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Friday, March 6, 2020

Absolutely Correct and Extremely Misleading by Warren Bull

Absolutely Correct and Extremely Misleading by Warren Bull

Image from WIC clip art

My father always maintained that honesty was much more than avoiding telling lies. He saw honesty as an active policy of being clear and open. I once witnessed him apologizing to a minister because he had assumed a particular sermon topic would have a specific emphasis and it did not.  He had mentioned to me what he thought the minister would say, but he had not said anything to the pastor. That man would not have known what my father thought if my father had not apologized to him.

In writing, I have often observed that what is not included can be as suggestive as what is. For example, I have questioned an entry in the National Archives. I emailed them months ago. They replied they would get back to me. I am still waiting for their response.

As background, if you’ve read my blogs you know that I am an admirer of Abraham Lincoln.  In fact, my most recent book is about the sixteenth president. Now for a word from our sponsor (me):

Abraham Lincoln: Seldom Told Stories
by Warren Bull
ISBN 9781681029009

During my efforts to publicize the book, I encountered people who blamed Lincoln for socialism, communism, Nazism, every single death during the United States Civil War (all by himself), too much government, too intrusive government, income taxes, starting the Civil War for a variety of nefarious reasons, and mistreatment of Native Americans after his death, among other problems. He was described as a racist tyrant murderer. I noted purposeful misrepresentation, also known as lying. So, I admit I am unusually sensitive to how Lincoln and his legacy are described. 

Here are the links to the National Archives about the Emancipation Proclamation as a document:

And a description of the document

The description reads in part:

Despite this expansive wording, the Emancipation Proclamation was limited in many ways. It applied only to states that had seceded from the United States, leaving slavery untouched in the loyal border states. It also expressly exempted parts of the Confederacy (the Southern secessionist states) that had already come under Northern control. Most important, the freedom it promised depended upon Union (United States) military victory.

This description is often cited as showing that the Emancipation Proclamation did not free any slaves when it was announced.  In fact, that is not what the description says, but it is easy to draw that conclusion because of what is not mentioned. The proclamation expressly exempted parts of the Confederacy that had already come under Northern control. However:

The Union army controlled areas of the south that were not excepted from the Emancipation Proclamation. They controlled the coast of North Carolina from the Virginia border to a point south of New Bern. They controlled part of the South Carolina coast from south of Charleston to the Georgia border. They controlled a part of the Atlantic coast of Florida around Jacksonville. They controlled Baton Rouge, Louisiana. They controlled a large swath of Northern Arkansas, a strip of Northern Mississippi and Northern Alabama, and a large swath of Northern Virginia from Winchester moving southeast to the Chesapeake Bay. All the slaves in these areas, numbering at least 20,000, actually enjoyed their freedom as of 1 Jan 1863, thanks to the Emancipation Proclamation. See William C. Harris, "After the Emancipation Proclamation: Lincoln's Role in the Ending of Slavery," _North & South Magazine,_ Vol. 5, No. 1, Dec, 2001, pp. 42-53]
Also freed were thousands of more slaves who had fled from areas of the Confederacy that were in rebellion. Those people were free and their freedom was in no way dependent on future military victory. 

Personally, I think the description is so incomplete that it is seriously misleading and I am upset that the National Archives presents such a poor description to people who inquire about one of the seminal documents of our national history.


KM Rockwood said...

Truth is a valuable, but often under-represented, trait. We are constantly re-interpreting history through new lenses.

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

I agree with Kathleen. Time to set the historical record straight. Fascinating insights, Warren.

Shari Randall said...

Warren, keep us posted on your correspondence with the Archives. I hope they take this into account.

Warren Bull said...

Thanks, KM, Margaret and Shari

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Kait said...

Fascinating! Always interesting and instructive, Warren. said...

Good point. Thank you.