November 12, 1862: Democrats, get over it.


The New York Times editor gives a very cogent argument for the Emancipation Proclamation, and in particular for the view that the Democrats shouldn’t get all excited calling it abolitionism, because it’s purely a war measure.

a) If the Republicans had wanted to abolish slavery entirely, they had the votes in Congress to do it.
b) At the moment it’s only a threat anyway — it’s void if the South lays down its arms
c) It’s absurd to argue that slavery is protected by the Constitution in areas where people claim the Constitution doesn’t apply to them any more.
d) If it’s okay to take the enemy’s life in wartime, surely it’s okay to take his property.
e) If they’re afraid of insurrection, let them divert troops to prevent it. And if that weakens their ability to fight us, the proclamation is working.
f) The war is intended to preserve the Union, but the rebels are using slaves’ labor to strengthen their war effort; we have to take that weapon from them if possible.
g) Therefore, unless keeping slavery is more important to the Democrats than keeping the Union, they should support the proclamation.

The President’s Proclamation.
Published: November 12, 1862

We find it utterly impossible to account, on any just principles, for the hostility evinced in Democratic quarters to the President’s Proclamation menacing the rebels with emancipation of their slaves unless they return to their allegiance. It is a purely military proceeding — aiming at the overthrow of the rebellion and the restoration of the Union. If its object were the abolition of Slavery, it would have decreed that abolition, as it might have done under the law of Congress, at once, and as a penalty for past offences. But it does nothing of the sort. It merely gives the rebels notice that, if they persist in rebellion beyond a certain time, their slaves shall be set free. It is precisely such a notice as is sent to a besieged town — that unless they surrender by a fixed date their town will be bombarded.

Not a single slave has yet been set free by this Proclamation. The rebels have it in their power to prevent the liberation of a single slave under its provisions: — and that, too, without doing anything but what it is their duty to do under any circumstances. They claim — or their Northern sympathizers claim for them — the guarantees of the Constitution. Let them return to its shelter and they will have the full benefit of them. They have repudiated its obligations, — why should they be entitled to its protection? The moment they acknowledge its authority they will receive all the protection which that authority carries with it. The fate of Slavery is thus exclusively in their own hands. If they seek its abolition, they can secure it. If they desire its preservation, they can secure that.

But it is claimed that they ought not to be thus compelled to choose between Slavery and Secession, but that they should be allowed to enjoy both — that the National Government should protect the former for them while they are waging war upon it to secure the latter. The mere statement of the claim proves its absurdity. No community can have War and Peace at the same time. If they choose to wage war they must surrender for the time the blessings and securities of peace. We of the North are compelled to make a similar choice. We surrender the lives of our sons, millions of property, the prosperity of peaceful industry, possibly the security of our homes, because we deem a war for the Union worth all these sacrifices. The South in the same way must hold its property and its peace subject to the chances of war, if it is determined to wage war. So long as it fights against the Government it has no claim to its protection or forbearance.

Nor is there the shadow of a reason why Slavery should claim exemption from the rigors and exposures which war brings upon all other forms of property and of labor. There is nothing in the Constitution which guarantees to it such exemption. True, that instrument provides that no man shall be “deprived of life, liberty or property, but by due process of law;” but this does not secure the slaveholding rebel in the possession of his slave, any more than of his cattle, his musket or his life. If the latter may be taken in war, so may the former. And if the Government can make war at all for the preservation of its integrity, it must hold the life, liberty and property of its enemies subject to the chances and necessities of war. And it has precisely the same right to confiscate and liberate the slaves of rebels, as a means of prosecuting the war and making it effective, which it has to seize their property or imprison their persons.

But it is urged that this measure tends to incite insurrection among the slaves, and thus to involve the innocent in destruction. Whose duty is it to protect them against such calamities? Whose duty is it to keep the slaves in subjection and to guard the women and children of the slave plantations against their violence? Clearly that of the slave-owners themselves. If they are unable to do this, and call on the General Government, through their State authorities, to aid them in it, it is the duty of that Government to give them that aid, — but only when they acknowledge its authority, and on the basis of that acknowledgement claim its protection. But there is no pretence here that they are unable to prevent or suppress insurrections. They have their whole population under arms. They can turn the whole power of their armies against their slaves at an hour’s notice, and thus render revolt impossible. Why do they not do this? Because they want to employ their troops against us! And they expect us to keep or leave their slaves in subjection, so that they may be free to do so! We must not touch their slaves, lest we should thus put them under the necessity of using their troops elsewhere than against us. That seems to us an absolutely conclusive argument on the other side.

With the exception of a very few Abolitionists, nobody at the North was ever in favor of waging war upon the South for the purpose of freeing its slaves. The great body of the Republicans, as of every other party at the North, would to-day oppose a war waged for such a purpose. President LINCOLN would be the last man living to commence such a war, or give it his support. The war is waged now, as it has been from the beginning, to crush the rebellion and restore the Union and the supremacy of the Constitution. This is its sole and exclusive object. But against the attainment of that object, Slavery proves to be a formidable and, apparently, a fatal obstacle. It is felt and seen to be the main strength of the rebellion. It is the basis on which it rests. Instead of being, as we had supposed it would be, an element of weakness to the South in war, it supplies them with food, with labor, with all the home comforts they require, and thus sends to the field the whole fighting population of the Southern States. There is no law of Nations, of the Constitution, or of common sense, which requires or permits us to leave so powerful a weapon in the hands of our enemies, untouched. It is our duty, if we seek success, to wrest it from their hands, or to paralyze it in their grasp.

Democratic orators and journalists are speculating largely on the probability that President LINCOLN will revoke this proclamation, or fail to fulfill the menace which it involves. Why they should desire him to do so they have not yet made clear. If they regard Slavery as of more value than the Union — if they prefer that the Government should perish rather than Slavery be disturbed — their action is natural and easily understood. But they have hitherto always disclaimed such a preference. They profess a desire to see the war prosecuted with vigor, and the rebellion crushed. If they are sincere in these professions, they cannot object to emancipation as a legitimate weapon for the accomplishment of these ends.

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