The Emancipation Proclamation and Today

The Emancipation Proclamation and Today

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Nick Yanakas, Social Policy Contributor

January 1st is noteworthy not only because it is the first day in the new calendar year, but also because it is the anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation

President Lincoln first proposed the Proclamation, stating that all slaves would be freed in the Confederacy if those states did not return to the Union by the new year, on September 22, 1862.  However, Lincoln withheld the proclamation at the request of Secretary of State William Seward until the Union had driven back General Lee’s forces in the critical Battle of Antietam 

Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863; over 163 years ago.

The Proclamation read in part:

“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 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.” 

Lincoln based his actions upon the idea of God-given inalienable rights; a concept critical in understanding our Constitution and Declaration of Independence, which provided the reasoning and basis behind the Constitution. 

The case Lincoln made in the Emancipation Proclamation was that human beings have inalienable God-given rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and therefore slavery was never legal despite any actions or decisions to the contrary by prior Presidents, Congresses or Courts. Natural, God-given rights dictate that there is a higher power and law by which man must live by beyond any unjust law or ruling by a congress or a court; it's why we have our elected officials put their hand on a Bible when they swear an oath to uphold the Constitution and protect this nation. It is why we have our elected officials ask for God’s guidance and wisdom (“so help me God”) when sworn into office. Lincoln understood this and history looks fondly on him for it. 

I thought of Lincoln and the ripple-effect his actions created this past week as I watched a CNN Documentary on Netflix entitled “The Sixties” which looks back on the most important events and trends of the decade. One episode covered the civil rights movement, and as I watched, I began to think of all the great progress of the civil rights era, advancing God-given rights and individual liberty, and how that may have never happened without Lincoln actions 100 years prior. Martin Luther King Jr., perhaps the greatest orator and advocate for individual liberty of the 20th century, understood and embraced the philosophy that underpinned Lincoln’s opposition to slavery. 

As Jack Macaulay put it over at the American View, “His mission was to proclaim the Gospel and his basis was God-given rights, and liberty under Law. In his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, he stated, ‘there are two types of laws: just and unjust.’ And that ‘one has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.’” Here it becomes apparent the worldview shared between Lincoln and King; two men separated by 100 years, assassinated for the fight against slavery, making the same argument that God-given rights and natural law supercede any injustice perpetrated by man. It is this foundation, understood by the greatest leaders of the 19th and 20th century respectively, that has led to greater racial equality and improved race relations over the years. 

As the episode came to an end I then began to think about today and how we have taken a step backwards in race relations and overall unity as a nation. We have become greatly balkanized by the left; divvied up by race, class, and sex. We have fallen dangerously far off course from our Constitution and the God-given rights that underpin, even veering towards tribalism, which has been pushed by the left and is now being adopted by many on the right as a result. We had two presidential candidates representing their respective tribes. Clinton representing a mish-mosh of minority groups and coastal elites and Trump representing the white working-class throughout the interior of the country. So instead of voting based on principles and demanding each candidate uphold the constitution, people vote based on their ethnicity or group and with the expectation that their candidate will favor and help their specific group as opposed to thinking of the well-being of the entire nation. This trend towards tribalism, unsurprisingly, has disunited the country, and worsened race relations. The simmering disdain for our fellow Americans by each respective group may sow the seeds of the breakdown of the social fabric and thus the permanent breaking apart of the country. We have seen flashes of this throughout the past eight years just as we did throughout the 1960’s and with the civil war in the 1860’s. The difference between those times and now is back then we had a leader like Lincoln to save the nation from permanent division. Back then we had Martin Luther King preaching the gospel and preaching true equality, speaking out against violence and revenge, and thus serving as a check against violent, racist malcontents such as Malcolm X and the Black Panther Party hijacking the civil rights era for their own tribalistic, racist purposes. 

Who do we have today to lead and unite us around our founding principles, based on natural rights? At the moment, it appears we have no one, and that is the troubling difference between the riots and unrest of today versus the 1960’s. 

If we want a truly equal society we must re-seek the wisdom of our framers, Martin Luther King, and Abraham Lincoln. We must remember the Emancipation Proclamation issued 163 years ago. 

Follow this author on twitter @NYanakas 

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