#FakeNews, Memes, and US History
September 5, 2017 § Leave a comment
Sometimes I think that memes are going to be the undoing of all of us. They tend towards the stupid. I have written of this before, here and here. This weekend on Facebook, I came across this meme:
And once more we have a stupid meme. The quotation from Lincoln is out of context, and it would appear that Robert E. Lee never said this. Let’s start with Lincoln.
The quotation here comes from a letter he wrote to the prominent New York City abolitionist Horace Greeley, on 22 August 1862. Lincoln wrote to Greeley in response to the latter’s editorial in his influential New York Tribune, calling for the emancipation of the Confederacy’s slaves immediately. Here is the full text of that letter:
Washington, August 22, 1862.
Hon. Horace Greeley:
I have just read yours of the 19th. addressed to myself through the New-York Tribune. If there be in it any statements, or assumptions of fact, which I may know to be erroneous, I do not, now and here, controvert them. If there be in it any inferences which I may believe to be falsely drawn, I do not now and here, argue against them. If there be perceptable in it an impatient and dictatorial tone, I waive it in deference to an old friend, whose heart I have always supposed to be right.
As to the policy I “seem to be pursuing” as you say, I have not meant to leave any one in doubt.
I would save the Union. I would save it the shortest way under the Constitution. The sooner the national authority can be restored; the nearer the Union will be “the Union as it was.” If there be those who would not save the Union, unless they could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them. If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them. My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union. I shall do less whenever I shall believe what I am doing hurts the cause, and I shall do more whenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause. I shall try to correct errors when shown to be errors; and I shall adopt new views so fast as they shall appear to be true views.
I have here stated my purpose according to my view of official duty; and I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men every where could be free.
In other words, for Lincoln, his primary duty was to uphold the Union. And, as any American historian will tell you, every action he took during his presidency was directed at exactly that goal. Slavery was not an issue for the Union, it was not why it went to war. That, of course, changed on 1 January 1863 when Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation came into effect.
As for Robert E. Lee, there is no evidence whatsoever he said this. It is most likely that this fake quote is a mangling of something he did say or write, but I even have my doubts about that.
Lee, of course, was the the Commander of the Army of Northern Virginia for the Confederate States of America, a failed statelet that existed from 1861-65. During its short lifespan, the CSA did not gain the official recognition of any other state. And it ended with the massive defeat of the Confederacy’s army. At any rate, Lee fought to preserve slavery. Full stop.
Slavery was the primary reason for the secession for each and every of the Confederate states. It was also the primary reason for the existence of the Confederacy. Not states’ rights. Not taxation. Slavery. And this was what Robert E. Lee fought to preserve.
So even IF this line from Lincoln could be extrapolated to mean something, and even IF Robert E. Lee said what this meme claims, it is irrelevant. One man ultimately ended slavery, the other fought to preserve it.
But, the meme is not correct. It is FAKE NEWS.