SAN JOSE, CA, Jan. 2, 2017 – The entire world, for the most part, just rang in the new year, and it is likely that a great number of people across the planet had their attention focused on the deadly terrorism in Turkey. But over 150 years ago, the United States of America was the battleground arena due to the disruptive political dissention and the horrendous violent force that arose from the American Civil War. But by the second day in 1863, the resolve of Abraham Lincoln to save the Union had already manifested in the Proclamation of Emancipation, which he had signed into law by executive order on New Year’s Day.
In 1863, as American’s rang in the new year, great anxiety must have filled many people’s hearts as they awaited word from their family and loved ones on the front lines, and great uncertainty must have filled their minds over the fate of the nation in the coming year. As the new year of 1863 commenced, the war and the violence in the U.S. may have drawn the attention of a great number of people across the planet to America. It is likely that many people across the world could have felt that the U.S. was being ripped asunder permanently, just as it appears that way in this day, in Turkey, or even Europe.
The United States was at the apex of the American Civil War as 1863 began, and even though it exposed Americans to the most internal violence and destruction the nation had witnessed to that time, the war clawed at the very existence of the U.S. as a unified nation as it was a constitutional crisis of monumental proportions. The war almost left America an internally broken and physically divided nation, permanently. Yet, within this crucible of terror and destruction, inside the White House on New Year’s Day, President Lincoln had slipped away from the thousands of guests and the festivities to focus upon a pivot point to reverse America’s tragic course toward self-destruction.
While many Americans were held captive to the violence and destruction of war, many did not understand the dangers facing the Republic as the nation was fighting for its very soul as the “Land of the Free.” Such a perception runs even deeper than the obvious understanding that the U.S. Constitution was in danger of being destroyed. It is clear Abraham Lincoln saw it plainly: that the Civil War was fought to determine whether a nation conceived in Liberty and truly dedicated to the proposition that all men were created equal could “long endure.” It was not hard for Lincoln to reach the conclusion that the pivot point revolved around the “peculiar institution” of slavery.
By any other name, tyranny is still the same, and in Lincoln’s world there were numerous examples of tyrannical European governments preying upon colonies that had been in existence since the days of the Roman Empire, and he understood that Europeans cynically mocked Americans for the claim that the U.S. was founded upon the principles of freedom, yet slavery represented the antithesis to freedom. While Lincoln understood this, and though he abhorred slavery, he was a president of a Democratic-Republic, not a tyrant himself (despite contemporary Libertarian rants), and did not feel empowered by the Constitution to abolish slavery. Yet, a pathway opened for him.
It was during the intense summer of 1862, that the war had taken its toll on Lincoln as he expressed his grave concerns when he explained later to Francis Carpenter (an artist who painted the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation) that:
It had got to be midsummer of 1862. Thingshad gone from bad to worse, until I felt that we had reached the end of our rope on the plan of operations that we had been pursuing; that we had about played our last card, and must change our tactics, or lose the game! I now determined upon the adoption of the emancipation policy and without consulting with, or the knowledge of the Cabinet, I prepared the original draft of the proclamation…
In Lincoln’s time, the “Democratic” Party had likened itself to be the party of the little guy pitted against the Party’s portrayal of the Whigs (and then the Republicans) as the party of the rich, but it merely served as one of the illusions of a nationally organized political party totally aligned with principles of slavery and not aligned with the principles of freedom. In Lincoln’s day the Southern Democrats (possibly the totality of the Party including those north of the Mason-Dixon line) were aligned against any movement that would lead to abolition. The Supreme Court was in the pocket of the “Democratic” Party, and that is why the infamous Dred Scott decision was easy to pass.
Lincoln came to the realization that in order to win the war, in order to save the Law of the Land, in order to save the Union, he needed to go back to the roots of the nation. The central point, which could pivot the war away from a potential destruction of the nation and diversionary tactics of the Southern Democrats a.k.a. the Confederates, was to determine whether America was going to live up to the ideals woven into the fabric of Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, or whether it would all be lost in fit of a self-destruction.
While the external cause of the war was the “peculiar institution” of slavery, or the so-called rights of the slave owners to own human beings. The internal cause was the challenge to the ideals upon which America was founded. Lincoln got this.
Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America, and Vice President Alexander Stephens, expressed the views of the white southern power structure when they argued strongly for the “right” to own human beings. President Lincoln understood that the nation would remain seriously divided as it had been from the birth of the Republic even if the Union was victorious in the war. And, an early end of the Civil War, which the South eventually sought after four arduous years, would have meant that slavery would resume as it was prior to South Carolina’s firing upon Fort Sumter to initiate the deadliest war in American history.
In a much deeper concern, for hundreds of thousands of men and boys to have died for no good reason would have been such a waste of human life and it would have earned the Civil War the reputation in history as a truly a senseless war. Lincoln began to focus upon the most important reasons to win the war, and made every attempt to succeed. The Emancipation Proclamation was conceived in Lincoln’s mind in this time. Initially, the president believed that the Constitution gave him no authority to act as a tyrant in eliminating slavery via a presidential mandate. However, members of his cabinet helped him realize that as Commander–in-Chief of the U.S. military he could make a positive impact on the war through presidential orders.
Unfortunately, such a presidential proclamation could only be aimed at freeing the slaves in the states the Union was actively engaged in combat, and a presidential decree could not effectively free any slaves in any states where there was no violation of the Constitution through deliberate and violent contradiction of the Law of the Land. In practical terms, without winning the war, the proclamation would not retain any real power of enforcement. In essence, Lincoln’s executive order was in alignment with the original intent and purpose of the Declaration of Independence, but in a practical sense it had little direct effect in freeing any slaves. They had to free themselves.
Yet, the emancipation was an astounding success with at least three very important achievements: 1) the slave population began to trust that Lincoln was not like the other presidents before – so they did free themselves, and fled to the Union lines where they were allowed to choose to continue to pursue their freedom or to fight for their freedom; 2) the efforts of the Confederate government to attain substantial support from Great Britain were seriously undermined, as Britain had a dilemma in offering support to the C.S.A., identified correctly as a future slave nation, if allowed to exist in the community of nations; and 3) it created the foundation for the Thirteenth Amendment which made slavery illegal in the entire country.
In reality, even the Civil War did not end slavery. Ending slavery required the dead serious will and steadfast determined actions of an extremely focused president to set in motion the governmental machinery to ensure that slavery was eventually ruled unconstitutional in the U.S. Actually, Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation can be viewed as having the similar effect as the Declaration of Independence for the American colonists as they fought for their freedom from Great Britain during the American Revolution. For those in bondage as slaves, this served as their declaration of independence, and determined the destiny of the nation as the Land of the Free.