March 5, 2015

THE ASPIRATIONAL REPUBLIC:

The Forgotten Emancipation (AMY DRU STANLEY,  MARCH 4, 2015, NY Times)

March 4, 1865, is remembered as the day of Abraham Lincoln's Second Inaugural address, but it was also a moment that has been forgotten in the long history of slave emancipation in America.

As Lincoln spoke of malice toward none, almost 100,000 slaves went free in states loyal to the Union. All were women and children, emancipated by an act of Congress designed to "encourage Enlistments" by black men in the Union Army.

This wartime liberation has disappeared from public memory. But it was a turning point in the downfall of American slavery - in which slaves played a leading part in transforming the Civil War into a war for abolition.

The Enlistment Act reached beyond the Emancipation Proclamation, which applied only to areas in rebellion. By declaring "forever free" the black soldier's wife and children, the act brought liberation to slaves owned by loyal masters in the border states - human property that Lincoln had pledged the Civil War would leave untouched.

By 1865, saving the Union had become inseparable from destroying slavery. But men still enslaved in the border states refused to wage war for the Union unless, in exchange, they won their families' freedom as well as their own.

The Enlistment Act was revolutionary. In a world in flux, where constitutional change flowed from the tides of war, it based abolition on slave marriage. It assumed precisely what slavery denied - the right of chattel property to marry and have a family. And, for the first time, Congress stripped loyal slaveholders of property without compensation, a challenge to the takings clause of the Fifth Amendment.

And at the heart of the revolutionary law lay the aspirations of slaves. The question of who freed the slaves is a longstanding one; whether it was Lincoln, or Congress, or Union generals or fugitives who fled from masters. Yet it is clear that the enlistment act originated in claims pressed by slaves.

Posted by at March 5, 2015 6:23 PM
  

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