Preliminaries to Emancipation: Race, the Irish, and Lincoln

0
2644

Lincoln’s September 22, 1862, Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation did not end slavery. It only announced that slavery would end in the Confederacy if the rebellion in the South did not cease by January 1, 1863. The Proclamation could be dismissed as nothing more than a press release, but it put the Federal government squarely in opposition to a future for American slavery. This reversed eight decades of the Federal government standing as the most powerful guardian of the slave owners’ control of blacks.1

Support for making emancipation a principal war aim had been weak in much of the country at the start of the war. Northerners might personally oppose slavery, but they understood that the Founding Fathers had sanctioned its existence. Many believed that only states had the power to end slavery and that Federal emancipation was unconstitutional.2

first-reading-of-the-emancipation-proclamation-thumb

Lincoln showing his cabinet the Emancipation Proclamation for the first time.

Abraham Lincoln was a lawyer and a lifelong opponent of slavery. He understood that in normal times it was beyond his power to unilaterally free the slaves. The Constitution would have to change to accomplish that. When the Confederates attacked Fort Sumter, “normal times” ended. Lincoln told his advisers that he now had extraordinary power to take action to win the war.3

Within months of the outbreak of fighting, Lincoln authorized the “confiscation” of slaves being used by the Confederates to build fortifications. This essentially freed those slaves although it did not define what their new status was. A year later, the President expanded the “confiscation” to the slaves of rebels, but many in Congress opposed him. Immigrant-rich New York City’s own congressional delegation split on the issue. It voted two for freeing the slaves of Confederate soldiers, four against, and two abstaining.4

The heart of opposition to emancipation was the Democratic Party. Before the war, that party linked the interests of Northern workers, immigrants, and Southern slave owners. Party members lived inside a Democratic ideological bubble. They read Democratic newspapers and socialized at Democratic gatherings. The Democratic press was notoriously racist in a country where racism was the common intellectual currency.5

Immigrants driven into the Democratic Party by the Know Nothing surge of the 1850s read that slavery was the only institution preventing slaves from rising up and murdering thousands of whites in a “servile insurrection”, or slave uprising. They were warned by the Democratic newspapers that freed slaves would stream north to crowd immigrants out of the miserable slums that were the only piece of America allowed to many of the foreign-born.6

The Irish were particularly susceptible to this message of fear. They sat at the very bottom of the North’s hierarchy. Sometimes depicted as a gorilla-like “race” inferior to the dominant Anglo-Saxons, the Irish clung to a precarious position as white men in a country defined by race. Irish immigrants expressed fears that emancipation could be used by anti-immigrant nativists to replace them with the cheap labor of freed blacks. Irish workingmen in cities like New York feared that their labor unions, which had carved out living wages for some low-skilled workers, would be undermined by a flood of black refugees from the South who were already being used as strikebreakers by big business.7

racist-characatures-thumb

Cartoons like this one routinely depicted the Irish as subhuman gorillas. This cartoon shows both the Irish and the freed slave as “equals” in subordination.


Racist views were hardly confined to the immigrant poor. They were also common among the well-educated native-born. For example, as emancipation loomed on the horizon, a select committee of the House of Representatives issued a report calling for the removal of freed slaves from the United States. According to the Congressmen “the highest interests of the white race, whether Anglo-Saxon, Celt, or Scandinavian, require that the whole country should be held and occupied by those [white] races alone…” The committee said of the relations between whites and blacks that; “There are irreconcilable differences between the two races that separate them as with a wall of fire.” Because of the unbridgeable divide “The home of the African must not be within the limits of the present territory of the Union. The Anglo-American looks upon every acre of our present domain as intended for him and not the negro.” This report, advocating mass deportation of freedmen from a House committee with a majority from the party of Lincoln, expressed an attitude of racial supremacy with which millions of white Americans concurred.  8

The progress towards emancipation in the last days of 1862 would cause many Irish immigrants to reconsider their support for what they were increasingly referring to as “Lincoln’s War”. In this, they were not very different from millions of the disaffected native-born. But when this racial fear was coupled with a history of anti-Irish discrimination and a growing alienation based on battlefront developments, conditions for a violent spasm converged.

Videos:

Here is a short discussion by historian Bruce Levine about the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation:

This is a longer panel discussion on Lincoln and Emancipation:

Sources

1. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America by Allen C. Guelzo published by Simon & Schuster (2006); Emancipating Lincoln: The Proclamation in Text, Context, and Memory (Nathan I Huggins Lectures) by Harold Holzer published by Harvard University Press (February 2012)
2. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America by Allen C. Guelzo published by Simon & Schuster (2006); Emancipating Lincoln: The Proclamation in Text, Context, and Memory (Nathan I Huggins Lectures) by Harold Holzer published by Harvard University Press (February 2012)
3. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America by Allen C. Guelzo published by Simon & Schuster (2006); Emancipating Lincoln: The Proclamation in Text, Context, and Memory (Nathan I Huggins Lectures) by Harold Holzer published by Harvard University Press (February 2012)
4. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America by Allen C. Guelzo published by Simon & Schuster (2006); Emancipating Lincoln: The Proclamation in Text, Context, and Memory (Nathan I Huggins Lectures) by Harold Holzer published by Harvard University Press (February 2012)
5. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America by Allen C. Guelzo published by Simon & Schuster (2006); Emancipating Lincoln: The Proclamation in Text, Context, and Memory (Nathan I Huggins Lectures) by Harold Holzer published by Harvard University Press (February 2012)
6. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America by Allen C. Guelzo published by Simon & Schuster (2006); Emancipating Lincoln: The Proclamation in Text, Context, and Memory (Nathan I Huggins Lectures) by Harold Holzer published by Harvard University Press (February 2012)
7. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America by Allen C. Guelzo published by Simon & Schuster (2006); Emancipating Lincoln: The Proclamation in Text, Context, and Memory (Nathan I Huggins Lectures) by Harold Holzer published by Harvard University Press (February 2012)
8. Lincoln’s Hundred Days by Luis P. Masur published by Belknap/Harvard (2012) p. 50; Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America by Allen C. Guelzo published by Simon & Schuster (2006); Emancipating Lincoln: The Proclamation in Text, Context, and Memory (Nathan I Huggins Lectures) by Harold Holzer published by Harvard University Press (February 2012)

The Immigrants’ Civil War is a series that examines the role of immigrants in our bloodiest war. Articles will appear twice monthly between 2011 and 2017. Here are the articles we have published so far:

1. Immigrant America on the Eve of the Civil War – Take a swing around the United States and see where immigrants were coming from and where they were living in 1861.

2. 1848: The Year that Created Immigrant America – Revolutions in Europe, famine and oppression in Ireland, and the end of the Mexican War made 1848 a key year in American immigration history.

3. Carl Schurz: From German Radical to American Abolitionist– A teenaged revolutionary of 1848, Carl Schurz brought his passion for equality with him to America.

4. Immigrant Leader Carl Schurz Tells Lincoln to Stand Firm Against Slavery.

5. …And the War Came to Immigrant America -The impact of the firing on Fort Sumter on America’s immigrants

6. The Rabbi Who Seceded From the South

7. The Fighting 69th-Irish New York Declares War

8. The Germans Save St. Louis for the Union

9. New York’s Irish Rush to Save Washington

10. Immigrant Day Laborers Help Build the First Fort to Protect Washington-The Fighting 69th use their construction skills.

11. Carl Schurz Meets With Lincoln To Arm the Germans

12. Immigrants Rush to Join the Union Army-Why?– The reasons immigrants gave for enlisting early in the war.

13. Why the Germans Fought for the Union?

14. Why Did the Irish Fight When They Were So Despised?

15. The “Sons of Garibaldi” Join the Union Army

16. The Irish Tigers From Louisiana

17. Immigrant Regiments on Opposite Banks of Bull Run -The Fighting 69th and the Louisiana Tigers

18. The St. Louis Germans Set Out To Free Missouri

19. Wilson’s Creek Drowns Immigrant Dream of Free Missouri

20. English-Only in 1861: No Germans Need Apply

21. After Bull Run: Mutineers, Scapegoats, and the Dead

22. St. Louis Germans Revived by Missouri Emancipation Proclamation

23. Jews Fight the Ban on Rabbis as Chaplains

24. Lincoln Dashes German Immigrants Hopes for Emancipation

25. When Hatred of Immigrants Stopped the Washington Monument from Being Built

26. Inside the Mind of a Know Nothing

27. The Evolution of the Know Nothings

28. The Know Nothings Launch a Civil War Against Immigrant America

29. The Know Nothings: From Triumph to Collapse

30. The Lasting Impact of the Know Nothings on Immigrant America.

31. Lincoln, the Know Nothings, and Immigrant America.

32. Irish Green and Black America: Race on the Edge of Civil War.

33. The Democratic Party and the Racial Consciousness of Irish Immigrants Before the Civil War

34. The Confederates Move Against Latino New Mexico

35. Nuevomexicanos Rally As Confederates Move Towards Santa Fe—But For Which Side?

36. The Confederate Army in New Mexico Strikes at Valverde

37. The Swedish Immigrant Who Saved the U.S. Navy

38. The Confederates Capture Santa Fe and Plot Extermination

39. A German Regiment Fights for “Freedom and Justice” at Shiloh-The 32nd Indiana under Col. August Willich.

40. The Know Nothing Colonel and the Irish Soldier Confronting slavery and bigotry.

41. Did Immigrants Hand New Orleans Over to the Union Army?

42. Did New Orleans’ Immigrants See Union Soldiers As Occupiers or Liberators?

43. Union Leader Ben Butler Seeks Support in New Orleans-When General Ben Butler took command in New Orleans in 1862, it was a Union outpost surrounded by Confederates. Butler drew on his experience as a pro-immigrant politician to win over the city’s Irish and Germans.

44. Union General Ben Butler Leverages Immigrant Politics in New Orleans

45. Thomas Meager: The Man Who Created the Irish Brigade

46. Thomas Meagher: The Irish Rebel Joins the Union Army

47. Recruiting the Irish Brigade-Creating the Irish American

48. Cross Keys: A German Regiment’s Annihilation in the Shenandoah Valley

49. The Irish Brigade Moves Towards Richmond-The Irish brigade in the Peninsula Campaign from March 17 to June 2, 1862.

50. Peninsula Emancipation: Irish Soldiers Take Steps on the Road to Freedom-The Irish Brigade and Irish soldiers from Boston free slaves along the march to Richmond.

51. Slaves Immigrate from the Confederacy to the United States During the Peninsula Campaign

52. The Irish 9th Massachusetts Cut Off During the Seven Days Battles

53. Union Defeat and an Irish Medal of Honor at the End of the Seven Days

54. Making Immigrant Soldiers into Citizens-Congress changed the immigration laws to meet the needs of a nation at war.

55. Carl Schurz: To Win the Civil War End Slavery

56. Carl Schurz: From Civilian to General in One Day

57. Did Anti-German Bigotry Help Cause Second Bull Run Defeat?

58. Immigrant Soldiers Chasing Lee Into Maryland

59. Scottish Highlanders Battle at South Mountain

60. Emancipation 150: “All men are created equal, black and white”– A German immigrant reacts to the Emancipation Proclamation

61. The Irish Brigade at Antietam

62. Private Peter Welsh Joins the Irish Brigade

63. Preliminaries to Emancipation: Race, the Irish, and Lincoln

 

Cultural

Painting of the Return of the 69th from Bull Run Unearthed

Blog Posts

The Real Story Behind The Immigrants’ Civil War Photo

Why I’m Writing The Immigrants’ Civil War

The Five Meanings of “The Immigrants’ Civil War”

No Irish Need Apply: High School Student Proves Yale PhD. Wrong When He Claimed “No Irish Need Apply” Signs Never Existed

The Fallout from No Irish Need Apply Article Spreads Worldwide

No Irish Need Apply Professor Gets into a Fight With Our Blogger Pat Young Over Louisa May Alcott

Professor Behind No Irish Need Apply Denial May Have Revealed Motive for Attacking 14 Year Old Historian

Books for Learning More About The Immigrants’ Civil War

Free Yale Course with David Blight on the Civil War

Cinco de Mayo Holiday Dates Back to the American Civil War

New Immigrants Try to Come to Terms with America’s Civil War

Important Citizenship Site to be Preserved-Fortress Monroe

Should Lincoln Have Lost His Citizenship?

The First Casualties of the War Were Irish-Was that a Coincidence?

Civil War Anniversaries-History, Marketing, and Human Rights

Memorial Day’s Origins at the End of the Civil War

Germans Re-enact the Civil War-But Why Are They Dressed in Gray?

Leading Historians Discuss 1863 New York City Draft Riots

The Upstate New York Town that Joined the Confederacy

Civil War Blogs I Read Every Week

First Annual The Immigrants’ Civil War Award Goes to Joe Reinhart

Damian Shiels Wins Second Annual The Immigrants’ Civil War Award

Mother Jones: Civil War Era Immigrant and Labor Leader

Juneteenth for Immigrants

Immigration Vacation -Civil War Sites

Fort Schuyler-Picnic where the Irish Brigade trained

No Irish Need Apply: High School Student Proves Yale PhD. Wrong When He Claimed “No Irish Need Apply” Signs Never Existed

The Fallout from No Irish Need Apply Article Spreads Worldwide

No Irish Need Apply Professor Gets into a Fight With Our Blogger Pat Young Over Louisa May Alcott

Professor Behind No Irish Need Apply Denial May Have Revealed Motive for Attacking 14 Year Old Historian

Books for Learning More About The Immigrants’ Civil War

Free Yale Course with David Blight on the Civil War

Cinco de Mayo Holiday Dates Back to the American Civil War


Warning: A non-numeric value encountered in /home/longisl2/public_html/wp-content/themes/Newspaper/includes/wp_booster/td_block.php on line 326

LEAVE A REPLY