In defence of Lincoln
I enjoy Lucy Worsley’s programmes – a refreshing blend of knowledge, informality and a willingness to ‘ have a go’ at things. So I was surprised that she chose to ‘ have a go’ at Lincoln ( Lincoln and Slavery, November), using a ‘soundbite’ cropped from a letter and thus not only mutilated but taken out of context.
I include longer excerpts from the letter, written by Lincoln to Horace Greeley in 1862, here: “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. 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… I have here stated my purpose according to my view of official duty; and I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men every where could be free.”
I believe that Lucy Worsley has misrepresented this intention in the piece. Indeed, so widely was this desire known that, upon Lincoln’s election as president – before he had even assumed office – a series of slave states rushed to
secede, explaining their intention to protect slavery in their secession proclamations.
Lincoln fulfilled his desire through the Thirteenth Amendment outlawing slavery, piloted by him through Senate and House by January 1865. He was certainly not the closet racist, careless of slavery, that the article appears to suggest. Richard Samuels, East Sussex
Lucy Worsley replies: What intrigues me about this response is Richard Samuels’ desire to believe that Lincoln was “certainly not” a racist.
My point was that, though it would be easier and neater and more satisfying for us today to believe that racial equality was at the top of Lincoln’s agenda as a politician, that was far from the truth – a point that the longer extract proves even better.
I’m also intrigued by the defensive response you get whenever you question the motives of the Great White Men of American history. I believe that the US is still caught up in a dangerous cult of hero-worship for its Great White Men, from the Founding Fathers on. And if we’re not allowed to critique them, then we’re not allowed to critique their legacy.
Is the America they created really – as billed – a land where “all men are created equal”? Where everyone – black and white, women and men – gets treated with equal respect? Personally, I have my doubts.
War of words
Am I the only person upset that the title of the new Peter Jackson film, They Shall Not Grow Old, is an incorrect quote from Laurence Binyon’s poem? It should read: “They shall grow not old.” The DVD has gone out to all schools and will have been seen by millions on the BBC. Generations will now know only the film title.
The film is unbelievably good, and a fitting tribute to all those involved in the First World War – but I can’t forgive the misquote. Christine Johnston, Dundee
A ground pangolin in South Africa. This is among the species threatened by hunting to supply the Chinese folk medicine market
US president Abraham Lincoln visits Union troops in Maryland in 1862. His aim in fighting the American Civil War was to save the Union, not to free slaves, says Lucy Worsley