Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
— George Santayana (1863–1952)
Prior to the Civil War, America was divided into 5 categories:
- Radical Northern Republicans whose attitude was ‘slavery is wrong–end it now’. They believed all human lives mattered, whether on or off a plantation, and all were equal, created in the image of God. This group included abolitionists, the Underground Railroad, anti-slavery preachers, and, unfortunately, the fringe John Brown who shot at slave owners.
- Moderate Republicans whose attitude was that slavery is wrong but the country should transition out of it gradually over time.
- Practical Neutral Voters who could care less about the value of human life. They were more concerned about their pocketbook, jobs, wages, economy and tax-tariff issues.
- Moderate Southern Democrats whose attitude was ‘slavery is wrong, but it was settled law and the nation should just live with it. People should have the choice whether or not to own a slave–just treat your slaves nice’.
- Extreme Southern Democrats whose attitude was ‘slavery is good and should be expanded into new Territories and States’. They wanted Northerners who were morally opposed to slavery to be forced to participate in supporting it through the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.
Interestingly, these are similar to the categories America is divided into today:
- Pro-Life Republicans whose attitude is ‘abortion is wrong–end it now’. They believe all human lives matter, whether in or out of a womb, and that all are equal, created in the image of God. There are also fringe “John Brown types” who shoot at abortion clinics.
- Establishment Republicans whose attitude is to reluctantly agree to a gradual limitation of abortions.
- Practical Neutral Voters who could care less about human life. They avoid social issues, being concerned only about their pocketbook–“It’s the economy, stupid.”
- Pro-Choice Democrats whose attitude is that abortion is “settled law” and the nation should just live with it – just have it be “safe, legal, and rare.”
- Extreme Democrats whose attitude is that abortion is good and that it should be expanded though nationalized healthcare and global U.N. initiatives. They support the selling of aborted baby body parts, and insist on forcing those who are morally opposed to abortion to participate in supporting it, even suing Hobby Lobby and the Little Sisters of the Poor.
Ronald Reagan wrote in his article, “Abortion and the Conscience of the Nation,” (The Human Life Review, 1983):
Lincoln recognized that we could not survive as a free land when some men could decide that others were not fit to be free and should be slaves…
Likewise, we cannot survive as a free nation when some men decide that others are not fit to live and should be abandoned to abortion.
The Civil War started initially as a States’ Rights controversy, largely over tariff taxes on imports collected at Southern ports, burdening the Southern economy — which unfortunately was dependent on slavery.
It appeared that the Confederate South would quickly win.
Lincoln faced draft riots, ruled by decree, enacted martial law and suspended habeas corpus–which allowed the Federal government to arrest anyone without a warrant.
In 1862, Confederate forces defeated Union troops at the Second Battle of Bull Run, then crossed the Potomac River into Maryland.
On September 15, 1862, Confederates captured Harpers Ferry, taking over 12,000 Union prisoners.
The impressive Confederate drive was suddenly halted when Lee’s “Lost” Order No. 191 was inadvertently misplaced and found by Union troops on September 13, 1862.
This revealed the Confederate plans, allowing the Union forces to gain an advantage at the Battle of Sharpsburg, Maryland.
The ensuing Battle of Antietam, September 17, 1862, was the bloodiest day of fighting in American history with over 23,000 casualties.
The North was able to quickly replace its ranks by drafting immigrants from the crowded northern cities, but the South was agricultural and did not have the population from which to draw new recruits. The war became one of attrition.
Five days after the Battle of Antietam, September 22, 1862, Lincoln met with his cabinet to draft the Emancipation Proclamation.
Secretary of the Treasury Salmon Portland Chase recorded Lincoln as stating:
“The time for the annunciation of the emancipation policy can no longer be delayed. Public sentiment will sustain it, many of my warmest friends and supporters demand it, and I have promised God that I will do it.”
When asked about this last statement, Lincoln replied:
“I made a solemn vow before God, that if General Lee were driven back from Pennsylvania, I would crown the result by the declaration of freedom to the slaves.”
The Emancipation Proclamation had the effect of giving the North the moral high ground, causing European support of the Confederacy to evaporate–as no country wanted to be perceived as supporting slavery.
The Proclamation stated:
“I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, by virtue of the power in me vested as Commander-in-Chief … do, on the FIRST DAY OF JANUARY, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three … publicly proclaim … that … persons held as slaves … are, and henceforward shall be, free …
And I hereby enjoin upon the people so declared to be free to abstain from all violence … and … labor faithfully for reasonable wages …
And upon this act … I invoke … the gracious favor of Almighty God.”
On DECEMBER 1, 1862, President Lincoln gave his Second Annual Message:
“In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free … We shall nobly save–or meanly lose–the last, best hope of earth.
Other means may succeed; this could not fail. The way is plain … a way which if followed the world will forever applaud and God must forever bless.”
The Emancipation Proclamation did not attempt to free slaves in Northern states as they were not in rebellion and therefore there was no legal ground for the President to overrule the legitimate governments of those states.
With the South being a “war-zone,” the President argued that his title as “Commander-in-Chief” allowed him in time of war to exercise executive powers in those States at war.
Congress saw this as an unconstitutional usurpation of power.
If fact, President Washington, in his Farewell Address, specifically warned against the Executive usurping power:
“But let there be no change by usurpation; for though this, in one instance, may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed.
The precedent (of usurpation) must always greatly overbalance in permanent evil any partial or transient benefit which the use can at any time yield.”
Though Lincoln considered his executive proclamation an “instrument of good,” it was deemed unconstitutional by Congress, so he worked another route.
Rather than ruling through executive orders and proclamations, Lincoln undertook to free the slaves using the proper constitutional means of passing the 13th Amendment.
An amendment required 2/3’s of Congress to approve it, as portrayed in Steven Spielberg’s movie, “Lincoln” (2012).
The 13th Amendment was passed in the Senate on April 8, 1864, with all 30 Republicans voting in favor of it, joined by only 4 Democrats.
The 13th Amendment was passed in the House on January 31, 1865, with all 86 Republicans voting in favor, joined by 15 Democrats, 14 Unconditional Unionists, and 4 Union men.
Voting against the 13th Amendment were 50 Democrat congressmen, joined by 6 Union men.
Though not necessary, Lincoln–the first Republican President– added his signature to the 13th Amendment after the words “Approved February 1, 1865.”
Though Republicans were successful in their efforts to officially abolish slavery, Democrats in Southern states passed Black Codes, Jim Crow Laws, and created racial vigilante organizations.
Republicans responded by enlarging the Federal Government’s power with the 14th Amendment in 1868, ensuring civil rights for freed slaves in the States.
Republicans then pushed through a ban on racial voting restrictions by passing the 15th Amendment in 1870.
These amendments were great “instruments of good;” nevertheless, they did have the unanticipated consequence of enlarging the federal government’s control over the states.
Earlier in his career, Lincoln stated at Independence Hall, Philadelphia, February 22, 1861:
“The Declaration of Independence gave liberty not alone to the people of this country, but hope to all the world for all future time.
It was that which gave promise that in due time the weights would be lifted from the shoulders of all men, and that all should have an equal chance …
This is the sentiment embodied in the Declaration of Independence … I would rather be assassinated on this spot than surrender it.”