Emancipate This!

A Japanese neighbor of ours in Tokyo, a former university professor, has written a number of books on American and Western humor, with some of his material covering the witticisms of Abraham Lincoln.  One such example was drawn from an 1858 Illinois debate with Senator Stephen Douglas in which Lincoln attempted to deflect Douglas’ charge that he was two-faced by quipping, “If I had another face, do you think I would wear this one?”.  While the retort may well have amused the audience, it could not mask the true duplicity of Lincoln’s politics or policies at that time, nor the Janus-like face he displayed to the North and South following his election as president two years later and throughout his ensuing war.

Even as Lincoln was preparing to take office in March of 1861, the clouds of war were gathering over both Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor and Fort Pickens off the Florida coast at Pensacola.  As was the case in Charleston the following month when the Union garrison was moved from Fort Moultrie in the city to the more defendable Fort Sumter, the Union garrison in Pensacola had been moved offshore that January to Fort Pickens on Santa Rosa Island.  Prior to the Union’s evacuation of Fort Barrancas, a unit of the Florida Militia had come to the fort to request its surrender and were fired upon by the troops under the command of Lieutenant Adam Slemmer.  Those Union shots then were actually the first fired in the War, three months before the Confederate shelling of Fort Sumter.  Later that January, a Union warship, the “U. S. S. Brooklyn,” was loaded with troops and supplies and sent to Santa Rosa Island with orders to land if Fort Pickens came under attack.  

Shortly after Lincoln’s inaugural address on March Fourth, a month prior to the firing on Fort Sumter, additional warships were being secretly loaded in New York with Union Army troops and Marines to be dispatched to South Carolina and Florida.  This was all in the face of Lincoln’s inaugural pledge that while he would hold the facilities belonging to the Federal government and collect the tariffs at the Southern ports, there would be no invasion or use of force.  However, hours before the firing on Fort Sumter on April Twelfth, the Union troops off the coast of Florida were already being landed and moving to reinforce Fort Pickens . . . an act of war in itself.

Even though he was an experienced lawyer, particularly one intimately familiar with the Constitution, Lincoln chose to ignore the then generally accepted concept of legal secession.  He refused to publicly recognize that the Confederacy existed or acknowledge that the act of secession had been advocated previously by not only South Carolina, but by the New England States as well, and that these actions had never been challenged in any Federal court.  Rather than instituting a court action to oppose the right of the Southern States to legally sever their ties with the Union, Lincoln elected to charge that those States were in rebellion against the United States . . . an act that would then allow him to initiate a military action against such States.  A further duplicitous move on Lincoln’s part in relation to secession took place after the start of the War.  When Virginia voted to secede on April Seventeenth of 1861, the majority of the delegates from the northwestern corner of the State opposed the move and a month later they met in Wheeling where they voted to secede from the State and form what they termed the Restored Government of Virginia.  

The following April, President Lincoln proclaimed that the area was to be admitted to the Union as the new State of West Virginia, an act that was quickly approved by the Republican Congress.  Unlike the South’s secession, this action by Lincoln and Congress was clearly in violation of Section Three in Article Four of the Constitution.  In the First Clause of that Section it states that “no new State shall be formed within the jurisdiction of any other State . . . without the consent of the Legislature of the State concerned as well as of the Congress.”  Even if, as Lincoln claimed, the new State was created without such approval due to the reason that Virginia was then engaged in rebellion against the United States, the fact remains that the Union was obligated to delay the granting of statehood until such time when the Virginia Legislature could vote on the matter in a constitutional manner.

Actually, the legality of a State’s right to abrogate its contract with the Federal government and secede from the Union had never been seriously brought into question until 1860.  Furthermore, no law had ever been passed prohibiting a State from seceding, and the constitutionality of secession did not became a matter for the Federal courts until four years after the War Between the States.  In 1869, an all Northern Supreme Court heard the case of Texas v. White in which pre-war bonds had been declared invalid after Texas seceded and joined the Confederacy.  The underlying matter involved the question of whether or not the State of Texas had ever actually left the Union or was merely in a state of rebellion against it.  In an eight-to-one decision, with only Justice Grier of Pennsylvania dissenting, the Court ruled that since unilateral secession was unconstitutional, Texas had not, in fact, ever left the Union and the bonds in question were still valid.  In the majority opinion, Chief Justice Chase, Lincoln’s former secretary of the Treasury, merely stated that it was “needless to discuss at length the question whether the right of a State to withdraw from the Union for any cause regarded by herself as sufficient is consistent with the Constitution of the United States.”  Without citing any applicable section of the Constitution to justify such a sweeping  judgement, Justice Chase based his conclusion solely on the wording in the original Articles of Confederation that the union of States was to “be perpetual” and that this was made even more binding by the opening words of the Constitution that it was designed “to form a more perfect Union.”  An opinion that certainly failed to draw any truly legal conclusions, and one that still leaves the matter virtually unresolved.       

The true mendacity of Lincoln’s duplicitous policies, however, took place in 1862 in an act that was to forever change the initial claim that the War was being waged to save the Union into what might be termed a ruse de guerre . . . the Emancipation Proclamation.  While Lincoln had stated in the first inaugural address that he had no inclination to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it then existed, and did not consider he even had a lawful right to do so, the Radical Republicans in Congress were constantly pushing him in the direction of official abolition.  He finally agreed to take such a step when the right moment presented itself.  That moment took place on September Seventeenth at the Battle of Sharpsburg in Maryland.  There, General Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia fought a virtual draw with the Army of the Potomac.  The battle caused almost twenty-three thousand casualties, more than half of which were on the Union side, and while it was tactically inconclusive, the North claimed victory when Lee withdrew back to Virginia.  Five days later, Lincoln issued his much touted and largely misunderstood proclamation in regard to slavery . . . a document which even contained the  admission that it was a “necessary war measure for suppressing the “rebellion.”  

The proclamation also added some additional bait for the slaves themselves by holding out the promise that those freed, if they were “of suitable condition,” could be enlisted in the armed services of the United States.  Lincoln also added the demeaning note that they would only serve in such fixed positions as forts or aboard ships, thus inferring that they would not be considered suitable for any actual fighting.  It was not until May of 1863, however, that the Federal enlistment of black troops was finally authorized.  Even then there was blatant discrimination, with the U. S. Colored Troops being initially paid only ten dollars a month, three dollars less than than their white counterparts, and unlike the white troops, they had an additional three dollars deducted from their pay for uniforms.   As set forth in Lincoln’s proclamation, most of the U. S. Colored Troop regiments did see only rear-area garrison duty, and those who engaged in front-line actions were generally placed at the head of the attacking units to receive the first volley from the Confederate lines and thus suffered the highest number of casualties.

In letters sent home by Southern soldiers in the latter part of the War, it was cited that they saw mostly black soldiers in the front lines of the of the Union assaults.  This was certainly the case with the Fifty-Fourth Massachusetts Infantry Regiment at Fort Wagner near Charleston in July of 1863 where the unit lost almost half their men in the battle.  A year later, the eight black regiments in General Edward Ferrero’s division that led that Union attack in the Battle of the Crater at Petersburg suffered the greatest number of casualties.  After the battle, both the black and white Union wounded and prisoners were taken to the Poplar Lawn Hospital and prisoner-of-war camp that the Confederates had constructed earlier for black Union troops.  A year after the War, General Grant testified before the Congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War that the order to send the black units in first was issued by the IX Corps commander, General Ambrose Burnside, but that General Meade had considered it a bad plan.  Generals Burnside and Ferrero were initially censured by a court of inquiry after the battle, but Burnside was later cleared of all charges by the Congressional Committee and General Meade was criticized for attempting to change the troop arrangement.      

Most Americans, however, have undoubtedly never  read the full text of the Emancipation Proclamation and if they had, they would have realized that it did nothing to free a single slave in any of the States and areas then controlled by the Union.  The document also clearly stated at the outset that nothing was to take place for over three months and would then only be in force for a hundred days.  During that time, only the slaves in the States then in “rebellion” against the United States, namely the eleven States of the Confederacy in which the Union could do nothing to enforce anything, would be allowed their freedom . . . an empty gesture at best.  To further compound the hypocrisy, the proclamation not only omitted any mention of the slave states still in the Union, Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland and Missouri, it specifically delineated the areas in Louisiana and Virginia that were then under Union military control, as well as all the counties in what was to be West Virginia, as being exempt from the order.  A rather cynical phrase was even added that such exempted areas were to be “left precisely as if this proclamation were not issued.”

Needless to say, those in the South saw through Lincoln’s duplicity in issuing such a meaningless piece of Union propaganda, and one of the papers that denounced the proclamation a couple of months after its issuance was the “Illustrated Southern News” in Richmond.  That paper even produced a political cartoon, a rarity in the Confederacy, in which “King Abraham” was portrayed as the Devil wearing a Lincoln mask.  At his feet lay a copy of the document and in the distance a gallows is seen erected atop the unfinished Washington Monument on which Lincoln was to be hanged for his duplicitous act.  Today, however, most Americans, including far too many in the South, have enshrined Lincoln as the Great Emancipator and regard his Emancipation Proclamation as a noble executive order that actually freed all the Southern slaves with the stroke of a pen.  This absolutely false impression has also led to the now fully entrenched fiction that the North fought the War only to free the slaves, while the South merely battled to preserve the institution.  Lost forever are the true reasons behind the War itself, as well as the fact that the issues which led to the South’s secession, including slavery, and those that brought about the North’s invasion of the South, including the loss of tariff revenue, are certainly not one and the same . . . merely two very different sides of the same coin. 

About John Marquardt

John Marquardt is a native of Connecticut but a Southerner at heart. After attending the University of Georgia, Marquardt realized the truth and the value of the Southern tradition. He served in World War II and spent his career in international trade. He currently resides in Tokyo, Japan. His Japanese wife loves Charleston and Savannah and admires Southern culture. More from John Marquardt

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