I was watching the movie 'Lincoln' by Steven Spielberg. One of the many sentences that I didn't understand properly was "say you believe only in legal equality for all races, not racial equality. The character 'James Ashley' played by actor David Costabile says this to 'Thaddeus Stevens' played by actor Tommy Lee Jones.

I started looking for the meaning of the phrases/terms 'legal equality for all races' & 'racial equality' on the internet. I couldn't understand their meaning and didn't get a single difference.

Could someone help me with this? I apologize for my bad English. English is not my first language.

  • To advocate for equality of all races before the law is not necessarily to advocate for the view all races are equal in every respect. – Tᴚoɯɐuo May 14 '18 at 14:29

Stevens was being questioned about whether he believed that black people were equal in all ways (morally, intellectually, socially), or simply equal before the law.

He was trying to confine the argument to legal equality -- that is, that the law should make no distinction based on color -- for two reasons:

  1. that is the legitimate purview of the legislature, what the law should be
  2. if he stated his own belief, that the races were equal in all ways, his enemies would use to defeat the 13th Amendment (which was to forbid slavery), basically arguing that "Even Thaddeus Stevens agrees: either you believe the white man is no better than the black man [a position very few whites of the time were willing to assent to] or you support slavery."
  • I appreciate your reply, Sir. I couldn't understand one thing though. Which character are you addressing in the second paragraph? "He was trying to confine the argument to legal equality", who's 'he' in this sentence? – Kartik Chauhan May 14 '18 at 14:54
  • Stevens was trying to confine the argument. His opponents were trying to get him to either admit he saw blacks as equals, which would alienate some of his supporters, or to claim he saw blacks as inferiors, which would not only be a lie but would alienate more of his supporters. – Malvolio May 14 '18 at 15:38

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