BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Lerone Bennett Jr., where did you get the title of your book, "Forced Into Glory"?
Mr. LERONE BENNETT Jr. (Author, "Forced Into Glory"): I thought that book captured the essence of what I was trying to say in the sense that Lincoln, from my standpoint, was driven, was forced into a glory that he resisted, I think, every step of the way. Adam Gurowski, one of his great critics during the Civil War here in Washington, wrote a paragraph which said that he was literally whipped into glory. I thought maybe forced would be a better term for the cover, and so I settled on "Forced Into Glory." And it, again, captures my idea.
And one of the basic ideas of the book is that there were all these extraordinary men and women, many of them white, in Washington in 1862 and '63. The American people generally do not know anything about any of them. Ashley, Lyman Trumbull, Zachariah Chandler, Salmon Chase--all these people, I say--and I try to detail it for 650 pages or so--really pushed Lincoln to glory. And the pin I put into it, Lincoln himself said, `I was driven to it, literally driven to it.'
LAMB: Your subtitle on the book is "Abraham Lincoln's White Dream." What's that mean?
Mr. BENNETT: It means that contrary to what most people think, Abraham Lincoln's deepest desire was to deport all black people and create an all-white nation. It's--sounds like a wild idea now and it is a wild idea, but from about 1852 until his death, he worked feverishly to try to create deportation plans, colonization plans to send black people either to Africa or to South America or to the islands of the sea.
No--most people--and you know the story--one of his greatest utterances--people quote it all the time--Copeland's great thing, `We cannot escape history, the last, best hope of the world.' He said these words in a State of the Union message on December the 1st, 1862, in which he asked Congress to pass three constitutional amendments: one, to buy the slaves; second, to declare free all people who'd actually escaped; but the third one, his proposed 15th Amendment, asked Congress to allocate money to deport black people to another place.
Now his most--I think it's probably--other than the second inaugural, the `we cannot escape history' ending there is just portrait everybody knows. Nobody talks about the fact that what he was asking Congress to do was to deport black people. That was one of his deepest ideas.
And I make the point also and almost everything I say in here, I take from Lincoln or from documents of the time--it was not just something he wanted to push black people out, he had an idea of this great, giant vacuum sound, black people leaving and white people from all over the world come in here and creating this all-white nation. As a matter of fact, I say, as you know, in his `I have a dream' speech at Alton, Illinois, in 1858, he called for a haven, a white haven for free, white people everywhere, the world over.
Now these are Lincoln's words. And the interesting thing about that is that he underlined these four words: free white people everywhere. He underlined them. This was his `I have a dream' speech. He was passionately committed to deporting black people and creating a white nation.
Let me say, in extenuation, he believed that that was the only way to solve the race problem. I found that offensive and strange, but he believed that that was the only way to solve the race problem. He said over and over again he did not believe that black people and white people could live together in equality in the United States of America.
LAMB: Did you ever think differently about Abraham Lincoln?
Mr. BENNETT: No. Really, and I try to explain in the beginning of the book, first sentence in the book. First sentence in the book says, `I was a child in whitest Mississippi reading for my life when I discovered for the first time that everything I'd been taught about Abraham Lincoln was a lie.' Now I imagine I was 10 or 11, somewhere there. Before then, apparently, I believed that this was the Great Emancipator.
What happened, actually, when I was 10, 11 and I ought to explain. I was one of these strange children. I read everything I could put my hand on. Any book, any piece of paper, anything I could find, I read. And so for some strange reason in Mississippi, in the '30s, I happened to see Abraham Lincoln's address at Charleston, Illinois, on September the 18th, 1858.
LAMB: The Lincoln-Douglas debate.
Mr. BENNETT: In the Lincoln-Douglas debate. And I read it and I was just absolutely shocked. And from that point on, I started to--researching Lincoln and trying to find out everything I could about him. I wasn't trying to get a degree. I wasn't trying to pass a course. As I say in the book, I was trying to save my life because I find it difficult to understand how people could say this man was the greatest apostle of brotherhood in the United States of America.
LAMB: You say on page 114, `Not only is Lincoln a church, he is also an industry.'
Mr. BENNETT: Precisely. Precisely. And that key--one of the keys to the American personality, but an industry. Yes, all over the country now, people are engaged in packaging information on Lincoln, putting together exhibits on Lincoln, doing this and doing that about Lincoln. It's a whole industry that employs hundreds of people, probably thousands of people. And it's important from that way. He's also a religion. And as I indicate in that same chapter, Barbara Petrick, I think her name is, said in The New York Times before this book was published that Lincoln is such a god that the ordinary rules of evidence don't apply to him.
And also, the third point, I think, is important. He is one of the keys to America. Americans see themselves in Lincoln. American politicians tend to measure themselves by Lincoln. He is a secular saint. And I know that and I know and I said that what I'm proposing here--that we look at Lincoln--is painful, painful to whites and to blacks. But I think it's necessary for the health of this country and for what we've got to do about completing the task we started in the Civil War but never finished.
LAMB: Have you ever been invited to speak to the Abraham Lincoln Association or the Lincoln Forum?
Mr. BENNETT: Neither, no. I have not. I've talked to a number of great groups across the country, but I've not been invited by those two groups. I have been honored by some Lincoln associations before this came out, but, no, I've not been invited to speak to them. And one of the suggestions I make in this book--I feel strongly about it-- that there ought to be a dialogue between academic people, the Lincoln establishment, as I say, and other people who have a different vision of Lincoln.
To back up and to get into some--this book has been attacked pretty harshly in some quarters, praised enthusiastically in others, but I am not, up to this date, in late summer, early fall--I've not seen a single review which disagrees with any one of my four major points. The fifth point, they disagree with. I've not seen a review anywhere which disagrees with my four or five major points.
And if I--possibly I can make them. My first point is that the Emancipation Proclamation did not free black people. And it's doubtful if it ever freed anybody anywhere, and that Abraham Lincoln was not the Great Emancipator or the small emancipator or the medium-sized emancipator. That's the first point.
LAMB: Can I stop and ask, you say that, in fact, the Emancipation Proclamation may have created another half million slaves, as I remember.
Mr. BENNETT: Right.
LAMB: How did that happen?
Mr. BENNETT: Thank you. Thank you. Not only did it not free anybody, it enslaved or re-enslaved more slaves than it ever freed because Lincoln said in the document, which most people will never read--he said that he was specifically excluding certain slaves in southern Louisiana and eastern Virginia and elsewhere. But these were the two main categories. Now why did he exclude these slaves in Louisiana? Because they were the only slaves he could have freed on January the 1st, 1863. The Union controlled southern Louisiana and New Orleans. The Union controlled eastern Virginia. Now on January the 1st, he could have freed these slaves. All he had to do was just not specifically exclude them.
Instead of freeing them, Abraham Lincoln, unfortunately, on January the 1st, said, `I'm not talking about you. This document--you're in--the same as you were, as though this document never existed.' So we have about 100,000 slaves in southern Illinois--southern Louisiana--sorry about that--and 80,000 or so in eastern Virginia, having some 275,000 slaves in Tennessee who were not touched by it. All across the South, I give an estimate of approximately 50--500,000 slaves who were re-enslaved or kept in slavery by the Emancipation Proclamation.
I want to come back to that as I make my second point--and I want to tell you what the critics say in response to this--the second point is that Abraham Lincoln was a racist. I don't have any joy in making that, but I think truth is important. He who said--who used the N-word habitually, who loved darky jokes and black-based shows, who said in Illinois and elsewhere that he was opposed to black people voting, sitting on juries, intermarrying with white people and holding office. Two, Lincoln was a racist.
Three, Abraham Lincoln wanted to deport black people and create an all-white nation. That's three.
Four, Abraham Lincoln was -- and this is the controversial point--maybe there were not five. Four, that Abraham Lincoln was, contrary to what all the historians say, an equivocating, vacillating leader who prolonged the war, delayed emancipation and increased the number of casualties.
Now there's no agreement on that. But the other three points or four points all my critics agree on. What they say--and I'll be very brief about this--they say, `Lerone Bennett said that the Emancipation Proclamation didn't free black people, and he's a terrible man for disturbing the peace of the republic.' That's the first sentence. The second sentence, `Of course, the Emancipation Proclamation didn't free black people. The 13th Amendment--everybody knows that freed the black people.' They agree with my first point.
The second point-- they say, `Lerone Bennett'--this is a reviewer--`says that Abraham Lincoln was a racist, and he's a terrible man for saying that. Of course, he was a racist,' second sentence. `All white people in the 19th century were racist.' I disagree with that and I defend white people in 19th century. I think it's absurd to say that everybody in the white--in the 19th century was a racist. But that's their defense.
My point is they agreed with my second point. They say, `Of course, he was a racist.' And the third point again is, `Lerone Bennett says that Abraham Lincoln wanted to deport black people and create a white nation.' They say, `Of course, he wanted to deport black people, not because he disliked them but because he loved them so much and he didn't think they'd ever be treated right in America.'
My point is--in late summer, early fall, is that all of the critics I've seen agree with my basic points. I don't know a reputable historian with a library card anywhere who maintains that the Emancipation Proclamation freed black people. I don't believe one exists anywhere. And yet, people are screaming and hollering, `Why did you say this?' It's the truth.
LAMB: You were born where?
Mr. BENNETT: In Mississippi. I was born in Clarksdale. My mother was visiting there. We were --I grew up in Jackson--and I grew up in Jackson, Mississippi.
LAMB: What did your dad do?
Mr. BENNETT: My daddy was a chauffeur and my mother was a cook. She was a chef/cook in a restaurant. There were two of us in the family, my sister and I, and we grew up in Mississippi during the '30s and '40s.
LAMB: When did you leave?
Mr. BENNETT: In '45, I left to go to college. I left to go to Atlanta to Morehouse College, where I finished in 1949 and started working there in Atlanta for four, five years on the Atlanta Daily World. And then I went to Atlanta--to Chicago to Ebony magazine.
LAMB: Where you still are.
Mr. BENNETT: A writer.
LAMB: Still there.
Mr. BENNETT: Still a writer, yeah.
LAMB: At Ebony.
Mr. BENNETT: I am still at Ebony, yes. I've worked as associate editor and senior editor and now I'm executive editor, yeah.
LAMB: When you were at Morehouse College, what were they telling you about Abraham Lincoln? And that's an all-black college.
Mr. BENNETT: It's an all-black college. Two things. It's very interesting, very interesting. The most enlightened professors said, `Of course, he didn't free the slaves. Of course, he was a racist.' Some orthodox professors said, `Well, there were extenuating circumstances.'
LAMB: Were these black professors?
Mr. BENNETT: Some black professors. `There were extenuating circumstances.' The major point is--the point I make in this book is people in black institutions didn't talk about Abraham Lincoln that much. And as I said about one interesting point--and somebody needs to do a long essay on it. If somebody does not, I'll do it if I'm still here--white authors have written about 16,000 books and monographs on Abraham Lincoln. Black authors have written, in the last 135 years, maybe two or three, maybe four. This is probably, possibly, the first full-scale reassessment and study of Abraham Lincoln. But in the last 135 years, black authors have paid very little attention to Abraham Lincoln. Three or four books, maybe five, compared to 16,000 books and monographs. Basler--and I quote him in my book--Basler had an essay in 1935.
LAMB: Roy Basler.
Mr. BENNETT: Roy Basler. He was astonished by that. He said, `You know, why black intellectuals don't deal with Lincoln more.' And he said, `Perhaps they've not found a sign to emancipate them by it or to move or to follow.' At any rate, the interesting thing is that in predominantly black institutions, in black circles, apart from a few pieces of poetry here and there, Abraham Lincoln has never been the thing in black America that he's always been in white America, which suggests to me--and this is speculation but I say it in the book--I surmise that black people know Lincoln, have always known him at a depth beneath words. At any rate, they have not felt it necessary, they've not felt a need or the interest to address him the way white historians have addressed him.
LAMB: If you'd have had the opportunity, what would you have said to Martin Luther King when he was standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial giving his `I have a dream' speech in 1963?
Mr. BENNETT: I would have said that, `You're absolutely right when you said that--issued a check and it came back insufficient funds because the Emancipation Proclamation was precisely that.' I would have said, `You're absolutely right to say that the real task now is to get together and write the Emancipation that Lincoln didn't write,' because as I say in this book, Martin Luther King Jr. had a healthy dose of skepticism about what Abraham Lincoln meant and what Abraham Lincoln said. And in his book, "Where Do We Go From Here?" I think it's--he details most of the things I say in here, but says at the end, `There were extenuating circumstances.' He believed he can detect some growth in Lincoln. I have problems with the growth, but we are together on the analysis. He was a racist and King knew it, King said it. And fundamentally, I agree with most of his analysis.
Now if you're just--let me put one pin in this. This is painful. I've said it, and I keep saying it over and over, not only to white people--not only to white people. For the last 135 years, every medium of communication outside the mediums--media we've controlled has said Lincoln was the great savior, the great liberator. He freed you on January the 1st out of the goodness of his heart. And so large numbers of black people just worship Lincoln. I mean, he's--because they believe that he did what people say he did. And it's painful to say to them and to my community and other communities, `He didn't do it. He didn't want to do it. He was a completely different man.'
Now the point I'm coming to, finally, if you're--you'd let me go through this scenario, on January the 1st, a Thursday, 1863, here in Washington, slightly after 12:00, they had the New Year's reception in the morning. And slightly after 12:00, Secretary Seward and his son took the document, the Emancipation Proclamation, to Lincoln in the Cabinet Room, I think it was, and--I don't know--let me tell you the story.
Lincoln took a steel-tipped pen and he took the pen and he moved to the line where he's supposed to sign. And all of a sudden, when he got to this line--Lincoln tells this story--when he got to this line, his hand started shaking so violently that he couldn't sign it. And he dropped the pen. You know--well, what's going on here? So he took the pen again, steel-tipped pen, and he moved it to the place. And he started to sign it and his hand started shaking so violently that he couldn't sign and he dropped it again. And Lincoln was very superstitious. And he stopped in awe. And then he said--Abraham Lincoln is talking--then he said, `A very simple explanation came to me. I had been signing, I mean, I've been shaking hands all that morning at the New Year's reception and my arm was virtually paralyzed.' `Hence,' he said, `a very simple explanation for this phenomenon.' I think the explanation is too simple, but that's what he said. At any rate, he finally was able to sign the document.
Now my point: The poetry, the songs, the scholars, the major newspapers, the major museum people tell us that at that moment, choirs started to sing over the Alleghenies and over Stone Mountain in Georgia and black people started saying, `Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, I'm free at last.' That's pretty--it hurts me to say it's not true. Hurts me now to say it's not true, but any slave in Georgia who said, `Free at last,' surrounded by Confederate troops on January the 1st, 1863, was immediately sent to heaven. Any slave in Alabama who said that. So I'm trying to say that this poetry, I wish it were true. It is not true. Virtually--almost everything we've been told about Abraham Lincoln in the last 135 years is wrong and needs correcting, needs somebody to have a long dialogue on.
LAMB: When you hear that they're trying to raise about $125 million to buy--or to build a library to Abraham Lincoln in Springfield, Illinois, what's your reaction?
Mr. BENNETT: I think we need an equal amount of money, more money, in fact--let me back up. I think we need to research Lincoln's life. I think we need to know everything we can about him. My book complains that people don't know anything about Lincoln, even 135 years later. I think we need to know that. I think also, we need an equal amount of money--we need more money dedicated to the task of studying the real emancipators, of studying Charles Sumner and Thaddeus Stevens and Wendell Phillips.
LAMB: All white men.
Mr. BENNETT: All white men. All white men. They tell me all--everybody was a racist then. These men were 100 years ahead of Abraham Lincoln in terms of their understanding of democracy and racial equality in this country. Now one of the--one of my complaints in that book is that--and I'm coming back to black--white Americans--white America--no--few, if any, white Americans know who Lyman Trumbull was.
LAMB: Who was he?
Mr. BENNETT: Lyman Trumbull was a senator from Illinois in Lincoln's time. He had the traditional problems of many of the white men of the area--of the time, but he was far more advanced in his understanding of what liberty required of him. He opposed the Fugitive Slave Act in Illinois at a time when Abraham Lincoln was backing the hunting of men, women and children. He defeated Abraham Lincoln for the Senate.
And the reason he defeated Lincoln for the Senate is because Lincoln was too conservative on the issue of slavery in Illinois and in America. But the bottom line: Lyman Trumbull came to Washington. He was the author of the first Confiscation Act, which began the Emancipation Proclamation in August 1861. He was the author of the second Confiscation Act, which was the most sweeping act of emancipation passed by Congress or enacted during Lincoln's time; more sweeping than the Emancipation Proclamation.
And he was one of the principal authors of the 13th Amendment; 100 years ahead of Lincoln. Nobody in Illinois knows Lyman Trumbull and I'm exaggerating. One or two people know him. But we've had no major exhibits in Illinois on Lyman Trumbull. We had 100 exhibits on Lincoln, who didn't believe in equality, who did little or nothing to advance the abolitionist process. Why isn't the culture structure teaching people Lyman Trumbull's name? Or Wendell Phillips? Or Charles Sumner?
LAMB: As you know, almost every poll that's ever taken has Abraham Lincoln as number one. As you know, because you write about it in your book--and you don't put this qualifier on it--but a lot of liberal American college professors think Lincoln was the greatest.
Mr. BENNETT: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: Why? White college professors.
Mr. BENNETT: White college pr-- and almost all of the major history professors in this country. And I find that extraordinary becau...
Mr. BENNETT: Because until the capture of Atlanta and the nomination of General McClellan on the Democratic ticket late in 1864--until late 1864, almost all members of Lincoln's party thought he was a disaster as a president. And most of them were looking for some alternative candidate. Almost all members of the Washington power structure at that time said he lacked will, he lacked the resolution, he lacked vision and that he was prolonging the war by his inadequacies. Or Lyman Trumbull said he lacked the resolution needed in this great task. His secretary--I mean, his attorney general, Bates, said he lacked will. Others said--in it--at the time that he was simply a terrible leader. And yet, 135 years later, almost all the scholars say he was the greatest leader we've ever had in our country, perhaps in--in--in the world.
Mr. BENNETT: Because they have not read the record, I say. Because there has been for 135 years one of the biggest attempts in all history to hide a man and a history and to make the man entirely different from what he was and...
Mr. BENNETT: Because Lincoln is a mask for certain deep-seated problems we blacks and whites have resisted and refused to deal with, particularly, oddly, the problem of slavery, the problem of emancipation and the problem of black freedom in this country. Lincoln--far from being a leader--and let me stop and deal with it. Lincoln, far from being a leader, was--everybody knows him, everybody. He was a man on the fence who denounced the extremists on both sides who talked out of both sides of his mouth, and this is an ideal that appeals to many people. I say in the book that although people won't tell us who Lincoln was, history knows Lincoln. They know that he was a waffling, equivocating person.
I quoted a person in one of the major papers just before the book was published. They say--who said that George Bush and the other presidential candidates reminded them of Lincoln. Why did they remind this columnist of Lincoln? Because he waffled. Because he talked out of both sides of his mouth in different audiences. History knows Abraham Lincoln. And it's my suggestion that many scholars are defending that image of leadership.
LAMB: What's the isolated quote school?
Mr. BENNETT: The isolated quote school is the tendency of major Lincoln biographers to quote--take isolated quotes out of context and use them without giving us the context or the setting of the man. For example, they tell us--and I won't name the historian whom I admire and respect on other grounds--said that the December--the 1862 State of the Union message, where he talked about `the last, best hope of the Earth' was one of the greatest statements in the history of the world. He does not tell us that Lincoln was asking Congress to deport black people. So we get--in the Peoria speech, Lincoln says, you know, `I love the Declaration of Independence, one of the great documents of all time.' One paragraph. Two paragraphs later, he said, `Now I don't want you to misunderstand me.' He's talking to 10,000 or 12,000 white people in the lo--`Now I don't want you to understand me, I'm not talking about equality, I'm not talking about making black people equal, I'm not talking about freeing black people in the South. But it's a great document in the abstract.' You get this--and I took a whole chapter because I knew I would have to do that. I took a whole chapter and detailed the defenses that scholars built into their work.
LAMB: You talk about Benjamin Thomas...
Mr. BENNETT: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: ...and I know I've done so many shows here on Abraham Lincoln that more often than not, an author will say, `It's the single-best volume, best one-volume biography of Abraham Lincoln.'
Mr. BENNETT: Right.
LAMB: Number one, why did they say that? Who was he? And why did you spend a lot of time writing about him?
Mr. BENNETT: Thomas' one-volume work is readable, came at a time when people were groping for some new way to deal with Lincoln. If memory serves, I think it came out sometime around '52 or something. It was sometime around there. And it was just immediately elevated to the best one-volume treatment of Lincoln available. I use it as an example--and I went down a list of all the things that Thomas did not tell us.
LAMB: Let me read them so it'd be easier for you.
Mr. BENNETT: Yeah. OK, OK.
LAMB: You say Lincoln doesn't tell us that Lincoln--that--`Thomas doesn't tell us that Lincoln used the N-word. He doesn't tell us that Lincoln loved N-jokes. He doesn't tell us that Lincoln voted for Jim Crow legislation in the Illinois Legislature. He doesn't tell us that Lincoln said there was a natural disgust in the minds of nearly all white people about black and white sex. He doesn't tell us that Lincoln supported the Illinois Black Laws. He doesn't tell us that President Lincoln personally ordered Union officers to return runaway slaves to slave masters. He doesn't tell us that President Clinton tried for, quote, "nearly a year and a half," in his own words, to save slavery in the United States.'
Mr. BENNETT: All these things I say, and this is typical of major biographers on Lincoln in the last 135 years that the famous Charleston quote is the stumbling block. As I say in the book, the best biographers will summarize the Charleston quote and...
LAMB: And what is that and what was the reason for it?
Mr. BENNETT: The Charleston quote on Saturday, September the 18th, 1858, Lincoln said to about 10,000 or 15,000 white people in the Lincoln-Douglas debate that, `I will say then that I'm not now, nor have I ever been in favor of bringing about, in any way, the social and political equality of the white and black race, that I'm not, nor ever have been, in favor of making voters of Negroes or jurors of Negroes, nor qualifying them to hold office, not to intermarry with white people.' And he goes on and on, a full quote he ends by saying that he's in favor of white supremacy.
Now this is a terrible quote, and it's a sort of litmus test for Lincoln biographers. The best ones will summarize the quote and will make an excuse for him. One of the major excuses, as you know, from Thomas and others, is to say that Douglas was pushing him and he had to say that to get elected. Other people say, `Well, he had to say that in order to get elected in 1858.' But most biographers do not give the full quote. They certainly don't give it in context. And they certainly do not, as Thomas does not, tell us that Lincoln voted for Jim Crow laws in the Illinois Legislature, voted for a white school system in Illinois, as a legislator, said on the platform that he supported the Black Laws and lived in Illinois and never said a word about an Illinois law that made it a crime for black people to live in Illinois. We don't get any of this in the traditional biographies.
And my problem is beyond Lincoln--I raise a question and it's a question of dialogue. I always raise the question of scholarship. I say you can't divorce a man from a setting like that and write a biography on him. I say, `If you don't tell us about the Jim Crow laws he supported and the fact that he supported the hunting of men, women and children, the Fugitive Slave law, if you don't tell us these things, I think we have to re-evaluate what we're doing in scholarship.'
LAMB: But it--I mentioned earlier, the Abraham Lincoln Association, which meets in Springfield, the Lincoln Forum, which meets up in Gettysburg every year, has speakers and they've never invited you to speak.
Mr. BENNETT: No.
LAMB: If they did, would you walk into that group and give the same thesis that you do in your book?
Mr. BENNETT: I would walk in that group and give the same thesis with one exception. One exception. I don't believe in lynching parties. And if they want to arrange 15 people on a platform and they say, `Now you speak and now these 15 people are going to lynch you,' I don't believe in that. But if they want me to make a speech, I'll make it. But one scholar, one vote. The way they generally do it--and that's another one of the techniques-- they will ask--there's 15, 20 people to come in and you speak and then 15 to 20 people will speak. I will speak, one scholar, one vote, and would be delighted to speak. And I think we need this kind of dialogue, but again, back to a small problem here. I did you know--I've been this road before. In February of 1968, I wrote a small essay in Ebony called "Was Abraham Lincoln A White Supremacist?" Just explosions everywhere of--people said, `The republic is in danger.' I mean, that--it was much worse than this time. OK. Then people say, `Well, you know, he makes some good points. We ought to re-evaluate Lincoln.' And a number of people said that. But the re-evaluation did not come. That essay has been out there for some 32 years; no real response to it.
One of the ways they--the academic authorities respond to me is they put it as one of the major books on 676-page--in the footnotes. And--not in the book, not deal with Lincoln and racism, but they'll say in the footnotes, `Oh, Lerone Bennett says this,' way down, small, small type. And then they will go on. We still haven't had a dialogue on this in the country, and without being provocative, I think it's important to the truth of white people and black people for us to know what was done and was not done and to certainly know about the black and white men and women who tried to emancipate all of us.
LAMB: If Stephen A. Douglas was elected president in 1860, what do you think would have happened, unlike what happened with Abraham Lincoln getting elected, for black people?
Mr. BENNETT: The first case--and I'm going to ask you--answer your question-- I think the abolitioners had driven the South mad and they were not going to take Stephen Douglas. But that's my first question--first answer. The second one, if they had, I think he would have tried to create a compromise, extending or modifying his earlier compromise and I don't think it would have worked. I think it had gone beyond that point at that time. And I don't think there was any solution that the Southerners would have approved of.
I say in my book, and I believe it's true--Wendell Phillips said it first--that fugitive slaves and abolitionists and the threat of insurrections had driven Southerners mad. They in essence, they committed suicide. Lincoln, in his inaugural address, said that he would have personally backed a 13th Amendment, which had already been passed, which would have guaranteed slavery forever in the United States of America. The South refused to accept it. Another question in that area--and I appreciate your question--I did--I asked myself the question--Lincoln was a compromise candidate, again, going back to the leadership. He was not elected because he was a flaming anti- slavery advocate. He was elected because he was less of an anti-slavery advocate than Seward and Salmon Chase. The question is: What--what would have happened if--if Seward and Chase had been elected president? My view is that emancipation would have come sooner and in a better context than it did under Abraham Lincoln, under both of them. I think you would have had pretty much the same thing. I think there would have been withdrawals. But I don't think Chase and Seward would have gone so far in appeasing the South and the border states.
And I think--and this comes to my theory of leadership, which is real--if Lincoln had not spent two years appeasing Kentucky, if he had mobilized 400,000 black soldiers and issued an emancipation order giving the soldiers freedom, I think the Civil War would have been over two years, three years at most. And I will say, again, on this leadership issue--and then I'm through with it--I don't understand the historians who say his great leadership --if Franklin Delano Roosevelt had conducted World War II as disastrously as Abraham Lincoln conducted the Civil War in the first two years, America would be a German protectorate today.
LAMB: How many years have you been in Chicago?
Mr. BENNETT: About 47.
LAMB: How big is Ebony magazine?
Mr. BENNETT: Biggest black magazine in the world, about 2 million subscribers, about 10 million readers overall every month.
LAMB: And this book was published by Johnson Publishing.
Mr. BENNETT: Right.
LAMB: John Johnson?
Mr. BENNETT: Yes.
LAMB: Did you try to get it published anywhere else?
Mr. BENNETT: No, I did not.
LAMB: Does Johnson publish books all the time?
Mr. BENNETT: No, he publishes books by authors, internal books by authors. Primarily--we publish several books outside, but primarily books by authors, people who work at Johnson Publishing Company or who have worked at Johnson Publishing Company.
LAMB: Has your book been reviewed by The Washington Post or The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal?
Mr. BENNETT: It has not, to this date, been reviewed by The Washington Post, The New York Times or some other journals we can name. It has been reviewed by a number of major journals in this country, and--and has received, as I say, I think, enthusiastic reviews from radio people and--and television people.
LAMB: When did you first think about doing a book?
Mr. BENNETT: About my--there's a disagreement in my family about that. I say seven years; my wife said I've been doing it for 10 or 12 years. We have split on 10 years, maybe. What I started to do--as I mentioned, I did the essay in February of 1968, and it was not being circulated anywhere. I've had a young historian call me from the University of Illinois in Urbana and say, `I can't find this anywhere. It's not in the index.' So based on the fact that it was not being circulated, I said, you know, 10 or 12 years ago, seven years ago, `I think I'll create a book of essays and put the Lincoln essays in it. I have a number of other essays that I want to put in it.'
Well, as I worked on it, I said, `Well, you know,' as an author says, `maybe, you know, it needs a little update.' A year or two later, 300 or 400 pages, I say, `Well, it has to be a book.' And so it evolved into that in let's say 10 years, maybe seven or 12 years, but I've been working on it that time. And I say and I hope you'll let me say immodestly, I guess, I worked on this book nights and weekends for 10 years or so, after my day job. I didn't--I just--couldn't do this at my day job. I worked 14 hours or so at my day job and then I would go home and I would work at night and then I'd work all weekend. People thought I was crazy, and I just did it year after year. And I did not receive--I had no graduate assistance. Books like these are generally done with an army of graduate assistance. I had no graduates assistance. And I didn't get a grant from a foundation.
I did it 10 years on my own and people--you know, feel sorry for you and people, of course, say, `You're crazy.' But it was one of the most exciting 10 years I've spent because what I had to do is to--I had to learn how to see again. I had to create new concepts for trying to understand Lincoln because the dominant concept would have led me into error. So all this time I was involved in trying to see again, learning how to see again and in creating new concepts or containing a phenomenon that I think we need a new perspective on.
LAMB: How many copies did you print?
Mr. BENNETT: I don't remember. I know we're in the second printing but I don't remember the num...
LAMB: It is like 30,000 vs...
Mr. BENNETT: No, it wasn't that many at all. No.
LAMB: Not that many.
Mr. BENNETT: No.
LAMB: What's been the reaction among black people to this?
Mr. BENNETT: The reaction has been tremendous. It's 650 pages, footnotes, it's not the kind of book you expect people to walk down the streets reading. But I walk down the streets and black people say, `Thank you for doing the book. Thank you for this.' And I've gotten more response on this book in the black community than I've ever gotten, and I have another book, "Before the Mayflower," which is one of the widest circulated black history books ever. But the response to this has been electric and I've been very humbled by it.
LAMB: Now this is a bit convoluted.
Mr. BENNETT: Yeah.
LAMB: Let me try to walk through this.
Mr. BENNETT: OK. Mm-hmm.
LAMB: If white people, both--you know, you hear both Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives putting their arms around Abraham Lincoln. If they think he did a good thing and they are supporting him because they think he freed the slaves, what advantage is it to this discussion if, in the end, you're successful in pulling the rug out from under that?
Mr. BENNETT: All right. I'm asked that question a number of ways, and it's a good question. I appreciate it. The first--my first response without getting up on a high horse--but my first response always is that I think the truth is its own defense and is absolutely necessary. My second response is--to whites and blacks--is this warm, confident symbol who gives out freedom on January the 1st, 1863. My second response is that you can't lie your way to freedom, can't lie your way to freedom. You can't do it. You can't lie your way to a rainbow nation.
My third response, and I say it in the book, people who say that they're too late--I won't name a presidential candidate, anybody's name, but the people who say that in general know who Abraham Lincoln is, they know he was not John Brown. They know he was not Wendell Phillips. They know he was not a major advocate of liberation. They know in general--and this is what most people know about Lincoln, that he did it reluctantly. He did it to save the Union. That's the Lincoln that these people worship.
What is that saying? That you don't fight for freedom if it causes problems. They know the Lincoln they're worshiping. They don't want to know John Brown. They don't want to know Wendell Phillips. They don't even want to know Lyman Trumbull. And I'm saying that--that we ought to teach young white children Wendell Phillips' name, who said-and 94 years before King, 133 years before Mandela that he wanted to create a rainbow nation composed of the learned and the ignorant, the old and the young, the black and the white, pagan, Christian, Jew--all in one great procession marching toward a rainbow land.
He said that 100 years ago. That ought to be taught. If we're going to overcome the madness we're going through in this country, we need to know white people in this country are going back to Abigail Adams, who really were in favor of the liberation of black people. We need to know black people like Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, etc.
LAMB: Again, my facts may not be right on the money, but a couple weeks ago, President Clinton stood in front of the Anderson Cottage out here at the Old Soldiers' Home, $750,000 to repair it. I think he mentioned that it was in this cottage that Abraham Lincoln wrote a lot of the Emancipation Proclamation, implying that's very positive, very good. Kind of connect that to--I want to ask you whether--is Bill Clinton, as they said several years ago, the first black American president?
Mr. BENNETT: Give me two seconds. I'd hoped that we'd come to this. First point, the dedication of this cottage in the summer--and I read newspapers all across this country, almost all of them wrong, almost all of them totally wrong. The big American newspaper, the paper of record said that it was in the Soldiers' Home where--that Abraham Lincoln drafted the Emancipation Proclamation. He did no such thing. Did no such thing.
Another major American newspaper--and just let me read this. I brought it to read. I won't name the newspaper. Said, `It was at the cottage in 1862 that Lincoln wrote the final draft of the Emancipation Proclamation. Issued January the 1st, 1863, the Proclamation freed slaves in Confederate territory controlled by Union forces.'
Now I read about five sentences here and there's six major errors in just these five--this is a major American newspaper. In the first place, he did not write the second draft of the Emancipation Proclamation in that cottage. What he wrote there--and he didn't write it--he made notes there for the preliminary proclamation.
Now this is 2000. American media don't know the difference between the preliminary proclamation and the Emancipation Proclamation? The other point was that document was issued on September the 22nd, 1862. The Emancipation Proclamation was drafted in the White House on December the 31st, 1800 and 62. But I call your attention to this sentence in a major newspaper which said, `The Proclamation freed slaves in Confederate territory controlled by Union forces.' It did the precise opposite. Lincoln freed slaves in Confederate territory controlled by Confederate troops. He left them in slavery in Confederate territory controlled by Union forces. So...
LAMB: Well, what about the other half of that? Bill Clinton?
Mr. BENNETT: I think his appointment policy has been extraordinary and is an indication of what we should expect from a president and points in the direction that we ought to go in terms of trying to create a rainbow nation. Lincoln was not going in that direction at all. And again, here's an indication of a direction we need to go in in order to create the rainbow nation that was dreamed that has never been lived.
LAMB: But--now he's--you know, he was part of that symbol of endorsing the Abraham Lincoln thing and the whole--you know, standing in front of the cottage and that doesn't bother you? I mean, all of these presidents, both sides, all say great things about Abraham Lincoln. But you're basically saying it's all a lie.
Mr. BENNETT: Forget--I said--I'm saying fact, fact, fact. All the major newspapers in America--I can name them--said that he wrote the draft of the Declaration--I mean of the Emancipation Proclamation in that cot--he did not do it. And this indicates one to me--and I come back to your question, that the misinterpretation and misunderstanding of Lincoln on this issue has reached the level of a national scandal when all of the newspapers put out this misinformation.
The second point, it doesn't bother me, even scholars it doesn't bother me--500,000 thousand PhDs swearing that Lincoln wrote the Emancipation Proclamation in that co--in that thing will not change the fact that he did not do it. The facts are against the theory and it's the duty of all Americans to begin now to deal with the facts.
LAMB: Our guest has been Lerone Bennett Jr. This is what the book looks like, "Forced Into Glory: Abraham Lincoln's White Dream." Thank you very much.
Mr. BENNETT: Thank you. Delighted to be here.
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