August 2, 1863: Emancipation in Missouri


The New York Times lauds the state of Missouri for the planned emancipation of slaves by its legislature.

Emancipation in Missouri.

The moral victories of the nation in this war are less observed and gloried in than the victories won on the battle-field, but they are still of surpassing grandeur and importance. One of the noblest of these triumphs was achieved when the State of Missouri, the young giant of the West, through its own State Convention, inaugurated a scheme for the emancipation of its slaves. It was a victory whose sweep is greater than the capture of Vicksburgh — whose influence will extend further into time than the opening of the Mississippi, and whose glory will be imperishable — enduring even when American power has become a story of the past. It is indeed the greatest act, or fact, so far, in this whole war, except, it may be, the uprising of the people at its commencement.

An admirable discourse on the subject was delivered in St. Louis, by Rev. Dr. ELIOT, on the Sunday after the 4th of July. Its comprehensive and sagacious views, its moderate and conservative spirit, its patriotic tone, its vigorous and ???ucid statement, commend it to general attention, not only in St. Louis, but throughout the land. For the benefit of our readers we give a few of its passages.

After characterizing the Act of Emancipation as the most important event in the history of Missouri — after stating that the act has the singular praise of “not exactly pleasing anybody” — after giving his own opinion that the ordinance is too slow in its operation, and that it would have been better to have ended Slavery now than to postpone the event till 1870 — he goes on to remark:

“But I would speak as the lover of freedom and of peace; as a citizen who wools submit to law; as a man of common sense, who would take things as they are, and make the best of them; as Christian, who would do as I would be done by. Very seldom, in this would, do we get things exactly as we would wish them The correction of abuses, the removal of social evils, the improvement of society, in whatever direction, are always difficult undertakings, and the philanthropist or statesman who expects to accomplish such works in a manner perfectly satisfactory, either to himself or to anybody else, may be very earnest and benevolent, but is very far from being reasonable or wise.

One thing we can confidently say, however much fault we may find with the deferred and dilatory action, that this act of emancipation is the quickest and most radical that any community ever passed for themselves or by their representatives We must remember that emancipation acts have generally been enforced by some extraneous or arbitrary power, and not by those whose interest were directly affected and their properly taken away. A parliament emancipates for its colonies, an emperor for his subjects, perhaps against their protests, and also with partial compensation for their loss. This is a different thing from a people agreeing to emancipate their sorts or slaves, from motives of patriotism or humanity, of even from those of self-interest. The love of power is the strongest in the human heart, and very few men are willing, from any motive, to relinquish power once possessed. They cling to it however troublesome and costly, and sometimes at the most ruinous sacrifice. This is true of individuals, and even more so for communities.

There is no other [??] so far as my knowledge extends, of so near an approach to the voluntary abandonment of the power, the social distinction and immunity from labor, which the system of domestic Slavery undoubtedly suffers. It is easy enough for the non-slaveholder [to see] not only the wrong, but the unprofitableness of the system, and he may logically prove that the quietest way to get rid of it is the best.

But the slaveholder has been educated not to see the wrong, and as to the unprofitableness he either denies or does not care for it; while convenience and custom and the habit of authority and the inaptitude to labor and many other considerations lead him, by almost irresistible potency, to exactly opposite conclusions. Even the considerations of philanthropy, as he has learned to regard them, take sides with self-interest, and thus all the common motives of human action combine to prevent him from emancipation. The wonder then should not be at the [??] less of action, or the deferred consummation of freedom.

We should rather say and I for one, do say, that in the whole record of such social changes, Missouri now stands first and foremost. You may say that her offering on the altar of freedom has not been perfect, nor such as the untrammeled lovers of freedom might have desired. But taking human nature as it is, and looking to history for our interpretation of it, we say that this ordinance of prospective emancipation, however imperfect, is the grandest proof ever given by any people of their willingness to give up whatever may be re-required for their country’s good.

If the act should be cordially approved by the majority of the people, as I think it will be, except by those who wish for more rather than less, it will be the most remarkable evidence of change and progress in public opinion that the world ever witnessed. Missouri will have put to utter shame the halting loyalty of communities to which the war has been a harvest of wealth, while to her it has been the besom of destruction. With her devastated fields and her depopulated towns and villages, under the necessity of defending herself from intestine foes, while she has sent more than her quota of men for the common safety, she meets the demands of the time and surrenders a cherished right, with natural reluctance, but still with unenforced obedience. There may be something to find fault with in such action, but there is much more to admire.

There is another thing to be considered, and which in these tumultuous, stirring times, we are apt to forget. As a general rule, great social changes, to be well made, must be deliberately and slowly accomplished. Let them be made in whatever way you please, incidental evils must occupy. Whether you will attempt the principles of the French Revolution, by which everything was overturned at one sweep or [???] of English [???] by which a century was sometimes taken to do a year’s work, a vast deal of individual suffering and loss is sure to result; while those who seek for the undiscovered and invisible line called the golden medium, are equally sure to experience some of the inconveniences of both plans, by avoiding the worst evils of each. But it remains true, however exceptional these times may be, that the dangers of ???too much haste are at least equally great with those of prudential, though over-cautious delay. The present evils of change will be cured by time, and will probably have ceased, almost, if not altogether, by the lapse of ten years. How short a time in the life of a community, in the history of a State!

If the progress of popular feeling goes on, as for the last twelve months, the actual emancipation will be long in advance of the ordinance. Slavery in Missouri will be, in two or three years, nothing but a name. Its power is already destroyed, its actual presence will rapidly disappear. Very few slaves will be held in bondage in the State from this time forward, except where the bonds are made so light that those held to service are satisfied to remain. It will become quite as much a contract as an obligation, and those who wish to retain any advantages of the system will be compelled, for their own sake, and by the spirit of the age, to make the advantages reciprocal.

The condition of those held to service will be continually ameliorated. The provisions of the ordinance of emancipation, some of which are by no means clear, and are almost self-contradictory, will receive the interpretation most favorable to freedom. In the year 1870, slavery, in any proper definition of the word, absolutely ceases; and by the fact of that anticipated action its nature and meaning are essentially changed, even at the present time, and by the passage of the act.
Let it not be forgotten that the soil of Missouri is from this day forward free soil. No slave can be imported here, for the “genius of universal emancipation” has taken possession of the State. Freedom is the law of the land, with whatever imperfections of detail.

A new era has begun — a new direction to affairs has been given. The ax has been laid at the root of that which is now a forbidden tree, and of which we can truly say, that its fruit brought death into our world, and all our woe. The tree may stand for awhile, and for a season or two throw out its leaves, and have the appearance of life; but it has been effectually girdled; the life-giving sap no more ascends from the generous soil: no fruit will hereafter be borne upon its decaying branches; and in a little while it will fall by its own weight, and give place to a healthier vegetation.

From whatever point of view we regard the subject, the same glorious fact more and more reveals itself. The principle of freedom and of free labor has been asserted. It is not enough to say that Missouri will be a free State. To all intents and purposes she is such already, and only waits the passage of a few years to enjoy all the immunities and privileges of freedom. The more I consider it, the less importance attaches to the imperfections of the ordinance, whether real or imagined, and the more do I feel that we should be patient until time works the cure. In such career it’s the first step that costs. It is the principle for which men contend, and by gaining this we have gained the victory. We thank God that we have lived to see it, and to share in the rejoicing. We thank God that out of all our sufferings and losses, this great good has been educed. The suffering and loss will be forgotten, but the blessings of freedom will more and more abound. We must not expect to escape the vexations and annoyances which are inseparable from social revolution, but to our children we shall bequeath a better condition of things, a grander field of enterprise, a future full of hope. The people that sat in darkness have seen a marvelous light, it is not yet the full light of noonday, but it is good, working daylight, with a brightening hope for the future.

Much as I love freedom, and highly as I prize its promised advantages to the State, it is now doubly precious, because, by establishing it as the law of the land, a most important step has been taken toward reestablished peace and quiet. No victory on the battle-field would be so important in the general conduct of the war, as the moral victory which Missouri has now girded herself to win. And, still more certainly, among ourselves, within our own borders, here in our neighborhoods and social communities, the great cause of social strife is passing away. In the name of all humanity, let it pass away to be for gotten.
Oh, how weary we are of the enmities and strife, the envy, malice and uncharitableness, the maledictions and recriminations, the sunderings of friendship and the severing of families, and the thousand unnatural ills that civil war has engendered!

All hail, this brightening hope of brotherhood and peace!”

Pasted from

This entry was posted in Emancipation, Missouri. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *