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I've really wrestled with this—but I'm sharing this deeply disappointing interview with James M. McPherson, because I think it's important to read and understand its huge academic shortcoming and blindspots. McPherson profoundly misreads #1619Project. wsws.org/en/articles/20…
I say this as: 1. someone with a (largely unused) PhD with a specialization in Civil War print culture, and 2. someone who has found McPherson's Civil War research to be mostly insightful and thorough. But this LONG interview is disturbingly un-informed and ill-considered.
Most of all, McPherson repeatedly equates abolitionism with racial egalitarianism—and that is, quite obviously, a crazy thing to do. Most of the major players in the abolitionist movement had a stated belief in black inferiority.
This really isn't—or shouldn't be—a controversial viewpoint. And this isn't about cherry-picking individual lines from speeches or correspondence, as McPherson suggests. It about having enough historical clarity to evaluate post-slavery worlds envisioned by abolitionists.
If you look at the Secret Six and their circle, for example, the anti-slavery radicals who bankrolled John Brown, almost none of them advocated for equal rights for formerly enslaved people. In fact, some advocated forced mass expatriation to countries such as Haiti.
They weren't envisioning a multi-racial America, much less one of racial egalitarianism. And those who did foresee such a future envisioned it based entirely on their own timetable and according to standards set by them.
McPherson's blinkered view shows up most clearly here: "[Lincoln] came out in favor of qualified suffrage for freed slaves, those who could pass a literacy test and those who were veterans of the Union army." This is an old trope: Lincoln wanted black suffrage & Booth killed him.
In fact, Lincoln did not say "literacy" (which would have been problematic enough) and "veterans." He said he wanted to confer the vote "on the very intelligent, and on those who serve our cause as soldiers." Any way you look at it: that's not an equal right to vote.
If your view is not for equal rights and opportunity, then you're for a caste system based on race. And that is the point of the #1619Project—to demonstrate that rights have not been granted to African Americans by whites; they have been fought for and won by African Americans.
That's what @nhannahjones means, I think, when she writes: "Black Americans have also been, and continue to be, foundational to the idea of American freedom... It is we who have been the perfecters of this democracy." Please read. nytimes.com/interactive/20…
@nhannahjones I see that, while I've been tweeting, @nhannahjones has been offering her own response to McPherson's interview. Obviously... Read that!
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