While diving into history I have discovered two discernible facts, The first is that history should be the one thing that’s non-political as it’s simply a telling of what has already happened and second that history is always political. All nations and the people who end up wielding power within them have bent, cherry picked or completely molded history or at least their perceptions of it to fit a narrative and to further their own agendas.
While from time-to-time new discoveries will sometimes force a new retelling of past events, history should remain based on that which is documented and verifiable as much as possible and not be subject to the lens or trends of the current times.
Given the current state of affairs in America and the continued assault on its history with the battle lines being drawn in our school systems I shall again endeavor to correct a misconception about a subject that still resonates today and try to explain why it should matter.
On June 19th, 2021. President Biden signed legislation making “Juneteenth” a federal holiday. This new federal holiday commemorates when MG Gordon Granger issued a proclamation in Galveston, TX in 1865 declaring all the remaining slaves in the state to be free. I absolutely agree that the ending of slavery righteously deserved to be honored but a simple truth is that it was not abolished by this event, I, like many others was taught that President Lincoln was “The Great Emancipator” and it was him who ended slavery yet, this as it turns out not to be the case.
Now before I begin, let me again state that there is no justifiable argument for slavery and the fact that I feel compelled to make such an obvious statement in this age I find to be egregious.
The 1860 Republican Platform did indeed mention it’s anti-slavery stance in 5 of its 16 planks but, none of them mentions it’s abolishment. In fact, in plank #4 states “the rights of the states, and especially the right of each state to order and control its own domestic institutions according to its own judgment exclusively, is essential to that balance of powers”, meaning that slavery was to remain where it already existed. A little spoiler alert also in plank 4 they denounce armed invasion of any state regardless of the pretext.
It is also true that Lincoln used the issue in his various campaign speeches, However the fact that he had no plans to end slavery is evident in his famous series of debates with Stephen Douglas when he said (in debate number 4) “I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races, [applause]-that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race”.
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One can take what one may from this, for he does, in the same speech soften his tone but retains his stance. In this same debate he openly states that this is an issue for the state legislatures and not in congress. Mr. Lincoln reiterates this publicly during his first inaugural address “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.” And this continues into even after the war has begun in a letter to the then editor of the New York Tribune, Mr. Horace Greeley where Mr. Lincoln affirms that if he could preserve the union by not freeing the slaves he would do so. This was in August 1862! That was almost five months before the Emancipation Proclamation which, I encourage you take a few minutes to read. It reveals that not only did he not free any slaves in the territories in which he had no control but, it didn’t even free any slaves in states and territories that were under Union army control. In the text itself it claims it to be a “fit and necessary war measure”.
I would also draw attention to the fact that if it was Lincoln’s goal to abolish slavery and it could be done so with a simple executive order (proclamation). Why wouldn’t he have not issued it the very next day after the firing on Ft. Sumpter or the very first day he was sworn into office?
There will be many who would balk at what I presented so far, and I would gladly engage in such debate, however there is one simple fact that took mere minutes to confirm and is beyond reproach. The only document that abolished slavery is the thirteenth amendment and President Lincoln by position of being the President had no formal role in the amendment process. The simple truth is that it came into effect on December 6,1865 under President Andrew Johnson. President Lincoln was assassinated in April.
Now, I by no means wish to disparage the person many consider to be a beloved President. I am simply making a point of fact, one that while took only a few minutes to discover took most of my lifetime to even ask for like many this is not what I was taught. President Lincoln could be known for many things some controversial some not, but this is not one of them, only brevity prevents me from citing further evidence.
Why does this matter? Well first, as I have mentioned several times, truth is truth and it should be sought as much as possible, that alone should be reason enough. Yet it a few other questions that require reflection. Like as I have mentioned I and many others American were told that Lincoln freed the slaves and regardless of his thoughts on race, he simply did not and if we can’t get something that fundamental and so easily verifiable right then what else are we getting wrong? This discovery has caused me to reexamine other held beliefs in regard to my understanding of history and has forced to conduct more through readings and while there are many beliefs that held true, self-reflection research could never be construed as a bad thing, could it?
Then there is if a political body, any political body is willing to use something that can be disproven so readily with the minimum of research then what else are they willing to say to further their goals? For any two sides that wish to debate a subject, especially one that seems divisive, they must at least have a common understanding, a common starting point. They must be able to engage from said common point or they will never begin to close any gap of their separate perspectives. If we can’t even agree on how slavery ended how can we even begin to talk about other aspects. History should be told in as complete and accurate a manner as our understanding allows it. All of it, not just the side that you like. Evenly one can’t not falsely claim that 750,000 Americans fought to retain slavery and not conversely give credit to the 2,200,000 Americans that, also falsely fought to end it. But the greatest reason for wanting to correct history is, call it a growing lack of skepticism or the death of the inquisitive mind that has caused us as a society from questioning the narratives in the first place.