After three years of war between the Union and Confederate states and the latest Union victory, the battle at Antietam — with one portion of the battle referred to as the “slaughter of Bloody Lane” because of the flow of blood down the Maryland country road, the Emancipation Proclamation was delivered on the first day of the New Year of 1863. A New Year’s Resolution superseding all other resolutions began as an ultimatum from President Abraham Lincoln to the Southern states. Days after Antietam (the bloodiest one day battle in American history with 23 thousand soldiers missing, wounded, or killed), President Lincoln issued a preliminary decree indicating that if, by January 1, 1863, the seceded states remained separate from the Union that the Confederate states’ slaves would be freed.
On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln held to his promise. The Emancipation
Proclamation monumentally began, “That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord
eighteen hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall then be, thenceforward, and forever free…” After years of debate over why the Civil War was being fought, President Lincoln finally succumbed to his personal position on slavery to initiate the demise of these dark employment practices in the United States. The disdain of slavery by Lincoln appears to be out of character for a white male at the precipice of power, who grew up with meager means in Indiana and coined as the last president born in a log cabin. Why did this upbringing instigate Lincoln to be so adamantly opposed to slavery?
Part of Lincoln’s position is attributed to his family’ religious affiliation with a Baptist church that condemned the concept of slavery, the family moved to Indiana in 1816 partially because of the practice of slavery in Kentucky (Lincoln’s log cabin birthplace). Lincoln cemented his views against slavery in the public eye during his seven debates against Democratic Senator Stephen A. Douglas.
The Emancipation Proclamation, many argue was a purely military tactic. One of the reasons for this argument deals with the new soldiers, formerly Southern slaves, to fight for the Union because by freeing Confederate slaves, the Union now had more allies and soldiers. The National Archives cites, “With this Proclamation he [Lincoln] hoped to inspire all blacks, and slaves in the Confederacy in particular, to support the Union cause and to keep England and France from giving political recognition and military aid to the Confederacy.” The Proclamation kept the Union’s allies few while increasing the numbers to fight against the Confederacy.
Another determination for the military argument is that the Emancipation Proclamation did not liberate all slaves, because it specifically pronounced those slaves living in states still in allegiance with the Confederacy as free if those states remain independent from the United States. Lincoln’s Secretary of State, William Seward, explained the motive for this limited emancipation, declaring, “We show our sympathy with slavery by emancipating slaves where we cannot reach them and holding them in bondage where we can set them free.” This ironic stance occurred to reward the states in the Union that still permitted slavery, setting those slaves free might have caused more states to secede.
While the Emancipation Proclamation freed a specific group of slaves, this Proclamation became the stepping stone for the eventual freedom of all slaves with all blacks endowed the same rights that the U.S. Constitution grants white Americans. The Emancipation Proclamation silenced the previous debates on why the Civil War was being fought, initially state’s rights, and the debate over wage labor versus labor paid through room, board and meals were entangled as reasons for the “War Between the States.” The Emancipation Proclamation solved the quarrel of state’s rights, wage labor and uncompensated labor, but it was a war with at least 618 thousand deaths, the most in any American war, and it necessitated a specific purpose to justify the lives lost. The Emancipation Proclamation became the defining moment of why the Civil War was continuing, especially after Antietam, one of the bloodiest battles at the time.
Just as the Emancipation Proclamation encouraged the instigation of ending black enslavement, it also dispelled the idea that one person could own another by providing shelter and food in exchange for ownership through labor.
A new Proclamation is beckoning which addresses the prejudice on wages today and the inadequate provisions they provide to impoverished groups with barely enough, troubling all United States citizens, regardless of skin color, ethnicity, or culture. The glory of change was evident with the Emancipation Proclamation, it proved how revolutionary one act can be, thus transforming an accepted establishment like slavery, and exposing to the public all the ugly details and reality of slavery.
As unemployment lingers at 9.8 percent, the reliance of families needing more than one salary is apparent. One income is just not enough. The United States, at one time, was dependent on slave labor; now that dependence is on low wages, which subjects a family to a life of limitation where just the basic needs are met. Employers have no responsibility to supply housing or enough money to meet the basic necessities of today’s families. The term wage slavery was the critique of Southern sympathizers against the North during the Civil War. A PBS Online article reports, “In fact, they argued, unlike the ‘wage slavery” of the North, the slavery system in the South provided food, clothing, medical care, and leisure for slaves.” The article continues that the Southern conclusion ignores the concept of self-determination.
With the Emancipation Proclamation alleviating the resounding inequity of slavery, the issue of wage slavery persists. People are unable to make enough money to consistently put food on the table, clothe the family, afford medical care, and set aside time for leisure. A Proclamation for a livable wage could be the next big transformation for the United States, providing an equitable compensation for all races.
“Abraham Lincoln,” http://sc94.ameslab.gov/TOUR/alincoln.html
“Antietam National Battlefield”, National Park Service, (November 30, 2010), http://www.nps.gov/ancm/index.htm
“Bloody Lane,” 88NY.net, http://www.88ny.net/Antietam_Bloody_Lane.htm
“Civil War Casualties and Costs of the Civil War,” Digital History, http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/historyonline/us20.cfm
“Emancipation Proclamation: 1863,” PBS Online, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4h1549.html
“Emancipation Proclamation 1863,” www.ourdocuments.gov, http://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=old&doc=34
“The Emancipation Proclamation,” National Archives & Records Administration, http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/featured_documents/emancipation_proclamation/
Lincoln, Abraham. “Emancipation Proclamation,” Antietam National Battlefield: National Park Service, (January 1, 1983), http://www.nps.gov/ncro/anti/emancipation.html
“Wage Slavery,” PBS Online, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/lincolns/nation/es_wages.html