Abraham Lincoln

The term “white privilege” is pretty recent and associated with ideologues like Tim Wise. Wikipedia gives the idea, if not the phase, as coming from W.E.B. DuBois in 1935.

White privilege is not so much about the idea that whites are privileged, though, as that they deserve to be de-privileged. Advocates quickly and impatiently pass over the proof of the concept- as being so obvious that only bad faith could cause disagreement- to the consequence, which is how whites should be punished for this.

We know from the deep thinker William Munny that deserve has nothing to do with it, but what do whites deserve and why?

The idea of whites “deserving” stuff goes back even farther. Northern reaction to the Nat Turner “rebellion” was that, well, Southern whites had it coming to them because of oppressing blacks. What about poor whites, who did not own slaves? Turner killed indiscriminately, men, women, children, slaveowner or not, anybody white he killed. This was justified by the Atlantic in that he only did this to instill terror to quickly put an end to resistance. So terrorism is OK!

John Locke formally conceived the right of revolution, in that people had the right to overthrow governments they didn’t like. Which may include killing people who get in the way. State on state warfare has moral justifications and limits going back to Thomas Aquinas, which focus on combatants. Revolution doesn’t have combatants, it only has people who may or may not have the levers of power. Turner felt anybody white had the levers of power, and in Boston that was OK. If you were poor white trash in Virginia, too bad for you.

It’s easy to not care about the lives of people who are far away and not like you. It’s a little harder to deal with a lot of death and destruction of people close to you, even if they are just workers or yeomen. That death and destruction did come, with the American Civil War. How was the Northern political class going to process that?

Usually people justify war deaths by the noble cause. Supposedly the Northern cause was just and noble, and Union soldiers died to free blacks and end slavery. The Puritans didn’t see it that way, though, and they didn’t want to give credit to humble men whom they loathed and despised. The common man of the North had waited too long to take arms against slavery, and his commitment to not just the political integrity of the USA as established by the Constitution but to the cause of racial equality was highly suspect. The common man of the North was to blame for slavery as well, not in quite the same way as a Southern plantation owner, but to blame nonetheless.

Lincoln was reelected in 1864, because Northern voters saw he was succeeding and the Civil War would be won by the North. It seems logical he would have congratulated them on their commitment to the cause and assured them their sacrifices were not in vain, the deaths of their young men, along with many more maimed for life were for a good purpose and their commitment was commendable.

Lincoln is thought of by most as a pragmatic politician who navigated the politically possible to keep the United States together; Southern partisans see him as a vengeful abolitionist. While the former is partly true, the second is certainly true also.

Lincoln in the Second Inaugural Address speaks of conciliation, but he does so by placing the blame for slavery on both North and South. Not on the abolitionists of Boston, of course; they had been fighting the good fight for decades! (After a couple of centuries of making good money directly and indirectly from slavery, of course.) No, the blame was for the common man of the North, fighting, but too late, and not for black equality but for free soil.

To a progressive, nothing you do counts. You aren’t the right kind of person, and you did it for the wrong reason. William Lloyd Garrison was a pacifist, and he and most of his family sat out the war (paying the money to avoid the draft, which the common man couldn’t afford.) But the Union soldiers dying on the field- they were guilty.


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