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Thursday 23rd of October 2014 01:21:42 AM
 

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Bossa’s one-sided view of Lincoln

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How Lincoln made history on slavery and Museveni succumbed to the pressures for social conservatism

I have been forced by friends and fans to reply to Joseph Bossa’s otherwise good defence of former U.S. president Abraham Lincoln (The Independent May 02-08 and Daily Monitor May 11). In that article, Bossa makes two core points about the former US president: first that Lincoln was not a racist; and second that he was outraged by slavery and was always opposed to it. Let me allow Lincoln to speak for himself.

In a speech during campaigns for Senate to the congressional district of Charleston, Illinois, in 1858, Lincoln had this to say: “I am not now, nor ever have been in favour of bringing about in any way the social or political equality of the white and black races. I am not now nor ever have been in favour of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor of intermarriages with white people. There is a physical difference between the white and the black races which will forever forbid the two races living together on social or political equality. There must be a position of superior and inferior, and I am in favour of assigning the superior position to the white man.”

 

On slavery, again, let us allow Lincoln to speak for himself (in speeches at Peoria, Illinois, 1854): “When Southern people tell us that they are no more responsible for the origin of slavery than we are, I acknowledge the fact. When it is said the institution exists, and it is very difficult to get rid of in any satisfactory way, I can understand and appreciate the saying… A system of gradual emancipation might well be adopted, and I will not undertake to judge our Southern friends for tardiness in this matter.”

Lincoln is speaking in the 1850s, yet as early as 1776 - when the Declaration of Independence was issued – several white American leaders were speaking publically and passionately that black people are equal to whites and should be given full rights. They said slavery should be abolished immediately. Over 90 years later, Lincoln did not.

Thus in his inaugural address in March 1861, Lincoln said quoting an earlier speech he had given: “I acknowledge the constitutional rights of the States — not grudgingly, but fairly and fully, and I will give them any legislation for reclaiming their fugitive slaves. The point the Republican Party wanted to stress was to oppose making slave States out of the newly acquired territory, not abolishing slavery as it then existed. I have no purpose directly or indirectly to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.”

In his letter to Alexander H. Stephens (Public and Private Letters of Alexander Stephens, p. 150), Lincoln said: “Do the people of the South really entertain fear that a Republican administration would directly or indirectly interfere with their slaves, or with them about their slaves? If they do, I wish to assure you as once a friend, and still, I hope, not an enemy, that there is no cause for such fears. The South would be in no more danger in this respect than it was in the days of Washington. My paramount object is to save the Union, and not either destroy or save slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing the slaves, I would do it. If I could save the Union by freeing some and leaving others in slavery, I would do it. If I could save it by freeing all, I would do that. What I do about slavery and the coloured race, I do because it helps save the Union.”

As an advocate in Illinois, Lincoln represented a Kentucky slaveholder seeking to have his slaves returned to him. (Lincoln lost the case). Yet in letters (especially to his friend Joshua Speed) and in many speeches and remarks, Lincoln said it was morally wrong for one human to own another.  (“As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master…”). But then, if he thought slavery was an evil, why represent a client who was a slave owner against slaves seeking freedom?

This contradiction in his statements shows that Lincoln was first and foremost a politician. He made speeches to different audiences in difference situations to gain political advantage. May be by the standards of his time Lincoln was seen as progressive. One can rightly accuse me of “presentism” i.e. using present standards to judge him. But even by those standards, Lincoln was not a leading progressive in America.

Indeed, a similar excuse can be given for President Yoweri Museveni in regard to homosexuals in Uganda. Our society is deeply homophobic; Museveni is a product of it. It is possible there is no person in Uganda who has had candid discussions with Museveni on homosexuality as I have. In these discussions I have found the president very curious and incredibly open-minded – far removed from the attitude of most Ugandans I talk to on this subject. Reading both Museveni and Lincoln and trying to place each within the time in which they lived, I find them in similar circumstances.

Bossa seems to be unaware that Lincoln did not fight the south to end slavery but to preserve the union. Indeed, the Emancipation Proclamation did not liberate all slaves. Instead, the border-states (Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky and Missouri) that had remained loyal to the union were left free to keep their slaves. Lincoln also exempted some selected areas of the confederacy that had already come under control of the union. In effect, the Emancipation Proclamation did not free a single slave as it applied to states and areas in the south where the federal government had no control.

Bossa possibly missed the point I was making i.e. that when Lincoln had a chance to overcome his prejudices towards black people and even act contrary to what popular opinion demanded in America at the time, he leaped unto the chance and made history by emancipating slaves especially by supporting the 13th Amendment (not the Emancipation Proclamation). When Museveni confronted a similar dilemma, rather than transcend his prejudices and the political demands of the moment, he succumbed to them. Where Lincoln defended and promoted social progress, Museveni has defended and promoted retrogressive conservatism.

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Comments (24)Add Comment
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written by Ahmed Mwenda Ayub, June 23, 2014
I think President Lincoln, was certainly more than just a politician, with the case (as mentioned hereon in the old man's piece), I find that he might as well have been deeply rooted within the belief of racial segregation and a great advocate of slavery. Saving the union as he always alluded to, was his foresighted way of trying to find a place in the way of history in disguise of his prejudice towards the freedom of blacks, hence this was in my view more than just a political strategy but rather a mere political comic of sourcing for a position of history.
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written by Ahmed Mwenda Ayub, June 23, 2014
So with all the speeches quoted, Lincoln still poses a sharp contrast to me with President Museveni as regards the case of homosexuality.
I rather would put it, that as per the author's figure of speech, concerning the discussion with the President as regards the case of homosexuals, and him being a "product" of the homophobic society, but yet still his curiosity over the subject shows that, he might not be passed to be homophobic but rather not well informed concerning homosexuality. A good example, is his past remarks over what he thought of the now law when it was still a bill. In his very measured words, he noted of it not being a foreign act in the African society, as was widely spread by homophobes but rather an act that was not publicized in society.
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written by Ahmed Mwenda Ayub, June 23, 2014
However with the increasing "political" demand domestically, and the global geopolitical play with the Eastern relations for the regime and the Western cold shoulder, that was growing towards his regime the ascendance to the bill into full law can not be maintained within few confines of political gymnastics. With his research and discussions concerning the subject of homosexuality, it was only imperative that such a law would be passed into effect for not only social demands, but coupled with his findings that I mainly believe were the promotion and increased demand of a minority group, that sought a space of abundant practice in a society where one would appreciate that it existed but in very discreet circumstances.
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written by Ahmed Mwenda Ayub, June 23, 2014
It was a hand that was pushed not for just political spoils of triumph but the demands of restoring the act in its place of "honor"...seclusion. Therefore with the law, one would excuse President Museveni, who by the way is NOT homophobic in my view, which is in contrast with President Lincoln who I find that he was a man of slavery and stood for all its cruelties.
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written by Ocheto, June 23, 2014
Each time Lincoln is called the emancipator of slaves the usual refrain from joy-killers is that he fought the American Civil War to preserve the union rather than abolish slavery as if the two were separate and distinct issues. It is also the case the south fought the civil because they wanted to preserve the institution of slavery. So which side of the argument validly carries the day?: the south wanting to preserve slavery or the north wanting to preserve the union? Could you also say since Lincoln didn't fight to free slaves the south too didn't fight to separate from the north (which obviously they did)? When it comes to homosexuality there are many states red states which are still vehemently opposed to giving gays full citizen rights up to today. The issue is far from settled.
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written by OPIO, June 24, 2014
ha, kale banange mwenda togwaayo. Now whats this pseudo-intellectual claptrap of trying 2 compare 18th century american presido with one of our small poor african country. The only fact is its been a lose-lose situation 4 uganda in this gay bill issue. Nothing has been achieved. Not even 1 person has even been convicted 4 homosexuality and yet we have lost much needed aid funds which go to help esp. poorest children and mothers in villages. Yet idiot politicians and elites who won't feel the pain of aid cuts say 'Uganda is a rich country, we can do without their aid money', when even India or S.Africa still rely on aid from west. The worry now is m7 may use our oil in the ground as collateral to get money to fill the funding gap left by aid cuts.
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written by Rajab Kakyama, June 24, 2014
I miss the point. The Independent is a weekly magazine, Bossa's response was about an article Mwenda penned in early March. An article largely inconsequential to Uganda's future. After almost four months we are still focusing our energies towards a lilting subject of the few. In between these four months, a lot has happened besides the homosexual talk. We have had the reading of the Budget, we have had the Kenya bomb blasts, we have seen the American evacuation from Iraq, Afghanistan and the World cup reaching the quarter-final stage. I feel that these are more current issues that should be given more attention than a piece of history whose relevance has been overtaken by time. Do we still buy "the truth" or we buy "history" and still pay the price?
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written by Musinguzi, June 24, 2014
Hahaha, Rajab! you have taken a good swipe at Andrew with 'Do we still buy "the truth" or we buy "history" and still pay the price?'. I am sure that Andrew appreciate people like you who remind him to remain relevant in his choice of what to write about. That said, unlike in the past where he would revisit this site to respond to comments, he rarely does that these days. It is important for him to continue with the practice of replying to comments- conceding defeats sometimes, challenging others, clarifying positions etc. That way, the debate will be meaningful and won't be seen as a mere ritual Andrew does to fill the Independent pages.As an observer also, the number of comments have been declining and we need to know why and what cab ne done to generate more interest.
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written by gafabusa, June 24, 2014
Politicians in short only make political decisions to gain political capital as a competitive advantage, any social benefits are mostly unintended by products. period.
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written by gafabusa, June 24, 2014
I think I disdain and get disgusted by homosexuality more than any Ugandan alive today, but looking at the malaise of Uganda's problems as currently constituted, homosexuality is very low on the hierarchy of Uganda's problems, prioritizing it was opportunistic, it just reflects the quality of leadership and blurred vision which Mwenda should have emphasized in his analysis with South Korea. Nations develop faster than others because of getting priorities right and in Uganda's one man's show leadership has much to impact on development.
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written by Winnie, June 26, 2014
1. Both slave trade and being gay are sins so which sin is the greatest? none
2. When i watched the movie on Abraham Lincoln his security was careless how can a president be assassinated while watching a play?
3. Some rules in the world cup need to be reviewed e.g how can a team gain 3 points by just winning a game even if its 1-0 then when a team scores 5 goals it also gains 3 points the maths doesn't add up World cup does not feel the same without England.
4. Rajab have you become Andrew's supervisor?
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written by Maceni, June 26, 2014
To effectively make the case for war against the south Lincoln had to build northern cohesion around the morality of slavery -- even though the northerner’s main concern was the economics of slavery. The south was slowly industrializing and becoming less dependent on northern industries – industrialization and slavery would have clearly made the south dominate the affairs of the U.S for a long time. The fervor against slavery by northerners was fueled by the underlying fear of economic advantage that slavery gave southerners than by the moral evil of slavery. So its not a contradiction that Lincoln could have been racist but still abolished slavery.
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written by Maceni, June 26, 2014
The moral appeals against slavery by Lincoln and northerners were largely instrumentalist. That’s why Lincoln maintained the ‘privilege’ of slavery in northern states that practiced it (where he had control) – but abolished it in the south (where he had no control).
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written by Ocheto, June 26, 2014
Maceni your argument does not make sense. If slavery was such an economic advantage to be had regardless of ones domicile why would the north want to hand that advantage to the south by abolishing it? It equally makes no sense that the Lincoln would subject the union (he loved) to a ruinous war and danger to his own life to fight the evil of slavery which according to killjoy arguments he did care for? Political expediency would dictate that he keep the south happy and non-rebellious by letting them retain the institution of slavery, similar to the way Museveni kept the Ugandan kingdoms happy by reinstating them proving the wiser (than Obote) for it.
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written by Ocheto, June 26, 2014
Far from being a mere instrument for the transformative civil war slavery or fight against it was at the heart and the fundamental causative, precipitating event. Quoting what Lincoln said or legal counsel he proffered for a fee on behalf of slave owner prior to war as Mwenda does, does not in any way impute Lincoln's motives. The Malcom X who left Mecca was diametrically opposite to the one who went to Mecca. Mwenda could do better writing about how African teams have faired in the World Cup (after all he writes about the premier league). Why Yaya Toure is perennially vote Africa's soccer player of the year when it comes to representing the Continent he is a no show. Many of these players don't deserve continental accolades and awards.
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written by Maceni, June 26, 2014
@Ocheto Slaves were expensive and took years to accumulate –even if the northerners wanted to grow their own slave industry – it would have taken years and been a very expensive affair. It was far more economical to abolish it to curtail the South’s growing power and influence. Lincoln allowed slavery in the north and abolished it in the south. So he obviously wanted to keep the advantages of slavery in the domains he controlled and outlaw in those that he didn't (Yet the north had very little slavery).
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written by Maceni, June 26, 2014
The immorality of slavery was made the fundamental reason for war in much the same way that weapons of mass destruction in Iraq were made the fundamental reason for the Iraqi Invasion(U.S Intelligence knew that Saddam didn’t have WMD’s) . It was a moral imperative to re-enforce fears of existential demise of the northern economy and way of life because of the huge advantages chattel slavery gave the southerners. It becomes very easy to cohere around noble moral reasons especially if the underlying real motivations have a higher risk being viewed as less noble.
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written by Rajab Kakyama, June 27, 2014
I will then conclude that, when all is said and was done a long time ago, the abolition of slave trade was a Christian agenda and if "God" was to save America, then America had to come with "clean" hands.
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written by Diane Kenneth, June 27, 2014
I think I love Winnie. She's/he's sarcastic but she/she does make a lot of sense sometimes
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written by Bomboka, June 27, 2014
Mwenda have you lost your mojo or envisioned? You should pull your strings and track down Sejusa for a story that would be the story of the year. You tracked down Obote in Zambia and made your bones. How long does it take you to spot such an opportunity. The oval office wont misunderstand you, because you have a track record as maverick in journalism and have dared the eagles in the past, get back on form and re invent yourself, if anybody can pull such a stint its you.
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written by Winnie, June 28, 2014
1.@Diane Kenneth you are Christan (right) what is the greatest commandment in the bible?its love your neighbour as you love yourself so i have to do the same to Andrew that line of thought of if i am a she or he is cheap so which Winnie do you love anyway?
2.There is nothing as good as finding a man who is brilliant and handsome it kills us women.
3.During my free time i watch Head to Head show by Hasan on Aljezeera i find him similar to Andrew
4. The most handsome journalists in Uganda are Andrew Mwenda,Simon Kasayte Morris Mugisha &Patrick Kamara i find them intelligent and different from the rest.
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written by Diane Kenneth, June 28, 2014
Indeed Winnie! My hat off for you.
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written by Rwasubutare, July 07, 2014
Winnie must be aging. her thought track is incoherent/ data is mixed up in her head. soccer and sodomy and smartness all bound together and you pick sense out of it? I wonder whether she has a man-AGER (read husband) No woman will be full( will always be half;subhuman) if there is no permanent man to inject her with sense. it the way of things that were made by our CREATOR. Sometime, I pity women who brag that they are liberated; meaning free to sleep around with all and sundry. they go around being injected with this that and that and end being confused because of the mixture. Winnie a woman can retain her senses only if she sticks to one man.
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written by Winnie, July 08, 2014
Rwasubutare i am still young and active that's why my mind is so active and fresh.

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