Friday, November 14, 2014

Book Review: Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861-1865

Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861-1865, by: James Oakes, W.W. Norton and Company, New York, 2013. 
This is a fascinating book about the progression towards the liberation of the slaves.  The basic story we have is that Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, after the Union achieved a victory of sorts at  Antietam, and then the slaves were free.  Lincoln went on to get the thirteenth amendment through congress, which was eventually accepted by the states.  Some of the former Confederate States accepted it as it was now the law of the land, or less than full hardy, but in the end, slavery was no more. 
However, the truth is that the emancipation of the slaves was a gradual process. Without the secession of the Southern States, it probably would have taken much longer, but the war gave the government, and Abraham Lincoln and the Republican party a reason to emancipate the slaves.  First, slaves escaped to the Union lines, and eventual the policy became, the army would not return slaves would could be conscripted to help the Southern cause, but would be employed to help the North.  Also of immediate import was the ending of the Fugitive Slave Act with regards to those states that had seceded.  The agreement was no longer binding with those states who were no longer under the Constitution. 
The policy as such lead to people to self emancipate, but running to the army, or by running to free states.  When the Union invaded Louisiana, this again lead to slaves running to Union lines. 
Federal policy progressed slowly.  Next is was slaves from seceded states who were no longer returned, rather than just those whose masters fought for the rebel cause or used the slaves for the rebel cause.  The emancipation proclamation was President Lincoln taking advantage of the powers given him by the war powers Act which basically asked for a proclamation. 
The Emancipation Proclamation did two things, emancipated those slaves in Union controlled territory from seceded states.  It also allowed for former slaves to fight for the army, which had not been done to this point, January 1, 1835. over 180,000 would fight for the Union.  At the end of the war the accounted for 20 percent of the soldiers in arms.
However, this proclamation wasn’t enough.  Slaves in border states still loyal to the Union were not freed.  It was hoped these states would abolish slavery on their own, but this was not happening and when it did happen, the process was slow.  Louisiana and West Virginia were progressing to abolish slavery, and other states were coming along like Missouri; however Kentucky and Delaware were having none of it. 
A broader approach was needed.  This was found in an amendment to the Constitution—which was rare to this point in time.  In fact, the first attempt failed in the congress.  However, after the election, but before the new congressmen came into office (the election had been a Republican success and passage was assured after the new congress was sworn in.)  However they wanted passage as soon as possible, and before the end of the war, which may change people’s ideas about the need for the amendment. 
The Democratic argument against emancipation was two-fold, the government should not interfere with property rights; property in men in this case.  The second was the racist argument, the freed slaves were inferior and would be a burden upon themselves and other people without masters to care for them.  On the other hand, the Republicans argued that there was no such thing as property in people, or shouldn’t be.  They also argued that free people would find a way to contribute to society. 
For everyone’s benefit, the Republicans prevailed and Freedom was the law, all across the land.  At this time, equal rights should have been the next step.  However, after Lincoln was killed, this step was not taken, and our nation still wallowed in racial segregation and lack of voting and other basic rights for many years.

No comments:

Post a Comment