Sunday, October 29, 2006
Francis Carpenter's monumental painting of the reading of the proclamation on January 1, 1863. Lincoln signed it after a morning of shaking hands. He was very concerned that he did not want his signature to look like he was shaking or concerned over signing it. He signed his name very firmly and without any sign that he had just shaken thousands of hands....
So what was the Emancipation Proclamation? What did it do? We always hear about it, but what do we really know about it? Why was it written? Why? why?
I am writing this at Columbia University on October 29, 2006. It is a good time to do some writing as I sit here in this hall of learning. For we are always taught to ask why something is. As to this amazing document, we rarely question anything. So this morning as I write I will look at this document in a far different way. A more realistic way. Also look at Lincoln, as a politician and strategist.
It was one of the most amazing documents ever written. It was not law, it was not passed by congress, it was a statement by Lincoln......
Lets look at what it said...It stated that all the slaves in the southern states that had succeeded were free. That slavery in the south was over.
There was only one problem...Lincoln had no control over the south. So it was a mute point.
The proclamation did not free the slaves in the border states...They remained slaves for the moment.
Lincoln did not attack slavery in the border states as he was trying to keep them in the union, and for several of them it was by a thread.
If he had actually ended slavery at that time it would have ended in a terrible disaster as the union would have lost several of the border states and it may have led to the end of the United States as it had been known.
The south was counting on several factors in the beginnings of the Civil War.
First off they were counting on the cotton trade with England.
Unfortunately for the south, India had become a part of the British Empire and there was plenty of cotton there. In the south cotton rotted on the piers.
It was felt that England would come to the aid of the south. If India was not a factor it may have. However, there was no need for the cotton from the south.
England was still not on extremely good relations with the United States.
At the time of the American Civil War it was still in living memory our battles and war with England. There were still a few survivors of the American Revolution in 1861. There were many still around from the War of 1812.
So England was still not on the warmest of relations with America. Everyone still had some hard feelings.
The south I think wanted to play on those feelings and tried very hard to make a relationship with England.
They were somewhat successful. There were a number of gunboats made in England for the south and some of their famous raiders were made there as well.
One called the "Alabama" was a highly successful raider and was made in England for the south.
It is interesting that England was carefully watching the north and even enlarged the amount of troops in Canada.
The south was prevented from making a great indent into England because of several factors. For the first part cotton which they felt would be their trump card suddenly was no longer.
Also through the amazing efforts of the American ambassador to England Charles Francis Adams.
There is often not too much credit given to Adams, but what he did in England was incredible. He was indeed the perfect man for the moment in England. His work was one of the most brilliant of any ambassador in our history and ranks right up there with his father and grandfather..John Adams and John Quincy Adams respectfully.
The final nail in the coffin was Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation...It was perhaps one of the most powerful documents ever written...Made more amazing by the fact that it really in legal terms did nothing.
In England several years before slavery was ended. Slavery was hated after that time in England. Which was one of the more problems with the south as well. Slavery was looked on with distaste.
Once Lincoln issued the document it made the Union cause a "Holy War" to free people from slavery! How could any country attack or fight against a country that is fighting to free people in bondage.
This was the genius of Lincoln!!!!!!!!!
One has to understand the situation Lincoln was in. His secretary of State William Seward was suggesting that we go to war with England and it would bring the north and south together.
Lincoln saw this as a most foolish plan as if such a conflict was to happen the south and England would most probably have fought together.
One thing Lincoln did during this terrible time was to suspend the Constitution. It ended trials as known before. He ended for the time being the writ of habeus corpus.
Few people know that such a thing has actually happened. But one has to remember this was no ordinary time. The United States was coming apart at the seems and Lincoln had to find a way to solve his problem. So he took that action and it allowed him to arrest whomever he wanted and he arrested many that he felt were a problem to the north or presented a threat to it.
One has to also understand that Lincoln was first and foremost a very clever politician. Few have ever reached such heights as he when it came to political strategy.
Before he issued the proclamation Horace Greeley the publisher from New York urged Lincoln on to make such a statement.
Lincoln wrote back to Greeley saying basically...If I can save the union and free the slaves I will do it, if I can save the union and not free the slaves I will do it.....
General Fremont issued a Emancipation decree in 1862 and Lincoln made him rescind it.
He wanted the right time to issue such a document.
After some minor union victories he felt it was time. On January 1, 1863 Lincoln signed and issued the document.
The Civil war was no longer about states rights..It had become a holy war.....
In this document Lincoln changed the entire tenor of the war. It is beyond brilliant.
It was perhaps the greatest weapon ever used by a countries leader in history..It basically neutralized England, made the war holy, demoralized the south, and gave the north what it wanted...A manifesto to end slavery.
The greatest document ever issued by a government that did so much by doing so little!