Two Quotes on My Mind

I'm heading back to Gettysburg for a short visit tomorrow. I still have questions, and probably still will. A few quotes are sticking with me this weekend as a prepare (listening to Stephen Sears' Gettyburg via audiobook as I write this.) All of these are from James McPherson's The Negro's Civil War.


From U.S. Grant biographer, W.E. Woodward:

[T]he American negroes are the only people in the history of the world, so far as I know, that ever became free without any effort of their own.... [The Civil War] was not their business. They had not started the war nor ended it. They twanged banjos around the railroad stations, sang melodious sprirituals, and believed that some Yankee would soon come along and give each of them forty acres of land and a mule.

Here's Lincoln rebutting that charge years earlier:

We can not spare the hundred and forty or fifty thousand now serving us as soldiers, seamen, and laborers. This is not a question of sentiment or taste, but one of physical force which may be measured and estimated as horse-power and steam-power are measured and estimated. Keep it and you can save the Union. Throw it away, and the Union goes with it.'

This hearkens back to a conversation I had earlier about radicalism and small "c" conservatism. 
Lincoln was cold as ice. No matter what he was pushing for, he had a way of stripping the thing down to immovable realpolitick.  The war often required radical measures. But still Lincoln had this ability to cast radical policy--and arming slaves against their former masters was very radical--in hard, unromantic, conservative terms.

This isn't about social equality, integration, suffrage or human rights. It's about whipping Johnny Reb. Nothing more. Nothing less. I hope Obama's still reading this guy. That's the art of politics.

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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