Friday, January 4, 2013
Sesquicentennial of the Emancipation Proclamation Part 4
Part 4 of 4 of an analysis of Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation:
Historical experts agree the institution of slavery would have dwindled and died in the face of the modernization and industrialization of agriculture but, the immediacy of the freeing of slaves ill equipped to care for themselves proved disastrous. Every other country in the western hemisphere ended slavery peacefully but Lincoln viewed emancipation as a dire war measure. The freed slaves who fought in the Union army were segregated from the balance of the Northern forces and were relegated chiefly to support roles such as laborers and were compensated a fraction of the wages of the white soldiers. They were also provided substandard food rations and other supplies as compared to the white Union troops and were limited on advancement with only about 100 of the approximately 180,000 blacks who joined the Union army achieving promotion to the rank of an officer. Reconstruction crippled the recovery of the Southern states following the War and without the labor to work the land and farms, the agrarian economy was incapable of sustaining the demands of a starving, healing, rebuilding civilian populace. The segment of the society least prepared to cope with the harsh realities of the reconstruction were the freed blacks with limited education and skills other than the very work they had provided as laborers on the plantations which lay in ruins following their pillage by the Union forces at the conclusion of the War Between the States. Historian Jim Downs of Connecticut College in his book, Sick From Freedom, maintains perhaps a million freed slaves died from disease such as smallpox and cholera and from starvation following their emancipation calling it “the largest biological crisis of the 19th century”. Downs stated, “In the 19th century people did not care and abolitionists, when they saw so many freed people dying, feared that it proved true what some people said: that slaves were not able to exist on their own.” Downs continued, “So many of these people are dying of starvation in such a slow death, dying by scores, sometimes 30 per day in some contraband camps and are carried out by wagonloads without coffins and thrown promiscuously like brutes into a trench.” Some observers actually supposed that the mortality rate would lead to the extermination of the blacks on the continent. But they did survive largely as an underclass which has ultimately resulted in a crippling burden on the nation’s economy supporting generations of welfare recipients with entitlements akin to lifelong reparations. The emancipation of the slaves by force by a numerically superior Union army and unconstitutional dictate instead of thru a natural societal progression to gradually eliminate the institution of slavery created economic problems, tensions and racial disharmony still ongoing today not just in the South but throughout the United States.