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A statue of Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln and the End of Slavery

Image Credit: | Above: A statue of Abraham Lincoln

What to the American slave is your Fourth of July?...for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns supreme.

Frederick Douglas, an escaped slave


In Louisania, it's illegal for a black child under 11 to be taken from their parents and sold. But nobody enforces it. Over half of all slave sales separate families. Parents have no right to name their children. The number of mixed race children are evidence of the systematic rape of slave women.

Reading and writing is illegal. And all slaves must carry documents to show which master owns them. Once every four or five days, at least one slave per plantation is whipped.

If a slave tries to escape, the dogs used in tracking will mutilate on catching, and kill if not pulled off in time. Punishments for escaping include branding, the cutting of the Achilles tendon, and having ones ears cut off. Not that a runaway can expect much mercy if they make it to the North. In 1857, the US Supreme Court declares that a slave cannot sue for his freedom because he's not a person, but property.

In May 1860, an unlikely candidate wins the Republican nomination, Abraham Lincoln. The South see him as a threat, despite his protestations in his 1861 inaugural address.

I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.

But the confederacy has already been born. Slave rebellions, religion and politics had failed to abolish slavery. It remained to be seen whether it could survive Civil War. Four months in, Lincoln countermands a General's order to free slaves of owners resisting the US, fearful that this will commit him to a totally abolitionist stance. But soon former slaves shed their blood in the conflict. The BBC programme, 'Abraham Lincoln: Saint or Sinner' argues that this changed Lincoln. In 1863, his final Emancipation Proclamation frees the slaves. And by the end of the war, it is likely that Lincoln is committed to not just ending slavery, but ensuring full citizenship to the 'black race'. Less than a week after Robert E. Lee effectively surrenders the Confederacy, Lincoln is assassinated. The great post-war Reconstruction now occurs without the very man who could have ensured all the bloodshed was not in vain.

Slavery is finished in America. It will, however, be another century before even the semblance of citizenship is given to black Americans.

Did you know?

Before Abraham Lincoln even took office, he received his first death threats. He would keep all of the ones sent to him over his career in a file called 'Assassination'., Just a few years after the Civil War, in 1872, President Grant invited some black singers, the 'Fisk Jubilee Singers', to sing before an audience of Congressman. But behind this show of harmony, they had, in fact, been expelled from their Washington hotel for defying the conventions of segregation.

Simon Schama: An American Future