Booker T. Washington, as a boy of 9, remembered the day in early 1865:
As the great day drew nearer, there was more singing in the slave quarters than usual. It was bolder, had more ring, and lasted later into the night. Most of the verses of the plantation songs had some reference to freedom.... Some man who seemed to be a stranger (a United States officer, I presume) made a little speech and then read a rather long paper—the Emancipation Proclamation, I think. After the reading we were told that we were all free, and could go when and where we pleased. My mother, who was standing by my side, leaned over and kissed her children, while tears of joy ran down her cheeks. She explained to us what it all meant, that this was the day for which she had been so long praying, but fearing that she would never live to see. [Up from Slavery (1901) pp19-21]
We continue our dialogue series on important documents of the United States of America this week with the Emancipation Proclamation, which was an executive order in 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln, as the nation approached its third year of bloody civil war. Although the Emancipation Proclamation did not immediately free a single slave, it fundamentally transformed the character of the war.
The proclamation was not a law passed by Congress but a presidential order under Article II, section 2 of the Constitution. It was issued in two parts. The first part, issued on September 22, 1862, was a preliminary announcement outlining the intent of the second part, which officially went into effect 100 days later on January 1, 1863. It first affected only those slaves that had already escaped to the Union side, but as the Union armies advanced in the south, thousands of slaves were freed each day until nearly all (estimated at 4 million) were free by the summer of 1865. Some slavery continued to exist in the border states until the entire institution was finally wiped out by the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment on December 6, 1865.
Abraham Lincoln was the president when the United States was most divided and self-destructive. Who was Abraham Lincoln? Some would call him one of the greatest presidents. What made him great? What was his wisdom and strengths that allowed him to sustain the country while he worked to undo a longtime injustice against a major population in the country?
As the people of the United States move toward the election in November, it is appropriate to discern the characters that Abraham Lincoln possessed. Using Lincoln, one of the most respected presidents in our history as a yardstick, how would you evaluate the qualifications of the candidates? Do the candidates running for office possess characters comparable to Lincoln?
Amendment XIII - Slavery Abolished.
1. 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.
2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
--And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution, upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God.
By the President of the United States of America:
Whereas, on the twenty-second day of September, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-two, a proclamation was issued by the President of the United States, containing, among other things, the following, to wit:
"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 I hereby enjoin upon the people so declared to be free to abstain from all violence, unless in necessary self-defence; and I recommend to them that, in all cases when allowed, they labor faithfully for reasonable wages.
And I further declare and make known, that such persons of suitable condition, will be received into the armed service of the United States to garrison forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service.
Reflection Questions for Proper 19 (Year B)
Eric H. F. Law
For competent leadership in a diverse changing world
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