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Christopher Wilson’s Post 9/26

This week’s listening and reading activities helped me to better comprehend how complex the institution of slavery was when analyzing it through the contexts of the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation. When we look at slavery as the underlying cause of the Civil War, Dr. Bezio points out that we also see slavery being directly tied to issues of economic oppression and states’ rights. Northern economies in the 19th century were booming because of industrialization and the North’s increased usage of textile mills and machine shops; whereas, Southern economies were prospering because of the slave plantation system, which grew after Eli Whitney’s cotton gin was made. As a result, both the North and the South were threatened by each other’s successful economy because, at this time, there was a relatively equal balance of power due to there being the same number of northern states as southern states. Over time, as white Americans began their quest to expand westward, this balance of power was upset because newer states would decide which economy they would join. This, of course, came with conditions. Joining the Northern economy meant taking a stance against the institution of slavery, which was the backbone of the Southern economy. Contrarily, joining the Southern economy meant advocating for the institution of slavery and against Northerners’ ideals of taking away states’ individual rights to slavery. Learning this piece of history was not comforting nor was learning that white anti-slavery individuals in the North only opposed slavery because the institution of slavery threatened the North’s economy and their livelihood. While I have been taught to believe that white anti-slavery individuals in the North opposed slavery because they felt that it was unethical, I know the brutal truth and I say that a successful rebellion needs to take place so that people of African descent can stop being viewed and treated as commodities by white Americans in power.

Before reading Zinn’s (1980) chapter on “Slavery without Submission, Emancipation without Freedom,” I knew that Abraham Lincoln intention’s with the Emancipation Proclamation was not to set slaves free- the emancipation of slaves was rather an indirect result of a much larger military tactic at play. On page 191, Zinn (1980) explores the Emancipation Proclamation’s dual function that it had in September 1862 versus the function it played in January 1863. When President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in September 1862, he did so with the terms that Confederate states would have four months to stop rebelling against the Union or else the Union would set slaves in those Confederate states free. However, if during this time any Confederate states submitted to the authority of the Union, then the Union would not disrupt that Confederate state’s institution of slavery. In January 1863, though, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation with the declaration that all slaves in Confederate states, that had not yet submitted to the authority of the Union, would be free. The nuance Zinn (1980) applies to the Union’s actual stance on the institution of slavery reinforces what mostly all white Americans cared about, which was a stable and growing economy. Lincoln, and members of the Union, did not want southern states to secede because it would result in a disruption in the economic relationship that the North had with the South- for instance, commerce, manufacturing, and agriculture. The Union knew that by taking away the institution of slavery from the South, they would be angering slaveowners, who may not continue the economic relationships they had developed for decades. Thus, the language regarding the freedom of enslaved people in the Emancipation Proclamation was carefully articulated so that both the North and the South could gain something out of the Civil War.

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