“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 … shall be … forever free.” These historic words come from the Emancipation Proclamation signed by President Abraham Lincoln in January 1863. The document declared freedom to all slaves in Confederate states that did not return to Union control. On April 16, freedom lovers will celebrate Emancipation Day commemorating President Lincoln’s preliminary proclamation that ultimately led to the abolition of the vile practice of Americans owning slaves. Though slavery was not banned until two years after the Proclamation’s signing, Emancipation Day is monumental because it honors the beginning of the end of slavery, perhaps the biggest stain on the history of the United States of America, the ‘land of the free.’
Though a lifelong supporter of slavery’s abolition, history records that President Lincoln in his early career opposed Congress passing such law. In his younger days, our 16th president did not fight against it. In fact, in an 1837 speech in which he protested slavery, he also declared, “… the Congress of the United States has no power, under the constitution, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the different states.”
Thankfully, ‘the Great Emancipator’ later changed his stance. In a speech he gave in Peoria, Illinois, at the age of 45, he said, “You say A is white, and B is black. It is color, then; the lighter, having the right to enslave the darker? Take care. By this rule, you are to be slave to the first man you meet with a fairer skin than your own!”
Later, in April 1865 during his last public address preceding his assassination, the president further demonstrated his belief that blacks in America deserved and should be granted equality by urging that voting rights be extended to blacks who had fought on the side of the Union. Slavery was officially banned in the U.S. in December 1865 with the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment. Were it not for ‘Honest Abe,’ such amendment at such time would not have been achieved.
Regardless of what some Americans have professed since the election of President Barack Obama, racism has not been eradicated in the U.S. If not, however, for President Abraham Lincoln signing the Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863, America’s history would be even more tainted. The simple fact is that slavery never should have touched the soil of a free country. Thank God for President Lincoln and other men and women of all colors who stood with their lives against this abhorrent offense. Perhaps it is time for the United States to celebrate Emancipation Day as a public holiday.