Americans are a freedom-loving people. Of this, there can be no doubt. Truly, we love liberty, independence. . .freedom. We celebrate freedom. Jubiliantly. Just this past Saturday, for example, thousands upon thousands of patriots gathered at the Antietam Battlefield to celebrate the 4th of July at our annual Salute to Independence despite the warnings of thunderstorms and the ominous dark clouds that were rolling in. . .Freedom is cherished, it is loved, and it is celebrated.
With this in mind, I simply cannot understand why there are so many--too many--people who during my programs cannot help to disguise their anger with the Emancipation Proclamation.
Now, to those among my readers who somehow feel that I "bash" the South in my posts, please note that I did not say it is just Southern visitors that bristle and voice their complaints when I discuss the Proclamation. No, I hear it from visitors from all over the United States: North, South, East, and West.
Here are just a few of the comments I have received just within the past week. "Why do you insist on saying that slavery was the cause of the war? It was all about the rights of the Southerners to form their own country." "Lincoln didn't care a lick about slaves; he was the greatest murderer in United States history." "Not a single person was freed by the Emancipation Proclamation." "If Lincoln would have just let the South go, slavery would have ended and the South would have come back into the Union peacefully in the 1890s." (This came from the same visitor who claimed that slavery had nothing to do with secession, so why then would the South have come back to the Union after slavery ended?) And it just went on and on. . .This past week, the comments and complaints about the Proclamation have been especially pronounced.
We never acknowledge such ridiculous assertions that Lincoln was America's "greatest murderer" with any kind of response. We usually just say something to the effect of, "Well, the war has been over for more than fourteen decades and yet here we are still discussing and debating it, which, after all, makes history so fascinating." However, I cannot help but wonder why some in America--people who love and celebrate freedom--can have such a problem and be so angry with my discussing the Emancipation Proclamation. The issuance of this all important document was a pivotal moment not just in the history of the Civil War, but in all of American history as well, and it certainly needs to be discussed as part of the September 1862 Maryland Campaign, since the preliminary draft of the Proclamation was signed on Monday September 22, 1862, just five days after the guns fell silent at Antietam. I would believe that this is something we as Americans can celebrate universally since it was the first step in the long road leading to the freedom of more than 4 million enslaved Americans.
Of course it is true that Lincoln did not free those slaves in areas still in the Union, including Maryland, Delaware, Kentucky, and so on. This is not a secret. Lincoln knew he could not lose these areas; he was, after all, a rather shrewd politician. We hear this the most, "Not all the slaves were freed." Somehow, visitors think that this is justification enough in their belief that the Proclamation should not be discussed, much less celebrated. What is not widely known, however, is that those slaves still in areas not in rebellion numbered 800,000, or 25% of the nation's slave population. This means, that three-quarters, some 3.2 million slaves were declared "thenceforward and forever free." Not a bad starting point, I would argue.
If we should not celebrate the Emancipation Proclamation, if Lincoln should be criticized for not freeing all the slaves with this revolutionary document, then why should we celebrate and laud the Declaration of Independence? the Constitution? the Founders? When they signed off on the document that declared "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights--that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness," they most certainly did not mean to include ALL in America. There was a sizable portion of the population that wasn't declared free to pursue their lives, their liberty, and happiness. Such criticism is almost always met with outrage. . ."How can you say that?" "Don't you love America?" Now, hold your fire. . .I am merely drawing a parallel here. Interestingly, some of those most outraged by such criticism of the Founders are among those that declare Lincoln to be "the greatest murderer" in U.S. history and that the Emancipation Proclamation shoud not be celebrated.
If we truly love and celebrate freedom, then what accounts, in the minds of some people, for the praise and veneration of the Declaration of Independence and the 4th of July on the one hand, and the villifaction of Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation on the other? Can there be a reconciliation? An accounting? I don't believe so. . .
Just my thoughts. . .maybe it is me who just doesn't get it.