Monday, August 3, 2015

How God Ended North American Slavery

The actions God took to end slavery in North America provide an example of the truth of the religious phrase "God works in mysterious ways His wonders to perform."

Although southern leaders in 1860 might have been upset that there weren't  going to be any more slave states,  there didn't appear to be any realistic prospect that the United States government would end slavery in the near future.   Even if there had been sufficient sentiment in the north to abolish slavery,  neither Congress nor the President had any constitutional authority to end slavery, especially if  they tried to do so without compensating the owners for the loss of their slaves.  Even if the west could have been divided into enough states to ratify a constitutional amendment eliminating slavery, such a situation would have been decades in the future.

Slavery was unpopular in the north, but northern whites didn't want slavery in their states because they  were often bigots who hated the people most often held as slaves.  Keeping slaves out meant keeping blacks out.   Northern whites might have been reluctant to end slavery without assurance that the freed slaves wouldn't move to the northern states.  

Slavery had caused the nation to become two different economic and social entities  beginning in the colonial era.

The southern colonies were solely economic entities that had found some high value labor intensive crops that could be grown for profit in the southeastern climate.  They had early turned to forced immigration of Irish and African workers to supplement voluntary immigrants to obtain the necessary labor.   The first workers were temporary indentured servants who served for several years and were then given their freedom.  Plantations later switched to having the Africans become permanent slaves.  English law didn't allow English subjects to be permanent slaves, but plantation owners got a law allowing "foreigners" [i.e., Africans] to become permanent slaves

The northern colonies drew more from religious dissidents: such as  Pilgrims and Puritans in New England and Quakers in Pennsylvania.  

The debate over slavery in 1860 reflected this difference.  Southerners viewed slavery as an economic issue. They had depended on some form of forced labor [indentured servants or permanent slaves] for 240 years and couldn't envision a different labor system for agriculture,   Residents of northeastern states viewed slavery as a religious issue in 1860, even though they had earlier sailed the ships that brought the slaves.   Residents of western states viewed it as a racial issue.  They didn't want blacks either as slaves or free people.

On the surface, the specific reasons Confederate states gave for seceding from the Union weren't  sufficient to justify such a drastic action.  There was no significant threat to the south or slavery.     However, a more general reading of the reasons indicates the leaders of the Confederate states no longer felt they were part  of the United States.  Confederate leaders felt their states were alienated from the United States.   They had unrealistic expectations.  For example, they complained about not being able to expand the slave trade to the plains and mountain states, but the climate of those areas could not have supported plantation type slave agriculture.

The slow progress of the war against the tenacious Confederate army created concerns that European powers might decide to support the Confederate states.  This situation forced  President Abraham Lincoln to gamble by issuing a wartime executive order called the Emancipation Proclamation to punish slave owners in the rebellious states by freeing their slaves.  The Proclamation could have caused the four slave states that had remained in the union to secede.   The Proclamation neutralized Britain which had been leading the effort to eliminate the international slave trade.

Prior to the war most of the states that remained in the union had prevented blacks from voting.  The length of the war angered northern residents so much that by the end of the war they were willing to "punish the southern states" by ratifying constitutional amendments to guarantee the freed slaves, and their own black residents, the right to vote and equal protection of the laws.

The protection of the rights of former slaves would remain an elusive dream for a century after the Civil War, but the war provided the only opportunity to provide the promise of a society in which skin color wouldn't matter.   It would have been difficult to have gotten the 14th Amendment ratified in 1960.  Without that amendment the civil rights legislation of the 60's might not have been possible.

The adoption of the Civil War's civil rights amendments represented a miracle as did the elimination of North American slavery.   In 1860 there was no realistic way to end slavery other than through transformation of the southern economy from an agricultural orientation to a manufacturing orientation which could have taken decades.

Confederate leaders took the only action that made elimination of slavery possible.  A peacetime president had no authority to act against slavery.   However, a wartime president could act against slavery because war creates its own reality.   If the war had ended quickly, President Abraham Lincoln would not have had a reason to act.  

The Confederate army's ability to force a lengthy war pressured Lincoln into making slavery an issue for diplomatic reasons.  The length of the war created animosity in the north against the south and a desire to punish the Confederate states.   The abolitionists were able to exploit this anger to get the northern states to forget that their own black residents would get the same rights.

I'll let readers decide for themselves.  Did North American slavery end because of a "happy accident", or did God affect the minds of those involved so that they unintentionally took the actions that would end slavery and at least potentially guarantee the freed slaves equal rights?  

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