About the National Archives

Welcome Remarks for The Black Man's President: Abraham Lincoln, African Americans, and the Pursuit of Racial Equality

Greetings from the National Archives’ flagship building in Washington, DC, which sits on the ancestral lands of the Nacotchtank peoples. I’m David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, and it's my pleasure to welcome you to today’s conversation with Michael Burlingame about his book The Black Man’s President, which looks at Abraham Lincoln’s personal connections with Black people over the course of his career.

Before we begin, I’d like to tell you about two programs coming up in the next couple of weeks on our YouTube channel.

On Tuesday, November 23, at 1 p.m., H. W. Brands, author of Our First Civil War: Patriots and Loyalists in the American Revolution, will describe the American Revolution in a way that shows it to be more than a fight against the British: it was also a violent battle among neighbors forced to choose sides.

And on Wednesday, December 1, at 1 p.m., Fay Yarbrough will discuss her Choctaw Confederates, her new book about the Choctaw Nation’s role in the Civil War.

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A century and a half of Lincoln scholarship has shown us many facets of this complex man—lawyer, politician, war leader, husband. In The Black Man’s President, Michael Burlingame invites us to look at Abraham Lincoln through his personal relations with African Americans. He takes his title from a statement by Frederick Douglass six weeks after the President’s assassination, that Lincoln was “emphatically the black man’s president, the first to show any respect for the rights of a black man.”

Lincoln is forever linked to the Emancipation Proclamation, which he issued midway through the Civil War. Although it did not free all those in bondage at the time, the proclamation’s promise of freedom changed the character of the war. That landmark document, signed by President Lincoln, is on display in the National Archives Museum for three days, starting today.

Also on display today is General Order Number 3, issued on June 19, 1865, by the commander of Union troops in Galveston, Texas. Fulfilling the promise of the Emancipation Proclamation, this order announced that the 250 thousand enslaved persons in Texas were all free. The order became the foundation of Juneteenth, the oldest known celebration commemorating the end of slavery in the United States.

This is the first time these two milestone documents have been exhibited at the same time. You can also read about the Emancipation Proclamation and General Order Number 3 in an online featured document exhibit on Archives.gov.

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Our guests today are Michael Burlingame and James Oakes.

Michael Burlingame holds the Chancellor Naomi B. Lynn Distinguished Chair in Lincoln Studies at the University of Illinois, Springfield. He is the author or editor of numerous books about Lincoln, including An American Marriage; Lincoln Observed; The Inner World of Abraham Lincoln; and the two-volume Abraham Lincoln: A Life.

James Oakes is professor of humanities at the Graduate Center, the City University of New York, and an award-winning author. His books include The Crooked Path to Abolition, The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, and The Radical and the Republican: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln.

Now let’s hear from Michael Burlingame and James Oakes. Thank you for joining us today.