Tuesday, January 1, 2008

ON THIS DAY: Thursday, Jan. 2, 1862

“Slavery is Getting Death-blows”

“The United States itself was born with the birth defect of slavery,” political economist Francis Fukuyama has said. The only way the Founding Fathers had thought the states would ratify the desperately needed Constitution was if it dodged the slavery issue. Later, Abraham Lincoln called slavery “the double-refined curse of God upon his creatures,” but he went into the Civil War believing it had been “grandfathered” by the Constitution. Slavery, he assured the South at first, would not be touched.

But the irresistible force of events would gradually break down slavery until the Thirteenth Amendment abolished it everywhere after the war ended. (The Emancipation Proclamation, effective Jan. 1, 1863, outlawed it only in those states still in a state of rebellion.) Lt. Col. Rutherford B. Hayes may have had an almost irritatingly sunny disposition, but he also had a future president’s keen sense of politics, events, and human nature, and on New Year’s Day 1862 he wrote this insightful prediction in his diary:

Time and the progress of events are solving all the questions arising out of slavery in a way consistent with eternal principles of justice. Slavery is getting death-blows. As an “institution,” it perishes in this war. It will take years to get rid of its debris, but the “sacred” is gone. {Emphasis added]

And that’s just about what happened to slavery, though we are still working on getting “rid of its debris.”

(Pictured above: a group of escaping slaves approaching Union lines)

IT’S COMING SOONER THAN YOU THINK: April 12, 2011—less than 3½ years from now!—will be the 150th anniversary of the outbreak of the Civil War. In 1861, April 12 was the day Confederates opened fire on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor.

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