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Moses, Martyr and Messiah : Abraham Lincoln and black emancipation. A study in the popular development and political use of myth (with special reference to the years from 1860 to 1870).

Beardsmore, Valerie (1980) Moses, Martyr and Messiah : Abraham Lincoln and black emancipation. A study in the popular development and political use of myth (with special reference to the years from 1860 to 1870). Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94200) (KAR id:94200)


Myths which centre upon Abraham Lincoln's relationships with black Americans provide a case study in the popular development and political use of myth in a modem democratic society, and of its ability to find meaning outside the culture in which it originates. In 'advanced* societies myth plays an important role in politics. Not only can politicians secure popular support by associating themselves and their policies with a hero of their society and the values he represents, but also by concentrating complex events or trends within a single theme, myth supplies a coherent, easily assimilated and so - especially in times of social crisis - peculiarly potent political argument.

Most Lincoln myths have been used politically, but those relating to emancipation emerged primarily as part of the political campaigns of secessionists during the crisis of Southern nationalism, 1860-1861, and Northern anti-slavery radicals during the 186 5 assassination crisis. In both cases the mythical Lincoln symbolized, and so simplified, the complex economic, social and ideological developments which brought about the Civil War and, during that conflict, the abolition of slavery in the United States.

Among secessionists, the myth-making process distilled white Southerners' fears for the future of their slavery-based society into the compelling image of Lincoln as a rabid abolitionist whose election to the presidency would necessitate their section's withdrawal from the Union. In 1865 Northern anti-slavery radicals revealed the potential political usefulness of images of Lincoln as Emancipator and Martyr to liberty when they used them to sanctify wartime emancipation and incorporated them into an interpretation of the Civil War which they believed demanded an approach to Reconstruction that would ensure the total and permanent abolition of slavery and the establishment of at least basic civil rights for black men. The image of Lincoln as a hero of emancipation proved especially valuable to those seeking protection for the rights of freedmen, but during the 1866 and 1668 election campaigns those who were more concerned to bring about rapid restoration of former rebel states to their proper places in the Union also incorporated mythical images of Lincoln into their campaign rhetoric, demonstrating the flexibility of myth in political use. Thus the heroic Lincoln was detached from his earliest political associations, facilitating his incorporation into America's national mythology.

In Britain Northern partisans used the Emancipator image of Lincoln to stimulate anti-slavery sympathy for the Federal cause and to confirm an analysis of the Civil War directly linked to their political interests at home.

However, in Britain too the heroic Lincoln was gradually detached from his early political associations, and this made possible his emergence as a hero of the broad values of freedom and democracy.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94200
Additional information: This thesis has been digitised by EThOS, the British Library digitisation service, for purposes of preservation and dissemination. It was uploaded to KAR on 25 April 2022 in order to hold its content and record within University of Kent systems. It is available Open Access using a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-commercial, No Derivatives ( licence so that the thesis and its author, can benefit from opportunities for increased readership and citation. This was done in line with University of Kent policies ( If you feel that your rights are compromised by open access to this thesis, or if you would like more information about its availability, please contact us at and we will seriously consider your claim under the terms of our Take-Down Policy (
Uncontrolled keywords: Anthropology; history; politics; myth; myth-making; slavery; American Civil War
Subjects: E History America
E History America > E151 United States (General)
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of History
SWORD Depositor: SWORD Copy
Depositing User: SWORD Copy
Date Deposited: 12 May 2023 10:37 UTC
Last Modified: 12 May 2023 10:37 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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