Historical figures should not be unnecessarily glorified

Sunny Kim

In celebration of President Lincoln’s 207th birthday, it’s worthwhile to critically examine his presidency and policies relating to the Civil War. Examining these is a crucial component to understanding present-day racial relations.

The Emancipation Proclamation is one of the most important documents in U.S. history and one of the most misunderstood. The document was more a military strategy than a moral decision. When President Lincoln issued the document in 1863, it only affected states that had seceded from the Union, excluding border slave states such as Kentucky and Missouri.

There are also misconceptions about President Lincoln’s stance on slavery. Lincoln was against slavery but was not an abolitionist. Lincoln opposed the ideas of black people, among other things, having the right to vote and intermarrying with whites. In one famous Lincoln-Douglas debate, he said, “I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races.”

Many people believe President Lincoln was a primary figure who fought against slavery. While this is not entirely incorrect, people should not overemphasize Lincoln’s accomplishments in a time when racial tensions are still prevalent. A possible reason for society’s glorifying Lincoln relates to how citizens view their presidents.

Associate government professor Sean Theriault explains why citizens celebrate certain public figures.  

“[Presidents] are also primary spokespeople for global democracy and representative government,” Theriault said. “When things go well, we view them even more as heroes.” 

Even if we are taught historically accurate information, our previous experiences and knowledge create biases when we make moral conclusions. 

Assistant educational psychology professor Andrew C. Butler says memory can factor into creating errors.

“Memory is not like a video recorder,” Butler said. “Memory is very constructive and… whether you’re in a classroom or watching a movie, your experiences and knowledge… color your understanding.” 

Butler says historical misconceptions can be created through pop culture in society today. 

“Films are very powerful, they have vivid imagery…and narrative, they have all these elements that make for great memory…and that is perfectly appropriate in some levels but the issue is that that’s how some people learn about history.”  

Presidents are not perfect. Even when we celebrate their achievements, we should be aware of their positive and negative intentions. As a result, we can cultivate realistic perceptions of them and their views on topics such as racism. This in turn can show us how our understanding of the world is not merely a black and white scenario.

 Racism is still prevalent in society today. It is important to learn the truth of our history because, by doing so, we can evaluate racial relationships more accurately. 

Kim is a journalism freshman from Austin. Follow Kim on Twitter @sunny_newsiee