Today Should Be a National Holiday: Emancipation 150

For a nation that prides itself as the leader of the free world, I’ve always found it curious as to why this day is not set aside as a national holiday.  On this day 150 years ago President Abraham Lincoln did what he promised he would do 100 days earlier by issuing his final Emancipation Proclamation.  We can quibble about whether the proclamation ought to be understood narrowly as a military or moral document, but what we are always left with is the fact that it paved the way for the eventual freeing of 4 million slaves.  That it did so can and should be celebrated by all Americans.

Click here for Eric Foner’s excellent Op-ed column on Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation in the New York Times.

22 responses... add one

Happy New Year! Sad to see that there is not even a national celebration today. Perhaps bloggers should work for a national celebration of the 150th Anniversary passage of the 13th Amendment. With the Lincoln movie having been seen by 14 million people, this may be the one Civil War anniversary with high recognition and without much ambiguity.

I disagree with the senior archivist on an important point.He said the war only had a “moral” cause when it became about ending slavery. Saying there is no morality in preserving the Union and fighting treason is absurd. If certain states and their citizens who voted in Nov, 2012 for one candidate seceded from the Union in December 2012, we would certainly see it as a moral issue. We either 1) address it as the people of the day understood it. Treason,and rebellion was a crime and immoral, or 2) say abolition was a cause people in the late 20th and early 21st century believe is more worthy,or more moral. 3) Understand Union and freedom as some Northerners did in retrospect,that these two idea were bound together.

I completely agree with you, Barbara. I didn’t want to get into a lengthy interpretive discussion in the body of the post since it would have deviated from the overall focus.

Speaking with modern audiences, the Union as Moral Cause notion is pretty alien. The US has supported dissolutions of confederated states like Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union. People have asked me why preservation of the Union through force is a morally superior position to preservation of these other entities.

Not trying to make legal argument, just saying how folks I speak to here in NY react. They are likely to see 19th Century America as being organized through extreme racial violence and maintained through violence. Without the emancipation imperative, they typically see the war as a contest among white elites. Again, I’m not talking about how CWRT folks view this, but more how the generally liberal public I speak with talk about it. Also, modern Americans rarely think of rebels as traitors.

Of course they do not see it as that way–the Lost Cause greatest victory was eliminating the notion of the rebellion as treason. You cannot understand the war and how Northerners saw it as a moral issue without bringing that in the conversation, regardless of how we (2013) see it.

“You cannot understand the war and how Northerners saw it as a moral
issue without bringing that in the conversation, regardless of how we
(2013) see it.”

Yes — although it’s hard to discuss that perspective rationally with some folks. “Treason” and “traitor” are words that set people off reflexively, and tend to shut down a conversation, no matter how carefully one approaches it (e.g., “many people in the North believed that. . . .”). It doesn’t matter that you’re accurately describing what real people actually thought and said 150 years ago; what some folks in 2013 choose to hear is that you just called their great-great-granddaddy a “traitor.” It’s a real minefield in any sort of rational discussion of the conflict.

He was also wrong when he said it didn’t free anyone immediately. William C. Harris’ article, “After the Emancipation Proclamation: Lincoln’s Role in the Ending of Slavery” in the Dec 2001 issue of North & South Magazine includes a map of all the areas not excepted from the EP that were occupied by Union forces the day the EP took effect. An estimated 20,000 slaves were freed immediately the day the EP took effect, though that figure is conservative.

Couldn’t agree with you more. It should be celebrated as a National Holiday. The children need to learn more about what happended 150 years ago. The rank and file, haven’t a clue. How long does it take for this type of change? Maybe in your lifetime. Not in mine.

Bummer

Couldn’t agree with you more. It should be celebrated as a National Holiday. The children need to learn more about what happended 150 years ago. The rank and file, haven’t a clue. How long does it take for this type of change? Maybe in your lifetime. Not in mine.

Bummer

You know, there’s a really good book about how long it takes historical memory re the Civil War to get to the point where it is not all moonlight and magnolias…what is that guy’s name, again?
Seriously, finished and enjoyed “War as Murder” (Christmas gift) – really well done. Seems like it would come close to a thesis (as opposed to simply a dissertation) if one chose to pursue that road!
I would have appreciated an order of battle for the battle, and some tabular material; I know it is not an combat history, but understanding a little more about the battle, the numbers involved, and the percentages re the USCTs and their casualties vis a vis the entire force involved would have been helpful.
May just be the grognard in me, but still…also, maybe a timeline of the whole century+ element of the “memory” side of things, as well. I got a little lost following who was responsible for the site over the course of the 20th Century, since the PNB predated federal acquisition of the Crater itself.
Did the golf course go belly-up because of the Depression, or something else?
Best,

Thanks for the kind words about the book. Really glad to hear that you enjoyed it. I thought about an order of battle, but given how much time I actually spend on the battle I decided against it. If I could do it again I would have put something in their that details casualties in the Fourth Division. As far as I can tell the golf course had financial problems from the get go and that places it well before the Depression.

One of the little things you mentioned re the gold course that caught my eye was that the features (holes, roads, etc) were named after military personnel present at the battle – be interesting to see who got honored in the 1920s. My guess it was not Burnside, Ferrero, and Ledlie…

Yep. Bad archival practice, but worse, bad example.

This document was part of the NARA Civil War traveling exhibit that came through Houston last year. The also had, briefly, the official copy of the 13th Amendment.

“For a nation that prides itself as the leader of the free world, I’ve always found it curious as to why this day is not set aside as a national holiday.”

It would be nice to see an Emancipation Day observance- that’s a great idea. But in a country where too many people ask, “Why do we have to have a Black History Month,” and where Matrtin Luther King, Jr. Day has only been a federal holiday since the 1980s, and where 42% believe that slavery was not the cause of the Civil War (CNN poll) I’m not surprised there is no national observance of this event.

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