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The Emancipation Proclamation Is Sold, Myths About It Bought

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bill-swift - June 28, 2012

An extremely rare copy of the Emancipation Proclamation sold yesterday at an auction for 2.1 million dollars. What could possibly be more red-blooded American than selling one of our sacred national treasures for cold hard cash? Lincoln's landmark document marks one of the most important moments in the history of the United States. The founders had gotten their pantyhose in a bunch over the question of slavery and decided they'd let future generations deal with it. Thanks Jefferson and Adams. 600,000 soldiers died in the Civil War largely over you're procrastination. Still, there is no doubt that ending the sin of slavery was Lincoln's greatest legacy...only it wasn't exactly that way. Here are 5 facts about the Emancipation Proclamation you didn't learn in middle school.

It Didn't Free All The Slaves

Look, Lincoln personally hated slavery. He thought it was evil, which of course it was. We think of Lincoln as a saint in our American civil religion, but he was also a shrewd politician. The Emancipation Proclamation only freed slaves in the Confederacy. At the time the Southern states were completely out of his control, so initially it freed no one. The London Times quipped in a quippy British manner, "Where he has no power Mr Lincoln will set the Negroes free; where he retains power he will consider them as slaves." Ouch. What Missouri, Kentucky, Delaware, and Maryland like to downplay today is that they were loyal to the Union, but were still slave states. Lincoln had to be very careful not to piss these guys off. If Maryland joined the Confederacy, Washington D.C. would have been completely surrounded by hostile territory. As he himself said about freeing Union slaves, "I would do it if I were not afraid that half the officers would fling down their arms and three more states would rise."

Lincoln Needed Soldiers

By the time Lincoln signed the Proclamation, he desperately needed soldiers. Hundreds of thousands of men in the Union Army had died. Entire generations of Americans were wiped out. In the battle of Shiloh alone more soldiers died than in the entire Vietnam war. So, he thought that if he gave Southern slaves their freedom they would rise up against their masters in order to help the Northern cause. Who had more to gain from a Northern victory than Southern slaves? Basically he was saying, "Hey guys, if you help us out we'll give you your freedom...but only if we're victorious and the Confederacy is defeated,". Many Southern slaves did help overthrow their masters as the Northern army approached. Soon, free Blacks joined the ranks of the army. Just check out the movie Glory for more information.

His Original Plan Was To Send Black People Back To Africa

This idea had been around since the foundation of the Republic. Back then no one, not even the most fervent abolitionist, thought Blacks and Whites were equal. They were racist as hell by our standards. They thought that if they freed 4 million Black people that they had treated like chattel that they would rise up and kill Whitey. There was a precedent for sending former slaves to Africa. During the Monroe administration, the United States sent thousands of free men to Africa and helped found the nation of Liberia. This is why Liberia's capital is still known as Monrovia. Lincoln came up with the so-called Delaware plan that would have sent the sizable population of slaves in Delaware to Africa. Delaware slave owners were not amused and the measure was killed.

The North Wasn't That Interested In Ending Slavery

One of the biggest myths about the Civil War is that it was fought over slavery. This was in no way true. The intent of the war was to keep the Union together. The ending of slavery was just a nice side effect, like when you get high from the cough syrup you took for your bronchitis. Most people in the North didn't care if the slaves were freed and many people were dead set against it. For example, New York City profited greatly from Southern slavery. Where do you think that cotton that fueled the garment industry came from? In fact, Lincoln was afraid that if his soldiers thought that the war was about freeing slaves, they would simply quit. In 1863, there were widespread riots in New York by mostly Irish immigrants who didn't want to go to war because of the movement towards the Emancipation Proclamation. These fighting Irish didn't want to fight to free Black people, instead they lynched thousands of free Blacks in New York. Soldiers returning from Gettysburg were dispatched to put down the riots.

The Proclamation Did Little To Help Free Blacks

So, slaves were now free in the South. After the war, the Thirteenth Amendment forever ended slavery in the United States. Now what? In former slave states, Black people were now free which was great...except that they were still largely treated like slaves. Lincoln's assassination left the task of reconstruction in the hands of Andrew Johnson. He was a racist drunk that had endorsed preserving the Union but was against the freeing of slaves. Given his inclinations, he did very little to help freed slaves improve their situation. Pretty soon Black people in the South were slaves in all but name. It wasn't until the middle of the last century that the lot of Southern Blacks really improved. In the end the Emancipation Proclamation is still an important document because it set the ball rolling for the end of slavery. But, alas, it did little practical good. Still, we can thank Abe Lincoln for ridding America of vampires. At least, according to Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.

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