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How did we get here? Part 10

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By Jim Thompson
HCP columnist

Abraham Lincoln (1809-65) was born in poverty in Kentucky. Largely self-educated, Lincoln had a tremendous drive and sense of right and wrong.

When asked as an adult to fill out a form once, in response to the question “Education?,” he wrote “inadequate.”

He hit his stride as a self-taught lawyer successfully passing the bar in Illinois. He was a great debater. Once he won two similar court cases in the same day in front of the same judge, arguing the opposite sides in the morning session from those arguments he used in the afternoon session.

His anti-slavery position may have been a flicker fanned by his father. His father moved the family to Indiana largely to leave the slave state of Kentucky to reside in the free state of Indiana.

Lincoln was very clever. His much-vaunted “Emancipation Proclamation” freed no slaves at the time of its writing but held promise for the future. Lincoln was a president surrounded by enemies. Despite this, he prevailed on the side of what was right for the nation and its people of all races.

I highly recommend “A Team of Rivals” by Doris Kearns Goodwin, should you desire to understand the workings of the Lincoln presidency.

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John Wilkes Booth (1838-65) is inextricably linked to Lincoln. He was only 27 years old when he assassinated Lincoln. I often lay the race relations problems of the last 156 years at Booth’s feet. Booth was less than half of Lincoln’s age. We don’t know for sure what would have happened had Lincoln lived, but indications are the years of Jim Crow laws and other injustices inflicted on the freed slaves may not have happened had Lincoln lived.

Lincoln had a full term ahead of him when he died and he would have been an orator extraordinaire after leaving office, all for the rights of the common man of all skin colors. Booth is the one individual who prevented this manifestation.

Frederick Douglass (1818-95) was one of the very significant abolitionists of the antebellum Civil War period. He escaped from slavery in Maryland and became an outstanding orator and writer tirelessly pushing for the end to slavery. Douglass also supported suffrage, the right for women to vote. Douglass became the first African-American nominated for vice president of the United States as the running mate and VP nominee of Victoria Woodhull on the Equal Rights Party ticket. English supporters funded his first newspaper, the North Star, whose motto was “Right is of no Sex – Truth is of no Color – God is the Father of us all, and we are all brethren.” (Wikipedia).

Douglass and his wife, Anna Murray, had five children. One of his sons, Charles Remond Douglass, lived until 1920. The Douglass’s last home, Cedar Hill, is in the Anacostia area of Washington, D.C., and is preserved as a National Historic Site.

Jim Thompson, formerly of Marshall, is a graduate of Hillsboro High School and the University of Cincinnati. He resides in Duluth, Ga. and is a columnist for The Highland County Press. He may be reached at

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