“And I Hereby Enjoin Upon the People so Declared to Be Free…”: On the 156th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation
The issue of slavery had been a shameful feature of the United States social life since the first years of the country’s creation until September 22, 1862.
Among the most famous and respected members of the Founding Fathers were a number of slave-owners. Benjamin Franklin, Button Gwinnett, John Hancock, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Paine, Robert Treat Paine Oliver Ellsworth and Patrick Henry…despite the true and sincere faith in the ideals of the Enlightenment, all these men were slave-owners at some point in their lives.
The slaves from Africa came to the newly-founded states via so-called “New England Triangular Trade” route, within which three main sides were the African continent (where slaves were bought), the Caribbean colonies (with vast sugar plantations, where some slaves actually stayed) and New England itself, where rum was made from Caribbean sugar, as well as some other goods, to be sent to Africa in order to buy new slaves for the colonies, plantations and manufactures.
Yet, you would be mistaken to think the North-American colonies of the United Kingdom (later known as the United States) were the main destination for the slaves from Africa. Studies show, that between 1519 and 1867 - the years “Triangular Trade” was the most active and prosperous - 21.1 % of Africans were traded to Southeast Brazil, 11.2 % - to Jamaica, 10.7 % - to another part of modern days Brazil, Bahia, 9.3 % - to Northeast Brazil, whilst only about 3.7 % of the total number of slaves eventually came to British North-American colonies and the States.
The most active period of the “Triangular Slave Trade” for the territories that are parts of the present-day United States was the first quarter of the 19th century, when no less than 109 thousand slaves were forced there. In total, the number of African slaves sent to different parts of the modern States in the period of time between 1620 and 1866 is about 305 thousand people. Most of these people formed families (quite often – just because the slave-owner forced them to do so) and had children, so much so that by the end of slavery era (the closest to this event census of 1860) the overall number of enslaved African Americans was equal to almost 4 million people.
To put this number in context, consider that the entire population of the state of New York, including by far the largest American City of the time itself, as well as all minor cities, towns and villages of the surrounding state, equaled about 3.9 million people. This means that before the Civil War, the total number of African Americans enslaved in the States was bigger than the population of the lagest city in the North.
The African American slaves were kept in horrible conditions. They were considered less than sub-human and treated in accordance with this principle. For a minor misdemeanor, they could be punished severely, including being beaten to death. Every minute of a slave’s life depended on the will of his owner. Eventually, it became absolutely clear for all enlightened people of the United States that slavery had to be abolished, since the practice was Medieval, out of date, and cruel. However, many Southern states by that time had developed a deep agricultural economy based on the principles of cheap work-force, which required slavery. They didn’t care about “humanity” and other “enlightenment” categories, so the conflict between the free North, where slavery had been prohibited since 1804, and slave-owning South became inevitable.
Without getting into the Civil War itself, since that would be a very wide topic for a small article, let us emphasize the date we celebrate today. On September 22, 1862 The President of The United States of America Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, also known as Proclamation 95. On the 1st of January of the next, 1863, it was implemented as an executive order for all the modern and future states of the country.
The Proclamation stated:
“I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States of America, and Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy thereof, do hereby proclaim and declare that hereafter, as heretofore, the war will be prosecuted for the object of practically restoring the constitutional relation between the United States, and each of the States, and the people thereof, in which States that relation is, or may be, suspended or disturbed.
That it is my purpose, upon the next meeting of Congress to again recommend the adoption of a practical measure tendering pecuniary aid to the free acceptance or rejection of all slave States, so called, the people whereof may not then be in rebellion against the United States and which States may then have voluntarily adopted, or thereafter may voluntarily adopt, immediate or gradual abolishment of slavery within their respective limits; and that the effort to colonize persons of African descent, with their consent, upon this continent, or elsewhere, with the previously obtained consent of the Governments existing there, will be continued.
That on the first day of January in the year of our Lord, one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State, or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom…”.
And despite the fact that racial issues are still raging in modern day America, as the police continue to shoot African Americans on even the slightest suspicions, the situation in the country is surely better than it was before September 22, 1862, and this is a good reason to say, “thank you, Mr. Lincoln, for The Emancipation Proclamation”.