American History Stories—Volume IV - Mara L. Pratt

Proclamation of Emancipation


Well, children, those words look big enough to take away your breath! They are bigger than "religious persecution," of which we had so much in the colonial times; or, "taxation without representation", "declaration of independence," of which we heard in the Revolution; or, "impressment of American seamen," of which we heard in the war of 1812.

I wish I were not obliged to use any large words in these little histories; but once in a while it seems impossible to do without them. These phrases, with their long words, have been handed down through all these years of our country's history until they have come to be as settled as the name of a city or the name of a river; and someway it doesn't seem as if they ought to be changed, not even for little folks, any more than the names of cities or rivers should be changed.

And there are not many of them after all.

See if you can repeat these words all together.

1. The early settlers in this country left England to be free from "religious persecution."

2. The cause of the Revolution was "Taxation without Representation."

3. The people of this country drew up a paper in which they said they would no longer be ruled over by the English. This was called the "Declaration of Independence."

4. The cause of the war of 1812 was the "Impressment of American Seamen."

5. And now one more: Abraham Lincoln believed that the negro slaves had a right to be free; so he drew up a paper telling them they should  be free. This was called the "Proclamation of Emancipation."

You remember Gen. Butler had settled the question of what was to be done with the slaves by saying that they were to be taken as "contraband goods," just like so many cattle, or so many barrels of sugar, or bales of cotton.

But there came a time when it was necessary for some law to be made by the government itself in regard to this matter. There needed to be a law regarding the treatment of these slaves which all  the soldiers should obey: for as it stood now, one general who believed in freeing the slaves would take them into their camps when they fled from their masters, and shield them from harm; while another general, who cared nothing about the slavery question, and was fighting only to save the Union, would let the slave-hunter come into the camp and carry off the poor, black runaways.

The slaves themselves were growing to feel unsafe. They did not know when they fled to the Union camps whether they would fall into the hands of friends or foes.

And so, on New Year's Day,  1863, Abraham Lincoln sent out his "Proclamation of Emancipation," saying that from this time forth no man should own  another man and call him his "slave." The negro was now as free as the white man. No one had now any right to take him away from his wife and his children to be sold, or to carry away his wife and children from him.

Of course, the Southerners were more bitter than ever; and you can hardly wonder that they were. There were men whose regular business had been to buy and sell negroes, just as men now buy and sell horses. They had invested their money in this business, and now, of course, it was all lost. There were others who owned great farms, or plantations as they call them in the South; the work of which had been always done by the slaves. Now these slaves were all free; and, on those plantations where the master had been cruel to them, you may be sure these slaves did not work very long after the news of freedom reached their ears.

We can afford to be generous to these slave-owners even; when we think what a blow it was to them to have their habits of life all broken up in this way. Many of them were as honest as honest can be in believing those black men and women belonged to them; and that they had a right to use them to work their farms. Then, too, there were thousands and thousands of slave-owners who were just as kind to these black people as they were to their own families. Their slaves had their own little cabins, snug and warm, where they could sit happy as children through the long summer evenings, playing their banjos and singing their funny old plantation songs.

Did you ever hear any of these plantation songs? I wish there were room to put five or six of them in this book; for someway, it doesn't seem as if we can have much idea of these simple hearted people unless we hear their songs.

They were such strange people! Ignorant, because they were seldom allowed to learn to read; believing in ghosts and goblins, fond of yelling and singing and dancing, full of strange ideas of the Bible and God and heaven, either hating their masters, as they hated work, or else loving them as a dog loves his master, ready to die for them and the "missus," as they used to call their masters' wives.

You must ask your teachers to read parts of Uncle Tom's Cabin to you, children. In that book you will get an honest story of Southern life, you will read of kind slave-owners, and of cruel slave-owners, of good slaves and of bad slaves; for I don't want you to think, as I did when I was a little child, that all the Southerners were wicked, wicked people, and that all the slaves were whipped and lashed every day of the year. You must remember the Southerners were just as honest in their opinions during the war as the Unionist soldiers were. They were just as brave too; they were ready to suffer everything for their dear States, just as our soldiers were ready to suffer every thing for the Union. You must remember, too, that very, very many of them were kind to their slaves; so kind, that if it were not that these slaves had souls which had the right to grow, minds which had the right to study and learn about the beautiful things of this world—if it were not for these, one might almost think these slaves, many of them, were better off before they were made free. But, it cannot be right for one person to have the right  to say he owns  another man, can it? And so because the principle  of slavery was wrong, it was a grand thing for Abraham Lincoln to come out fairly and squarely and say, "No person in the United States shall hereafter own slaves!"