When I heard Obama's invocation of the Proclamation last week, it immediately struck me as wrong -- but for different reasons. This letter, written to President Lincoln in 1864, has always stuck with me:
Belair [Md.] Aug 25th 1864
Mr president It is my Desire to be free. to go to see my people on the eastern shore. my mistress wont let me you will please let me know if we are free. and what i can do. I write to you for advice. please send me word this week. or as soon as possible and oblidge.
When I read this I was basically of Obama's view -- that the Proclamation was a necessary compromise, the sort of thing that is essential to American democracy. But I also thought it was important to always remember that compromise, whatever its virtue, isn't an abstract concept. It's the compromising of the lives of actual people. But in the course of researching the column I came to a somewhat different opinion -- that the Proclamation actually went further than I thought.
Better people here will know this, but my understanding is that there really was no constitutional mechanism by which Lincoln could -- with a wave of his pen -- emancipate the slaves of loyal owners. Thus there never really a choice between, say, ending slavery everywhere and ending just in disloyal states. The compromise was whether the Proclamation would cover all formerly rebel areas that had fallen under union control -- occupied areas of Tennessee, Virginia, South Carolina and Louisiana for instance. And the Proclamation did actually exempt some of those areas.
But on the other side of the ledger there's the fact that Lincoln immediately affected the largest act of manumission in American history with a stroke of the pen. I haven't come across a precise number, in terms of who was immediately freed by the Proclamation. But it was in the thousands, and Foner estimates that it may well have ranged into the tens of thousands. Other states had emancipated slaves--but almost always gradually. Nothing like this -- an immediate grant of freedom to thousands of slaves--had happened before.
This is to say nothing of those slaves who were freed as the Union Army pushed South. To me, that really is the heart of the Proclamation's genius. Remember that it was not an act of kindness, but hard-nosed policy of belligerence put forth by a country trying to win a war. The Proclamation necessarily united that war for the Union with the destruction of slavery. It's almost impossible to imagine a Union in which slavery was destroyed in the deep South but somehow thrived in the border states. Finally, and least appreciated in my view, the Proclamation brought, at final count, almost 200,000 black men into the Union Army.
It's worth considering that the Proclamation was not the act of
Lincoln moving closer to the slave-holders, but to their opponents. From
Eric Foner's Pulitzer Prize winner, The Fiery Trial:
Emancipation Proclamation differed dramatically from Lincoln's previous
policies regarding slavery and emancipation, some of which dated back
to his days in the Illinois legislature and Congress. It abandoned the
idea of seeking the cooperation of slaveholders in emancipation, and of
distinguishing between loyal and disloyal owners. It was immediate, not
gradual; contained no mention of monetary compensation for slaveowners,
did not depend on action by the states, and made no reference to
colonization (in part, perhaps, because gradualism, compensation, and
colonization had no bearing on the "military necessity"
that justified the document.) Lincoln had long resisted the enlistment
of black soldiers; now he welcomed them into the Union Army. The
Proclamation addressed slaves directly, not as the property of the
country's enemies but as persons with wills of their own whose action
might help win the Civil War.
want to hammer down on Foner's point about arming blacks. In the summer
of 1862, Lincoln said that he feared if he armed blacks "in a few weeks
the arms would be in the hands of the rebels." A year later, he was
arguing that in military matters, black were...
greatest available, and yet unavailed of force for restoring the
union. The bare sight of fifty thousand armed, and drilled black
soldiers on the banks of the Mississippi, would end the rebellion at
There is some bravado here,
no doubt, But it's important to understand that this isn't just about
the violence itself. It's difficult to understand, in today's society,
what it actually meant to recognize another human's right to hold a gun.
The right to bear arms was, in previous centuries, directly tied to
citizenship, as was military service. To open the Army to men of all
colors was to admit the possibility of expanding the franchise, and
perhaps even political office, across the color line. It was to grant
that America's broad aristocracy would not be forever color-bound.
is exactly what happened. It may not come across in my writing, but I
have deep roots in America's radical tradition, in general, and the
black radical tradition specifically. Like a lot of people of that ilk,
there was a tendency in me to write off the Proclamation as a weak-kneed
compromise proffered by another racist president. By last week, I was
past that point. Still the research really affirmed something for
me -- those of us who are radicals, whether practicing or not, shouldn't
downplay the Proclamation, we should take credit for it. As Douglass
did. As Phillips did. The Proclamation and all that followed is a
textbook example of what a dose of radicalism can do for democracy.
started this letter musing about an enslaved black woman whom Lincoln's
compromise left in limbo. She should be remembered--but she shouldn't
be remembered alone. Again from Foner:
its palpable limitations, the proclamation set of scenes of jubilation
among free blacks in the North and contrabands and slaves in the South.
At Beaufort on the Sea Islands, over 5,000 African-Americans celebrated
their freedom by singing what a white observer called "the Marseillaise
of the slave"; "In that New Jerusalem, I am not afraid to die; We must
fight for liberty in that New Jerusalem." In the North, blacks gathered
in their churches. "I have never witnessed," the abolitionists Benjamin
R. Plumly wrote to Lincoln from Philadelphia, "such intense, intelligent
and devout Thanksgiving..." When one person suggested that Lincoln
might pursue 'some form of colonization; a woman shouted, "God won't let
Indeed God didn't.
Finally, I think Lincoln's own words give some sense of how to handle
such momentous events with humility--"I claim not to have controlled
events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me."
P.S. In addition to Foner's The Fiery Trial, his Free Soil, Free Labor Free Men and James Oakes' The Radical and The Republican were essential to all of my thinking.
Know your history, as they say.
MORE: The author of The Radical and The Republican is James Oakes, not Stephen Oates. My sincerest apologies for the botch.
Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of The Beautiful Struggle and the forthcoming Between the World and Me.
I traveled to every country on earth. In some cases, the adventure started before I could get there.
Last summer, my Royal Air Maroc flight from Casablanca landed at Malabo International Airport in Equatorial Guinea, and I completed a 50-year mission: I had officially, and legally, visited every recognized country on earth.
This means 196 countries: the 193 members of the United Nations, plus Taiwan, Vatican City, and Kosovo, which are not members but are, to varying degrees, recognized as independent countries by other international actors.
In five decades of traveling, I’ve crossed countries by rickshaw, pedicab, bus, car, minivan, and bush taxi; a handful by train (Italy, Switzerland, Moldova, Belarus, Ukraine, Romania, and Greece); two by riverboat (Gabon and Germany); Norway by coastal steamer; Gambia and the Amazonian parts of Peru and Ecuador by motorized canoe; and half of Burma by motor scooter. I rode completely around Jamaica on a motorcycle and Nauru on a bicycle. I’ve also crossed three small countries on foot (Vatican City, San Marino, and Liechtenstein), and parts of others by horse, camel, elephant, llama, and donkey. I confess that I have not visited every one of the 7,107 islands in the Philippine archipelago or most of the more than 17,000 islands constituting Indonesia, but I’ve made my share of risky voyages on the rickety inter-island rustbuckets you read about in the back pages of the Times under headlines like “Ship Sinks in Sulu Sea, 400 Presumed Lost.”
The tension between religious liberty and same-sex marriage may eventually come to a head in the courts, but probably not through the Kentucky clerk’s case.
As Rowan County clerk Kim Davis crawls further and further out on a limb, Supreme Court experts agree that she has little chance of prevailing. District Judge David Bunning, on August 12 ordered Davis, in her capacity as county clerk, to issue marriage licenses to all couples who meet the statutory criteria for marriage in Kentucky—a definition that, since the Court’s landmark decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, includes same-sex couples.
Davis has refused, citing “the authority of God.” The U.S. Supreme Court, without comment, denied her emergency request for a stay. This throws the case back to the Sixth Circuit, which will hear the appeal of Judge Bunning’s order. Assuming she loses in the Sixth Circuit—a fairly good assumption—she would then have the alternative of petitioning the Supreme Court to hear her religious freedom claim. The Court will eventually hear a case about religious freedom and same-sex marriage, but I don’t think it will be this one.
The past is beautiful until you’re reminded it’s ugly.
Taylor Swift’s music video for “Wildest Dreams” isn’t about the world as it exists; it’s about the world as seen through the filter of nostalgia and the magic of entertainment. In the song, Swift sings that she wants to live on in an ex’s memory as an idealized image of glamour—“standing in a nice dress, staring at the sunset.” In the video, her character, an actress, falls in love with her already-coupled costar, for whom she’ll live on as an idealized image of glamour—standing in a nice dress, staring at a giant fan that’s making the fabric swirl in the wind.
The setting for the most part is Africa, but, again, the video isn’t about Africa as it exists, but as it’s seen through the filter of nostalgia and the magic of entertainment—a very particular nostalgia and kind of entertainment. Though set in 1950, the video is in the literary and cinematic tradition of white savannah romances, the most important recent incarnation of which might be the 1985 Meryl Streep film Out of Africa, whose story begins in 1913. Its familiarity is part of its appeal, and also part of why it’s now drawing flack for being insensitive. As James Kassaga Arinaitwe and Viviane Rutabingwa write at NPR:
In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like. Here’s why that’s disastrous for education—and mental health.
Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law—or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress. In February, Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education describing a new campus politics of sexual paranoia—and was then subjected to a long investigation after students who were offended by the article and by a tweet she’d sent filed Title IX complaints against her. In June, a professor protecting himself with a pseudonym wrote an essay for Vox describing how gingerly he now has to teach. “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,” the headline said. A number of popular comedians, including Chris Rock, have stopped performing on college campuses (see Caitlin Flanagan’s article in this month’s issue). Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the oversensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke.
A Brooklyn-based group is arguing that the displacement of longtime residents meets a definition conceived by the United Nations in the aftermath of World War II.
No one will be surprised to learn that the campaign to build a national movement against gentrification is being waged out of an office in Brooklyn, New York.
For years, the borough’s name has been virtually synonymous with gentrification, and on no street in Brooklyn are its effects more evident than on Atlantic Avenue, where, earlier this summer, a local bodega protesting its impending departure in the face of a rent hike, put up sarcastic window signs advertising “Bushwick baked vegan cat food” and “artisanal roach bombs.”
Just down the block from that bodega are the headquarters of Right to the City, a national alliance of community-based organizations that since 2007 has made it its mission to fight “gentrification and the displacement of low-income people of color.” For too long, organizers with the alliance say, people who otherwise profess concern for the poor have tended to view gentrification as a mere annoyance, as though its harmful effects extended no further than the hassles of putting up with pretentious baristas and overpriced lattes. Changing this perception is the first order of business for Right to the City: Gentrification, as these organizers see it, is a human-rights violation.
But letting customers buy their own would force cable companies to improve their equipment.
One of the least glamorous realities of the American cable industry is a relic invented in 1948: the cable box. The box has become a fixture in the American household, not least because it is surprisingly profitable. Earlier this year, a U.S. Senate study found that American households pay $231 a year on average renting cable boxes. Further, the report estimated that 99 percent of cable customers rented their equipment, and, across the country, that added up to a $19.5 billion industry just renting cable boxes.
The senators who commissioned the study, Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, noted that this dependable rental revenue gave the industry little incentive to innovate and make better cable boxes. Which begs a really good question: Why aren’t more people purchasing their cable boxes?
Though it wasn’t pretty, Minaj was really teaching a lesson in civility.
Nicki Minaj didn’t, in the end, say much to Miley Cyrus at all. If you only read the comments that lit up the Internet at last night’s MTV Video Music Awards, you might think she was kidding, or got cut off, when she “called out” the former Disney star who was hosting: “And now, back to this bitch that had a lot to say about me the other day in the press. Miley, what’s good?”
To summarize: When Minaj’s “Anaconda” won the award for Best Hip-Hop Video, she took to the stage in a slow shuffle, shook her booty with presenter Rebel Wilson, and then gave an acceptance speech in which she switched vocal personas as amusingly as she does in her best raps—street-preacher-like when telling women “don’t you be out here depending on these little snotty-nosed boys”; sweetness and light when thanking her fans and pastor. Then a wave of nausea seemed to come over her, and she turned her gaze toward Cyrus. To me, the look on her face, not the words that she said, was the news of the night:
Massive hurricanes striking Miami or Houston. Earthquakes leveling Los Angeles or Seattle. Deadly epidemics. Meet the “maximums of maximums” that keep emergency planners up at night.
For years before Hurricane Katrina, storm experts warned that a big hurricane would inundate the Big Easy. Reporters noted that the levees were unstable and could fail. Yet hardly anyone paid attention to these Cassandras until after the levees had broken, the Gulf Coast had been blown to pieces, and New Orleans sat beneath feet of water.
The wall-to-wall coverage afforded to the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina reveals the sway that a deadly act of God or man can hold on people, even 10 years later. But it also raises uncomfortable questions about how effectively the nation is prepared for the next catastrophe, whether that be a hurricane or something else. There are plenty of people warning about the dangers that lie ahead, but that doesn’t mean that the average citizen or most levels of the government are anywhere near ready for them.
Why haven’t more challengers entered the race to defeat the Iraq War hawk, Patriot Act supporter, and close friend of big finance?
As Hillary Clinton loses ground to Bernie Sanders in Iowa, where her lead shrinks by the day, it’s worth noticing that she has never made particular sense as the Democratic Party’s nominee. She may be more electable than her social-democratic rival from Vermont, but plenty of Democrats are better positioned to represent the center-left coalition. Why have they let the former secretary of state keep them out of the race? If Clinton makes it to the general election, I understand why most Democrats will support her. She shares their views on issues as varied as preserving Obamacare, abortion rights, extending legal status to undocumented workers, strengthening labor unions, and imposing a carbon tax to slow climate change.
Learning to program involves a lot of Googling, logic, and trial-and-error—but almost nothing beyond fourth-grade arithmetic.
I’m not in favor of anyone learning to code unless she really wants to. I believe you should follow your bliss, career-wise, because most of the things you’d buy with all the money you’d make as a programmer won’t make you happy. Also, if your only reason for learning to code is because you want to be a journalist and you think that’s the only way to break into the field, that’s false.
I’m all for people not becoming coders, in other words—as long they make that decision for the right reasons. “I’m bad at math” is not the right reason.
Math has very little to do with coding, especially at the early stages. In fact, I’m not even sure why people conflate the two. (Maybe it has to do with the fact that both fields are male-dominated.)