Eric Foner Discusses Lincoln’s Faith
Eric Foner, DeWitt Clinton Professor of American History at Columbia University, is the author of numerous works on American history, including Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party Before the Civil War; Tom Paine and Revolutionary America; and The Story of American Freedom, and Our Lincoln. He has served as president of both the Organization of American Historians and the American Historical Association, and has been named Scholar of the Year by the New York Council for the Humanities.
Question: Was faith a driving factor in Lincoln’s agenda?
Foner: I don’t think Lincoln could be a very good candidate for president nowadays. He was very unreligious. He never was a member of a church in his entire life. I don’t think he can run for president nowadays and with that on your resume. He didn’t, you know, he came to use religious language during the Civil War. He knew that this was a very religious country, but he explicitly said over and over again, we do not know God’s will. God may have his own purposes. You know, we’ve got to do the best we can. Of course, we’ve gone much further today. Everybody knows God’s will today. Every politician has a direct pipeline to God who tells them, “Build a pipeline in Alaska or drill offshore,” you know. Lincoln didn’t use that kind of rhetoric, so it wasn’t religion that was driving Lincoln. I think what was really driving him was a very deep belief in democracy and in, you might call it social opportunity. He, himself, had been born, you know, in very modest circumstances and he believed that everybody ought to have this opportunity to rise in the social spectrum including blacks. He didn’t believe in equality in a modern sense. For most of his life, he said, “You know, I don’t think black people should have the right to vote, hold office, marry white people, no.” But on this one basic right which he called the right to the fruits of your labor, the right to work and benefit from your own work and to save and to advance, he thought black people were equal to whites in that respect. They should have the same opportunity and that’s why slavery was wrong. Lincoln talked about slavery as a form of theft. It was stealing somebody’s labor and letting someone else appropriate it. And all the way through his life, he talked it. In his great second inaugural address in 1865 when he’s inaugurated for a second term, he talks about the 250 years of unrequited toil, [i.e.] unpaid labor. That’s what slavery was, unpaid labor. And he thought that was completely illegitimate. So, that’s really what’s driving him. Now, of course, that doesn’t tell you how to get rid of slavery especially if you believe in the Union, you believe in the Constitution. You know, the abolitionists said, “Let’s just abolish slavery,” but there was no legal mechanism for doing that before the Civil War. Slavery was an institution for the States. It required cooperation by slave owners if you’re going to get rid of slavery. That’s why people like Lincoln [spoke] about paying them for their slaves. You know, the abolitionists said, “Pay them? This is illegitimate. This is not real property, human beings. If you pay them, you are sort of accepting the legitimacy of their right of property.” But, if you’re going to need the cooperation of slave owners, you’re going to have to give them something to, you know, for them to cooperate. So, you know, it’s one thing. Lincoln hated slavery, and yet as a person fully embedded in the political system, he had to work within that system to think about ways of getting rid of slavery.
Question: Was his decision to abolish slavery a moral or political decision?
Foner: I don’t think you can separate political, moral, economic, ideological, military. The emancipation of the slaves as we say in the academic jargon was overdetermined. In other words, there were so many causes for it that you can’t just single out one. Lincoln always said it was a military measure. In other words, the war was not going well. Slavery was the foundation of the Southern economy. You attack the foundation in order to try to make it impossible for the South to continue fighting. Also, by the middle of the Civil War, he realized they needed black soldiers. You know, one of the things about the emancipation of the slaves was to welcome them into the Union Army. And by the end of the war, there were like 200,000 black men had served in the Union Army and Navy. That’s about 10% of all those who served. So that was a significant, you know, portion. So, that’s a military reason. But, nonetheless, Lincoln understood that there are moral considerations, political considerations. As he said, it was an act of justice as well as an act of military necessity. So, therefore, you know, you can balance these things out, but all these factors come into play in the middle of the Civil War when he decides to move toward emancipation.
Question: Could Lincoln have done more to normalize race relations?
Foner: It’s after the war that the country has to come to terms with the legacy of slavery. What is going to be the status of these 4 million people who had been freed? Are they going to be members of society? Are they going to be equal? Are they going to have the right to vote? Are they going to have civil equality, economic equality or they are going to be a separate [class], you know, unequal, second-class citizens? That was the fundamental problem of reconstruction. Lincoln didn’t live to face that problem. In his second inaugural, as I said, he kind of put the problem on the agenda when he talks about the 250 years of slavery. He’s telling the country we’ve got to come to terms of what the consequences of these are. And an interesting thing about that speech, he didn’t call it Southern slavery, he called it American slavery. In other words, this was a responsibility of the entire country. He didn’t point his finger at the South and say, “You are responsible for slavery.” He said, “We are all responsible. We have all benefited from slavery in one way or another.” So, you know, the Reconstruction Period, Lincoln did not live into that period. It’s a great tragedy because the president who succeeded him, Andrew Johnson, was the opposite of Lincoln. He was stubborn. He was racist. He was unwilling and unable to work with Congress. He had no regard for the rights of black people whatsoever, and I think he stymied a lot of the positive efforts toward equality that could have been taken at that point. So, you know, in the Civil War, Lincoln’s interest is winning the war. But at the end of his life, he’s beginning to think about the consequences of slavery, but his life is cut short before he really has an opportunity to, you know, take any real action on that regard.
It was "social opportunity," not religion, which drove Lincoln, according to the author.
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The results of this study showed depressive symptoms being highest in adolescence, declining in early adulthood and then climbing back up again into one's early 30s.
- A 2020 Michigan State University study examined the link between teen social networks and the levels of depression later in life.
- This study used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, specifically targeting social network data. The results showed depressive symptoms being highest in adolescence and declining in early adulthood, then climbing back up again into one's early 30s.
- There are several ways you can attempt to stay active and socially connected while battling depression, according to experts.
The study suggested that teenagers who have a smaller social circle showed higher rated of depression later on in life.
Credit: asiandelight/Shutterstock<p><a href="https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-09/msu-tsn093020.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">A 2020 Michigan State University study</a> examined the link between teen social networks and the levels of depression later in life. The results of this study suggested teens who have a larger number of friends in adolescent years may be less likely to suffer from depression later in life. These findings were especially prominent in women.</p><p>This study used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, specifically targeting social network data. This data asks students to select up to 5 male and 5 female friends and indicate how often they felt depressive symptoms. </p><p>MSU Sociology Assistant Professor Molly Copeland and lead author Christina Kamis (Sociology doctoral candidate at Duke University) published the study in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior in September. </p><p><strong>Female teenagers may struggle more with depression during their teen years but show fewer depressive symptoms later in life.</strong> </p><p>For female adolescents, popularity can lead to increased depression during their teen years. However, this ultimately may lead to lasting benefits of fewer depressive symptoms later in life. "Adolescence (is) a sensitive period of early life when structural facets of social relationships can have lasting mental health consequences," Copeland wrote, adding that "compared to boys, girls face additional risks from how others view their social position in adolescence."</p><p>Throughout this study, men showed no association between popularity and depressive symptoms, however, they did show benefits from naming more friends. As for why this is, Copeland has a theory: perhaps the expectations on young girls (compared to young boys) as well as the roles that lead to popularity can create a kind of stress and strain felt more prominently by girls than boys. </p><p>While this does create more difficult teen years for young girls, the stress and strain may lead to giving these girls a psychological skillset that benefits them later in life, allowing them to deal with stressful situations more easily.</p><p>The study also suggested that teenagers who have a smaller social circle showed higher rates of depression later on in life. </p><p><strong>Results from both men and women followed a U-shaped trajectory of depressive symptoms.</strong></p><p>The results showed depressive symptoms being highest in adolescence and declining in early adulthood, then climbing back up again into one's early 30s. This was particularly more noticeable in women, who showed a steeper decline in symptoms between the ages of 18-26, followed by a more rapid increase in symptoms in their early 30s. </p>
How to stay social while battling depression<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQ1MjA3MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNDMyNDY1N30.e1ULIJ5QYXh4H1SGUPUTJqYBCnX2XWp6InjPRr-2Bdw/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C22%2C0%2C22&height=700" id="832fd" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b360bb24fb8d6025680bfffb52fd5982" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="depression support group illustration" />
Attending support groups, planning activities with family or even just a weekly phone call to a friend can help alleviate depression.
Credit: Mascha Tace/Shutterstock<p>Although maintaining relationships can help you cope, it can also be one of the most difficult things to do when you're experiencing depression.</p><p>As Dr. Jennifer L. Payne (an assistant professor/co-director of the Women's Mood Disorders Center at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore) <a href="https://www.everydayhealth.com/hs/major-depression/staying-socially-active-with-depression/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">tells Everyday Health</a>: "One of the common symptoms of depression is social isolation." </p><p>Payne goes on to explain that you can "soak up some energy" by simply being around other people, moving around, and staying active.</p><p><strong>Creating a daily schedule and planning activities ensures action. </strong></p><p>While it may be easy to turn down last-minute plans, it's more difficult to cancel plans you've already committed to with friends and family. While it's important not to overwhelm yourself with a packed schedule, creating a minimal daily schedule that involves seeing friends and family or doing activities that you've previously enjoyed can ensure you stay active and often makes you feel more accomplished at the end of each day. </p><p><strong>Support groups and social networking with people who understand. </strong></p><p>While depression can very easily make you feel isolated and alone, surrounding yourself with others who may be struggling with depression as well can help in multiple ways. You will have peer support from people who relate to how you're feeling plus the added benefit of being around people, which can raise your spirits. </p><p><strong>Keeping a journal (and setting goals) can help you feel accomplished. </strong></p><p>Keep a thought journal and detail certain daily or weekly goals (such as a plan to call a friend on Monday or to visit your local coffee shop for a change of scenery on Thursday). These small, achievable goals not only get you out of the house and/or interacting with others, but they also provide a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction once they are complete. </p><p><strong>Random acts of kindness, such as volunteering, will make you feel good. </strong></p><p><a href="https://bigthink.com/mind-brain/kindness-benefits-james-doty?utm_term=Autofeed&utm_medium=Social&utm_source=Twitter#Echobox=1596517476" target="_self">Being kind is good for your health</a> in many different ways. Doing something nice for others can boost your serotonin levels. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is responsible for feelings of satisfaction and well-being. Similar to exercise, kindness, and altruism can also release endorphins, creating a <a href="https://www.quietrev.com/6-science-backed-ways-being-kind-is-good-for-your-health/#:~:text=Kindness%20releases%20feel%2Dgood%20hormones&text=Doing%20nice%20things%20for%20others,as%20a%20%E2%80%9Chelper's%20high.%E2%80%9D" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">temporary sense of euphoria</a> that can help combat depressive symptoms. </p>
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