Paul R. Lehman, Understanding the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment

December 24, 2012 at 8:32 pm | Posted in African American, blacks, Civil War, Emancipation Proclamation, equality, European American, fairness, President, the Republican Party, whites | 1 Comment
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When some people hear the words Emancipation Proclamation (EP) they generally think about it as the document President Lincoln issued to freed the slaves. Unfortunately, they would be incorrect; the EP did not free a single slave. So, why is it that people believe it did free the slaves? The reason for that belief probably has something to do with their schooling. Our society, in certain parts of the country, treats the EP as a special document relative to the freeing of the slaves. The document that should be celebrated more is the Thirteenth Amendment.

When the Ep was issued by President Lincoln in 1863, its primary purpose was not directed at freeing the slaves. Initially, Lincoln used the EP as a war measure in hopes of bringing the war to a close. He did not get the reactions from the EP that he expected, so he had to push for something more dramatic, the Thirteenth Amendment. Some of the problems associated with the EP were that it freed the slaves in only the states in rebellion. Since the states in rebelling had no reason to acknowledge or accept any proclamation from a President they did not recognize, it fell on deft ears. The only two entities that had cause to react to the proclamation were the government and the armed forces.

For the slaves in the rebellious states, the proclamation was cause for more concern than the problems visited by the war. Just what did this freedom mean? The slaves when freed had no home, no money, no security, the job, and no place to go. If they decided to leave their present residence and go to a state not in rebellion, the chances are the state they chose was a slave state. Hence, they would be subjected to slavery again. The proclamation did not provide any safeguards for the slaves that any state would accept or respect as valid. No procedures for making the transition from slave to free was created or provided for the slaves. So, what good was the EP to the slave?

Fortunately, President Lincoln realized that his proclamation had some problems that had to be addressed. For example, since the EP was a war measure, that meant it was temporary; it would expire when the war ended. The Confederate States would resume their form of slavery. That being the case, what would happen to the slaves that fled the South and joined the Union Army? What would happen to the slaves in the non-rebelling slave states? The answer he finally decided on was the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery in the United States and provided that “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

Had President Lincoln and other like-minded Congressmen not pushed through the passing on January 31, 1865 and subsequent ratifying of the Thirteenth Amendment on December 6, 1865, we can only wonder at the chaos that would have ensued at the war’s end. What, in effect, started out as a war measure actually triggered a human measure and helped to save the country. This amendment underscored the rights of African Americans to pursue the liberties that European Americans had been enjoying for years. In addition, because the Thirteenth Amendment is federal legislation, any effort  by states to deny citizens their rights could and would be challenged.

The Thirteenth Amendment, more than the EP, established the case for the African American’s humanity. Under the First  Article of the U.S. Constitution, the slave was defined as three/fifths a man or human, the rights granted via the Thirteenth Amendment elevated him to a full-fledged human being. Without the federal authority of the Thirteenth Amendment, the South could have continued its ways of life without further interruption.  Since we are a society of laws, we should not neglect the EP, but give more attention to the Thirteenth Amendment since it is a very important law.

For many Americans the idea of the Civil War being fought over slavery is incorrect; they see it as a war over different  lifestyles and cultures, economics and politics. Be that as it may, however, regardless of any or all of these reasons for the war, none can be divorced from the influence of slavery. As suggested earlier, President Lincoln had no thoughts of abolishing slavery. As a matter of fact, early in his presidency, he actually protected it with legislation. Fortunately, for African Americans, Lincoln’s concern for the casualties of the war brought about a change in his method for achieving his objective; and we were blessed to receive the EP and the Thirteenth Amendment.

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  1. Indeed, the 13th Amendment is the first national document to specifically clarify who is free and who is not.


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