"Posterity will owe everlasting thanks to John Brown for lifting up once more to the gaze of a nation grown fat and flabby on the garbage of lust and oppression, a true standard of heroic philanthropy, and each coming generation will pay its installment of the debt. . . . John Brown saw slavery through no mist or cloud, but in a light of infinite brightness, which left no one of its ten thousand horrors concealed." Frederick Douglass

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Thursday, August 05, 2010

W. E. B. DuBois Speaks
"Make Clear the Facts"

The North went to war without the slightest idea of freeing the slave.  The great majority of Northerners from Lincoln down pledged themselves to protect slavery, and they hated and harried Abolitionists.  But on the other hand, the thesis that . . . the whole North during and after the war was chiefly interested in making money, is only half true; it was abolition and belief in democracy that gained for a time the upper hand after the war and led the North in Reconstruction. . . .  In growing ascendancy for a calculable time was a great moral movement which turned the North from its economic defense of slavery and led it to Emancipation.  Abolitionists attacked slavery because it was wrong and their moral battle cannot be truthfully minimized or forgotten.  Nor does this fact deny that the majority of Northerners before the war were not abolitionists, that they attacked slavery only in order to win the war and enfranchised the Negro to secure this result.

In the first place, somebody in each era must make clear the facts with utter disregard to his own wish and desire and belief.  What we have got to know, so far as possible, are the things that actually happened in the world.  Then with that much clear and open to every reader, the philosopher and prophet has a chance to interpret these facts; but the historian has no right, posing as a scientist, to conceal or distort facts; and until we distinguish between these two functions of the chronicler of human action, we are going to render it easy for a muddled world out of sheer ignorance to make the same mistaken ten times over.

Source: W. E. B. DuBois, Black Reconstruction in America 1860-1880 (1935; rptd. New York: Atheneum, 1983), pp. 716 & 722.

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