On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed his name to the Emancipation Proclamation. “I never in my life felt more certain that I was doing right,” he said, “than I do in signing this paper. If my name goes into history, it will be for this act, and my whole soul is in it.”
Isabel Wilkerson noted yesterday that 2022 is a year of significance in that it represents the point in our history where the time of emancipation of black people exceeds their time of enslavement.
What better way to honor the moment than to pass the voting rights legislation now before the Senate into law?
God writes straight using crooked lines. Antebellum Republicans wanted to curb slavery in the western territories in order to gain control of the US economy/government. It took a series of Union defeats to create conditions necessary to end slavery in Confederate controlled areas - not for moral reasons, but because slaves were seen as aiding the South's war effort. Lincoln's unparalleled breadth of vision and granular knowledge of the politics of his day put him in position to act.The effect was the Emancipation Proclamation. It is doubtful that would have come about without all the conditions leading up to it.
The parallels to today are astounding and scary - right down to the series of Democratic defeats. 1/6/21 was a gift in the sense that it showed who we are up against, what they are willing to do, and what their real motives are. How many more defeats is it going to take in order to galvanize Democrats and a few Republicans to act in order to save our republic (whatever the motive)?
Here in Minnesota, we are in the midst of a deep cold snap-it is -15 below as I write this. Yesterday morning, I decided to take my big 65 lb short-haired dog to the dog park. It is better for her to be able to run fast to keep warm and, at 67, I don’t run much anymore. 😎
The dog park is big but Kiri and I particularly like to exit the gate on the opposite side and walk through the marsh and around the small lake that’s out beyond the fence. Lots more running space- and the occasional rabbit or squirrel to chase. She’s good on recall so I don’t worry too much that the area is not fenced.
The minute we exited the gate, Kiri’s head came up, she stopped and sniffed the air. With zero warning, she was suddenly running full tilt across the marsh towards the hill on the opposite side. There, in full view, was a coyote.
My last sighting of Kiri was of her powerful haunches hauling ass up and over the top of the hill 100 yards away where she disappeared from view.
This morning, reading this letter, I had a sudden thought- Trump’s face and the rest of the seditionists on that coyote and those of us who value democracy running alongside Kiri chasing them down. Made me smile.
Every time I read a poll that says that Biden isn’t doing a good job and that the Republicans will take back the House in 2022, I feel frightened- truly, deeply scared. I also feel scared at all the criticisms of the DOJ’s pace with indicting those responsible for January 6. I wish I knew why the pace is so slow there. But Kiri’s example - full tilt after the competition - is a good one.
I have made new commitments to get out the vote actions with Fair Fight 6. Since the Repubs are pushing hard to gerrymander neighboring Wisconsin, I’m working to register new voters there. I’m also committing to give more money to good candidates elsewhere-starting with Stacy Abrams in Georgia. I have strong family traditions of working on civil rights and I love the idea of a black woman governor in Georgia (or anywhere!) There is so much to do to defend democracy but that’s a good start for me at least.
Kiri was gone for about 20 minutes and then came trotting back with her tongue hanging out looking for treats for a job well done. No, I wasn’t worried. Coyotes are smart enough to avoid a fight with an animal bigger than they are. Trump and his minions are still out there lying about a stolen election. Let’s remember that we’re the big dog and act like it.
Thanks, as always, for your clear exegesis. You are an invaluable resource for people like me who have only a small grounding in history. To be frank, you are keeping me sane these days.
I imagine many of us wish the end of slavery in the US had been prettier, with morality, respect, and human dignity as the main motivators of Lincoln, his administration, and Congress. Acknowledging its reality is uncomfortable, yet essential if this country's democracy is to stand. Thank you for this detailed history - Sally Camp's comment says it all.
I recall a man arguing with me that the Civil War––you know, that War of Northern Aggression––was not about slavery, it was about economics(!). If the statement had not been so sad––so tragic, actually––it might have been humorous.
But it brings the uncomfortable glare of that spotlight of moral reality. It illuminates the heartbreaking condition of our nation’s collective consciousness. We find ourselves staring into this terrifying abyss, divided even on the question of whether the sun rises in the east or in the west!
Our existential impasse is founded on the “Tale of Two Countries”. Is the United States of America truly a paragon of virtue, only slightly flawed in its triumphal march through the nearly two-and-a-half centuries since its founding?
Or is it an all-too-human contrivance, established on the uneven terrain of unconscionable greed and cruelty, artfully camouflaged with pious words and noble images? Are we, in fact, reaping the noxious crop ignobly planted by our forebears on poor soil, fertilized with deceitful intentions?
I am enormously grateful for Heather's history lessons! How I wish they could be part of a much wider national discourse.
Two thoughts. First, it is fascinating to read about how complex the road to emancipation was. I don't think most Americans are aware that if the Union had won enough decisive battles early on and had brought the South to it's knees quickly, slavery might have continued into the 20th century.
Second, while I wake up every morning hoping that the Senate will get it's act together and pass Voting Rights Laws, in some states it may come too late. It's the only thing to do in order to protect true democracy, of course. But it is going to be messy. Before and after.
But just as the dynamics of the Civil War and slavery are complex, so are the current times. Consider that the partisan redistricting that terrifies us may not be as clear cut a defeat as we fear. Making voting difficult for people can be color blind. Poor white folks also have jobs that they have to work on election day. TFG's base can also have transportation issues. Plus, here is a speculation: TFG's base may get cocky or apathetic and not vote in the numbers that we anticipate. And...the un-vaccinated who are dying off won't be voting. And...as they perish, ultimately some of they and theirs may realize they have been lied to about the virus. There is a scene in "Don't Look Up" where a guy in a crowd of "red shirts" looks up and sees...
All that and our powerful campaign to support key races could save the day. In a sense, the Civil War never ended. I, for one, am not ready to surrender. Are you?
It strikes me that Lincoln would not have issued the Emancipation Proclamation except for the North's advantages in doing so over the South. I'm very grateful Lincoln made the right choice at the end of the day, but also grateful for Heather's coverage of the nuances.
It's interesting that the Northerners, including Abolitionists, didn't think the federal government had the power to abolish slavery, though the Southern enslavers believed from the very beginning that the North would abolish slavery the first chance it had, and that was why they decided to become the traitors they were.
"His goal, and that of the fledgling Republican Party he led, was only to keep it from spreading into the western territories where, they thought, enslaved labor would enable wealthy enslavers to dominate the region quickly, LIMITING OPPORTUNITIES FOR POORER WHITE MEN."
It is interesting that the birth of the anti-slavery movement was actually a focus on protecting white men.
In your book, To Make Men Free:... you make it fairly clear that Lincoln identified with those "poorer white men" since he had once been one out West.
So much history that we were never taught in schools and corporate textbooks, and so much we were taught that we should be unlearning.
Wow! The larger story surrounding the Emancipation Proclamation is really interesting. As we’re learning, the conclusion of the Civil War was far from decided early on. In many ways, it appears to remain undecided.
'The Slaves Dread New Year's Day the Worst': The Grim History of January 1
BY OLIVIA B. WAXMAN
In the African-American community, New Year’s Day used to be widely known as “Hiring Day” — or “Heartbreak Day,” as the African-American abolitionist journalist William Cooper Nell described it — because enslaved people spent New Year’s Eve waiting, wondering if their owners were going to rent them out to someone else, thus potentially splitting up their families….
“That’s where that sayin’ comes from that what you do on New Year’s Day you’ll be doin’ all the rest of the year,” a former slave known as Sister Harrison said in an interview in 1937.
I will print his out and send it to my father. He is holding on to his racist beliefs at nearly 98 years old. It made my visit with him the week of Christmas unpleasant, although I simply told him a little more here and a little more there about the historic truths of systemic, arbitrary racism. One of his biggest beliefs is that Lincoln actually wanted to send the slaves back to Africa and had a plan made for that. He complains that the media never covers that. Dad is finally showing his age and his intellect has lost some power since a year ago. He is still sharp enough to know that he loves me and doesn’t want to argue, so we re-declared our own truce on such discussions and watched “Casa Blanca” my last night there. During our week, he brought up - on his own - that when I told him by phone about a month ago that most black military participants in WWII didn’t receive the benefits of the GI Bill, well that startled him, made him think. This mattered to him. It helps me to know how to slowly, politely, but surely “get to” people who simply don’t know what we readers of HCR now know. Thanks again, Heather, for the continued different ways you make the same points. You equip us with the different ways we can talk to the people in our lives about these important issues. You give us the “comebacks” and corrections we might be able to use for people who simply didn’t know the truth. How far I personally have come under your tutelage!
"Another correspondent to the New York Times said that enslavers, who were at that very moment attacking the U.S. government, were already making up lists of the value of the people enslaved on their lands to get their U.S. government payouts."
Yesterday, today and tomorrow. Our foundation of greed is astounding. Has there ever been a time when the people who take the most ever give back? Will those who give and give and give, and are most the compromised and abused by our institutions, ever be able to reap the rewards of their labor and commitment to a system determined to undermine them?
I told myself I'd back away from commenting in this forum mostly because my comments and questions are generally perceived as negative. But, alas, here I am. The continued reality of what's happening in the US is sickening. After spending a month driving throughout the United States east of the Rockies we saw THOUSANDS and THOUSANDS of people turn their backs on their families, friends and communities by refusing to wear a simple mask. The thoughtlessness speaks volumes. It shows a deep seated lack of respect for one another that is inherent in every aspect of our lives. If we can't get people to put on a simple mask (and/or get a jab) how are we going to get them to recognize value in another's right to vote? Or BBB? Or the environment? Or any number of critical things that have been kicked down the road for heaven only knows how long...some for 400 years, perhaps?
The truth is, those who have the most always want more – more rights, more say about life and how we live it*, more money, more stuff. One might think the tipping point would have come decades ago, but it didn't. We are a country laden with millions of unkept promises and broken dreams. The implications of our collective refusal to move forward is staggering. In this new year may we have the courage to name and address the challenges we face by being realistic about our failures – may we all have the grace, strength and humility to acknowledge our shortcomings and change direction for the good of us all. Our future depends on it.
(And, after seeing the absurd volume of unmasked folks everywhere, no one can't tell me, at this point, that the only people ditching the mask are on the Red Team.)
*MTG being booted off Twitter makes my heart sing – one GIANT step forward!