The Emancipation Proclamation, whose 150th anniversary was this past Tuesday, January 1, 2013, recalls the youth of some of our older readers: that momentous day, 50 years ago, when the 100th anniversary of the proclamation reverberated up and down the land. The courageous battles for civil rights for the grandchildren of ex-slaves told everyone that the battle cry for freedom so beautifully heralded by the proclamation was finally coming to fruition. Persistently. Painfully. Often violently, as civil disobedience was often met with incivil brutality.
In addition, the 150th anniversary of the proclamation recalls something well before our oldest reader: the precise circumstances of the original proclamation, January 1, 1863. The Emancipation Proclamation did not emancipate all of the nation’s slaves. In fact, it was not an executive order at all; President Abraham Lincoln cleverly merged a symbol of hope with respect for the Constitution.
He reasoned: I cannot very well wage a Civil War for the preservation of the Union under the US Constitution, yet violate the Constitution. And the Constitution legalized slavery, at least in the original 13 states. Therefore, I cannot free the slaves by executive fiat. Still, I must advance the cause of freedom.
Here is how he did it: He said that slaves in the Confederate states were a potential — and massive — security threat to the Union. Their full conscription by the Confederate states in the Civil War would pose a large and potentially decisive military threat to the Union. Therefore, as commander-in-chief of the Union forces — Lincoln reasoned — he could legally emancipate the slaves.
But which slaves? Only those in the rebellious Confederate states. There were, however, border states that embraced slavery and still fought on the side of the Union. The slaves in these states could not be deemed a security threat to the Union. Therefore, they were not covered by the Emancipation Proclamation.
Which is exactly why Lincoln, to achieve his goal of emancipating all slaves and ending slavery in the US, needed to amend the Constitution with the 13th Amendment. The Emancipation Proclamation, magisterial though it was, was not enough.
Copyright © 2013 by the Intermountain Jewish News