History Lesson: The Day Lincoln Spoke Against Slavery

It was 149 years ago that Abraham Lincoln stood before Congress and asked them to give his Emancipation Proclamation a chance.

Posted: 12/01/2011 07:00 PM EST
149 years ago Abraham Lincoln stood before Congress and asked them to give his Emancipation Proclamation a chance.

 (Photo: MPI/Getty Images)

We’re generally not in the business of discussing history in this space. People like breaking news, and that’s certainly important. But as we’ve said before, if we don’t remember our history we’re bound to never learn from it, either. Today, a bit of a history lesson.

 

On Dec. 1, 1862, 149 years ago, President Abraham Lincoln stood before Congress and spoke to them about the problem of emancipating slaves in America. Struggling to keep the Union afloat after the first year of the Civil War, Lincoln ‘s Emancipation Proclamation was set to take effect on Jan. 1, 1863, and, as Politico reports, “he sought to strike a balance on the divisive issue of emancipating enslaved African-Americans.”

 

Back then the parties were much different than they are now, and Republicans were hugely in favor of emancipation while Democrats were against it. Hoping to maintain Congressional peace, Lincoln made concessions — compensating slave owners for their losses, for instance — but he also made it clear that slaves who had already been freed by the Union army would stay free.

 

Lincoln often spoke passionately, but his words on this day would be some of his most beloved. So much so, in fact, that composer Aaron Copland would eventually include excerpts in his tribute piece “Lincoln Portrait.”

 

“We … hold the power, and bear the responsibility,” Lincoln said. “In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free — honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth. Other means may succeed; this could not fail. The way is plain, peaceful, generous, just — a way which, if followed, the world will forever applaud, and God must forever bless.”

 

Now go and impress you friends with this knowledge at the dinner table.

 

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