Thursday, June 14, 2012

Union, Emancipation, and the Observance of Lincoln's Birthday

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

There are those among us who persist in decrying Union veterans for whitewashing Civil War commemoration in the name of reconciliation. I have provided a number of examples to the contrary right here on Cosmic America - but from time to time feel the need to add another voice to illustrate what I have been arguing for some time: Union veterans commemorated emancipation right alongside Union as a virtuous cause.

Of course, they did so after the war - between 1861-65 Union was paramount, and the extrication of slavery helped in the effort to further this cause. So, as the war progressed, more and more soldiers agreed that destroying the institution was a good idea.

Does this mean that white soldiers embraced black people as equals? No it most certainly does not. Racism prevailed among nearly all white people in the nineteenth century. But to many, the war illustrated that the Union was on the right side of history - that despotism was on the way out (worldwide) and that freedoms promised by the "last best hope of earth" and secured by Union victory proved emancipation was the right move.

So was slavery and emancipation written out of Civil War memory? Not if the GAR could help it. Here is a short excerpt from a 1909 celebration of their commander-in-chief's 100th birthday:

He was inspired of God, as Moses was inspired; that was why he could see clear through the maze, and select the very means which would extricate slavery and division and renew union and prosperity. Knowing he was right, he never changed his principles or policies. The whole gigantic problem was solved exactly as he predicted. The house ceased to be divided; the Union was forever welded together, and the sign was lifted up high on the wall, which tells all usurpers what it will cost if one class ever attempts to enslave any portion of the American people. Lincoln made Liberty of the people immortal. Had Lincoln's foresight betrayed him, the autocrats of Europe would have become more despotic. The victory which Lincoln achieved for the people has marched on like 'John Brown's soul,' dimming every sceptre, undermining every throne. That victory of the people over oligarchy means eventually exile for all autocrats. Lincoln has nailed to the sky where all the world reads, 'The right of the people everywhere to govern themselves.'

Union and Emancipation dominated postwar commemoration in the North, despite racist attitudes.



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