Study Guide

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter Slavery

By Seth Grahame-Smith

Slavery

It's worth noting that killing a slave was not considered murder, no matter the circumstances. It was merely "destruction of property." (1.16)

This book doesn't pull punches on slavery, opening up with a nice reminder that slavery is a Very Bad institution, founded as it is on the dehumanization of, well, humans. We haven't met any vampires yet (except for Henry in the Introduction, and he's so nice he hardly counts as a vampire), but we're already confronted with the terrible parts of history. America the beautiful?

I recall seeing a horse cart pass, filled with N****es. There were several. All women, and of varying age. They were... shackled at the wrist and chained together on the cart bed, without so much as a handful of loose hay to comfort the bumps of the road, or a blanket to relieve them from the winter air. The drivers, naturally, sat on the cushioned bench in front, each of them wrapped in wool. My eyes met those of the youngest N**** girl, who was close in age to myself. Perhaps five or six. I admit that I could not look at her more than a moment before turning away—such was the sorrow of her countenance. (1.34)

This is Abe's first observation of slaves and slavery, and even early on Abe understands the inequality afoot. He definitely isn't a fan. The slaves are treated inhumanly, while the slave-traders/owners get all the sort of conveniences that people enjoy, and all Abe can do is notice the humanity of "the youngest N**** girl," who isn't so different from himself.

"Honored gentlemen, I am pleased to present the day's first lot." Upon this, the first N****, a man of perhaps five-and-thirty years, took the stage and bowed heartily, smiling and standing tall in his ill-fitting suit (which looked to have been purchased for the occasion). "A bull, name of Cuff! Still in the prime of his strength! As fine a field hand as you are ever likely to see, and sure to sire a brood of sons with backs every bit as sound!" That this "bull" seemed so fervent in his hope of being bought— standing up straight, smiling and bowing as the auctioneer described his many uses—I could not help my pity and revulsion. (4.91)

This is Abe's first experience of a slave auction and it's pretty terrible. Cuff is described in animal terms: he's a "bull" (meaning he's male), sure to "sire" (which means to "father" and is often used with livestock) more slaves. Ugh. What really gets to Abe is not just the terrible dehumanization of the auction, but that Cuff is forced to participate in his own sale. But then, if Cuff is sick or weak, he's going to be vampire chow, which isn't exactly an appealing alternative.

The theater of it all! Men and women! Children and infants presented to this surly mob—this collection of so-called gentlemen! I saw a N**** girl of three or four clinging to her mother, confused as to why she was dressed in such clothes; why she had been scrubbed the night before; made to stand on this platform while men shouted numbers and waved pieces of paper in the air. (4.95)

Here's a helpful hint: if you ever want to change things, just say "what about the children?" Okay, so that might not have worked in the 90s when people were worried about rap lyrics, but in the 1850s, "what about the children?" was a very powerful part of the abolitionist argument. Check out Uncle Tom's Cabin—all 800 pages of it—for a glimpse of this.

So long as this country is cursed with slavery, so too will it be cursed with vampires. (4.114)

Now there's an epiphany. Abe realizes this after his first trip to New Orleans, and the notion only gains strength during his second trip to New Orleans, when he notes that vampires are especially comfortable in the South since they can feed on slave blood without worrying about being discovered or punished (5.39). This is super convenient for Abe, since the two fights of his life (against vampires and against slavery) turn out to be the same fight. But from a writer's perspective, vampirism makes a nice symbol for slavery, too, because both slave owners and vampires survive on the blood of others.

[There is] in view from the windows of the Capitol a sort of livery stable, where droves of N****es are collected, temporarily kept, and finally taken to Southern markets, precisely like droves of horses. Men—chained together and sold! Here, in the shadow of an institution founded on the promise that "All men are created equal"! (8.44)

Abe doesn't hate slavery just because kids get enslaved or all the Southern money is used to buy slaves instead of buying Lincoln-commemorative coins. He hates it because it seems super hypocritical for a country that says it's based on equality to really be based on inequality. Also, vampires.

"I hate it because it deprives our republican example of its just influence in the world!" he continued. "Enables the enemies of free institutions, with plausibility, to taunt us as hypocrites!" (9.31)

Here's Abe debating about the evils of slavery, and his main point seems to be that slavery and democracy are mutually exclusive. Slavery is the square peg to democracy's round hole. Also wrong? Not letting women vote, though Grahame-Smith might be saving that for the sequel, Susan B. Anthony: Mummies Murderer.

"Our enemies are shrewd," said Henry. "They have made their cause the cause of the South. Allied themselves with living men who defend slavery as fervently as they. But these men have been deceived into quickening their own doom, for N****es are only the first of the living to be enslaved. If we lose, Abraham, then it is only a matter of time before every living man, woman, and child in America is a slave." (9.111)

Henry really makes the connection clear between vampires and slavery. Apparently, all the vampires want is to enslave us all and feed on us without worry of persecution… or is it prosecution? (Is that really so much to ask?) The problem for Abe is that some white people seem to think that the vampires are on their side (defending slavery), when, in fact, the vampires want to expand the idea of slavery to include everyone—white folks included.

More signs in the crowd today. "N**** Equality Is Immoral!" "America for Whites!" I look out at these crowds... at these fools. These fools who haven't the slightest idea how to live the morals they espouse. These fools who proclaim themselves men of God, yet show not the slightest reverence to His word. Christians preaching slavery! Slaveholders preaching morality! Is it any different from a drunkard preaching temperance? (10.17)

In case we didn't know, Abe makes it clear here that American slavery is based on a notion of racial inequality, which is what makes American slavery special—by which we mean, dangerous and dumb. Ancient Roman slavery, for example, wasn't based on race and wasn't usually permanent. Not that it was okay, either. The point here is that even if Abe weren't an abolitionist, he's a smart guy, and can easily see the hypocrisy inherent in this racist form of slavery.

I leave you, hoping that the lamp of liberty will burn in your bosoms until there shall no longer be a doubt that all men are created free and equal. —Abraham Lincoln, in a speech at Chicago, Illinois July 10th, 1858 (13.1)

This is the chapter where Abe (a) wins the Civil War and (b) gets assassinated. Talk about highs and lows. So why start off this pivotal, exciting chapter with a cheesy metaphor? Well, this chapter is all about Abe's legacy, what he leaves us after he dies—an end to slavery and a real beginning for America to live up to its promise that all men are created free and equal.