Belittling the abolition of slavery

Nikole Hannah-Jones' essay "The Idea of America" ignores the many Americans who worked together and sacrificed to abolish slavery.  She even belittles their success.  "In 1865, Congress passed the 13th Amendment, making the United States one of the last nations in the Americas to outlaw slavery."

A few facts about America should cheer her readers.  Congress was preoccupied with the Civil War.  During 1860–1861, the 11 slave states of the then 33 states had seceded.  The abolitionist movement had been so successful that these states knew that slavery was finished in the United States.  Think of how desperate they were to take the risky and costly step of secession.

Frederick Douglass was born in 1818 and taught himself to read and write.  In 1838, he escaped to the North.  He would speak about his experiences as a slave and became an agent for the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society.

Abolitionists were active in all parts of the country.  Jeff M. Lewis documented abolitionist activities in Pennsylvania in "The Inherent Fraud of 'The 1619 Project.'"

In Boston, Massachusetts, between 1805 and 1840, five black churches were organized on Beacon Hill.  These churches were the spiritual centers of Boston's 19th-century African-American community and were also central to the political and social lives of black Bostonians. 

The New England Freedom Association, dedicated to assisting freedom-seekers on the Underground Railroad, would meet at the African Meeting House.  Officially constituted on August 8, 1805, with twenty-four members, including fifteen women, the African Baptist Church soon began to construct this new meeting house.  Now the African Meeting House is owned and operated by the Museum of African American History.  It shares the authentic stories of New Englanders of African descent, and those who found common cause with them, in their quest for freedom and justice.  It is a National Historic Landmark and is located steps away from the Massachusetts State House.

Most of the Northern states had outlawed slavery, and local jails were not allowed to house fugitive slaves.  Slave-owners had to send their agents to the North to find, capture, and transport their runaway slaves back to their home state.

The slave-owners were aided by the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.  The over-the-top wording of the act provided powerful ammunition for abolitionist speakers and writers.  Frederick Douglass, now an experienced, talented anti-slavery orator, used this wording to create many more active opponents to slavery than the law recovered fugitive slaves.

In the 1860 Census, the U.S. population increased by eight million to over 31 million.  The slave states failed to attract many people.  People seeking new opportunities chose the free states and moved west.  The slave states knew that this growth in population in the free states would cut their influence in Congress.

With the 1860 election of Abraham Lincoln, the slave states felt that their only hope was secession.  As states seceded, the rebels started claiming federal property in their states.  President James Buchanan failed to respond effectively.  After seven states had seceded, the rebels attacked Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861.

Virginia seceded on April 17, 1861, thereby establishing a new border.  The Potomac River was the only barrier protecting Washington, and new president Abraham Lincoln called on the states for 75,000 Volunteers to defend the capital.  The 6th Massachusetts Volunteer Militia Regiment left within 48 hours and had to cross Baltimore by foot to get from one railroad to the other.  On April 19, 1861, they were attacked by a mob, and four Volunteers and 12 locals were killed.  The Civil War had begun in earnest.

After the war, Congress did not "outlaw" slavery.  On January 31, 1865, Congress passed an amendment to the United States Constitution to abolish slavery.  The amendment was ratified by the required 27 of the then 36 states on December 6, 1865.  The abolition of slavery in the United States was proclaimed on December 18, 1865.

The Civil War is a tragic example of how divisive words set things in motion that get out of hand.  The things that the divisive words of Nikole Hannah-Jones's essay set in motion may also bear bitter fruit.

Kevin James is a pen name.

Image: Henry Louis Stephens.

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