What Abraham Lincoln Taught
Ethelbert Barksdale

The object of this paper is to fix the responsibility of "reconstruction" and its disastrous consequences, where they belong, not to extol the intelligent and honest rule of the white race. An estimate of what the State suffered by the alien and negro rule resulting from the plan of reconstruction unwisely and needlessly enforced, can be formed by contrasing the losses on the one hand, with the gains on the other.


In clothing the negro with the weighty responsibilities of government when he was utterly unfit for them, the authors of the measure acted not only in defiance of all the lessons of history, but of the teachings of the statesman whom they professed to revere above all others. In his letter of March 13th, 1864, to Michael Hahn, of Louisiana, President Lincoln wrote: "You are about to have a convention, which will probably define the elective franchise. I have a suggestion for your private consideration, whether some of the colored people may not be let in, as, for instance, the very intelligent, and those who have fought gallantly in our ranks . . . But this is only a suggestion," etc., etc.

Mr. Lincoln, it will be seen, was not even clear in the opinion that even the "very intelligent negro," and the negro who had fought "gallantly" for his freedom, should be allowed to vote. He could not have tolerated the plan of admitting to suffrage the entire mass of ignorance and total incompetency as provided in the plan of "reconstruction." This is in accord with the well-matured opinion he had previously declared on the subject of negro capacity for self-government. In 1858, he said: "I am not, and have never been, in favor of bringing about, in any form, the social and political equality of the white and the black races. There is a physical difference which forbids them from living together on terms of social and political 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 whites."

Thus spoke Abraham Lincoln. But in the plan of "reconstruction" forced upon the Southern States, the doctrine which he declared was reversed, so far as it applied to Mississippi and other Southern States in which there was a majority of the "inferior" race.

Nor could the illustrious prophet of Republicanism have tolerated the plan of turning the Southern States over to


who, taking advantage of their positions, secured their election to office, as in the case of General Ames. In a letter to G. F. Shipley, in relation to the Government of Louisiana, dated November 21st, 1862, Mr. Lincoln wrote: -

"Mr. Kennedy has some apprehensions that federal officers, not citizens of Louisiana, may run as candidates for Congress in that State. In my view, there would be no possible object in such a course. . . . What we want is conclusive evidence that respectable citizens of Louisiana are willing to serve as members of congress, and to swear to support the Constitution, and that other respectable citizens are willing to vote for them. To send a parcel of Northern men here as Representatives, elected, as it would be understood, and prehaps really so, at the point of the bayonet, would be disgraceful and outrageous."

Directly opposed to these common-sense ideas of Abraham Lincoln was the policy of "reconstruction" devised and enforced after his death. It was even worse. It was a combination of the two objectionable elements which he described - the negro and the carpet-bagger. We have seen that, under the government of Mississippi succeeding the provisional administration of Governor Sharkey, "respectable citizens" were elected to Congress, "willing to serve, and to swear to support the Constitution," by "other respectable citizens," and were not admitted. Under the mongrel system eventually adopted, "federal officers, not citizens," and "a parcel of Northern men," who had come as adventurers, were elected by the negro majority and admitted as Representatives and Senators. With language aptly applied, President Lincoln characterized such proceedings as "disgraceful and outrageous." Such men were not only sent to represent Mississippi in the national councils, but they were deputed to unite with the negroes to seize the State government, and to have and to hold it for all time. No wonder Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, one of the founders of the anti-slavery party, referring to the overthrow of a similar conspiracy in another Southern State, indignantly proclaimed that it "was sheer madness to place the government of the State in the hands of ignorant negroes and vile carpet-baggers." Said Mr. Beecher, "There never was such a system of taxation and general government. . . . Just consider the state of things! The South has sunk all its property in a war that had been bravely fought. Its young men were decimated, but they set themselves honestly and sublimely to work. They endured nobly. The class that was suffering all these ills found itself suddenly governed by a majority that a little while ago were slaves. There never was such a subversion in the history of the white people. It was monstrous!"


In assigning to the negro a part which he was wholly unprepared to perform, and which he could not undertake without bringing calamity upon himself, as well as the whites, the parties to the plot acted not only in defiance of the admonition of their idolized statesman, but of the warnings of history with its "philosophy teaching by example." The learned English historian, Allison, in describing the experiments of negro rule in the West Indies, says, it has demonstrated that the negro "does not possess the qualities requisite to erect a fabric of civilized freedom." Mackenzie, in his work on St. Domingo, says, that "it is impossible to arrive at any other conclusion but that in the qualities requisite to create and perpetuate civilization, the African is decidely inferior to the European race, and if any doubt could exist on this subject, it would be removed by the subsequent history, and present state of the Haytien government." Sir Spencer St. John, formerly English minister resident at Hayti, in giving the result of his observations after personlly knowing the Haytien Republic for twenty-five years, says:

"I know what the black man is, and I have no hesitiation in declaring that he is incapable of the art of government, and that to entrust him with framing and working the laws for our (the English) islands (West Indies) is to condmen those islands to inevitable ruin. What the negro may become after centuries of civilized education, I cannot tell, but what I know is, he is not fit to govern now." "In spite," he says "of all civilizing elements around the Haytiens, there is a distinct tendency to sink into the state of an African tribe." After ninety years of trial, the negro government of Hayti is a mockery in which every form of tyranny and vice is blended, instead of progressing towards a higher civilization the negroes, he says, "are in a state of rapid decadence." He quotes from another eminent historian of close observation, James Anthony Froude, the declaration, that in the negro Republic of Hayti, "there lies active and alive, the horrible revival of the West African superstition, the serpent worship, the child sacrifice, and the cannibalism." In his work, "The English in the West Indies," written after he had visited the Islands and investigated carefully, in order to form corect conclusions as to negro capacity for self-government, he endorses the opinion of Sir Spencer St. John, and says:

"If for the sake of theory and to shirk responsibility these (negro) islands are left to govern themselves, the state of Hayti stands as a ghastly example of the condition in which they will inevitably fall. If we (the English) persist, we shall be sinning against light - the clearest light that was ever given in such affairs." He adds:

"One does not grudge the black man his property, his freedom, his opportunity of advancing himself; one would wish him as free and prosperous as the fates, and his own exertions can make him, with more and more means of raising himself to the white man's level. But left to himself and without the white man to lead him, he can never reach it . . . We have a population to deal with, the majority of whom are an inferior race. Inferior, I am obliged to call them, because as yet they have shown no capacity to rise above the condition of their ancestors, except under European laws, European education, and European authority to keep them from war upon one another. . . . Give them independence, and in a few generations they will peel off such civilization as they have as easily and as willingly as their coats and trousers."


It was to this same inferior race comprising a large majority of the whole people that the authors of the "reconstruction" policy, wickedly but, under an over-ruling Providence, vainly endeavored to commit the destinies of Mississippi. It is reasonable to infer that upon the ordinary questions of governmental policy the white people of the state would have differed and ranged themselves under the opposing political banners, but when the "race issue," with its consequences of life and death to their liberty and civilization, was needlessly and cruelly thrust upon them, they were forced into a solid, compact organization in obedience to the higher law of self-preservation which God in His wisdom has instituted; and this organization they will maintain so long as the cause which made it inevitable remains.

Candor requires that this should be said. A part of the "reconstruction" plan has expended its force. Other parts having been engrafted upon the Constitution of the United States, have remained to plague not the inventor only, but both the white and the negro races in the South. The blunder must now be clear to the authors themselves. It is not the purpose of the writer to ask them to retrace their steps and undo their folly, but may we not hope that under the influence of the sober, second thought, they will permit us to control our domestic affairs as nominated in the bond of union as it now stands, according to our own judgment, and to take care of ourselves as best we may.

Jackson, Mississippi, March 10th, 1890.


Why the Solid South? or, Reconstruction and Its Results compiled by Hilary A. Herbert
R. H. Woodward & Company, Baltimore, 1890, pages 343-348