The Public Interest

In praise of punishment

Stanley C. Brubaker

Fall 1989

IN AMERICAN political life, no one deserves praise more than Abraham Lincoln. And perhaps no one could express more clearly the character of Lincolns political nobility than Frederick Douglass; having experienced the degradation of slavery, Douglas apprehended more fully the peaks of civic virtue. Thus, at the unveiling of the Freedmen’s Monument in memory of Lincoln, Douglass delivered one of the most moving statements of praise in American oratory. The statement was devoid of illusions. Lincoln was, said Douglass, “pre-eminently the white man’s President”; white Americans were his children, black Americans “at best only his step-children; children by adoption, children by force of circumstances and necessity.” Yet the speech was replete with the sentiments of “gratitude and appreciation.”

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