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tv   Jonathan White A House Built by Slaves  CSPAN  June 29, 2022 4:33am-5:34am EDT

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good afternoon, and welcome to a house divided coming to you from abraham lincoln book shop in chicago if it's on our shelves, it's history. my name is bjorn scapton and i will be the host for today's
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episode of a house divided. and we will be discussing a house built by slaves with the author of that fine book professor jonathan w white and will be talking with john in just a moment here. this program is coming to you from abraham lincoln book shop in chicago. we are a retail bookshop in independent bookshop 83 years 83 years old now. independent antiquarian bookshop. we specialize in american history and specifically that means books about the life and presidency. of abraham lincoln the us civil war and the us presidency we carry both old and new books antiquarian books that we sell on the second and market and new books like this one. you can get from abraham lincoln
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book shop. we also have many other historical artifacts you can get from us autographs photographs prints statuary. you see a couple of bus here there's teddy roosevelt. there's abraham lincoln by george bissell our website come and see us on the website. it's a lincoln book you will be able to see this author interview and other past interviews our youtube page. does that sound like i've blown the horn enough for abraham lincoln book shop. it's a great place. i have to say to visitors who've never been go to chicago and stop in. it's really an incredible store. thank you very much and and to put one more cap on it it isn't independent bookstore and if you can get your book. a house built by slaves if you want to order it from us, we'll send it to you with the signed book plate. but if you want john's book find it at your local independent bookstore, you know who i'm
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talking about someone in your neighborhood is selling this book to you. all right, john, let's talk about a house built by slaves african-american visitors to the lincoln white house. what made you want to look at abraham lincoln's white house visits with african americans um it and write book about that. yeah, so it started in 2014. i don't know why but for some reason in 2014. i started collecting letters from african americans to lincoln and i wanted to do a book that i was going to call emphatically the black man's president african-american correspondence and conversations with abraham lincoln and i realized very quickly that i had so many letters and so many conversations that were recorded between black men and women and lincoln that it was more than i could do in a single book and so in 2011 just a couple months
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ago. i published this book here to address you as my friend african americans letters to abraham lincoln with the university of north carolina, press i did the letters as one book and then i wanted to write a narrative history with the conversations. and so i took all of those and then turned it into a house built by slaves so you got two books two books that very much. i got it together out of it. that's yeah, you need both shelf. all right, so we are going to dive in to a detailed discussion of a house built by slaves in just a moment folks. but first i first i want to talk about something that happened to this week. it happened yesterday. and that is the annual announcement of the gilder larman lincoln prize and we are gonna bring that up here today because john has a particular
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interest in that prize. first of all the winner of the prize. i'm gonna share this with you right now is the book is ends of war the unfinished fight of lee's army after appomattox, and the prize winner is dr. caroline e janie and the author of ends of war and there you see a picture of the desk jacket caroline. janey was on this program in september when ends of war came out and we discussed it. so you can go back to the archives of this and watch the interviews with caroline janey on that book, but john white. you served on the jury for the great lerman lincoln prize. i'm right about that. yes this year and so the jury what did you think as a juror who has somebody who had some? say in the guilder-lehrman lincoln prize this year what made ends of war specialty you yeah ends of war is a
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beautifully written book. i i recommend it to everyone. it's it's a fantastic book and what carrie does is look at what those moments looked like after appomattox. i think we all sort of have in our mind the war came to an end and the soldiers went home and that was the end of it. and when you read her book what she does is she slows down the story and so instead of you know, lee surrenders to grant and the guys go home and then reconstruction gets underway. she slows it down and she traces the stories of these individual soldiers of the army of northern virginia who are having to make decisions about where to go how to get home. do i try to keep fighting do i surrender? do i get a parole? do i go somewhere other than home and the beauty of the book is we all know the end of the story, but when you read her book you forget for that little bit of time that you're reading it you forget that you know, the end of the story and you want to
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know what happens to these guys, and she doesn't only trace the stories of these men who serve in the army of northern virginia. she traces this stories of the people. they encounter white civilians african americans african americans who are on the confederate home front others who? and body servants for white confederate soldiers and so you see all of these different stories unfolding together and it paints a really complex and and different picture of what happened at the close of the civil war then i think we'd had prior to this book. i there were a lot of wonderful books and it's being on a jury is a really hard job. i've done it a couple times and you read wonderful books and you wish you could give a prize to many of them in this case carries book really stood out as saying something new in a new way and telling us something different about the civil war
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than we had known before right. i agree. i agree wholeheartedly and i do recommend ends of war the unfinished fight of lee's army after appomattox. please buy it with your copy of a house built by slaves. agree with that as well. thank you. yeah. yes. yeah. not right not to give people too many choices. okay house built by slaves john. i love this book. you may have noticed. i guess we're interacting on twitter the last couple days and i'm just been pouring through this book and i love it. and so the first thing that caught my eye is okay you clearly decided. okay. look let's look at all of the meetings of african american people abraham lincoln, but clearly you saw that that created that that boiled down into a number of different
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themes, right? he was to me that you've organized this thematically different people meet him for different reasons and have different interactions with him context means a lot. so tell me a little bit about how these themes play out in the book. what are some of the themes he talked about? yeah, so the the book follows a quasi chronological and also thematic approach and so some of the chapters deal with things like people who come to the white house and they want to give gifts to abraham lincoln. they're grateful for what he's done during the war towards saving the union and freeing the slaves and so they want to show their grat their gratitude to him some of them one of the themes has to do with christian ministers who want money for their ministries and they go to lincoln seeing if he can support them either financially or by giving them passes to travel through the lines to be able to go into the south and so that they can minister to former
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slaves some of them have to do with black recruitment. whether it's soldier, it's men in the north who want to fight or men in the north who want to be recruiters for black. soldiers and then after black men joined the union army some people go to the white house to push lincoln to make sure that black soldiers get equality and on that point another chapter focuses on three delegations of african-americans who travel from the south to push lincoln to support black suffrage and so one of the things that you can see, is that the themes kind of change over time as new issues arise in the war. there's different themes that i i was able to focus chapters on yeah, i i noticed that and i found it very i found it very intriguing in that there are different reasons why people visit with him and so it's going to be for different reasons. starting with okay you spent a lot of time collecting these
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letters, right? mm-hmm. is that means you bring a lot of new primary source information to the to the we started with at least one well several published sources, but one crucial published sources source that to begin with was everybody's source about lincoln. and african-americans in the white house, and that's the story of elizabeth keckley and in the story she told with behind the scenes behind and behind the scenes. yeah behind the scenes was something else that was awful. right? i was gonna say there was that parody? yes. there's that horrible parody, right but behind the scenes so how has lincoln through keckley's eyes. affected lincoln historiography. maybe that's a starting point for what we came to the book thinking lincoln's interactions with one to one interactions. just african americans was about
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keckley paints a really intimate portrait of the lincoln white house. she is there in some pivotal moments. she is there on the day of lincoln's second inauguration. she is there in the room right after willie dies in february of 1862 and so keckley gives us real insight into how lincoln responded to some very important moments in his personal life and in his presidency, and i think your question gets it something that is really true. there are a few individuals or moments that have been very well known in terms of lincoln's interactions with african american. so the black delegation in august of 1862, which dealt with colonization frederick douglasses. meetings with lincoln sojourner truth beyond that and then keckley of course beyond that i think we haven't really known that much about lincoln's interactions with with african
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americans. and so i used those very famous meetings in some ways as you said is starting points. i start with some discussion of lincoln, you know with the white house staff and with someone like keckley, but then i i want to tell a much broader story. actually. i just published an article on the blog of the journal of the civil war era yesterday, february 15th or 14th. i guess maybe and it was about the lincoln movie the spielberg movie, which i think is a really wonderful and important movie, but if you look at that film there are a couple of black characters. there are the soldiers at the beginning the one who recites to gettysburg address the main black characters are elizabeth keckley and william slade. and the point i'm making this essay is in the period covered by the film lincoln meets with a lot of other african-americans and it would have given a more complete picture to the film to have had some of them as characters in the film as well. so that's what i tried to do in the book is really bring out the texture of the white house what
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it looked like how crowded it was and then that you know white people for decades had felt free to go to the white house and meet with the president and now in the lincoln years african-americans feel that they have that right as well to go and meet with president and it's brand new right you you met you make at least a couple mentions that once or twice previous to that african american people had been into the white house to entertain or something like that and it always been you know abused right in the internet, you know, i found i did as much as much research as i could on this and i found a handful of instances. we're african-americans go to the white house as either. guess or not as a servant in one case jefferson met with an african-american who went to the white house and said, hey one of the white house servants stole my coat and i want it back and jefferson gave it back to him madison met with paul cuffee
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daniel payne meets john tyler in 1843 or 44 and doesn't have a very positive experience one of the things i show is that african-americans were more likely to be bought and sold as enslaved people by a sitting president than to be welcomed prior to the lincoln presidency james polk purchased and either bought or sold at least 19 human beings while he was president. i couldn't find nearly that many black guests at the white house, and i actually i closed either chapter one or the prologue i forget but at the beginning of the book i i close it with during the secession crisis. there was a newspaper story that circulated all over the country where they made a joke of the idea of a black person going to the white house and what i try to say is prior to the lincoln presidency, it was seen as as a joke unrealistic that black people would be welcomed at the white house and that changes in the lincoln presidency in a way that i don't think people have
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appreciated before it changes fast. yeah. it's not a gradual change at all. that's right lincoln begins one of his first and within a month of little that over a month of becoming president. he meets a black man from pennsylvania named nicholas biddle at the what at the capitol building biddle had been traveling as a servant with the white soldiers who passed through baltimore and the day before the baltimore riot. he and the men are passing through and a mob rises up and they someone yells n word in uniform and they throw a rock or a brick and hit him in the face and he makes his way to the capital with the soldiers and he's bleeding on the floor of the capitol building and lincoln and the cabinet some of the cabinet officials go to the capital to meet these soldiers and lincoln shakes their hands and when he gets to nicholas biddle, he shakes the man's hand and treats him as as if he were one of the soldiers and the account say that it was a moment nick biddle never forgot within a year of that april of 62 black
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people will begin coming to the white house and sometimes invited sometimes uninvited meeting with the president and that was un, and for the us history, right? right, okay. we're not going to for those at home. we're not going to be able to or even try to work our way through this whole book. that's why you need to buy it and i'll send you a copy a reminder of what we said at the very beginning. this is a book signing party. not necessarily a lecture by john on what's in his book. we want you to buy it and you're gonna and if you decide to buy it, you're gonna love it. but let's get to something we should talk about and it's an elephant in the room. and that is august 14th of 1862 marks the nader of lincoln's reputation when it comes to african american relations, i think yeah. invited some of the most prestigious minds in the
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african-american community in the district of columbia to the white house. and there he lectured them about race. he told them that they were the cause of the war. and then he encouraged them to go away. to go move to liberia or what's now panama? can you help us unpack this very bad horrible day in the reputation of abraham lincoln. was there anything contextually about the time the place who he met? that would mitigate this really sort of ugly scene. yeah, so this is one of these moments i i think in the book i call it like something like one of the most regrettable moments of the lincoln presidency as a lincoln scholar. there are two things that if i could go back in time and say hey don't do that. it would be what he said at the charleston debate with stephen douglas in 1858 about social
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equality. and then this moment in august of 1862, and so the context is that in the summer of 1862 lincoln has decided to issue an emancipation proclamation and william seward persuade him to wait until there's a victory on the battlefield because the war has been going badly for the union in the spring and summer of 62 the peninsula campaign which went right through where i am here and newport news, virginia was a disaster for the union and so seward was concerned that if lincoln issued and manifestation proclam. and then that it would look like an act of desperation and it would lead england and france to recognize the confederacy as a legitimate nation. and so lincoln agrees and lincoln decides to wait until there's a union victory the problem is lincoln's generals can't get their act together. and so there's a major loss at manassas and i in august and then there's not a victory until september of september 17th at
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antietam. and so while this is going on while lincoln is waiting for this victory to come he does several things to try to prepare the white racist north the white racist electorate in the north for what is coming. he knows he's going to issue an emancipation proclamation. he knows he's got to wait, but he might as well begin to prepare and shape public sentiment on this issue. so he does several things one of which is he writes a very famous letter to horace freely where he says my paramount object in this struggle is to save the union and it's not to either save her to destroy slavery. he's trying to get people on board if if you are willing to fight for the union think about how ending slavery might help do that and then he also calls in this black delegation and he brings us stenographer into the room to write down everything. he says and the message is what you just very described it. the reason for the war is because you're here and if you
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were here we be cutting each other's throats. and so you should go to panama. that's the message. and he wants that message to get out to white northerners because he knows that there are a lot of white northerners who are not going to support emancipation. he knows there are a lot of white northerners irish immigrants midwestern folks who are going to be concerned that if he frees the slaves, there's gonna be an influx of black labor and that's going to drive down prices labor prices wages and it's gonna cause unemployment among white people and so lincoln is essentially trying to say to that white electorate. you don't have to be too worried about emancipation when it comes because i'm pushing colonization too. it's really important to realize this was not forced deportation for lincoln. this was always voluntary and so he calls these men in and he tries to persuade them convince your people to to go somewhere else. he's never saying you have to
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get out of the country, but that said it's just staying on his record. it doesn't look good. he's condescending when he talks to them. now that said i want to say a couple things about how it was perceived at the time and one night. i was good. i wanted to hear that. yeah, one of the things they do in the book is i look at the democratic press and they are appalled that for the first time a sitting president has invited a delegation of african americans to the white house to talk about a policy measure for them. this is inaugurating a new system of social and politically quality for black people that in their mind is is terrible and so i i try to show that this is a really complicated moment and if you take it from it, it's not a great moment in the lincoln presidency, and i'm very upfront about that. but at the same time if you take it out of its context, it's very easy to misunderstand and the context is necessary. i think william lloyd garrison captured it really well.
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i have two chapters that deal with colonization in the book and one of them is called a spectacle is as extraordinary as it was humiliating or as humiliating as it was. ordinary, i think it's that and what garrison understood was on the one hand. this was humiliating. i mean here is the president treating people in a sense as pawns right to get his message out on the other hand. it was extraordinary that for the first time lincoln is engaging with african-americans who a president has invited in to talk about policy. and so it's a it's a complicated moment, but it's it's the only time it's the only time that lincoln does not listen to his audience every other meeting that i describe in the book is different link. and so i say it's exception that proves the rule every other meeting lincoln listens and does what he can to meet the needs of the person who he's meeting with not to try to make a political point or or demand out of the meeting. right, but the you certainly you
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make a good point and i got this from the book. they lincoln was very careful to make the this was going to be a public meeting but the stenographers and a huge reaction as you said from the black, press and from the and from the democratic right? yes, so there's a calculation. it's a political calculation to it and perhaps overall. he's pointing the right direction. but like i said before it's i see it is the nader of his relationship and yeah, but i think contextualizing it helps a little the other thing that i'll very quickly add. is that shortly after the meeting he appears to have had a meeting with a black preacher from washington dc named henry mcneil turner and turner was a correspondent for the christian recorder, which was a philadelphia newspaper published by the african methodist episcopal church and earner
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basically hints that lincoln brought him to the white house and explained you don't need to be worried about this. i and turner's words are that lincoln essentially said i needed somewhere to point to it's almost like a magician who needs misdirection to get the audience to think one thing when he's doing something else and i get the sense that lincoln wanted the black community to not be too worried about it. and so he kind of leaks it to to henry mcneil turner, which remarkable that about that. is that lincoln almost never told people his innermost thinking on what he was doing and in this case he appears to have brought a black leader in to to do just that right? well, i want to counterbalance that story with something that a mutual friend of ours pointed out and this was a one of these twitter conversations, but kevin levin enjoyed your book and he was an author. he's an author who's been on this program before and then
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noted out there on twitter. he's a teacher. he says, you know henceforth every time he teaches this august 14th meeting. he's also going to teach a students about encounters with earnest romain. and so basically if we're going to counterbalances, how do you how do you balance the treatment of lincoln's treatment of the haitian ambassador ernest romain with a committee of his fellow americans? yeah, so one of the things that's really important in the lincoln presidency is that he gives diplomatic recognition to the two black republics of that era to liberia or to liberia and to haiti and northern democrats are furious about this because they say if we give diplomatic recognition to these countries, they will be allowed to send ambassadors to washington and they're gonna have to be
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received by the president by congress and lincoln says, yeah paraphrasing there. but yeah, that's gonna happen and lincoln says if the president of haiti wants to send a --, that's lincoln's word that freight that quote has gotten changed to be the n word, but the original quote was not the n word, but he says if the president of haiti wants to send a black representative as an ambassador to washington dc, of course, i'll receive them. and so in the spring february of 1863 ernest earnest romaine comes with with an assistant. they moved to washington dc and lincoln and the cabinet are welcoming of him. what's interesting and this is one of the points i try to really draw out in the book. is that lincoln's welcoming of african-americans and of black people from other countries in this case? runs against the grain most white americans including abolitionists and reformers are not welcoming to african
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americans and but lincoln is and in remains case he is so poorly treated by white society in washington that partway through his time. he just decides i'm out of here and he moves to new york city, but it wasn't because of how lincoln treated him. it was because of how white i mean, washington dc was a southern city in 1863 and it was that treatment that caused him to go to new york. but but it's lincoln who breaks down the barrier in terms of diplomacy and welcoming a diplomat from haiti, which would have been unfathomable before his presidency an official interactions. he seems to have charmed charmed the town maybe not charmed the town charmed the people that came to state dinners. and so yeah so forth. he's a polyglot and a man of you know, charming manners and i found an incredible incredible letter by a woman from iowa and i shouldn't say this out loud
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because someone will scoop me on it, but her letters are so wonderful. i'm thinking about trying to turn them into a book to gather them all together. i think there's enough there. excerpts have been published as an article, but i think they could be a book and she's just traces washington society, and she was certainly charmed with with remain and his assistant. but others were not unfortunately and so he did leave but yeah, it gives a really beautiful picture of what it was like for him at least at this one dinner party with some other elites of the town. yeah. yeah the we do have some folks that at least one question here. so i want to dive right in and greet our friend brian steenbergen in michigan. hello, brian. thank you for watching. and so brian has a question for you john. did you encounter any stories regarding how the african-american white house servants responded to the
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african-american visitors? it's a great question. i don't have any stories about that, but what i can speak to is that the there was a very real issue of color. in the white among the white house staff and so lincoln brought some people with him from springfield who were darker who had darker complexion and he brought them a cert to be servants in the white house. they'd been working for him in various ways in springfield and the lighter skinned white house staff was not open to working with them and so in some cases lincoln had to help find them employment elsewhere and found them employment in the treasury department. so there was a very real issue when it came to the white house staff, but i don't know how they responded to these visitors. right and part of it is a lot of what we know about the perspective of the white house
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staff comes from their children's recollections. so i there are survive. they're surviving testimony of the son of a waiter who worked at the white house that i was able to use their surviving testimony from william slade's daughter that survives and there's of course records from slade himself, but a lot of what we know comes from the white house staff children, and i didn't find any commentary on that particular issue. okay, okay. if anybody has any other questions that you want to add and john you've been on this show a couple of times, you know, our regulars usually start coming up with great questions when we have about five minutes left, right, but hey, i'm still inviting you if you have any questions or comments for john white put them in the comments section on this facebook feed and we will come back to those a little bit later in the conversation. let's move on to another another
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famous person who got to meet lincoln because of her fame and that is sojourner truth. hmm sojourner truth in her time may have the most famous. female african-american activists in in the country more so than tubman than harriet tubman, probably i think of but so sojourner truth ended up having a famous meeting with abraham lincoln. what was her reaction to to meet him personally? yeah, so this is a really controversial one in some ways. i think it's the most controversial. chapter of the book because i think that sojourner truth's meeting with lincoln has been mischaracterized over the years so she decides in 1864 that she wants to meet lincoln. she's living in battle creek michigan at the time. she travels out east giving
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lectures along the way she meets with harriet tubman during this trip and asks tubman if you want to come meet with lincoln and tubman says no, which is a decision. she later regrets. and then sojourner truth ultimately meets lincoln at least once maybe more times. the record is a little unclear. but at least once on october 29th 1864. so this is in the lead up to the presidential election. it's about a week and a half before the election. and truth gets there very early in the morning with another woman named lucy coleman who is a white abolitionist and they wait for a couple of hours until it's their turn. one of the things we have to realize is that people could just line up the president had office hours. i'm sitting in my office at christopher newport university and i have office hours and students can just line up to come talk to me. they usually don't but they can you wish they would yeah i me too. people would line up to meet
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with lincoln and so truth and coleman are waiting their turn they wait for a couple hours and some two other black women are in the line ahead of them and meet with lincoln and they over here that conversation and then finally it's their turn and they go in and they have a conversation they talk for a while and the reason it's controversial. is that truth and coleman both gave accounts of this meeting shortly after where they depict lincoln in a pretty positive light now lucy coleman did not like lincoln and in november of 1864. she is very up front about that and her account, but she also says says that lincoln treated us. well, she said if i could vote i wouldn't vote for him. i mean he wasn't radical enough for her right, but she didn't trash him. in the 1890s, i think about 1891. she she publishes a memoir and in that memoir she trashes lincoln and she attributes words
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to him that he never would have said in october of 1864. i think she takes words from lincoln from 1862 plucks them in her mind out of their context and and thinks she misremembers and things that lincoln said them to her and sojourner truth where she quotes lincoln as essentially saying i didn't want to free the slaves and i only did it because i had to and if i did if i could have gotten away with not doing it i wouldn't of it and lincoln would have never said that in october late october of 1864. the problem is a lot of scholars and historians and biographers have relied on that 1890s recollection more they've found that and this is mind boggling to me, but they have found that more reliable then what coleman and truth put pen to pay. truth was illiterate, but what someone wrote down that she said within weeks of the meeting and for me, i find the november 1864
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evidence far more reliable in that truth said that she could feel she was in the presence of a friend and and what what surgeon or true said november of 1864 captures exactly the way other african americans describe their meeting with lincoln, and i think it's far more plausible that they had a pause that surgeon our truth had a positive interaction with lincoln and not a negative one, but unfortunately lucy coleman's memoir has had a lot of play in the historical literature in the 1960s. someone wrote and said sojourner truth for stage the first sit in in american history, and it's like no it wasn't a sit and she she was so pleased to meet with lincoln and and had a positive interaction with him. so i try to untangle those how those myths evolved over time and try to recapture think that meeting was like for her with lincoln right up to get off the topic just this much you mentioned something when you
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talk about sojourner truth that i had not thought about until i until manisha sinha talked about it in her book the slaves cause and it's it's trivial, but for me, it just sort of slapped me upside the head sojourner truth almost certainly spoke english with dutch infection. yeah, and there's something about the something about our received prejudice toward people who've been enslaved. that makes us even in our heads here a certain accent. well an idiom and that's almost certainly not how sojourner truths spoke. right? i think you're right in part that it is part of our preconceived notions that if she was born into slavery in new york and around 1797, i believe and slavery was legal there until 1821 and or 20 it 21, i
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think or 27 and she was in a dutch culture there, but if you look at some of the way her speeches were transcribed in the 1850s their transcribed with a southern. black dialect and so, you know that prejudice was certainly present then and people in thinking well, i've got to write down what sojourner tru said they they wrote it in that dialect and it comes down to us today. but yeah the record shows i mean she almost certainly had a dutch dialect being from new york and could speak. i presumably could still speak some dutch even these years later, you know, i don't know whether that's as a major part of her story, but yeah it for me that just struck me in the head in that it's almost as though the people she talked to back then heard what they wanted to hear right and didn't hear actually what they were what she was saying. i think that's probably right and if i can say one other thing that just kind of came to mind that i do talk about in greater
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detail in the book. sojourner true story is remarkable. i mean what this woman overcame being sold away from her parents having her children stole away in one instance fighting to have her son returned from illegal sale to alabama. i mean she has an incredible story. she knew what it was to face prejudice and oppression. and so one of the things i try to do is juxtapose per experience with lincoln, which some modern writers treat as lincoln treating her with with disrespect and prejudice. i juxtapose that with other instances in her life where she faced real real oppression and show, you know there there's a reason why she saw her interaction with lincoln as positive because she knew what it was like to be mistreated by white people and that's not what i think she encountered at the white house. yeah. absolutely, absolutely. well, that's an important part of the book and it's important
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chapter of the book. you're gonna have to get the book and read it and and as you see john is not just relating stories. he's you know telling the stories of the people who who meet with lincoln. he's telling their backstories. he's painting about how things change because of each of these meetings. and and so that's why this book is so valuable. it's not just this happened in this happened in this happened in this happen. it's the story of change. now which brings us to the most probably the most famous african-american that lincoln has to deal with during the civil war and he deals with him constantly whether he's in the white house or not, right? and that's right or douglas. and we've been talking a lot about frederick douglass recently, especially since david blight wrote that brilliant
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lincoln prize winning biography a few years ago frederick douglass has moved back to the front of the conversation. so i want to i want to talk about douglas a little bit and maybe use some of the last of our time to to dig deep on frederick douglass and abraham lincoln. now they may have had the most controversial relationship. i think of any african-american historical figure and lincoln. i've i've seen the exact same quotes from douglas used to prove that douglas liked lincoln or douglas hated lincoln, right? so before we talk about the specific meetings or anything like that, can you tell us about what do what do we think or what have we thought about douglas and lincoln and why has that been so controversial? that's a great question. i think a lot of what we think about douglas and lincoln comes from douglas's speech at the dedication of the lincoln statue
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in washington dc which of course has gotten a lot of media in the last two years is the one that shows lincoln towering over an enslaved man who's rising up from bondage and it was paid for entirely by former slaves started off by charlotte scott a slave from lynchburg, virginia who became free and when she found out that lincoln was killed she gave five dollars towards the -- of a monument and then 11 years later that becomes a reality and that speech i think is really misunderstood it seen as an indictment of lincoln and i don't think it's that at all i think in that speech what douglas does and i should say i open the book with that statue and i close the book with that statue because i think it makes for useful. bookends for understanding the experience of african-americans with abraham lincoln and in that speech douglas recounts his criticism of lincoln douglas is
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a wartime. he's an activist. he's a reformer. he's an abolitionist. he can go out and say inflammatory things because he's not responsible to a constituency and so during the war. douglas is really critical of lincoln. when lincoln is inaugurated president, he says that lincoln is is the south's greatest slave hound and abolitionism's worst. enemy. i mean douglas thinks lincoln is going to be terrible for the anti-slavery cause he's furious that lincoln has said that he will enforce the fugitive slave act. and so that was douglas in 1861 and 62 and douglas in this 1876 speech recounts those criticisms. but then he pivots and in the speech in 1876. he essentially concedes that lincoln's approach to emancipation and saving the union had been the right one
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that lincoln was a statesman who understood he had a white racist electorate constituency that he was beholden to that lincoln had to balance political concerns, like keeping the border states in the union. that's not something that douglas had to worry about and and in this 1876 speech douglas eventually comes around to say that lincoln's approach was the one that ultimately was successful in both saving the union and freeing the slaves and i and and douglas has great respect for lincoln and so to sort of circle back to what we're talking about. i think douglas is great respect for lincoln had a lot to do with his interactions his personal interactions with abraham. yeah, certainly david blake pointed out that frederick douglass was a working journalist. he had to write something about issues of the day every single day and publish it in his newspaper. he had like other journalists. he had to come up with an
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opinion about abraham lincoln today. that might change tomorrow in the next day in the next day in the next day. and so douglas as much as anybody else you're gonna see a real wide variety. of opinions based on what he's writing about today, right? yeah, i think that's right and you the one of the interesting things is you get to see douglas. he's got a monthly newspaper. he's when an event happens he responds to it the election of 1860 the inauguration in march of 1861 the black delegation in august of 1862 the emancipation proclamation january 63 each of these moments douglas's responding to them and so, you know, we often talk about i always kind of laugh when i think about this everyone talks about well, how did abraham lincoln change? how did he evolve over time and we never talk about how did frederick douglass change over time? i mean douglas's views really do change as a result of the war as a result of his experiences as a
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result of his interactions with lincoln. let's talk about the interactions with linking because now that's bring it into that context. what was the first time they met the first time they meet is in august of 1863 douglas has been working as a recruiter for black soldiers. he has sons who have joined the fourth massachusetts and douglas is really angry at this moment because he has been telling black men and listing the union army and you're gonna get paid thirteen dollars a month and instead. what happens is the war department decides black men will be paid as laborers rather than as soldiers. so instead of 13 dollars a month. they get ten dollars a month and on top of that they have another three dollars deducted as a clothing allowance. so douglas is saying enlist and you get 13 and then these men are getting seven dollars instead that's one issue. he's upset about the other issue. is that the confederate government has said that if black soldiers get captured on the battlefield, they will be
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either executed or sold into slavery because they will be treated as slaves who are in insurrection. and so douglas uninvited goes to the white house in august of 1863 to confront lincoln on these issues and lincoln talks with him about these and now lincoln formulated a plan for retaliation against confederates who murdered black pows. the problem lincoln had was he didn't want to execute innocent confederate prisoners who are you know sitting in prison who didn't commit an atrocity so lincoln never carried out on that plan, but he if from lincoln's perspective if you could find the person who committed the atrocity then put out the justice on them, but he never he never did, you know, and i for an eye because he worried about the implications of that. on the issue of pay lincoln said, you know people who are gaining freedom by joining the union army are essentially getting a monetary value as in
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freedom and lincoln says there's a lot of white prejudice in the north and if i was to give full pay to black soldiers. i would get a lot of pushback and so you've got to take that freedom as part of the value of serving and douglas was not really fully satisfied with either of the positions lincoln took in this meeting, but he did go away with a new understanding of lincoln and an appreciation for the pressures that were on lincoln and and he appreciated that lincoln treated him as a man douglas went out and gave speeches afterwards and said to the crowds i felt big there when he was in the white house and he said that he said, you know, you might want to know how lincoln welcomed a black man at the white house and he said as one gentleman would would greet another they meet again in august of 1864 this time. it's at lincoln's invitation. the summer of 1864 is going very badly for the union war effort. lincoln is convinced that he's going to lose reelection.
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and so he calls for frederick douglass to come to the white house and he says to douglas. i hate slavery as much as you do. i want to make i the problem is that the slaves are not running away. they're not listening to the emancipation proclamation and fleeing to union lines as much as i had hoped they would and the two men sit down together and they come up with a plan where they they will send what douglas calls bands of scouts into the confederacy basically shouting to the slaves run away. now while lincoln is in office because if he loses in november and is out of office next march the next president is gonna repeal repeal or rescind the emancipation proclamation. and this meeting is really important now first. it's really great that nothing had become of it because things got better in the union war effort in lincoln one re-election. so the purpose of the meeting was moved, but what does this meeting tell us? it tells us that for lincoln
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emancipation was not merely military necessity. i talked to someone two days ago who said lincoln didn't really care about freeing the slaves. he only did it to increase his own power and to win the war. and i told this person about this meeting with frederick douglass. in freeing the slaves in this way. before lincoln's out of office it has nothing to do with winning the war it has nothing to do with military necessity has everything to do with spreading freedom and douglas recognized that in this moment that lincoln's heart was fully in emancipation and then the third meeting very briefly is on march 4th 1865 after lincoln's second inaugural inauguration. they go back to the white house for a party douglas shows up with an african american woman. they try to go in the guards won't let them in finally douglas is able to get in and he realizes that the guards are very quickly taking him to
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another exit and he demands to be able to see lincoln and lincoln he tells someone go tell the president that frederick douglass is here and lincoln comes over. so there's my friend douglas and lincoln asks douglas. what did you think of my speech and douglas so you don't care what i think and and lincoln says there's no man. who's who's opinion? i'd rather have and douglas compares it to the sermon on the mount says it wasn't a state paper. it calls it a sacred effort and douglas is just so touched by this final meeting with lincoln goes to another person's home afterwards and it's just gushing with enthusiasm about what it had been like to have that conversation with lincoln shortly after that lincoln invited douglas to tea and douglas turned him down because douglas had a speaking engagement and he had a policy of if i have a speaking engagement. i'm not gonna break it. and of course lincoln is then assassinated and doug was later said if i had known i would never get to see him again.
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i would have forgotten about that speaking fee. i could have had and gone to meet with lincoln for tea right so you see quite you do see quite an arc of change in the relationship between frederick douglass and abraham lincoln and as you say douglas change, yes. very much. so not just the evolution of lincoln's opinions. yeah. well, we have a few minutes left here in this still way too much stuff that i want to talk to. but that means you folks at home. you need to buy a house built by slaves and and really read this remarkable book. i want to take a minute and do an and do a straightforward plug for to address you as my friend. because this is a different book that you wrote last year and these two books really do go. together and so can you tell us a little bit about and in the your role in this book
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officially is editor but more than most edited collections. there's a lot of new information and analysis in this book. so briefly tell us a little bit about how to address you as my friend brings us to a house built by slaves. both of them i guess for about interactions, right? yeah, so i found about a hundred twenty-five letters from african americans to lincoln and most of these letters have never before appeared in print 14 of them are in those very famous large volumes of the freedman and southern society project, which is published out of the university of maryland where i did my phd but then the vast majority have never appeared in print about a hundred of them are from the national archives about 20 or from the library of congress and then a few are in newspapers that i was able to find. and what these letters do is they give us a very real picture of black life in the 19th
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century. so these are people who are struggling in slavery or in freedom or in that transition. they may be soldiers. they may be enslaved. they might be the family of soldiers and they have tried to they've got problems that they've got to deal with and they've tried to resolve them in various ways and they've gotten in many cases to the end of the line and they have nowhere left to turn and so they turn to lincoln and i think it's just really meaningful that they write to the president about what's going on in their daily lives because it shows that for the first time african americans believe that they have a president who cares about their welfare. they that that who represents them who sees them as part of the people and that they are his constituents. and and that he is a friend and so i call it to address you as my friend because a lot of these correspondence right to lincoln and they call him friend or they
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say i'm someone who's friendless and i have nowhere else to turn. and so one is they give that they give this really incredible picture the second reason i think there they are really important is that it's often very difficult to capture black voices from the 19th century literacy rates among african americans were lower in the 19th century and and it's hard to find writing in their own hand oftentimes when we have black voices. they're mediated through a white pen. so a white person has a conversation with a black person or over here something and write it down and says, here's what i heard and it can turn into the kind of sojourner truth thing that we were talking about a little bit ago. and so one of the things i really love about this book is it captures black voices in a way that's really hard to find and and it brings them together to tell a new story about african and african-american interactions with lincoln. right, right and the and i guess
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this is a little bit of a day new mod of the story is it? this practice of african-americans visiting the president does not. continue does it? no that's the the unfortunate thing. so andrew johnson continues meeting with some black delegations in 1865. he treats them pretty well by 1866 he begins to change his treatment of them and in fact in february of 1866, he meets with frederick douglass and a number of black ministers who come and push johnson to support black suffrage lincoln had had three meetings at least three meetings with black delegations, and he shows real support for black suffrage when he meets with them johnson sees douglas and his fellow delegates as way out of line and when they walk out johnson calls him the n word and says that douglas would slit a white man's throat and by the time you get to the grant
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presidency the idea of black men and women coming to the white house for social occasions is completely gone. and so i found an episode that i describe right before a social gathering a servant comes in and meets with julia dent grant and says what happens if black people come are are we to let them in and julia grant says well, it's my party. yes, they can come in and no one came and as you move into the late 19th century fewer and fewer black people enter the white house as citizens to meet with the president by the time you get to 1901 when teddy roosevelt invites booker t, washington the story of black people coming to the white house as guests has been completely forgotten and southern newspapers respond without rage at what they see is an unprecedented welcoming of african americans to the white house. i don't talk about this in the book, but it extends into the 20th century. i i had originally included this but i decided it went too far
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into the 20th century jfk when he would not have sammy davis jr. stay at the white house overnight. for political reasons one he was married to a white woman and two he was african-american and jfk worried about the political implications of having sammy davis jr. this great celebrity stay at the white house. so it's a story. it's a it's a it's a long story that has major implications and the lincoln assassination changes. i think they're the trajectory of that story and you know, i don't do counterfactuals and i don't know what would have been different it had lincoln lived, but what i do try to show is that for a brief period for four years the white house is different than it was before and it's different than it would be for a long time afteryou througg
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and wandering through hot and cold wars through corruption and cynicism the american people of hunger for leadership founded on integrity in wisdom and courage we have sought a leader who is of the people a man raised to


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