American Civil War, Compromise, Economic Inequality, Emancipation Proclamation, Fiscal Cliff, Fiscal Cliff Deal, Harry Reid, President Abraham Lincoln, President Barack Obama, President Lincoln, President Obama, Racism, Sen. Mitch McConnell, Slavery, Social Justice, social mobility, Social Safety Net, The Great Emancipator, US Civil War
Today marks 150 years since President Abraham Lincoln issued an order as Commander-in-Chief that granted freedom to slaves in territories that remained in rebellion against the Union. It enabled Lincoln to become know as the Great Emancipation, and paved the road for the passage and ratification of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, outlawing slavery in the US, nearly three years later. This is a great thing to remember on this New Years Day, and yet, the Emancipation Proclamation exemplifies flaws in the political tactics of our leaders.
We seldom see real, lasting changes in our nation. Our Founding Fathers wrote our very Constitution with the expressed purpose of protecting “life, liberty, and property,” specifically the property of rich White male slaveowners and merchants. Lincoln used his office to strip the Southern one-percenters of the Civil War period of the one thing that was central to their “way of life,” the liberty of owning African slaves, of treating humans as property.
But even Lincoln’s proclamation was as much political posturing as it was an order on the road to emancipation and abolition. It would take the bulk of 1863, 1864 and 1865 to bring enough of the Confederate states under Union Army control to make emancipation a reality for three out of four million slaves. Border states and areas already under Union Army would only be forced to free the other one million slaves with the ratification of the 13th Amendment on December 6, 1865. This wasn’t exactly a great compromise, especially for the slaves and for abolitionists.
Fast-forward a century and a half to our tumultuous Congress and jelly boned White House. They’re fighting over tax cuts that should’ve never been enacted in ’01, or expanded in ’03. The cuts should’ve expired two years ago instead of fourteen hours ago. The compromise that the Senate passed at 2 am today is weaker than the Emancipation Proclamation. At least Lincoln knew that he had an Army and Navy that could enforce it over time. In the case of President Barack Obama, Senators Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell, the compromise deal is worth about as much as Neville Chamberlain’s “peace in our time” Munich Agreement with Hitler in September 1938, and led indirectly to World War II less than a year later.
The media loves to say that “both sides need to compromise to make a deal.” President Obama loves to say that “no side can get a hundred percent of what they want.” Let’s follow this line of thought by looking at the compromises that led to the Civil War and Lincoln’s proclamation. Here’s seventy-six years of compromise (starting with the US Constitution):
- Kicking can of end of US participation in international slave trade to 1808;
- African slaves (not term used) equated to three-fifths of a person for political representation purposes;
- Missouri Compromise of 1819 (creating distinction between slave and free states at the 36°30′ parallel);
- Gag Resolution (forbade Congress from debating anti-slavery bills on the floor of the House and (essentially) the Senate between 1836 and 1844);
- The Compromise of 1850, which tore up the Missouri Compromise, opening up new territories for slavery’s expansion, while allowing California into the Union as a free state; and
- Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854) officially declared policy of “popular sovereignty,” that each territory in its petition for statehood could determine to be a state that allowed or did not allow slavery.
Years of compromise led to increasing violence to protect or destroy slavery (including “Bleeding Kansas” and John Brown’s Harper’s Ferry raid in 1859), and of course, to the Civil War. So while Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was itself a compromise, it might as well have been an ultimatum compared to the previous seven decades of inaction and negotiation.
Not that taxes, spending and the social safety net are the same as slavery. But after nearly four decades of declining social mobility, expanding economic inequality and every conceivable break in favor of the wealthy and corporations, isn’t it time to stop compromising our lives and our children’s lives?
Unless we consider the reality that Congress is only doing what its greedy Civil War-era predecessors did a century and a half ago. That the White House is too beholden to moneyed interests to stand for anything that truly helps ordinary Americans. That it will take something far more serious than the Great Recession (or even something potentially as violent as the Civil War) to make this group finally find religion.