June 20, 2024

Hankering for History

Hanker: To have a strong, often restless desire, in this case for–you guessed it–history!

Emancipation Proclamation

3 min read

The Emancipation Proclamation, issued by President Abraham Lincoln, does not have the same impressiveness that it did when I was younger. While it was an essential document to civil rights, it has some history that is tarnishing to its good name. When I was growing up–(as I am sure this will ring true with you)–I was taught that the Emancipation Proclamation was an important, historical document; the fact that Lincoln’s proclamation was not just a blanketed “Slaves are Free!” was never discussed in school, not in my school anyways. I was taught that this document was as important, to our country’s history and our civil liberties, as the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution had been. As part of my “mini-series” on the Civil War, I wanted to touch on this before we jumped into 1863.

First, it is important that you, as the reader, understand the definition of emancipation. Wikipedia.org’s definition is as follows:

Emancipation is a broad term used to describe various efforts to obtain political rights or equality, often for a specifically disenfranchised group, or more generally in discussion of such matters.

Now that we have that covered, the Emancipation Proclamation was an executive order issued by President Lincoln under his authority as “Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy” under Article II, section 2 of the Constitution. This was an order he gave using his war powers, which he was allowed because states were in rebellion and in secession, and as so was not passed as a law by Congress.  This order, which went into effect on January 1st, 1863, proclaimed the freedom of slaves in ten states.

…..and it just clicked! Ten states?!? What? 

“Areas covered by the Emancipation Proclamation are in red. Slave holding areas not covered are in blue.” Wikipedia

Yes, the Emancipation Proclamation only freed the slaves in the southern states, and not even all of them! The Emancipation Proclamation did not outlaw slavery and it did not free the roughly 500,000 slaves in the Union states; the proclamation did not affect slaves in Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, or Delaware. At the time Tennessee was mainly controlled by the Union, as was New Orleans, and several counties in southern Louisiana and Virginia. Because these areas were controlled by the federal army, they were not covered by Abraham’s proclamation either; therefore, all slaves in these areas were still slaves, even though there were originally part of the Confederate States of America. (This made up for almost another 500,000 slaves!) President Lincoln received lots of flak for this, as he should have. The two main reasons why he his idea was questioned were: 1) that the Union Army was not powerful enough to effectively enforce this new order, and 2) that he had allowed the Union to keep all their slaves and had “freed” slaves over which he had no authority.

Then why, you ask, would Lincoln have issued this proclamation?

Some historians argue that it was without a doubt to help the Union’s fight. Freeing the slaves in southern states would crumble their economy. The Emancipation Proclamation also allowed freed slaves to join the United States military–which about 200,000 of them ended up doing.  Both of these proved vital in the South’s downfall in the war. Others argue that Lincoln was a clever, public relations expert and that by acting as if ending slavery wasn’t the main objective of the war, that when the time came…”Ooops, all the slaves are now freed.”

I cannot believe that I was never taught that the Emancipation just freed slaves in the South. Either way, the Emancipation Proclamation made abolition a central goal of the Civil War and was the major stepping stone that later led to the Thirteenth Amendment, which took effect in December of 1865, making slavery illegal.

Emancipation Proclamation

18 thoughts on “Emancipation Proclamation

    1. I don’t know if it was because of public school systems or the liberal printing presses, but history has become very candy coated! Yes, at one point in time we killed a lot of Native Americans and built our nation on the back of slaves…everyone knows it, quit trying to hide it. Mmm, got us acting like Germany…”What Holocaust?”

  1. hey! thanks for leaving a comment on our blog. i’ve been reading some of the stuff you have in here and it’s really good! sooo you are going directly into our blogroll and we’ll keep and eye on you ^^

    1. This was something I was quite shocked to discover myself a few years ago as I researched the Civil War for my college thesis. Sometimes I think that if teachers want students to be interested in History, they should acknowledge that it was not necessarily the way it is portrayed in textbooks. It is so much more complicated and fascinating than most people know! Great post!

    2. I believe that it was in Texas where the Right Wing Extremeists got the History School Text Books revised to “Include a more Conservative View.”

      Translation: Make History read in such a manner as to justify a fantasy world built on intransigence, lies, hatred and self-delusion. (Create a comfort zone if you will)

  2. There is no doubt Lincoln opposed slavery. But he resisted ending it outright, preferring instead to let it die off by restricting its spread to other state’s and enforcing the ban on the importation of new slaves. His moral stumble in not freeing all the slaves and in not freeing them sooner came not from a lack of conviction or moral outrage but from a concern for the Constitutionality of his position. He was not certain he had the authority to do it.
    The importance of your blog is undeniable. Being an avid student of history I’ve been aware of the Emancipation Proclamation’s limited scope for as long as I can remember. As such, I am also aware of how few people are.

    1. I don’t remember where I learned about Lincoln’s tactful move, but I have known about it for a long time. I even went to high school and college in Memphis, so don’t give the government schools too much grief.

      I believe Lincoln was an astute politician, and he knew his words would be misinterpreted everywhere. It sounds like something only Bill Clinton could pull off.

        1. > I cannot believe that I was never taught that the Emancipation just freed slaves in the
          > South.

          That’s what I was taught in high school too; it wasn’t until college that I learned just what the proclamation did. (What I loved about my college US history class, is that we looked at three events – Revolution, frontier, and can’t recall the third – and read three different histories – conservative, traditional and radical. Wow, the same event had three different meanings depending on perspective!

          Since I grew up outside the US, my take on US history is not as “American” as if I had grown up in the US. I do believe that that up through the high school level, history in ALL countries is a large bit of propaganda. What we learn is the “good” history so we will become flag waving types. Japan, for example, does not really teach what happened during WW2, although Germany seems to be doing a good job in that respect with its Nazi past.

          Perhaps it is felt that before college, we are too “young” to understand and evaluate the “bad” elements of history. I disagree with that approach. Teach the bad too, and what we should learn from it.

          1. Oh, I believe the same thing. It is a disservice to all students to leave out the details. I am not saying that Abraham Lincoln’s name should have been tarnished, but it is important to that everyone knows the truth. Quite unfortunate.

          2. Wow, the same event had three different meanings depending on perspective!

            I think you will discover that every event has at least three different meanings based on someone’s perspective:

            (A) Democrats see things in the light of compassionate care for others.

            (B) Republicans see things in light of compassionate care for themselves, their bank accounts and their rich friends.

            (C) Radicals see things in light of what can be re-constructed from the ashes of what once was.

  3. I haven’t read enough of this blog to know if the host is a religious believer (and perhaps even an evangelical Christian), but I suspect you are. Just so anyone who needs to can ignore my comments, I will disclose that I am a hard-core atheist.

    There seems to be scientific evidence that less than 5% of human beings are sociopaths/psychopaths [people lacking empathy for other human beings — the main restraint on committing murder, torture, rape, and other “inhumane” acts. Many Christians (and other believers think human “morality” is the result of God. As an atheist I consider such reasoning absurd. Nevertheless, a puzzle for an “ethical nihilist” (as I label myself) is: why do much larger percentages of people sometimes engage in sociopath behavior such as genocides and keeping slaves.

    I found an interesting suggested clue in a book I recently read called THE ATHEISTS GUIDE TO REALITY. The author suggests 1) ethical behavior is part of our genetic heritage and 2) most sociopath societies (e.g., Nazis, Soviets, etc.) consider themselves ethical but operate under errors and mis perceptions. That is, the Nazis generally loved their children and other Germans (and their pets); they decided that Jews, Gypsies, and Ukrainians were not human beings. By the same token (and closer to this particular post), Christians in the early American Southern states decided that black people were not really human beings. The kinder misguided people (let’s put Lincoln in that category) still felt they should be sent back to Africa where they could hang out with the “ape people.”

    1. @modestypress I do not care if you are “hard-core atheist” or God himself; however, I am glad that you stopped by and took the time to read and respond!

      I can safely go out on a limb and agree that there are a number of people (I will take you at your word of 5%) that are definitely sociopaths/psychopaths, that lack empathy. I would also guess that they are advanced psychology textbooks that could shed some light on the rationale behind the success of the Nazi Party and the Holocaust; but lets face it…anytime you can blame a group of people (especially a minority group) for war and the decline of a nation, everyone will jump on that boat.

      As far as slavery. There are prehistoric findings that potentially prove that slavery has existed, going as far back as 8000 BCE. There is documented proof of slavery in The Code of Hammurabi dating back to 1760 BCE. By the time slaves were brought to America, the concept of slavery had been around for thousands of years and everyone was desensitized to the idea of it. Just like running a country based on a monarchy or dictatorship structure would prove to be unfair, (and certainly not a system that would provide civil rights) slavery would also go–it just took a little longer.

      P.S. I was unfamiliar with the term “ethical nihilist”, so I learned something new today. Thanks for that!

      1. Thank you for your reply. I think we have quite a bit of common ground. Although I am skeptical of any contention that human history shows humans are following a path of “progress,” there are arguments that can be made that human beings are becoming somewhat more ethical and compassionate (with great stumbles such as the genocides that we seem to have every couple of decades or so). Slavery (as you accurately summarize) is a good example of a custom well-accepted for thousands of years and which now strikes most of us as offensively absurd. (Interesting irony in American history — some slaves who were freed owned other slaves. Some Indians — the other most oppressed group in American history — also owned slaves. I often wonder how we — human beings — can stand ourselves.)

        Another example of gradually changing values has to do with punishment and torture. I was just reading a book about Shakespeare and it cogently illustrates how popular public executions — of the most gory and dreadful details — were in Elizabethan times. Apparently people thought it great entertainment to go see someone have his guts, genitalia, and other vital parts ripped out while still alive. We still have public and widespread horror — the stuff going on in places such as Darfur and Mexico are cogent examples — but by and large our sensibilities have changed to the extent that we shed a tear when the pet dog or cat is run over. We are indeed a very strange species.

      2. There seems to be scientific evidence that less than 5% of human beings are sociopaths/psychopaths [people lacking empathy for other human beings – – – –

        I believe this addresses the main problem of Radical American Conservativism as practiced by some of the Obstructionists in Congress today.

  4. I am getting old, and I am dyslexic, so some parentheses are not closed. If you read my comment and need a reason to ignore it, not closing parentheses is a “sin”; at least in mathematical formulas.

  5. I am not a very good student of History but I have always harbored a suspicion that President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Document in order to deprive the South of Labor to maintain their slave-labor industries. I think that would have been a fairly smart military move.

    Secondly, I read somewhere that The President wanted the slaves freed but that he has prepared a fleet of naval vessels for the purpose of shipping the freed slaves to Liberia or somewhere like that but he (The President) was assassinated before the plan could be completed.

    It is like the old wives tale about Lincoln being a commoner with a substandard education who split logs and studied by candle light.

    That might have been his beginnings, but by the time of the Emancipation Thing, he was a successful lawyer for some Railroads and was, no doubt, quite wealthy as well as educated.

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