Photo courtesy

Debunking Lincoln, the 'Great Emancipator'


“Tell some historians that ‘Lincoln freed the slaves’ and one can virtually see the smoke come out of their ears,” relates a story about abolitionists on

The picture of former President Abraham Lincoln that is painted onscreen in Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln”, which leads the Oscar race this weekend with 12 nominations, is that of a staunch opponent of slavery.

He’s often referred to as the “Great Emancipator,” but does being the president when the Emancipation Proclamation becomes the Thirteenth amendment earn him that title?

“There’s this perception that good old Lincoln and a few others gave freedom to black people. The real story is that black people and people like [Frederick] Douglass wrestled their freedom away,” Erica Armstrong Dunbar, a historian, told CNN. Dunbar is featured in a PBS American Experience film called “The Abolitionists” that tells the story of five abolitionist leaders who arguably did more than Lincoln to end slavery.

“It was not Lincoln who originated the Thirteenth amendment, it was the abolitionist movement,” Eric Foner, a historian and author of The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery, told CNN. “It’s only in the middle of 1864 that Lincoln changes his mind and decides he’s in favor of this amendment.”

The amendment was passed in the Senate on April 8, 1864, but it wasn’t until January 31, 1865 that enough Democrats in the House voted for it to pass there. Then by December 18, 1865 the required three-quarters of states had ratified the amendment, ensuring that “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude… shall exist within the United States.”

According to CNN, historian Henry Louis Gates Jr. once called Lincoln a “recovering racist” who used the N-word and enjoyed black minstrel shows.

One could look to Lincoln’s 1858 senatorial debate with Stephen Douglas to try and understand his views on slavery:

I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in anyway the social and political equality of the white and black races—that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races 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 white race. I say upon this occasion I do not perceive that because the white man is to have the superior position the negro should be denied everything.”

“No historian would doubt that Lincoln was a man of his times,” Dunbar told CNN. “He was a racist, and never truly believed that blacks could live in America after emancipation.”

What else doesn’t the average American know about our 16th president? Slavery is the typical conversation that comes up, but many Americans don’t know much about the Dakota-U.S. War of 1862, let alone the decisions Lincoln made at the end of it.

Mid-1862 in Minnesota was difficult for the Dakota people. More white settlers were migrating there, ignoring treaties and crops were failing. The Dakota people had been restricted to a narrow reservation on the Minnesota River—and they were starving and desperate. The killing of five settlers by four Dakota men ignited the conflict that resulted in the deaths of about 800 settlers and 150 Dakota.

After the war, 400 Dakota men were sentenced to death. Lincoln commuted that death sentence for all but 38 of them. That is still the largest mass execution in U.S. history. The state continues to reconcile and heal. Read more about it here.

Aside from slavery and the aftermath of the Dakota-U.S. War of 1862, Lincoln was also responsible for the propaganda behind Thanksgiving.

“Yeah, it was made up. It was Abraham Lincoln who used the theme of Pilgrims and Indians eating happily together. He was trying to calm things down during the Civil War when people were divided. It was like a nice unity story,” Ramona Peters, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s Tribal Historic Preservation Officer told Indian Country Today Media Network in a story about the first Thanksgiving. “Yes, it was public relations. It’s kind of genius, in a way, to get people to sit down and eat dinner together. Families were divided during the Civil War.”

Please think about these things while you’re watching the Oscars and especially when watching movies like “Lincoln” that claim to be historically accurate. Chances are there is a lot more to the story than what’s on the screen.

You need to be logged in in order to post comments
Please use the log in option at the bottom of this page



IKG's picture
Submitted by IKG on
Lincoln also is responsible for the Long Walk of the Dine' and Mescalero Apache. He ordered over ten thousand put into concentration camps in New Mexico while Gen. Carleton and Col. Kit Carson looked for gold on the Navajo Nation to pay for the war. Over half of the Natives in the concentration camps died during their four year incarceration while the Blue Coats failed to find their gold.

Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous on
For all those that feel Lincoln was such a great president need to re-think things a little. What happened in Dakota territory should not have happened and Lincoln could have and should have stopped it. Lincoln just like all presidents before and after him have done very little to do right by the Indigenous People of this country. To honor the treaties and treat them as Sovereign Nations that they are would be a good thing, NO PRESIDENT HAS EVER DONE GOOD .

Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous on
Going off topic: The Obama and Lincoln equations that have been sublimity sent, does that mean that Obama will do no good on the part of native american peoples? I looked up if any thing had been reported about in 2009 -2010: President Obama sent over 200 federal marshals to the Wind River Indian Reservation to harass native peoples there; I could not find one article on it? Can somebody help me out with that? maybe the relation between Obama and Lincoln are true. That would mean watch out natives.

Submitted by myche on
It would be difficult to argue that any American government has dealt fairly in all of its dealings with Native Americans at any time in history. Abraham Lincoln and Grand let loose forces that forever changed Indian Country. The expansive building of the railroads to link practically every corner of the United States and its territories under Lincoln and Grant set loose mass movements of many different populations throughout the country. Railroads carried immigrants from coast to coast, Native Americans to boarding schools and prisons in the East, orphans and homeless children from urban centers in the East on Orphan Trains to rural areas of the country. As the Civil War was ending Lincoln had a choice to hold open the door to the end of slavery or slam it closed. He was determined that slavery must end and did everything he could to get the 13th Amendment ending slavery through Congress and ratified by the states despite of any personal feelings he had toward African Americans. He also got the 14th and 15th Amendments passed pasted which insured that all citizens rights were protected, and all citizens had the right to vote. The problem with these Amendments was that there was no Congressional Legislation concerning in insuring these rights and there was no legal court actions which determined what legislation was Constitutional or not under these Amendments. Also at this time the only people who had the right to be citizens at the time these amendments were passed were men. Native Americans who were still registered with their tribes had limited rights to become citizens because of membership in their tribes. Native American civil rights because of the history of treaties between the tribe and the United States Government had to follow a different path. No Lincoln was not perfect but without his political influence and the passing of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution the United States today would still be run almost solely by white males. So despite his personal views about race and his military actions against Native Americans, he opened the door for women, Native Americans, all races and ethnic groups, and the GLBT community civil rights, and eventually every citizen of the United States to obtain their civil rights. Yes every category of peoples in the United States had to struggle against the powers that be has had to struggle to gain their civil rights. People have not been given their civil rights. Everyday there is some group in the United States trying to take other citizen's civil rights away so they have a larger share of the political power so they can gain control the wealth of America. This struggle is constantly going on on Native American Reservations today. There are Native American tribes that are being denied their right to be recognized by the Federal Government by other Native American tribes because of gambling and mineral rights. Some tribes are even trying to have very limited definitions of tribal membership to limit tribal membership. People who were considered tribal members in Lincoln's time are not considered tribal members today. We cannot minimize what Lincoln did for every citizen of the United States today because he broadened the definition of citizenship in the United States and set the standard that no one could be denied the rights of citizenship because of race, religion, or creed.. The rights of all citizens were protected by the Constitution. Rights were not just limited to blacks and white men, but to all ethnic groups who were natural citizens (born in the United States or its territories) This left the door open for the rest of us to continue the struggle.

Frank Nidey's picture
Frank Nidey
Submitted by Frank Nidey on
There is a lot more to the story. For most of Lincoln's life and well into his presidency, he believed in "colonization", i.e., that slavery should be ended gradually and that freed blacks should be shipped out of the country, back to Africa and/or to a colony in South America. He believed this because he believed that blacks were inferior and that blacks and whites could never live together. The best book I have ever read about Lincoln and slavery is called The Fiery Trial by Eric Foner.

cathy shubert's picture
cathy shubert
Submitted by cathy shubert on
the "rest of the story" of Lincoln isnt the pretty story in the grade school and high school books. Now that i have read more about him, and delved a bit deeper into the history not always told about the Civil War etc....not so nice. All people have many shades to their lives and personalities, but why hide the truth from our children? Perpetuating lies and half truths does no good.

Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous on
"ICTMN Staff" needs to give this revisionist rant a rest. It is no wonder no-body further more bothers to scan ICTMN articles. Most grown up adults beyond 25 years (if they care to have an interest in history) really believes the full-hype of a Hollywood production movie. Where has ICTMN been for the past decade considering how Hollywood can politicize American/US events. Will ICTMN be claiming movies of Barack Obama to be historically in accurate? Entertainment, bending the facts, stretching events, etc. (all made for the paying audience).

Funny's picture
Submitted by Funny on
By today's 2013 standards of political sentivities and out-landish public media assault, of course President Lincoln was cruel, ruthless and brutal. Obviously, with 2013 governments of today, the country is quickly diminishing and has been for 20 years considering how EVERY_BODY is quickly taking, stealing, re-inventing, etc. national US resources (as material and timely resources are running out!) Outsourcing to other countries is the step to prosperity; and NO INCENTIVES on part of American citizens to do any-thing more! Considering the major US conflict at home in the US Civil War - I would have to state, Lincoln was kinda/sort of pre-occupied. Do you think? But shhhhhh......don't go spouting ICTMNs revisionist ideals the to NM 19 Pueblo tribes lest you get shunned by then using their much revered "LINCOLN" canes.....

Alice Helton's picture
Alice Helton
Submitted by Alice Helton on
I know every thing we have been told is not true but this is bull we have been fed all our lives. The Indians were not eating happily with whites and Lincoln was not trying to free the slaves. Lies all lies !!!

bwaikiki's picture
Submitted by bwaikiki on
Another reason for the Emancipation Proclamation was that England was about to declare financial support and arms to the Confederacy. Although England had outlawed slavery, they reasoned the North was no more emancipated than the South. The Emancipation Proclamation changed the "reasoning". Why else would Lincoln have waited 3 years into the war if it were all about slavery. Also he only "freed" the slaves in those states still supporting the Confederacy, not those in any neutral states or those loyal to the Union. One spark leading to succession was that England's textile mills would pay more for cotton from the southern states than Northern textile mills would pay. Political pressure and emerging laws were demanding southern states sell their cotton to Northern textile mills at a cheaper price while forbidding them selling cotton to the England's textile mills for more. The conditions for workers in Northern textile mills was horrific but was not called slavery because the workers were white Northern European and Irish women and their children. Northern mill owners had learned that slavery was not profitable for them because too many Negroes died in the same cold, long hours.

Richard's picture
Submitted by Richard on
Ole Abe was aTerrorist and Tyrant that lost constitutional rights for the north and invaded solvoreign states to the south..He was a straw dummy for business men who actually run this country then and now and will for ever until the Lord Jesus returns..

indianmedicine's picture
Submitted by indianmedicine on
This is an excellent piece of "Un-told History" Not all "Monuments" are accurate or Truthful when the "facts" get checked. As to the Question of "Lincoln", he was a Politic of The Day; and as Politic have always done, they say what they believe the Citizenry want to hear. We all know that "Legends" are what People believe happened without checking the facts. As surfaced, U.S. History as taught in K-1 thru K-14, are colored with ignorance to facts. Again, Good Thread !

Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous on
at the same time that lincoln freed the slaves ,he signed into law the use of chinese in california as indentured survants.

Richard Lyle's picture
Richard Lyle
Submitted by Richard Lyle on
Here's a prime example of revisionists trying to portray Abraham Lincoln as an inveterate racist. Ridiculous. While the quote from Lincoln during the Lincoln-Douglas debates was accurate, he was campaigning for a Senate seat in Illinois in the 1850s--it is not at all unusual for politicians trying to appeal to the electorate to parrot the conventional thought of the time. Context is important. While he did propose colonization, he did so openly to black leaders and withdrew his support when the proposal was met with hostility. Lincoln grew in office. Read his second inaugural address for a real sense of righteous indignation over the peculiar institution of slavery. Frederick Douglass himself said of Lincoln that he was the only white man he ever met that he felt truly treated him as an equal. It is easy to pick over the most inflammatory quotes from this man to denigrate his accomplishments and slap the label of racist on him. It's not fair.

Laura Waterman Wittstock's picture
Laura Waterman ...
Submitted by Laura Waterman ... on
Re Myche - President Lincoln made a political decision on slavery because he thought a nation divided would be disastrous. Cutting the economic power of the south through Emancipation was not entirely humanitarian on Lincoln's part, either. Re Indians - there was still land to be obtained from the tribes and the system of political determination of naming Indian agents and setting the federal policy with regard to tribes was still well underway. A lot of the money agreed to in treaties passed into the hands of Indian agents and made them rich. Right up to Wounded Knee 1890, the Indian agent system was a payoff for the president and the agents. After Wounded Knee stunned the nation, in the Harrison administration, there was an ongoing withdrawal from that idea and reform that started in the 1920s and 1930s.

Apesanahkwat's picture
Submitted by Apesanahkwat on
why not an Indian for this post,I would be interested in applying for it

commentwhennec's picture
Submitted by commentwhennec on
Indian Country...I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for what you are doing to bring about the truth concerning Lincoln. He is used here in The United States as a Great Symbol...THE ROCK of Equality and the bridge between the White Man and ALL OTHERS. We know that is a lie! Blacks, Native Americans (Indians), Mestizos, as we now know the truth about Lincoln, were INFERIORS to him. As Lincoln's own words spell it out plainly and simply. I am sending Lincoln's racist words (that I had never read before) to everyone I know. People become so repulsed by them, they say that they can not even show the words to their children. That is so funny, America's most cherished leader and you can not show his words to your children. Well I have and WE Must get this information disseminated so that one day The Lincoln statue very well may be dissmantled as Proof of crimes by the White Man rather than as a "False Prophet" statue, celebrating Revisionary History Fantasy....My Navajo blood thanks you with every beat of my heart!!!!

commentwhennec's picture
Submitted by commentwhennec on
Indian Country. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for finally letting our people and all humanity know that Lincoln is not the person he is presented as. The racist tirade of Lincoln presented in your article I had never read before. I had always known he was an Indian Killer so when I started doing research on Slavery I found your article. It seems this man hated anyone that was not White. I have started forwarding Lincoln's hate speech to everyone I know. It has repulsed many people to the the point that they are fearful to show the words to their children. Isn't that SO FUNNY that the man American's hold in the greatest esteem for bringing about equality now they are fearful of showing his words to their children. Well I have shown my children, and we all shall show our children "The True American Prophecy!" That as Lincoln plainly and clearly states is one based on Superiors and Inferiors. This Lincoln Prophecy Freed Nothing yet continued the annihilation of The Native American (Indian) way of life and ushered in 100+ years of brutal Segregation on Dark Minorities. Lincoln is No Great Emacipator! I hope to live to see his statue dissmatled as proof that revisonary history does not bring about tranquility but rather Only The Truth. White Children as well as Minority Children must be taught the truth of The White Man's crimes before tranquility amongst ALL may even be considered. Lincoln's statue I do believe must be removed. Thank you again Indian Country. Every drop of Navajo blood I carry beats with pride after reading what you are doing for our deliverance from the White Man's Historical Fantasy!!!

Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on
It's a small wonder that Lincoln is so popular with modern Conservatives. They hold him up on high because he's touted as the President who freed the slaves, but anyone who knows actual history knows this is NOT the truth. When a particular group requires a favorable history for someone they want to elevate about everyone else, they tend to forget those things they did that WEREN'T so nice. Natives don't automatically adore Lincoln because OUR history remembers the 39 Santee Sioux who died at Lincoln's order in the largest mass execution in U.S. history. __________________________________________________________ Another President that Conservatives elevate is Ronald Reagan. He was responsible for the horrid economic plan that Republicans are STILL trying to push on the American people in spite of the fact that it's NEVER worked - trickle-down economics. Hell, they're practically TELLING you they're going to piss on your back while you're trying to pick up the few coins they manage to drop. ___________________________________________________________ Remember, if anyone is waving a flag or a crucifix in your face it's because they're trying to divert your attention from what their other hand is doing (usually stealing or getting ready to stab you in the back).

fredcorky's picture
Submitted by fredcorky on
Lincoln was the first Socials president & didn't believe in God,the first brake the Constitution,the Civil War.he also believe that the Black should be sent back to Africa & I feel that if he lived he would have gone after the Native American. His butcher Gen Sherman & Gen Custer,if he had lived at the battle of Little Big Horn,Gen Grant & Lincoln should have bough up on War Crimes, They are all Tratiors & a disgrace to this Country...opinion