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Ethics & Religion
Column #1,976
July 3, 2019
"All Men Are Created Equal"
By Mike McManus

"We hold these Truths to be self-evident: that all Men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights; that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness."

That's the Declaration of Independence, which America adopted on July 4, 1776.

However, slavery denied those rights to millions of Negroes.

That fact profoundly disturbed Abraham Lincoln. As he eloquently put it in his 1863 Gettysburg Address, "Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."

One of the reporters of the event from the Chicago Press and Tribune, interviewed Lincoln afterwards. The President said that when representatives from 13 states signed the Declaration, "12 of which were slaveholding communities."

Lincoln added that "all" of the representatives "greatly deplored the evil and that they placed a provision in the Constitution which they supposed would gradually remove the disease by cutting off its source. This was the abolition of the slave trade."

What made the slavery issue come alive to Lincoln was the passage by Congress of the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 which allowed the extension of slavery to the western territories. It was sponsored by Illinois Senator Stephen Douglas. Prior to that time, slavery was limited to states south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

Lincoln debated Douglas on the issue seven times in 1854, in a race for the Senate. Lincoln said that he believed absolutely in the doctrine of self-government, but asked does "such application depend on whether a Negro is not or is a man? If he is not a man, why in that case he who is a man may...do as he pleases with him."

When the white man governs himself and also governs another man, that is more than self-government, it is despotism. If the Negro is a man, why then my ancient faith teaches me that `all men are created equal.'"

"No man is good enough to govern another man, without that other's consent."

In their fourth debate, Douglas asserted, "In my opinion, a Negro is not a citizen, cannot be, and ought not to be, under the Constitution. I say the Government was established on the white basis. It was made by white men, for the benefit of white men and their posterity forever."

He also argued that Negroes belong "to a race incapable of self-government and for that reason ought not to be on an equality with white men."

After seven debates, Douglas won the election to the Senate. But Lincoln performed so well that he won the Republican nomination for President.

Lincoln's position on slavery was not to call for its abolition, but to limit slavery to the South's slave-holding states. Douglas wanted to allow western states, whose territories were added to the U.S. by the Louisiana Purchase, to decide for themselves whether to allow slavery. Lincoln stoutly opposed that.

Douglas, with bitter sarcasm, denounced Lincoln's view: "The white people of Nebraska are good enough to govern themselves, but they are not good enough to govern a few miserable Negroes!!"

As President, Lincoln initially was reluctant to adopt an abolitionist policy. He had been elected on a platform pledging no interference with slavery in existing states. Why? He wanted to hold border states like his native Kentucky, in the union.

He said, "My paramount objective in this struggle is to save the Union, and it is not either to save or destroy slavery."

However, Northern sentiment, fueled by the Civil War, wanted to end slavery everywhere. Maine even allowed blacks to vote.

The North's strong anti-slavery sentiment prompted Lincoln to write the Emancipation Proclamation. Published on September 22, 1862, it declared that on January 1, 1863, "all persons held as slaves" within the rebellious states "are and henceforth shall be free."

Although historians say the Proclamation was one of the ten most important documents in America's history, it only applied to the states in rebellion, as a measure to cripple the Confederacy. Lincoln's own advisors opposed it.

One immediate result was that France and Germany, who had considered supporting the Confederacy, decided not to do so, because they agreed with the goal of ending slavery.

The Proclamation also declared that African Americans "would be received into the armed services of the United States." More than 200,000 blacks signed up.

The measure was so popular that Lincoln introduced the 13th Constitutional Amendment to abolish slavery, which was approved in December, 1865.

Lincoln considered the Emancipation Proclamation the crowning achievement of his Presidency.

All of this is what we celebrate on the 4th of July.

__________________________

LINK: Full Transcript of the Proclamation:
https://www.archives.gov/exhibits/featured-documents/emancipation-proclamation/transcript.html

__________________________

Copyright (c) 2018 Michael J. McManus, President of Marriage Savers and a syndicated columnist. To read past columns, go to www.ethicsandreligion.com. Hit Search for any topic.

 

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