History is written by the conqueror they say. There are some certain myths surrounding the abolition of slavery in America which we must shatter as a matter of necessity (by bringing to open and placing events in their factual and chronological framework).
The history of the African Diaspora in America is written as deem “appropriate” by the former slave masters which explains why the history is distorted, full of outright lies and myths. The history is written and taught in such a way it oversimplify the institution of slavery and racism in America, and exonerate them (Former slave masters) of any wrong doing. Those who had embarked on the objective study of African American history will attest to these facts.
African Diaspora in America were taught and made to believe Abraham Lincoln abolished slavery out of good will and moral truism, they were also made to believe the war between North and South was fought deliberately to end slavery in America. But none of these assertions or statements as the case maybe contain one iota of truth. On the contrary the abolition of slavery in America had nothing to do with moral principle of one personality or the society at large; in fact it was about economic calculations. In words of Assata Shakur “the battle was between plantation slave economy and an industrial manufacturing economy.”
The following excerpt taken from Assata Shaukur’s autobiography will throw more light.
Many of us have misconceptions about Black history in Amerika. What are taught in the public school system is usually in accurate, distorted, and packed full of outright lies. Among the most common lies are that Lincoln freed slaves, that the Civil War was fought to free the slaves, and that history of Black people in Amerika has consisted of slow but steady progress, that things have gotten better, bit by bit. Belief in these myths can cause us to make serious mistakes in analyzing our current situation and in planning future action.
Abraham Lincoln was in no way whatsoever a friend of black people. He had little concern for our plight. In his famous reply to Editor Horace Greeley in August, 1862, he openly stated:
“My paramount objective in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the union without freeing any slave, I would do it and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that.”
Lincoln was elected president in 1860. Immediately afterward, South Carolina had a convention and unanimously voted to withdraw from the Union. Before he had even been inaugurated, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas followed suit. In his inaugural speech on March 4, 1861, Lincoln said that slavery was legal under the constitution and that he had no right and no intention to abolish slavery. He further promised to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act, which permitted southern slave owner to “reclaim” their escaped slaves in Northern states. What the law actually did was give any white man with a “certificate of ownership” the right to kidnap any “free” Black man, woman or child in the North and force them into slavery. Because of this position, Lincoln received a great deal of criticism from Black abolitionist. Ford Douglas, a runaway slave who accompanied Fredrick Douglas on his anti-slavery tours in the west, blasted Lincoln’s position, saying,
“In regard to the repeal of the Fugitive Slave Law, Abraham Lincoln occupies the same position that the old wing Party occupied in 1852…. Here, then, is Abraham Lincoln in favor of carrying out that infamous Fugitive Slave Law, that not only strikes down the liberty of every Black man in the united States, but virtually the liberty of every white man as well, for, under that law, there is not a man in this presence who might not be arrested today upon the simple testimony of one man, and, after an ex-parte trial, hurried off to slavery and chains.”
On April 12, 1861, Southern troops fired on fort Sumter, South Carolina, thus starting the Civil War. The response of the Northerners was electrifying. Millions who had been indifferent or lukewarm to the secession of the South jumped on the bandwagon to defend the Union. But the enthusiasm was short-lived. They already viewed Black workers in the North as competitors for their jobs to the Blacks, refused to enlist in sufficient numbers for the North to win the war. When the draft law was enacted, tens of thousands of white workers in New York took to the streets and brutally beat and murdered every Black person they could find. It has been estimated that between four hundred and a thousand Blacks were killed as a result of the so-called New York draft law riots. Draft riots and the murder of Blacks also took place in other Northern cities.
Lincoln had originally opposed Blacks fighting in the Civil War, Stating:
I admit that slavery is at the root of the rebellion, and at least its sine qua non…. I will also concede that emancipation would help us in Europe…. I grant, further, that it would help somewhat at the North, though not so much, I fear, as you and those you represent imagine… And then, unquestionably, it would weaken the Rebels by drawing off their laborers, which is of great importance; but I am not so sure we could do much with the Blacks. If we were to arm them, I fear that in a few weeks the arms would be in the hand of the Rebels. (History of the Negro Race in America, Vol. II, p. 265.)
Northern states were more than happy at the prospect of Black people fighting in the war. A popular verse published in the newspapers of the day reflected the sentiment of many Northerners:
Some say it is a burnin’ shame
To make the naygurs fight
An’ that the trade o’ bein’ kilt
Belongs but to the white;
But as for me upon me sowl,
So liberal are we here,
I’ll let Sambo be murthered in place o’ meself
On every day in the year.
It was not until 1863 that Lincoln in fact issued the emancipation Proclamation. But the document had very little immediate effect. It freed slaves only in the confederated states; the slaves in states loyal to the Union remained slaves. Lincoln clearly did not believe Black could live in the u.s. as equal citizens. In the Lincoln-Douglas debates, he stated:
“If all earthly power were given to me, I should not know what to do as to the existing institution. My first impulse would be to free all the slaves and send them to Liberia to their own native land. But a moment’s reflection would convince me that, whatever of high hope….. there may be in this, in the long run its sudden execution is impossible… What then? Free them all and keep them among us as underlings? It is quite certain that this betters their condition? I think I would not hold one in slavery at any rate, yet the point is not clear enough for me to denounce people upon. What next? My own feelings will not admit of this, and, if mine would, we well know that those of the great mass of white will not.”
Lincoln was a firm believer in the massive exportation people anywhere. In 1865, at the end of the war, he asked General Butler to explore the possibility of using the navy to remove Black people to Haiti or to other areas in the Caribbean and south America.
It’s also important to understand that the Civil War was not fought to free the slaves. It was a war between two economic systems, a war for the power and control of the u.s. by two separate factions of the ruling class: rich, white Southern slave owners and rich, white Northern industrialists. The battle was between a plantation slave economy and an industrial manufacturing economy.
An industrial revolution was taking place in the years before the Civil War. Inventions such as the cotton gin, the telegraph, steamships, transportation, mining, a communication, agriculture, and trade. The amount of goods produced was no longer determined by the number of people working in the process but by the capacity of the machines. Amerika was no longer a country that produced raw material for the manufacturing nations in Europe.
By 1860, the census reports that 1,385,000 people were employed in manufacturing and that one-sixth of the whole population was directly supported by manufacturing. The number was much higher when clerks, transportation workers, and merchants were added.
As manufacturing centers began to grow, European immigrants were imported as source of cheap labor. More than five million entered the u.s. between 1820 and 1860. Although the South had many cotton mills functioning, the factories were small and their numbers grew slowly. In 1850, the value of manufactured goods produced in the Northern “free” states was four time the output of the Southern “slave” states. And with the rise of industry came the rise of economic crisis and the treat of industrial collapse.
Even though there had been economic crises in the past, people had generally lived on farms and the economic depressions didn’t create such a great hardship for the masses. But with many people living in cities, economic crises meant unemployment and no way to pay for food, clothing , and shelter. The first big crash came in 1825, followed by further depression in 1829, 1837, 1847, and a severe depression in 1856. The recession in 1857 almost completely destroyed the early labor movement. The poverty in Northern and Southern cities was staggering. Rags, filth, squalor, hunger, and misery were words used to describe the ghettos of the 1800s.
To solve the problem in industrial cities, many called for reforms such as the abolition of debtors’ prison, an end to the laws that kept white men who did not own property from voting, free education, the right to strike, an end to child labor, establishment of a ten-hour workday, and granting of land in the west to poor people in the cities. Big business proposed the expansion of capitalism and industry to other parts of the country. And this was where Northern capitalists clashed with Southern slave owners.
Northern capitalists wanted new states to enter the union as “free” states. Slave owners wanted new states to enters the Union as “slave” state. To maintain a balance of power, the North and the south had entered into several compromises. The main one was the Missouri Compromise. Northern capitalist were afraid slave owners would open factories and produce goods more cheaply because they didn’t have to pay for labor. White workers were afraid of losing their jobs because of slavery. Southern plantation owners of course, wanted the system of slavery to expand across the country.
All the difference between the North and the South were economic, not moral. For capitalists to control the economy the political system, the slave system had to be defeated.
In 1856, the newborn Republican Party ran Abraham Lincoln, a former whig, as their first presidential candidate. He lost. In 1860, he ran again with a strong, three-platform:
- To shut slavery out of the territories
- To establish large protective tariffs.
- To enact a homestead law giving a medium-size farm free to anyone willing to till the land.
The platform was designed to appeal to rich Northern capitalists, poor white laborers, farmers and abolitionists. For only a tiny portion of the population was the abolition of slavery a moral issue and the overwhelming majority of the white people who supported the abolition of slavery or who fought in the Union’s army did so because they believed it was in their interests, not for love or concern for Black People.
As riders to the foregoing, the brazen and deliberate distortion of history lays bare for all to see. The assertion that relying on other races’ version of our history defies logic and counterproductive, is not beyond reality.
We as Africans both at home and in Diaspora must out obscurity, and obstacles write, teach our history (our-story) as we deem fit and necessary. Not for the sake of doing so but for paramount objective of historical accuracy, profound self-knowledge and forging a brighter future for ourselves and our future descendants.
I hope by bringing to light this historical fact edited out of history books, knocked into oblivion, it shatters the myths and misconception about African American history.
Young African Pioneers.