Prior to the Civil War, America was divided into five main categories:
1. The Radical Republican North that said slavery is wrong – end it now.
2. The Moderate Republican North that said slavery is wrong – transition out of it orderly over time.
3. The Practical Amoral Neutral that only cared about the economy – jobs, tariffs and taxes.
4. The Moderate Democrat South that said slavery is wrong, but we have to live with it – just make it rare and few, and treat your slaves nice.
5. The Extreme Democrat South that said slavery is good – let’s expand it into new states and force Northerners who are morally opposed to slavery to participate in it through the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.
Interestingly, these are the same general categories that America is divided into today regarding abortion.
When the Civil War started, it looked as if the Confederate South would quickly win. Lincoln faced draft riots, ruled by decree, enacted martial law and suspended habeas corpus so that the government could arrest anyone without a warrant.
In 1862, the Confederates defeated Union forces at the second Battle of Bull Run and crossed the Potomac River into Maryland. On Sept. 15, 1862, Confederates captured Harper’s Ferry, taking over 12,000 Union prisoners. The Confederate drive was 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 Sharpsburg, Maryland.
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 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 North as those states were not in rebellion and therefore there were no grounds for the president to attempt to overrule those legitimate state governments. With the South a war-zone, the president argued that his title as “Commander-in-Chief” allowed him executive power in the states at war.
This was considered an unconstitutional usurpation of power by the president, being exactly what George Washington warned of 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 clearly recognized as a “usurpation” of power and therefore unconstitutional. Lincoln then undertook to free the slaves using proper constitutional means, waiting for Congress to pass the 13th Amendment. This 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 4 Union men. Fifty Democrats and 6 Union men voted against the 13th Amendment in the House.
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. 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, which again enlarged the federal government’s role.
Lincoln had stated earlier 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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