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Was Emancipation Proclamation good or bad for America?

Abraham Lincoln signing Emancipation Proclamation

Abraham Lincoln signing Emancipation Proclamation

Prior to the Civil War, America was divided into five categories:

  1. Radical Northern Republicans said slavery is wrong – end it now. They believed all human lives, on or off the plantation, were equal, created in the image of God. There was also the fringe John Brown who shot at slave owners.
  2. Moderate Republicans said slavery is wrong but the country should transition out of it gradually over time.
  3. Practical Neutral Voters only cared about jobs, wages, tariffs, taxes and the economy.
  4. Moderate Southern Democrats said slavery is wrong but the nation should live with it – just treat your slaves nice.
  5. Extreme Southern Democrats said slavery is good and should be expanded into new territories and states. They wanted Northerners who were morally opposed to slavery to be forced to participate in supporting it through the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.

Interestingly, these are similar to the categories America is divided into today:

  1. Pro-Life Republicans say abortion is wrong – end it now. They believe all human lives, in or out of the womb, are equal, created in the image of God. There are also the fringe “John Brown types” who shoot at abortion clinics.
  2. Establishment Republicans reluctantly agree to gradual limitations on abortion.
  3. Practical neutral voters avoid social issues – “It’s the economy, stupid.”
  4. Pro-Choice Democrats want abortion to stay legal, just have it be safe, rare and few.
  5. Extreme Democrats believe that abortion is good and want to expand it globally through United Nations’ initiatives, include it in nationalized healthcare, sell aborted baby body parts, and force those morally opposed to abortion to participate in supporting it, even suing the Little Sisters of the Poor.

The Civil War started initially as a states’ rights controversy. It appeared as if the Confederate South would quickly win. Lincoln faced draft riots, ruled by decree, enacted martial law and suspended habeas corpus, allowing the federal government to arrest anyone without a warrant.

In 1862, Confederate forces defeated Union troops at the second battle of Bull Run, then crossed the Potomac River into Maryland. On Sept. 15, 1862, Confederates captured Harper’s Ferry, taking over 12,000 Union prisoners.

The impressive Confederate drive was suddenly halted when Lee’s Special Order 191 was misplaced and found by Union troops on Sept. 13, 1862. This allowed Union forces to gain an advantage at the battle of Sharpsburg, Maryland.

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The ensuing battle of Antietam, Sept. 17, 1862, was the bloodiest day of fighting in American history with over 23,000 casualties. Five days later, Sept. 22, 1862, Lincoln met with his cabinet to draft the Emancipation Proclamation.

Secretary of the Treasury Salmon Portland Chase recorded Lincoln as stating: “The time for the annunciation of the emancipation policy can no longer be delayed. Public sentiment will sustain it, many of my warmest friends and supporters demand it, and I have promised God that I will do it.”

When asked about this last statement, Lincoln replied: “I made a solemn vow before God, that if General Lee were driven back from Pennsylvania, I would crown the result by the declaration of freedom to the slaves.”

The Emancipation Proclamation had the effect of giving the North the moral high ground, and thus discouraged European support of the Confederacy.

It stated: “I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, by virtue of the power in me vested as Commander-in-Chief … do, on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three … publicly proclaim … that …persons held as slaves … are, and henceforward shall be, free. … And I hereby enjoin upon the people so declared to be free to abstain from all violence … and … labor faithfully for reasonable wages. … And upon this act … I invoke … the gracious favor of Almighty God.”

On Dec. 1, 1862, President Lincoln gave his second annual message: “In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free. … We shall nobly save – or meanly lose – the last, best hope of earth. Other means may succeed; this could not fail. The way is plain … a way which if followed the world will forever applaud and God must forever bless.”

The Emancipation Proclamation did not attempt to free slaves in the Northern states, as they were not in rebellion and therefore there was no legal ground for the president to overrule the legitimate governments of those states.

With the South being a war zone, the president argued that his title as “commander-in-chief” allowed him in time of war to exercise executive power in those states at war.

Congress recognized this as an unconstitutional usurpation of power by the president, something George Washington warned against in his farewell address: “But let there be no change by usurpation; for though this, in one instance, may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed. The precedent (of usurpation) must always greatly overbalance in permanent evil any partial or transient benefit which the use can at any time yield.”

Though Lincoln intended his executive proclamation as an “instrument of good” it was deemed unconstitutional, so he worked another route. Rather than insisting on ruling through executive orders, Lincoln undertook to free the slaves using the proper constitutional means of passing an amendment. An amendment required two-thirds of Congress to approve it, as portrayed in Steven Spielberg’s movie, “Lincoln” (2012).

The 13th Amendment was passed in the Senate on April 8, 1864, with all 30 Republicans voting in favor of it, joined by only four Democrats. The 13th Amendment was passed in the House on Jan. 31, 1865, with all 86 Republicans voting in favor, joined by 15 Democrats, 14 Unconditional Unionists, and four Union men. Voting against the 13th Amendment were 50 Democrat Congressmen, joined by six Union men.

Though not necessary, Lincoln, the first Republican president, added his signature to the 13th Amendment after the words “Approved February 1, 1865.”

Though Republicans were successful in their efforts to officially abolish slavery, Democrats in Southern states passed Black Codes, Jim Crow Laws, and created racial vigilante organizations.

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Republicans responded by pushing to enlarge the federal government’s power with the 14th Amendment in 1868, ensuring civil rights for freed slaves. Republicans then pushed through a ban on racial voting restrictions by passing the 15th Amendment in 1870.

Though these Amendments were great “instruments of good,” they had the additional consequence of enlarging the federal government’s role over the states.

Earlier in his career, Lincoln stated at Independence Hall, Philadelphia, Feb. 22, 1861: “The Declaration of Independence gave liberty not alone to the people of this country, but hope to all the world for all future time. It was that which gave promise that in due time the weights would be lifted from the shoulders of all men, and that all should have an equal chance. … This is the sentiment embodied in the Declaration of Independence. … I would rather be assassinated on this spot than surrender it.”

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