Happy Emancipation Day

Many talented folks have weighed in on today’s Sesquicentennial of the Final Emancipation Proclamation.

You can read it here.

Brooks Simpson sets the stage by telling us what happened on that fateful day when Lincoln signed the proclamation.

Patrick Young gives us two videos of lectures, one from David Blight and one from Jonathan Holloway.

Kidada Williams has some good, insightful comments about the proclamation here.

He starts by telling us, “Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation as a military strategy for winning the war against the Confederate rebellion.” This is something a lot of people forget. The EP was a multiprong weapon for winning the war. On the one hand, it sought to deprive the rebels of a valuable source of labor. On the other hand, it sought to augment Federal forces by authorizing the enlistment of African-American soldiers. The EP would be responsible for thousands of former slaves from confederate states fighting in Union ranks against slavery.

Professor Williams also talks about the effects of the EP: “Instead of being a panacea that destroyed slavery, the proclamation’s effect was quite limited.” We have to remember that for the vast majority of enslaved people, the EP required advances by the Union Army for its effects to really be felt. Additionally, as Prof. Williams points out, and as Chandra Manning shows in her book, What This Cruel War Was Over, the EP gave new impetus to the confederate war effort because it reiterated what they were fighting for–the continuation of slavery.

Kevin Levin calls for this day to be a national holiday, not just for being New Years Day but for being Emancipation Day. He also gives us a nice video from the National Archives on the physical document, the EP, and its preservation and display, and points us to this excellent op-ed piece from Eric Foner. Professor Foner makes the interesting observation, regarding the EP, that, “In a sense, it embodied a double emancipation: for the slaves, since it ensured that if the Union emerged victorious, slavery would perish, and for Lincoln himself, for whom it marked the abandonment of his previous assumptions about how to abolish slavery and the role blacks would play in post-emancipation American life.” It’s a fascinating insight to consider Lincoln began to emancipate himself as well from his former mindset regarding slavery, how to end it, and what to do with the freed African-Americans after the war.

Keith Harris gives us the document itself to read and contemplate, which I think is a good approach. So few people actually take the time to read the document that it’s no wonder it’s so misunderstood.

Don Shaffer, in an important post, gives us some of the dark side of the story, the maltreatment of contrabands in Arkansas by some Federal troops at the end of 1862.

Here is an excellent video from Matthew Pinsker of Dickinson College on the Emancipation Proclamation, giving some great points that many people often don’t consider. Hat tip to Steve Light for tweeting it.

Speaking for Matthew Pinsker, he has three excellent posts today. The first, here, features a discussion of Thomas Nast’s painting, “Emancipation.” Another post, here, gives some insights gained from reading James Oakes’ new book, Freedom National. The final post, here, is an outstanding post that gives the perspective of a North Carolina slaveowner regarding emancipation. The excerpts here tell us how protection of slavery really was the main concern of the seceded states, that the idea of slaves being happy with their lot is mere bunkum, and that the Union army was acting against slavery long before Lincoln took his action:

“That the shackles should suddenly fall from the hands of thousands of slaves, as silently as snowflakes fall upon the earth, and the slaves move on in their new atmosphere of freedom, with no signs of uproar, no fandangoes, no shouts, no jubilant songs to express their joy or insult their former owners, and with no more stir among them than might be produced on New Year’s Day, by a transfer from one set of masters to another, was not to be believed by any who knew what sudden emancipation once caused among this race in the Island of St. Domingo [Haiti]. Yet this is precisely the state of things we behold around us this day. The Emancipation Proclamation has taken effect today and has sundered, so far as military law can do it, the bonds that united the slave to the master, without producing a ripple on the face of the waters. This peaceful and quiet transition from slavery to freedom must find its explanation, to a great extent, in the fact that the Federal Army in this section of the state had long since, by their conduct towards the slaves, anticipated the Proclamation and virtually set them free. Besides this, the slaves may not be entirely certain that their freedom is permanent, and may have some secret dread of the approach of Confederate power.”

If you look at what many neoconfederates claim, you’ll see them claiming that Lincoln only issued the EP to make the war popular in “the North,” or that Lincoln only issued the EP to forestall intervention by the European powers. This is quite obviously nonsense. As Prof. Allen Guelzo tells us in his book, Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America, the EP could have had the result of immediate intervention by the European powers, and Lincoln had no idea what those powers would do. Additionally, most people in the loyal states weren’t looking to end slavery; they wanted to preserve the Union. They would eventually see that preserving the Union meant ending slavery, but on January 1, 1863 most Americans in the loyal states weren’t at that point yet. As usual, if a neoconfederate makes a claim, assume they are wrong and you won’t be disappointed the vast majority of the time.

In the midst of all the great football games, let’s take a few moments to think about Emancipation, about the political courage it took to issue the Final EP, and about the evolution of not only Abraham Lincoln but also the United States in moving closer to achieving the promise of the Declaration of Independence.

One comment

  1. Nice round up of what went up on the Proclamation. I had missed a couple of them. Thanks Al.

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