill's strained relationship during world war ii is the subject of "commander in chief." it examines the military and tactical illustrations between franklin d. roosevelt and british prime minister winston churchill. go to for the complete weekend schedule. coming up next on "the presidency," washington post journalist bob woodward reflects on abraham lincoln's legacy and how it's affected a number of his successors. this is part of a lincoln lecture series at the university of illinois college of law, which focuses on president
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lincoln's continuing relevance 150 years after his death. this is about an hour. >> >> my name is vic amar, and i am the dean at the college of law here at the university of illinois urbana-champaign. on behalf of the law school and the entire university, i am pleased to welcome you here to the beautiful auditorium for the first lecture in a new series hosted by the college of law entitled "the new lincoln lectures: what lincoln means in the 21st century." during this series we will over the next few years bring in ten or so ideologically diverse national thought leaders to reflect openly on lincoln's legacy and his continuing relevance 150 years after his passing. as i said when i introduced our
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inaugural lecturer bob woodward in january, the law school has chosen to focus these lectures on abraham lincoln in part because lincoln is undeniably among the greatest lawyers in america's history. the fact that he assumed many other important roles, president, legislator, military strategist, newspaper owner, et cetera. but at his core he was a lawyer, a constitutional lawyer, who, to our collective good fortune, was there when the nation most needed someone who understand and preserve the supreme law of the land so that, as he put it, government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from this earth. another easy question -- why focus on lincoln now, a century and a half after his death? many of the themes of lincoln's life and his life's work -- treatment of race and non-citizenship, the relationship between the national government and the states, scope of executive power, among others, dominate discourse today nearly as much as in lincoln's era. what is more, we are literally
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in the midst of a presidency of another tall, skinny illinoisan whose very political ascent would likely not be possible without lincoln. president obama twice carried essentially the same states that lincoln did, and, as was true after lincoln's death, there are big questions nowadays about whether that coalition can endure to transfer power to a key aide to the twice-elected president. in the 19th century, illinois resident ulysses s. grant. and today the illinois-born hillary clinton. these mentions of illinois raise a third also easily answered question -- why here? in a real sense, the university of illinois, located between springfield and chicago, is mr. lincoln's university. as we in champaign-urbana prepare to celebrate our own sesquicentennial next year, we


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