Tag Archives: slavery

Just Another Day?

Abraham Lincoln ...

February 12, 1809 arrived like every other day before it, with the turning of the Earth to accept the rays of the early morning sun.

But on this particular day, two men were born who would both later find themselves mentioned on the list of the world’s all-time most influential people.

Their names were Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin.

The men could not have had more dissimilar origins.

Charles Darwin was born that day in Shropshire, England to a wealthy doctor and financier. His mother was descended from the wealthy Wedgwood lineage (of Wedgwood China fame) and his paternal grandfather was the famous scientist Erasmus Darwin. He attended the University of Edinburgh Medical School, but found more interest in taxidermy, which he learned from a freed slave.

In 1831, young Charles embarked on a five-year voyage on the HMS Beagle to help chart the coastline of South America. Charles spent much of his time on the journey collecting specimens of plant and animal life. His studies eventually led to the formulation of his Theory of Natural Selection many years later, which brought the concept of vast eons of time and the mutability of species into the discussion of life on Earth. His writings still stir up controversy 150 years after they were first published.

... and Charles Darwin. Both born on February 12, 1809.

Lincoln was born that same day in a log cabin in central Kentucky, 5,000 miles away. Not having the luxury of wealth, he was largely self-educated. Lincoln possessed a sharp mind and a keen sense of humor, which enabled him to become a successful attorney. Unlike Darwin, he never ventured much farther from his home than the White House.

Shortly after Darwin published his landmark treatise On The Origin of Species in 1859, Lincoln found himself the leader of a divided nation: one where many citizens believed that the ownership of other humans was not only proper, but divinely ordained. Lincoln spent the last years of his life waging a war partly to insure that slavery would never again be permissible on the North American continent.

While their contributions came in far different arenas – Lincoln’s primarily political, and Darwin’s in the field of biology – both men ended up bringing about far-reaching change by making people question whether the conclusions reached by the majority were correct and by suggesting that it was time for humanity to embrace new modes of thinking.

One Nation … Indivisible

Millions of American school children begin each day by reciting the “Pledge of Allegiance,” never questioning why the phrases “one nation” and “indivisible” (which many believe to be “invisible” anyway) are contained within.

These simple words encapsulate the question of secession: whether a state in the “one nation” of the United States of America could constitutionally “divide from” that country. This question led to a civil war in America that claimed over 600,000 lives.

It can be argued that the first shot of that war didn’t come at Ft. Sumter, South Carolina in 1861, but a few months earlier and a hundred-and-fifteen miles away at a church in Columbia, South Carolina. It was there, 150 years ago today, that those assembled unanimously said adios to the United States, leaving the 33-state Union behind.

The vote for secession came about in response to the election a month earlier of Abraham Lincoln, who had promised to limit the spread of slavery during his administration. As the southern state with the highest percentage of slaves, South Carolina led the fight to keep the “peculiar institution” intact. Within two months, lame duck president James Buchanan set on his hands while six other slave states left the Union to join South Carolina in the new Confederate States of America.

The preservation of the horrid institution of African-American slavery was the reason the Confederacy was created, but the restoration of the Union, and not slavery’s abolition, was why most Northerners fought in the Civil War.

South Carolina paid dearly for leading the way on secession. After General Sherman’s Union troops completed their “March to the Sea” in Savannah, Georgia, they turned their vengence towards South Carolina, the state they felt most responsible for starting the war. In early 1865, Sherman’s troops cut a swath of destruction across the state, reducing Columbia, the “cradle of secession,” to ashes.

So, the secessionist question was answered once-and-for-all by the Union armies, right? Not so fast. In recent years, large secessionist movements have grown in states like Alaska and Texas where one poll claimed that 22% of the population believed that secession is a right granted by the Constitution.

And how is South Carolina planning to remember secession; an act intended to allow the state to forever keep blacks in forced servitude?

By having a ball.

That’s right. In an egregious display of bad taste, the “Secessionist Gala” will be held tonight in downtown Charleston, which will include a play, dinner, dancing, and the display of the original “Ordinance of Secession.” The local chapter of the NAACP plans to protest the event, which their president calls “a celebration of slavery.”

Just when you thought the wounds of the Civil War had finally scarred over, some folks just had to come in and rip off the scabs.

A New Birth of Freedom

There are some ugly realities littering American history that I just can’t wrap my mind around – one being that less than 100 years before I was born, certain people could legally own other people.

That’s why I find it curious that September 22 isn’t a national holiday, because it was on this day in 1862 that President Abraham Lincoln signed the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation that began the official process of freeing America’s four million slaves.

When the nation was founded roughly “four-score and seven years” earlier, the Declaration of Independence stated that “all men are created equal,” but the economic and prejudicial forces of the time kept these words from applying to the African-Americans that were toiling in forced servitude in the country. The Civil War came about in the 1860s largely to decide whether or not slavery would remain on the North American continent.

The Executive Order that Lincoln signed on this date was more symbolic than binding, as it only freed slaves in areas outside of Federal control. The wording of the document gave the Confederacy a way to re-enter the Union without losing their “peculiar institution.” It was a shrewd move for Lincoln, because he knew the South would never go for it, and by their refusal, he could change the purpose of the war in the eyes of the world. It also set the framework for the official proclamation that was signed by Lincoln 100 days later on January 1, 1863.

The proclamation was largely unpopular in the North where most soldiers were fighting to restore the Union rather than to end the practice of slavery. But internationally, the move doomed the Confederacy’s chance to gain badly needed international recognition.

The advancing Union armies freed more and more slaves after the Proclamation was put into effect, and 200,000 former slaves eventually served in the Union forces.

The shameful practice of slavery was officially ended in America with the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment in December 1865, which came seven months after Lincoln’s assassination.