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"Slavery Practically Abolished"

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October 4, 1862, page 626 (1-2)

The proclamation of the President, which will be found in another column, practically abolishes slavery throughout the United States after next New-Year’s Day. By the terms of that proclamation every negro shall become free who, on 1st January, 1863, shall reside in a section of country where the people are in rebellion. The evidence of rebellion, it appears, shall be the non-election of members of Congress by a majority of legally constituted voters. To carry out the Act fairly, we presume that, before New-Year’s Day, the Speaker of Congress will direct an inquiry to be made with a view to ascertain what constituencies have failed to elect members. Upon his report the President will base his proclamation of emancipation, forever setting free and guaranteeing protection to every slave residing within such delinquent constituencies. In order to prevent trickery, no constituency will be deemed to be represented in Congress unless a majority of legally constituted voters have taken part in the election.

Under these conditions it is probable that nine-tenths of the slaves in the Southern States will become free on 1st January next. We do not suppose that any thing like a serious election of members of Congress will be attempted by a majority of legally constituted voters even in New Orleans, Memphis, or Norfolk. So long as the rebel armies keep the field, a majority of the people of the South will refuse to acknowledge their defeat, and will of course decline to participate in elections which would amount to a repudiation of their slave confederacy. In these three cities, and in most of the other places at the South which are occupied by the Union troops, the bulk of the legally constituted voters are in the rebel army, and could not—if they would—obtain furloughs for the purpose of returning home and electing members of Congress. It is just possible that, in the course of the next ninety days, the dread of negro emancipation may work a change in the views of some Southern communities, and that having to choose between two evils—abolition and submission—they may prefer the latter as the least intolerable. And it is also possible that our army and navy may make such rapid progress with the work of suppressing the rebellion that, by 1st January, 1863, the bulk of the Southern country may be overrun, and the hope of establishing a slave confederacy so thoroughly destroyed, that the rebels may be willing to make a virtue of necessity, and set about electing members of Congress. But if the rebel armies are not crushed within ninety days, and the people of the South humbled into submission, then the fiat has gone forth that New-Year’s Day, 1863, shall bring freedom to the negro race in the rebel States.

Nor will the blessed boon be confined to those cotton States where this wretched rebellion arose. If Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas, Arkansas, and Tennessee become free States, it is utterly impossible that Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri can continue to maintain the institution of slavery. With free States on either side of them, they must abolish slavery, or it will abolish itself. The only difference between them and their Southern neighbors will be, that the Unites States will pay to the loyal owners in loyal States a fair compensation for the slave whom the may voluntarily agree to emancipate.

We shall now see how this proclamation will be received—both at the South and at the North. There are those who believe that the rebels—especially if they are hard pressed by our armies—will meet it with a counter-proclamation, immediately emancipating their slaves, and arming them for defense. A policy of this character would render the task before us one of no common difficulty, as it would enable the rebels to recruit their weakened armies with a fresh force of nearly 500,000 men. It is, however, well-nigh impossible to believe that the rebel leaders would of their own free-will adopt the very policy the dread of whose adoption by us plunged them into the present war—that they would place arms in the hands of their slaves, and run the risk of a war of races on their own soil—that they would in the middle of the contest abandon the principle for which it was undertaken, and which they have declared to be the corner-stone of their confederacy. A better opinion appears to be, that Mr. Lincoln’s proclamation will nerve them to still greater exertions than they have yet made, and that they will forthwith take measures to place their slaves out of reach of our troops. They will say, no doubt, that the President’s proclamation will have no more practical effect than the previous bruta fulmina of Frémont and Hunter.

And how will negro emancipation be viewed at the North? There was a time, not very long since, when a large majority of the Northern people would have opposed it strenuously—not so much from any admiration for slavery, as from a belief that, under the Constitution, we had no right to meddle with it, and that its abolition involved dangers and inconveniences perhaps as formidable as those which were created by its existence. Even at the present time a mortal antipathy for the negro is entertained by a large class of persons at the North—as is evidenced by the recent vote against negroes in Illinois, the riots in Cincinnati and Brooklyn, and the unkind treatment of the negroes in Illinois, the riots in Cincinnati and Brooklyn, and the unkind treatment of the negro fugitives at Hilton Head by the regiments of General Hunter’s army. At the same time, the war has produced a remarkable change in the opinions of educated and liberal men at the North. Such leading men as General Wallace of Illinois, Daniel S. Dickinson of New York, General Butler of Massachusetts, and nine-tenths of the generals in the field—who, a year ago, really believed that slavery was the true station for the negro—have lately freely expressed what used to be called "abolition views." How long it will take for these liberal views to permeate society, and stamp themselves on the mind of the working-class, remains to be seen. We do not, for our part, apprehend any serious opposition at the North to the President’s policy, except in circles whose loyalty to the country may well be questioned.

Demagogues will of course endeavor to excite our working-classes against the Government by threatening them with the competition of free negro labor. It seems hardly worth while to reply to so shallow and so mean an argument as this. Our laboring class in this country is intelligent enough to know that what we want in every part of this country is not fewer but more laborers. For years we at the North have been moving heaven and earth to get more labor from Europe, and we have succeeded in getting a very large number of men every year; yet wages have steadily advanced instead of falling. Who ever thought of opposing immigration for fear of the competition of the new Irishmen or Germans? So at the South. They have increased their stock of labor steadily by every means, lawful and unlawful, for thirty years, and yet the price of slaves has steadily risen for $400 to $1500 for adult field hands, and the cry—before the war—was still for more labor. The man who tries to frighten the North with threats of competition by emancipated negroes insults the understanding of our laboring class.


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