In early October, Joe Biden made a highly symbolic campaign stop in Pennsylvania at the site where Abraham Lincoln had delivered his most famous speech. The 2020 Democratic presidential nominee visited Gettysburg to pay tribute to the father of the Emancipation Proclamation and his heroic efforts to unite a country then still in the throes of a civil war.
In his 1863 Gettysburg Address, the 16th U.S. president had sought to remind his countrymen that the United States had been “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” He called on the living to honour the soldiers who died on the battlefield at Gettysburg in the name of the cause of abolishing slavery.
With the country again being torn apart by racial strife, Mr. Biden hoped that invoking the memory of the man who had consistently topped rankings of the greatest U.S. presidents would inject a unifying tone into an election campaign marked by bitter polarization.
It was not to be. Mr. Biden’s own Gettysburg address was a blip. Coming after an ugly first televised debate with President Donald Trump, the message of his speech rang somewhat hollow. And Lincoln’s name, it turned out, just didn’t have the same ring it used to.
Only days after Mr. Biden’s speech, a committee set up by the San Francisco Unified School District recommended the renaming of Abraham Lincoln High School. It concluded that the Great Emancipator had committed at least one of the sins set out in a 2018 school board resolution aimed at making sure school names reflected “current attitudes and values” and that made him unfit for such an honour.
Officially, the school names advisory committee faulted Lincoln, who was assassinated in early 1865, for showing indifference toward the plight of Native Americans. But that appears to have been merely a pretext used by committee members who had it in for Honest Abe from the get-go. No matter that Lincoln’s presidency was consumed by a civil war that would determine the fate of millions of Black slaves, the committee saw fit to sentence his legacy to the dustbin.
“The history of Lincoln and Native Americans is complicated, not nearly as well known as that of the Civil War and slavery,” first-grade teacher and renaming committee chairman Jeremiah Jeffries told the San Francisco Chronicle. “Lincoln, like the presidents before him and most after, did not show through policy or rhetoric that Black lives ever mattered to them outside of human capital and as casualties of wealth building.”
Real historians, unlike the fake ones on the renaming committee, mostly beg to differ with that characterization of Honest Abe. When he sought a U.S. Senate seat in 1858, Lincoln did declare that he was opposed to “bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and Black races.” Historians largely believe he was merely pandering to voters, all of whom were white men, when he said this. Besides, his legacy speaks for itself. He was a giant among men, even if he was imperfect. His attitudes toward non-whites were unambiguously progressive by mid-19th century standards.
That is not good enough for today’s self-anointed arbiters of history. Take the folks responsible for the 1619 Project, a Pulitzer Prize-winning undertaking by The New York Times that sought to “reframe” U.S. history and claimed the country’s “true founding” was marked by the arrival of the first African slaves on U.S. soil rather than by the 1776 Declaration of Independence. The project sought to place slavery at the heart of the American story, which it depicted as being defined by unmitigated oppression of Blacks.
Professional historians nearly unanimously savaged this reinterpretation of events, including its wildly skewed depiction of Lincoln’s musings about deporting freed slaves, as tendentious. In August, a year after its publication, the Times quietly removed the reference to 1619 as the “true founding” of the country from the online version of the essay. But the damage had been done. Countless Americans had bought into this Marxist interpretation of U.S. history. The 1619 Project had been used as a teaching aid in thousands of public schools.
Like those who formed the Committee of Public Safety that sent anyone suspected of disloyalty to the guillotine during the French Revolution, the efforts of the San Francisco school district’s renaming committee and the 1619 Project to reframe history to suit their narrative of oppression are bound to come back to bite them. In their zeal to purge the infidels, revolutionaries always end up eating their own. Their claims to be fighting for equality quickly become exposed as a thirst for retribution. They are not interested in reconciliation, for any steps made in that direction would defang the sense of grievance they seek to stoke in their followers.
Not even Honest Abe stands a chance with them.
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