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January 1st, 2013: The Emancipation Proclamation- A Sacred Anniversary for a True American Tradition

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This New Year’s Day : 150 years ago President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.

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Lincoln made this command decision under his Constitutional war powers as commander in chief; it applied to those slave states then in rebellion. It immediately freed tens of thousands in areas already held by the Union army. Millions more subsequently escaped from slave-masters as the army swept through the South. Two hundred thousand blacks, mostly slaves freed under the Proclamation, joined that liberation army and proved the critical margin of force in winning the Civil War.

As his leadership built up the world’s largest army and the vast transport and agro-industrial capacity to sustain it, Lincoln strategized on the right timing and means to strike the blow against slavery that would tip the balance toward victory.

Just before drafting the Proclamation, he sent Cassius M. Clay, the Kentucky abolitionist and ambassador to Russia, on an intelligence-gathering mission to determine the sentiment of the slave states that lay between the North and the Deep South. Clay said the patriots there were ready for abolition. Indeed, Maryland, Missouri, Tennessee, and West Virginia then abolished slavery, before Lincoln pushed through the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution settling the matter forever.

Lincoln also was told by his ambassadors that an emancipation order was urgent. It would inspire the populations of Europe, and make the British and others reluctant to risk trouble at home by coming into the American Civil War on the side of the despised slave-owning rebels.

Lincoln’s action had been foreseen in the previous generation by John Quincy Adams, who was in many ways his mentor.

Adams, the former President then serving in Congress, spoke in the House on May 25, 1836, warning the slaveowners against driving us into interminable imperial war adventures: "Are you ready for all these wars? ... and, as an inevitable consequence of them all, a civil war; ... And do you imagine that while you are willfully kindling these wars ... and blindly rushing into them ... your own Southern States must be ... the battle-field upon which the last great conflict must be fought between slavery and emancipation .... do you imagine that your Congress will have no constitutional authority to interfere with the institution of slavery...? Sir, they must and will interfere with it ... by the express provisions of the constitution itself. From the instant that your slaveholding states become the theatre of war, civil, servile, or foreign, from that instant the war powers of Congress extend to interference with the institution of slavery in every way by which it can be interfered with."

Lincoln’s Presidency rescued the U.S.A. after decades of oligarchist rule, striking back against the 1861 attack on civilization by extending the scope and power of civilization. Today’s anniversary should move us to search for, to demand, such leadership today for humanity’s survival.