Document Type


Publication Date

Summer 2010

Department 1

Civil War Era Studies

Department 2



The reputation of Abraham Lincoln has see-sawed over the last half-century on the fulcrum of race, and the results have not been happy for that reputation. As Gerald Prokopowicz has written, "the big question" about Lincoln and slavery runs today like this: "Was Lincoln really the Great Emancipator that we have traditionally been brought up to admire, or was he just a clever, lying, racist, white male politician who had no interest in the well-being of black America other than when it served his political interests?" No longer is it necessary, as one historian has wryly remarked, for politicians to "get right with Lincoln." Historians now yearn to "get right" with Frederick Douglass, and to judge by the recent freshet of literature on Lincoln and Douglass, it is now incumbent on Lincoln to be gotten right with Frederick Douglass, too. One of the most damaging accusations leveled against the possibility of justifying Lincoln on race appears in Lerone Bennett's infamous screen, Forced into Glory: Abraham Lincoln's White Dream, where, as the finale to a battery of accusations of racism, Bennett's Lincoln "personally ordered Union officers to return runaway slaves to slavemasters" and turned a blind eye to "Kentuckians, for example," who "were selling and reenslaving African-Americans freed by the war and congressional acts." [excerpt]


Jerrica A. Giles received her undergraduate degree from Siena College in 2009 and attended the Gettysburg Semester program at Gettysburg College. This paper is an edited version of Dr. Allen C. Guelzo's Frank L. Klement Lecture at Marquette University.

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