By people were “…not only lower than the angels,

By modern standards, Abraham Lincoln was a racist. He openly opposed slavery and often spoke of the need to end it in America. However, Lincoln also said that he did not consider black people to be equal to white people and made many other remarks that we, today, would consider racist. Yet, it is not just to judge a man of the 19th century by the standards of the 21st century. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, racism is defined as “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race”. Although attitudes towards the black race have shifted for the better from the 19th to the 21st century, the definition of racism itself stands strong throughout.  It is clear from John Bell Robinson’s work in “Pictures of Slavery and Anti-slavery” that the majority opinion regarding black people in the 1800s was that they were not equal to white people, and should be considered property. Robinson went as far to say that “God himself has made them for usefulness as slaves…if we betray our trust, and throw them off on their own resources, we convert them into barbarians, and we shall be compelled to atone for our sin towards them through all time.” In addition, John Bell Robinson believed that anyone who would advocate for the rights of black people were “…not only lower than the angels, but a little lower than the devil.”It is clear from the opinions expressed in “Pictures of Slavery and Anti-slavery” that the majority view of white people in America regarding race was vastly different, and more extreme, than Abraham Lincoln’s view. During his reply to Stephen A. Douglas during the Lincoln-Douglas debates, Lincoln states that he “…cannot but hate” the idea of slavery continuing to spread, and that he “hates it because of the monstrous injustice of slavery itself.” Here, a clear proof of Abraham Lincoln’s opposition to slavery in noted. While comparing two opposing views of the 19th century and claiming one to be “more racist” than the other, it can not be forgotten that both are, in fact, still racist, even if it is thought to be “less racist”. While measuring John Bell Robison’s perspective on black people and white superiority to Abraham Lincoln’s value of black people to not be thought of as property, it is an obvious logic to assume Robinson’s morals as “more racist”. But, even though Abraham Lincoln is seen to be the more progressive figure, he also said that his “own feelings will not admit of this” while discussing if black people should be considered equal to white people. He then goes on to say directly that “We cannot, then, make them equals”. Both race influencers of the 19th century can be considered racist in their own reguared in 21st century standards. While Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas mostly disagreed throughout their debates, they did, in fact agree on the belief that “the race to which (they) belong having the superior position.” That race, of course being, white.  But it is vital to note the clear distinction between Douglas and Lincoln, as Abraham Lincoln added on to this belief of superiority. “But I hold that, there is no reason in the world why the negro is not entitled to all the natural rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence; the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I hold that he is as much entitled to these as the white man.” Lincoln then goes on to mention, once again, that this does not mean that black people are his equal in color or moral and intellectual endowment. While Lincoln’s statement is still, indeed, racists according to the 21st century, it provided a minority opinion of acceptance in a prejudice society.   In his letter to Mary Speed, a personal friend, Abraham Lincoln described his experience after seeing slaves on a riverboat during his travels. “They were chained…together. An iron clevis around the left wrist of each, fastened to the main chain. The negroes were strung precisely together like so many fish upon a trot line.” Here, Lincoln described the black slaves tied together on the boat that he saw in great detail. This is a clear indication that seeing such an unjust and horrific sight had an effect on his views towards humanity. Abraham Lincoln also added that “they were being separated forever from the scenes of their childhood, their friends…”. Lincoln was not thinking of the tied up black slaves as property, but as people. As people of the 21st century, there are three fundamental ways to look at black people in America in the 19th century. The first one being, of course, property, as most black people in the south at the time were slaves and had no rights. Secondly, blacks could have also been categorized as human beings, like white people. Lastly, black people could have been categorized at citizens. Abraham Lincoln always saw blacks as people. He never accepted the idea that they could be viewed as property, but he evolved and grew on the question of whether or not they should hold full citizenship. Skeptical of this idea at first, he avoided discussing this idea in the middle of his political career. But, during his response to Stephen A. Douglas in the Lincoln-Douglas debates, Abraham Lincoln addresses the idea of black people holding citizenship directly.Abraham Lincoln is often thought to be “ahead of his time” because of his minority opinion of black people having the same natural rights as white people. But, the phrase “ahead of their time” is usually used when a person was unsuccessful in their life or work, because society and the world was not ready for them or their ideas. But, Lincoln was highly successful- he was elected to public office and eventually became president. Therefore, Lincoln was not “ahead of his time”, he was “of his time”. To apply 21st century beliefs and standards to an America of 1800 and declare Abraham Lincoln a “racist” is a faulty formula that unfairly distorts Lincoln’s true role in advancing civil and human rights for blacks at the time. Although he was not as open-minded regarding equality like  in recent years, he was, in fact, open-minded for his time period. By the standards of the 19th century, Lincoln’s views on race and equality were progressive and truly changed minds, policy and most importantly, the outlook on equality for years to come.