Law in Contemporary Society

Wikipedia articles are a source of secondary bibliography. They cannot be used as an authoritative secondary source, nor as an edited set of primary sources.

This article fleshes out what Moglen ended Thursday's class on - looking to Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation as primarily a tool to end the war. Lincoln was definitely committed to ending slavery, but thought he could best protect the stability of the country by letting it die a "natural" death. A slow phasing out as it became more and more economically and politically unfeasible. But at all times, he sought to avoid inciting either side to violence - even supporting the Corwin Amendment. Early on, he rejected any attempts by his Generals to free and enlist the slaves. He used the threat of emancipation as a bargaining chip to cow the Southern states into swearing allegiance. I thought this quote from one of his letters was particularly telling. After the Proclamation, a General had objected to fighting for abolition. Lincoln responded

"You say you will not fight to free negroes. Some of them seem willing to fight for you; but, no matter. Fight you, then exclusively to save the Union. I issued the proclamation on purpose to aid you in saving the Union. Whenever you shall have conquered all resistance to the Union, if I shall urge you to continue fighting, it will be an apt time, then, for you to declare you will not fight to free negroes. I thought that in your struggle for the Union, to whatever extent the negroes should cease helping the enemy, to that extent it weakened the enemy in his resistance to you. Do you think differently? I thought that whatever negroes can be got to do as soldiers, leaves just so much less for white soldiers to do, in saving the Union. Does it appear otherwise to you? But negroes, like other people, act upon motives. Why should they do any thing for us, if we will do nothing for them? If they stake their lives for us, they must be prompted by the strongest motive—even the promise of freedom. And the promise being made, must be kept." (emphasis added)

A single letter by a politician in public life is not a useful guide to the actual thoughts or intentions of the writer. Quotation out of political context puts Lincoln on every side of the controversies around slavery in the politics of America before and during the Civil War, from strong support of white supremacy to abolition and civil equality. If you were really going to "flesh out" what I said in class, you'd have to do more than quote something.

As a much lesser, but still interesting aside: The article mentions Eli Whitney, well known as inventor of the cotton gin. But due to the simplicity of the invention, Whitney never could make a real profit off of it. So he moved into gun manufacturing, where he popularized the idea of precision machining and interchangeable parts. He's responsible for the 'resuscitation' of slavery through the cotton gin, but also for much of the arsenal superiority that helped the North prevail.

Not historically accurate, but more in the direction of mythology, folklore of capitalism in fact, and therefore easy to find and simple to use. Did you check, or have you come to assume that the Wikipedia, unlike all other human sources of secondary knowledge, requires no confirmation?

-- StephenSevero - 23 Feb 2010


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r3 - 17 Apr 2010 - 19:58:14 - NonaFarahnik
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