Every day at President Lincoln’s Cottage we engage with visitors in conversation on difficult topics, from grief to slavery to American identity. And occasionally, we get asked a question on a tour that stops us in our tracks – one we wish we could spend a half hour answering. Some of these questions, on their face, were innocent or simple, but on a second look they contain a level of complexity that leaves us wanting to know more.
Thanks to generous donations from our supporters, we created “Q & Abe” – a podcast that investigates real questions from visitors to the Cottage. Come on down the rabbit hole with us as we seek the answers – we always start with Lincoln and the Cottage, but we often end up in unexpected places.
For this episode, we’re talking about a question we got from a British couple curious about the aftermath of the Emancipation Proclamation. Along the way we wander through several alternate timelines, the experience of Black soldiers, and the contemporary work of the National Guard. Come along with us!
In addition to the embedded media player below, you can find the podcast on Apple Podcasts / Spotify / Stitcher / Google Podcasts or wherever you get podcasts. You also can read below for a transcript of the episode (coming soon!)
Joan Cummins: Every day at President Lincoln’s Cottage we engage with visitors in conversation on difficult topics, from grief to slavery to American identity. Visitors, young and old alike, connect with us from next door and from around the globe.
Callie Hawkins: And occasionally, we get asked a question on a tour that stops us in our tracks, one we wish we could spend a half hour answering. Some of these questions, on their face, seem innocent or simple, but on a second look they contain a level of complexity that leaves us wanting to know more. Each episode, we’ll investigate a single real question a visitor asked us here.
JC: At President Lincoln’s Cottage, we’re storytellers, historians, and truth seekers, so we called on people whose expertise could speak to all the facets of these questions.
CH: I’m Callie Hawkins
JC: And I’m Joan Cummins. This is Q&Abe. Come on down the rabbit hole with us!
CH: Let’s take that half hour now.
JC: For this episode, we’re working on the question: “How fast did emancipation happen?”
CH: Our colleague Paul got this question from a British couple, who had joined us for a tour and were curious about how quickly people actually became free after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued.
JC: Let’s start with some basics about the Proclamation itself, so we can orient ourselves. Lincoln worked on his ideas for ending slavery all through the summer of 1862, while he was living here at the Cottage. In July, he showed a draft to his Cabinet, who told him he needed to wait for a military victory before issuing a challenge to the Confederate states. By September’s battle at Antietam, they had enough of a victory to put out the preliminary version of the Proclamation. It was addressed to the Confederate states, and was kind of an offer and kind of a challenge.
CH: It said, you have 100 days to peacefully come back and rejoin the country. If you come back, you can keep all the people you’ve enslaved, and everything will pretty much be the same as it was before the war. If you don’t come back, the enslaved people will become free.
JC: Then, they waited 100 days and nobody took Lincoln up on his offer. So on January 1st of 1863, Lincoln released the full Proclamation, which said that people enslaved in Confederate territories – which is about 4 million all together – were free.
CH: Lincoln said about this moment, “If my name ever goes into in history, it will be for this act, and my whole soul is in it.”
JC: But what happened after that? How fast did emancipation really happen?
CH: We spoke with two historians, Dr. Holly Pinheiro Jr. at Furman University, and Dr. Gregory Downs at the University of California Davis. Both Holly and Greg started out with alternate timelines for emancipation – ones that were separate from the Proclamation itself. Here’s Holly:
Holly Pinheiro: We need to, and I’m saying we as society, need to talk more about emancipations before Lincoln even existed. So for example, in my research for the audience focuses on Pennsylvania, but I also have some experience studying New York state. And what I saw in both locations is that emancipation was gradual, right? So if we’re talking in Pennsylvania, for example, there is a gradual emancipation in 1780, I believe it was 1807, and then finally in 1847, and New York state does it in 1817, giving a 10 year window for enslavers basically, and on July 4th is of 1827 is when they would emancipate. All of those were meant to really help white society learn to adjust to the “abrupt” change of now a free labor society. where black people could exist without being enslaved, though both locations actually one could be enslaved, you just couldn’t have been born there. So I say all that to say, that Lincoln is not the first person to emancipate. And also if we put into context the Militia Acts, the Confiscation Acts that, and also the fact that enslaved people were emancipating themselves for a long time, and I’m saying even before the official Civil War era, and, but that’s not what the audience member probably wants to know.
Greg Downs: So one, uh, classic way of answering the question is that the final enslaved people are freed in December, 1865 when the 13th Amendment is ratified, and that covers the states – the loyal, but slave holding states – of Delaware and Kentucky, which unlike other border states, have not outlawed slavery by state law, and which have not had the state law of slavery essentially overridden by military leaders. And the 13th Amendment does, then does two things. The big thing it does, it says is that slavery is abolished and can’t be, uh, resumed without a constitutional amendment. Not just people are free, but the institution is dead. But the smaller thing it does is it completes the extirpation of legal chattel slavery in these remaining holdouts. So that’s one way of answering the question. Um, and there’s a lot of, uh, validity to it. The person is probably, though, they’re probably asking the question that stem – in a way that stems from a different source of curiosity I hear all the time, which is: how do we understand the relationship between say, the Emancipation Proclamation and the celebration of Juneteenth? But as Juneteenth became more of a national holiday, the question, you know, emerged of how can these things, uh, both be true? But there’s also problems with Juneteenth, even in Texas, which is, there in Galveston and then Houston, lots of the enslaved people in Texas and East Texas are quite distant from US forces, and it takes the US quite a while to actually assert control practically of much of Texas, even after the arrival of US troops. And so there are stories of people being bought and sold in Texas into the fall and winter of 1865. Even though there’s not, uh, the same, you know, certainty of, of legality. And there are certainly people being bought and sold in, um, Kentucky and probably other parts of the South. And that raises a question of, did they think slavery was really dead even after these moments? And there’s a number of people who believe, mostly slave holders, but also others, who really believe that if they can get into court before the 13th Amendment passes, they can show that the Emancipation Proclamation does not have validity in peacetime. It’s only a wartime measure. And so that sits as a real live issue. And so when people are buying and selling in the fall of 1865, they’re indicating both the US government can issue anything on a piece of paper, but can they make me do it? And also, I’m not so sure how this is going to work out.
CH: Greg also addressed a question we get all the time: what can Lincoln himself actually do about this, once he’s signed that piece of paper?
GD: What I think is interesting is there’s a double myth of Lincoln, one of which is Lincoln, you know, the giver of all and Lincoln – the other is Lincoln, the denier of all. And it’s interesting to me in that they’re the same myth, right? They’re premised on the same belief that he could do anything, like he was God, right? But of course, that’s not true. And so both the positive and the most negative visions of him are premised on a real complete misunderstanding of of politics. So I think we can isolate what Lincoln does, but I do think, as Jim Oakes has said, one of the most important things to remember about Lincoln is he was a party man, which meant by the mid 1850s, he’s a Republican. And he’s highly aware that if he gets too far in front of Congress, that his moves will collapse and vice versa, that if he doesn’t want Congress to get too far in front of him. You can’t have one without the other. Everybody knows this is gonna be the order in which it works. Congress will sort of, you know, go up to the point, Lincoln says, I have to deliver it, but you need to set it up so that my delivery is the next logical step. They’re arguing a little bit over the details of who issues exactly what, what is rooted in executive authority and what in legislative, but they’re negotiating and working it out the whole way and getting to an end point they both agree on. One of the problems is, you know, people really have trouble thinking about politics in those dynamic terms, and they really get wedded to the idea of the all-powerful president and who’s either all good or all bad and all powerful. But another problem is that with his death, all kinds of myths got imprinted over him of what he would’ve done. Eric Foner used to say that a student brought into him a National Enquirer, I think it was, where it says “Lincoln’s Corpse Revived From Dead! Breathes, you know, Speaks and then Dies Again.” And Eric says, I told the student, I hope they asked him what his plan for Reconstruction was, right?
JC: Holly wanted us to remember, however, what the consequences of Lincoln’s political maneuverings meant for the people who were living through them.
HP: I mean, if you want me to be honest, and this always makes some people uncomfortable, I like, to me, like this should have happened long before Lincoln ever like existed, to be honest. Uh, and for me, cause sometimes someone will say, well, he was waiting for that pragmatic moment, or he had to do the political, I’m like, okay, I’ll fine, I’ll, I’ll hear you on what you’re saying. But what you’re also saying is every second, not even day, every second, that it was delayed, for whatever purpose, purposes Lincoln and the federal government chose, that assured death for so many people. So I hear when someone says, well, he had to wait for, you know, the victory or whatever. So what does that mean if your family member died the day before? What does that mean if your family member died a week before? Right? What does that – like, that means nothing to you.
CH: And speaking of the circumstances on the ground, I often encounter a common misconception that emancipation was delayed because, you know, the Pony Express was just too slow in getting the information out. How much did enslaved people know about the Proclamation? When did they find out?
HP: That’s a good question, it’s like, they knew. Enslaved people, people always knew like, what was going on. The thing was that the oppressors were refusing to acknowledge the intelligence and agency of the oppressed. Those who were enslaved, especially those who worked inside spaces where they were in the homes and were usually the therapist, the friend, the confidant, and all these different things, and obviously the, the laborer, the one who was oppressed, they hear everything, including their enslavers saying, oh my gosh, there’re, you know, union forces are here, or this, or have you heard about this new policy? Whether it’s, uh, the Confiscation Acts, whether it’s the Militia Act – like they’re not dumb, right? They hear it all. And so there’s no question that people would have heard these things. The African-American newspapers, for example, The Christian Recorder that’s connected to the African Methodist Episcopalian Church that published out of Philadelphia and the Weekly Anglo-African that published out of New York City – those newspapers, first of all, soldiers wrote in them all the time. All the time. Like, here’s what I’m seeing in, here’s what I’m seeing in Florida, here’s what I’m seeing in South Carolina. Right? At minimum, enslaved people would’ve heard because of their oppressors talking about it, that’s the simplest way I could say it. Because, okay, for example, you know, even today, I see something on the news, I tell my wife, I see, I text a friend, right? Like, I don’t just keep it to myself. So like the relaying of information is critical.
GD: What some formerly enslaved people say after the war is the people who need to be told are the masters, and what they need to be told is that they’re not in charge. And so that’s a really important distinction. It’s not from ignorance, it’s from a sense of access to power.
JC: If we’re going to ask “how fast did emancipation happen,” what do we mean, though? What is emancipation?
GD: It’s an even better question than it sounds because it really points us to the problem of, of what we mean when we ask this question.
HP: Like what, what does freedom look like, for those who gain their freedom? It’s not as rosy as we want it to be. It’s really complicated, and unfortunately, if we talk about Lorenzo Thomas, for example, he is taking black men at gunpoint and forcing them into the United States military, and forcibly separating them from their families. And so what does that look like for their families, for those who were enslaved? So you gain your freedom. But you lose your male relative at gunpoint?
JC: And does, what does that mean for his freedom, right? Does that count as freedom now?
HP: Is he free? Right. Yeah, exactly.
CH: Greg asked us to think of this as a dynamic process, and he used the example of the people from Virginia who escaped slavery by rowing up to Fortress Monroe, which was occupied by the US Army. You may remember that we discussed this in our episode “If people saw that slavery was happening, why didn’t they stop it?” Frank Baker, Shepherd Malloy, and James Townsend are the names we know among the people seeking freedom, but it’s likely there were others with them.
GD: You can argue about, and in fact, there is a very robust argument and back and forth between the forces on the ground, Major General Benjamin Butler and the War Department that’s eventually resolved by Congress of, what is their status? It’s, uh, everyone agrees the Army doesn’t have to return these enslaved people, but as Butler says, then what are they? But if we think of that story, we get a dynamic that often happens, which is presence of power, and then there’s a set of actions. Enslaved people take action to run toward freedom, the army responds by providing that access to power that helps to reinforce it. And it’s really a dynamic, right? The Army can go through and read things, but if people don’t respond, it doesn’t mean anything. Similarly, though, not to exactly the same extent, if enslaved people run, but run up against walls – as happens when sometimes armies are, you know, close their gates to enslaved people – they can very quickly be re enslaved. And so it’s the drive, the determination to claim freedom, finding the access to someone who will reinforce it. And to me, that helps us understand not just what slavery is, but what freedom is. That freedom isn’t freedom from constraint. It’s really access to a power that will allow you to defend yourself against people who want to encroach upon your freedom. And it depends on law, and it also depends on power. And we can trace when the law changes, but tracing when the power changes is always gonna be a shifting target and is always gonna lead us to say that there are many ends to enslavement. Not quite 4 million, probably, but certainly dozens if not hundreds of different plausible ends of, to slave, slavery for individual people.
JC: Here’s Holly on that same question:
HP: They’re free in the sense that slavery will be, by the 13th Amendment, will become officially outlawed in the United States of America. So they’re not enslaved, and that’s important. So they technically have freedom of movement, you know, acc, in theory, access to education, all these caveats, including a legal marriage, property ownership, all these, but the systemic racism evolves in ways that makes it necessary, putting quotes around that, uh, to define what are black people’s place in the United States of America and its territories? And so they’re not enslaved, they’re free from bondage, but they are never free from racism. They, unfortunately, are never free from gender discrimination. They’re never free from being black in the eyes of white society. And that’s to me really important because students will say, and I’m, and I’m sure I used to say it too, like, well, they’re still like working in fields as sharecroppers, so isn’t that enslaved? I’m like, no, because technically they can sign a contract which recognizes – as Chandra Manning and others point out – you can’t sign a contract with your chair and hold it like legally liable. When one was enslaved in the eyes of state and federal law, they weren’t seen as human beings. So that is a major difference. You can negotiate for your wages, you can bring up a civil suit, you can bring testimony. Of course, Jim Crow comes into play and seeks to negate that, but in seeking to negate it, they are acknowledging they’re human beings at the core who don’t, and I’m putting quotes, “deserve rights,” but there is still a human being and that’s really important.
CH: Greg concurred about the courts being a place where we can see the difference between slavery and freedom:
GD: It seems to us that free people should be able to do things like testify in court. But in fact, there were numerous people in US society, not just enslaved people, who had very limited testimonial rights and very limited, therefore couldn’t press charges for people who wronged them. And many southern states create after the war laws that are aiming to exclude black people from the court system. Not just exclude them from equality, but exclude them from access. That’s a real powerful point because they understand that to make these newfound rights meaningful, they have to be able – Americans are now and were then litigious people, and the way we protect our rights is, you know, as they used to say on the People’s Court, you know, “you take ’em to court.” They know that, you know, white native people are suing each other all the time and they know that they need to be able to have access to courts in order to make this meaningful. Another is political. Now, the vast majority of American free adults could not vote. So to us it can seem like, oh wait, if they’re legally, have access, if they’re citizens, which I skipped over, but is a, a piece of this developments of what comes after emancipation, are they gonna be voters? And there are large classes of free citizens who – adult, not just children, obviously still aren’t voters – but free adult citizens who aren’t voters. There’s also the possibility in these questions of who can vote, that the vote could actually be extended to women, which is something not very likely, but is seriously, it is voted on in Kansas in joint referendums. What does belonging mean? And how, opening the question about what’s the role of enslaved people raises the question of what are the roles, the, what’s the power and stake that other free people should have? And in many ways, all of these are pushes for what I think, you know, is, is probably even more fundamental, which is land. The call among freed people over and over is land. A sense of independence. If you look at what’s structuring the society of the Southern states that most of them live in, it’s land ownership. The economic independence and an ability to say they’re not gonna work for white people, that their wives and children aren’t gonna work for white people, that they can make their money on their own, they see that as being really tied to a place of their own.
CH: As you probably already know, the questions of land ownership, voting rights, and the meaning of citizenship became an ongoing fight during and after Reconstruction.
JC: I was kind of hearing Holly say, the bar was so low, that even though it didn’t go up as much as we might have wanted it to, it was still way far up from where it had started.
HP: Yeah, to me it’s, it’s like, we cannot look past freedom, as like, well, they didn’t get full and equal rights in society. I’m like, okay, so that’s you’re – and it’s legit frustration. By that logic, you could argue like, every woman historically is in this, globally, but in this country, they’re still oppressed. Are they free? Are indigenous people free? Like, I mean, yes, they’re free and, and it, to me, it’s the persistence in how they’re continually fighting against their oppressors. Because, for example, if one were to put Rosa Parks and all these different individuals bringing up legal cases in the modern Civil Rights movement over demands to free quality and public education – at the core of that is I’m a human being that deserves these rights. And that each time those cases were heard, each court is recognizing in the humanity of those individuals.
CH: At the Cottage, we strive to give visitors a glimpse into Lincoln’s humanity while they’re here. Thinking about all these historical people as individuals got us thinking about what it would have been like for the soldiers tasked with enforcing the Proclamation. As Holly reminded us, the Proclamation itself had a direct impact on military service.
HP: I would say the most important thing, of what it, the Emancipation Proclamation officially does, is it authorizes the mobilization of black soldiers, and that’s the thing that gets glossed over a lot. There is a lot of weight to that and that, Lincoln deserves a lot of credit for because of, even though he may not realize it, plays a fundamental role in not only reshaping the Civil War and what it meant for the United States, but also how it will lead to the end of the Civil War because of black military service.
JC: I wanted to know, were Black soldiers asked to enforce the Proclamation? What was their experience like?
HP: I think it depends on when and where. But then let’s get into the messiness of how those black soldiers are being forced to stay in the military long after the war’s officially over, and many white, uh, white soldiers, really in both armies are getting the privilege of going home. But the, the contestations I could envision would really come down to, in many instances, what were their commanding officer’s views on abolition and racial equality? Because those don’t necessarily go hand in hand. One could have been a white abolitionist, but not necessarily believed in racial equality or gendered equality. But I would say that if you had, for example, a commanding officer like those from the 54th Massachusetts or even some of the Pennsylvanian USCT regiments, then yeah, you would’ve probably gotten more support. Now if we’re talking about other instances where you have white officers who are openly racist, hostile, and violent, up to, uh, if necessary, death, including even, physical and sexual assault on freed women. That actually leads to some instances of mutiny, cause the black soldiers are like, this will not stand. We are supposed to be freeing and protecting these people. And look what you’re doing to them. You don’t really care about them. And so, and the soldiers write that in the newspapers, including, what am I doing in Texas? Robert E. Lee surrendered, I was there. Why am I here? What do I care about France? That’s not what I was told when Douglass made the pitch. But that’s what they’re doing at the Texas border is, and Mexican border, is, the suspected invasion from Napoleon III through Mexico. So that’s the part of Juneteenth. People really don’t ever talk about. That’s the reason they’re there. And so we need to talk about the mental harm that comes to them once they’re in service, including dealing with violence from their commanding officers because of the racial and gendered politics that comes with that service.
CH: If we’re trying to understand the US Army presence, how many of them actually were there? Greg researched this question in depth for his Mapping Occupation project, which you can find at mappingoccupation.org, and filled us in:
GD: I’ll try not to overwhelm you with data, but if we remember that the US Army is something like a million people in, in April, 1865, it’s easy to kind of have a, you know, choose all options, right? And in some ways you can see a real deep spread of the army after surrender. So one way I measure this is, you know, what our army posts, places where they report that they’re there over the course of a month and are not just marching through. And so in May, right, which is, you know, right after the surrender, but close enough in time, there are something like 217 places where the Army is located in the, in the South. And March, April would’ve been about 165. This is actually the Confederacy, but not Texas. I’m not gonna count Kentucky or Texas for other reasons. By June to August, it’s uh, up to 385. So there’s a near doubling of the number of places that people are going. There’s almost 150,000 soldiers left in the South in September. There’s about a hundred thousand as we come into November. There is something about 90,000 in December, 1865. And what are they doing? They’re continuing to march through every county in the South to assert that they’re in control of that county, that they’ll work through civil officials, but they can overrule and replace them, and they’re creating sites that freed people can run to, to voice complaints, and sometimes protection or sometimes double duty for the Freedman’s Bureau. But in December, you get a number of generals saying, I can make this work, but if it drops much more, I’m gonna have to start pulling people in because I can’t leave little pockets of five, ten, fifteen people out in the Southern countryside. Why? Because the ex-Confederates are murdering them if they find them in small numbers, US soldiers in uniform. The number of soldiers starts to drop relatively steadily through 1866. So counting Confederacy without Texas, it goes to 40,000 in March 1866, and to about 20,000 by May and for the rest of the year. And that’s partly when you see this real sense of an upsurge of violence in the South. By late 1866 in the Confederacy, but not Texas, there are fewer than a hundred posts, or about a quarter of the number that there had been in the fall of 1865. So they’re there longer than we think, but the numbers are really being pressed hard in 1866.
JC: We wanted to know more about what it might be like to be an American soldier deployed in a domestic context, so we reached out to our division of the National Guard here in Washington DC. Brigadier General Leland Blanchard explained how the work they do differs from other parts of the armed forces.
General Leland Blanchard: So if we look at the Army National Guard, the Army National Guard, the regular Army, which many people think of as “the army,” and then the Army Reserve are really like three pieces of pumpkin pie. We’re all the same thing. So if you took a pumpkin pie, cut it into three equal pieces, we are one of those pieces. Now the difference is, the National Guard is unique in the fact that we have a state and a federal mission. So we fall under the authority of our governor as well as the president when called to serve on a federal mission. So it’s really that second mission set I think everyone’s familiar with when the Army gets called to go forth and, and win our nation’s wars. I think what you’re really talking about when we talk about something a little bit different, I think what we’re talking about is that domestic piece for the National Guard. And so, uh, we take the core tasks that we’ve been trained for and then we employ them here. And it’s interesting because a lot of our skill sets really focus around things that translate really well domestically. So, for example, the pandemic, obviously we have medical units inside the military. It’s about organizing, right? So if we remember, especially early, how do you even set up to kind of create this infrastructure with all this additional medical, and it’s not just doctors, it’s, you know, you gotta have the administration, you gotta have the set, you got all these things that occur. Well, guess what we do? We’re able to get up and go overseas and establish these same things, these same capabilities overseas, only with Covid as an example, we didn’t have anyone shooting at us at the time, so makes it a little bit less complex if you will. But it really, it really brings to bear those capabilities that the nation has invested in, so that we can bring it into our communities when needed and, and really help out.
CH: We asked General Blanchard, what advice would you give to the US soldiers heading into the aftermath of the Civil War and all the chaos that it entailed?
GLB: It’s, it’s interesting because I don’t think, in some ways, it’s that different, what I would give them as to what I would, what I’d say to soldiers today and what I do say to soldiers today. At the end of the day, if you are overseas and in, in a, uh, conflict, you wanna have those junior leaders who are agile and adaptive and can overcome things that they’ve never been exposed to. So that’s really what we focus on, getting after it and trying to throw them into scenarios that, as I like to often say, we want those leaders to become comfortable being uncomfortable. As they learn to do that and deal with whatever’s thrown at them, whether it’s through the scenario of the training or just really getting to know their soldiers and their capabilities they can then respond and employ those forces in the best way possible. And I think as leaders, we have to remember that our soldiers and airmen, sometimes we’re gonna ask them to do things during some challenging times, facing some, some, some challenging issues where they’re going to, they’re gonna have a little bit of internal conflict. It could be that internal conflict of, I gotta leave my home during a disaster, leave my family here, to go respond. And then I think if we’re being completely honest, we have to understand that some of the issues that face our nation even today, we’re asking some of those soldiers who are gonna face a little bit of, uh, internal, uh, conflict, to act in a way that that may make them ask some hard questions. And I think as leaders, we have to be aware of that. We have to be mindful and respectful of that. And so I would say the same thing back then to those soldiers that I do today. And that is, do the right thing. It may be hard, it may, it may come with some, some internal challenges that make you ask questions, and I think those things are okay, but at the end of the day, you’re asking those soldiers to just go forth and do the right thing. Serve your country, not yourself.
JC: What kind of tools does the National Guard try and equip its soldiers with to work through some of those moments of internal conflict?
GLB: Yeah. So I think it starts early, and in order to have that conversation and ask those soldiers what they need, you gotta build that trust early. They, they’ve gotta come to that point of internal strife, they gotta, they gotta feel comfortable coming to their leaders and they gotta know that whether or not they agree with the position, that it comes from a place that is honest, that is transparent and from somebody that truly cares about them and their welfare. The way I personally go about it is I like to do scenarios. And it can be a variety of topics that arms our junior soldiers. And so you may find yourself out there with a 24 or 25 year old young person, young adult, who’s being asked to lead and have some of these conversations. And if the first time they have that conversation, is right then, then and there, that’s gonna be pretty challenging. And so the tools are really about how do you, how do you have those hard conversations, practice them, uh, how do you make hard decisions? How do you transmit that? And how do you, how do you help your soldiers understand the why? Before they have to ask, why am I serving, uh, in this moment? You know, what is my purpose right now?
JC: It’s a good question to be asking overall, honestly.
CH We also wanted to know, what is it like to be deployed among your fellow citizens?
GLB: Here in the States, when you’re talking about domestic, you know, they’re, they’re you, right? I mean, it, it’s you. So in that moment when you’re responding, You can’t, it’s hard to disconnect, because these are your fellow citizens. These are, they’re going to your school or they, they speak the same language, they have the same experiences, they’re watching the same TV shows. And so you connect with them in a very different way, right? Because you’re there to serve that community. You’ve really, uh, you’re always connected to that, that area in a different way. I, I, I don’t know that I could articulate it very well, but you are always connected, you’re always interested, you always wonder, some of those folks that you connected with, you know, what was the outcome? Did they find their loved ones? Was everything okay? Did they get their life back on, on the track that it was before, you know? Hey, I wonder where they are at.
CH: The chaos of the war and its aftermath meant all kinds of people were making decisions that they had never made before. Holly ran us through an exercise he uses with his students to illustrate some of the inner conflicts enslaved people may have experienced.
HP: Because I always ask the students, at what point would you have, if you were enslaved, would you have run away? Right? And then that’s the question where people are like, ough. I’m like, do you run away when Lincoln officially issues emancipation and you’re living in, let’s say Miami? Like, and they’re like, no. I’m like, yeah, because the military’s not there yet. So how are you gonna get from Miami to Pennsylvania by yourself? So there was actually some who were fearful of, just because they say I’m free, what does that really mean? And more importantly for others, if I can’t bring them with me, I’m not going. Cause that’s what I always ask them. I say, let’s get, let’s get real messy: it’s you and your spouse or partner and a child – who goes? And the thing I always explain to the student, cause some, usually the male students go, Well, I’d go. So then my response is, so you’re, you’re gonna leave your family behind, like, really? They mean nothing to you? And they’re like, well, I’ll come back for them. I’m like, you assume that they’re still there, or alive. And they’re like, oh. And then, so then someone will say, well, I’d let my kids go, they’re like… So you’re assuming that there’s gonna be someone, who’s the guardian? So they just go into the system and then what? Are you okay with, you’ll never see them again? And eventually a student goes, well there, it seems like there’s no right answer. I’m like, I never said there was a right answer. I’m just telling you what life was for these people. These were the real decisions that they had to make.
JC: Hearing Holly talk about his students and General Blanchard talk about his soldiers, it struck me that these folks are all about the same age. During the Civil War as well, soldiers would have been 19, 21, 24… What are we asking of them, when we ask them to make decisions like this?
GLB: Can you imagine, as you’re going through that time, you know as it’s happening, the world is changing, like you are part of something historic, there’s no doubt in your mind, but yet you don’t know how the story is gonna end. You’re, you’re literally in the middle – you are part of the book that’s being written and you have no idea how this is going to end. And so the trepidation that some of those soldiers and, and really, everyone – you didn’t have to be in uniform to wonder, Hey, what is, what is this really going to mean for us? But then that connection, cause when you get to a certain point in your life, right, I’m, I’m 51 years old, so I’m kind of set in a lot of my ways. But you, the amazing potential for those young folks as the world is changing and being a part of that and facilitating and again, you, you don’t know how it’s gonna go, but what you do know is that that young person is going to have a completely different future because of what’s happening. It is inspiring to be around these great young folks who continue to place their community and their nation above themselves. And when you get an opportunity, out there in the community, I, I’d talk to some of these, these young men and women, they, they have some experiences again, at, at young ages. When you think about what they’ve gone through over the last couple of years in the service, I mean, ranging from substitute teachers during Covid, taking on a plethora of things. It’s, I, I’ll just say they have my ultimate respect and, and appreciation. I am so appreciative of what they’re willing to do. It’s, it’s hard work. And, uh, that’s what I would leave you with from my end.
CH: We had a lingering sense that part of why visitors want to know the answer to this question is because of its effects on the present. Did emancipation ever finish happening? And why does Reconstruction feel like an incomplete answer to so many?
GD: I think there’s an older effort to say good war, bad Reconstruction, and that Appomattox is the hinge, right? Like good war, uh, you know, Appomattox, then all this mess happens. And so I think one reason why scholars have been interested in showing what it means to think about the war continuing – in my framework to 1871, when the Congress ends the state of war in the last state – is to understand that it’s not that the war is solved and Reconstruction is failed to be solved, but that they’re really part of the same problem. We have to understand that they’re embedded together. There’s a lot of – defeat has many parents, uh, just as victory does. And also defeat is often a little harder to pin down than we might think. And I think we we’re very, we wanna say that this sort of failings, or limits is the way I would say it, of Reconstruction are all embedded in the conception. But in fact, what if it was overthrown by the other side winning, right? Like, uh, you know, in the end, Democrats take, you know, retake control of the government and do everything they can to put a stop to it. And that’s, I think, a part of the story that’s at least as true as Republicans discover their inherent limitations.
JC: As I’m sure you know, Americans are having a robust conversation right now about how to understand our history, including how we remember the Civil War and slavery. Here’s what Holly had to say about that:
HP: I don’t really care where you stand on the political, whatever, spectrum, but we all can agree the history matters. We need to support history, whether that’s public schools, organizations, cause as I tell people, when’s the last time you set aside money to make sure someone can have their textbooks paid for? When’s the last time you’ve made sure that a group of students can go to the Lincoln’s Cottage or go to a National Park site? It’s just knowing that history should be accessible, it should be illuminated, and it should inspire, right? But like to me, it’s put your money where your mouth is. Don’t just say, you know, people wanna go to like, and argue over history, like when’s the last time you’ve supported someone who says, I wanna learn more? I love history because at the end of the day, we get paid to ask questions. And as for the audience, usually I leave you with an unsatisfactory answer cause you want, when did this start? I’m like, well… let’s get complicated! But it’s fun and it’s also important and empowering to know that we right now are talking about people who live in the 1800s, like that’s amazing.
JC: It is pretty amazing, to realize what connections you might have to people in the past who you have never met. And I for one agree, I love being paid to ask questions and I highly recommend it.
CH: As we continue the work of supporting freedom, we want to encourage you to think about: Who can you help in your community? And what small changes are you a part of that will make a big difference in the future?
JC: This episode was produced by me, Joan Cummins, with Callie Hawkins and support from the President Lincoln’s Cottage team. Music for Q&Abe was written, performed, and is copyrighted by Clancy Newman.
CH: Q&Abe is made possible by listeners like you. You can support the show by joining Team Lincoln at www.lincolncottage.org, where you can also check out our other online and in person programming. If you’re enjoying yourself, please tell a friend about the show!
JC: To the couple who asked this question, thanks for letting us explore your “how fast” question in a way that wasn’t fast at all.
CH: Comments? Questions? Write to us at [email protected].
JC: President Lincoln’s Cottage is a home for brave ideas. Stay curious!