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.
The president’s unpredictability once worked to his advantage—but now, it is producing a mounting list of foreign-policy failures.
“Gradually and then suddenly.” That was how one of Ernest Hemingway’s characters described the process of going bankrupt. The phrase applies vividly to the accumulating failures of President Trump’s foreign-policy initiatives.
Donald Trump entered office with more scope for initiative in foreign policy than any of his recent predecessors.
In his campaign for president, Trump had disparaged almost every element of the past 70 years of U.S. global leadership: NATO, free trade, European integration, support for democracy, the Iraq War, the Iran deal, suspicion of Russia, outreach to China. Trump’s election jolted almost every government into a frantic effort to understand what to expect. Other countries’ uncertainty enhanced Trump’s relative power—and so, perversely, did Trump’s policy ignorance and obnoxious behavior. After eight years under the accommodating Barack Obama, the United States suddenly turned a menacing face to the world. In the short run, that menace frightened other states into attempted appeasement of this unpredictable new president.
The class divide is already toxic, and is fast becoming unbridgeable. You’re probably part of the problem.
1. The Aristocracy Is Dead …
For about a week every year in my childhood, I was a member of one of America’s fading aristocracies. Sometimes around Christmas, more often on the Fourth of July, my family would take up residence at one of my grandparents’ country clubs in Chicago, Palm Beach, or Asheville, North Carolina. The breakfast buffets were magnificent, and Grandfather was a jovial host, always ready with a familiar story, rarely missing an opportunity for gentle instruction on proper club etiquette. At the age of 11 or 12, I gathered from him, between his puffs of cigar smoke, that we owed our weeks of plenty to Great-Grandfather, Colonel Robert W. Stewart, a Rough Rider with Teddy Roosevelt who made his fortune as the chairman of Standard Oil of Indiana in the 1920s. I was also given to understand that, for reasons traceable to some ancient and incomprehensible dispute, the Rockefellers were the mortal enemies of our clan.
When so many students have outstanding grades and test scores, schools have to get creative about triaging applicants.
For generations, two numbers have signaled whether a student could hope to get into a top college: his or her standardized test score and his or her grade-point average.
In the past 15 years, though, these lodestars have come to mean less and less. The SAT has been redesigned twice in that time, making it difficult for admissions officers to assess, for instance, whether last year’s uptick in average scores was the result of better students or just a different test. What’s more, half of American teenagers now graduate high school with an A average, according to a recent study. With application numbers at record highs, highly selective colleges are forced to make impossible choices, assigning a fixed number of slots to a growing pool of students who, each year, are harder to differentiate using these two long-standing metrics.
If the Cuban Missile Crisis is any indication, today’s leaders may be dangerously misinformed about the nuclear crisis.
When President Donald Trump canceled his June summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, he told him in a letter that the past few days of “tremendous anger and open hostility” had made it “inappropriate” for the two to meet and discuss denuclearization. “You talk about your nuclear capabilities,” Trump wrote, “but ours are so massive and powerful that I pray to God they will never have to be used.” The language echoed a January tweet in which the president wrote, “I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”
The North issued a statement in short order emphasizing a willingness to “sit down with the United States any time, in any format, to resolve the problems.” Yet it’s getting harder to see how Trump and Kim can make the mutual accommodations necessary for diplomacy to succeed. In fact, beneath the surface, the current situation resembles the prelude to the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, which historical research continues to show was much more dangerous than anyone knew at the time. If the Trump-Kim summit stays canceled, and saber-rattling returns as the dominant mode of communication, the odds of military crisis will rise dramatically. And, as the Cuba experience shows, once begun, a military crisis involving nuclear weapons will almost inevitably bring lots of surprises—ones that could make the shocking twists and turns of the summit buildup look pedestrian by comparison.
As the president ramps up his attacks on the law-enforcement and intelligence communities, long-standing damage to key agencies seems inevitable.
President Trump spent his early Wednesday morning, as he does many mornings, on Twitter. This time, he chose to weigh in on the “Criminal Deep State” and the claims that it embedded a spy in his presidential campaign as part of the federal investigation into Russia’s election interference.
“They go after Phony Collusion with Russia, a made up Scam, and end up getting caught in a major SPY scandal the likes of which this country may never have seen before!” he wrote.
Much has been written in recent days about Trump’s “new” strategy to discredit the Russia investigation. The president has been attacking both the investigators in the Russia probe and the news organizations that cover the investigation, all in an attempt to persuade the public that the probe has been tainted by bias from the start. The frequency of these attacks may be climbing, but Trump’s tactics have actually remained remarkably consistent—beginning before he even took office. “Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to ‘leak’ into the public,” Trump tweeted on January 11, 2017, referring to a dossier published by BuzzFeed that alleged collusion between his campaign team and Russia. “One last shot at me,” he added. “Are we living in Nazi Germany?”
Several new studies suggest yogurt might reduce inflammation—a process linked to different types of diseases.
A couple years ago, I was taking a swim with my very pregnant friend when I asked her if it was hard to keep straight all of the doctors’ health recommendations for expectant mothers.
Not really. For practically every symptom, she said, their recommendations were roughly the same: “Take a walk, eat a yogurt.”
It was another example of the Cult of Yogurt. Even though some varieties have more sugar than a Twinkie, perhaps no other man-made food is so often recommended by medical professionals—and to treat such a wide variety of ailments.
Whenever I’ve been prescribed antibiotics, I’ve always been told to eat a yogurt so that the antibiotics don’t eat up all the “good” bacteria in my system and leave me with a yeast infection. (Recently, I interviewed a doctor who suggested this is bogus; there’s no way for the yogurt cultures to make it all the way down there.)
American society increasingly mistakes intelligence for human worth.
As recently as the 1950s, possessing only middling intelligence was not likely to severely limit your life’s trajectory. IQ wasn’t a big factor in whom you married, where you lived, or what others thought of you. The qualifications for a good job, whether on an assembly line or behind a desk, mostly revolved around integrity, work ethic, and a knack for getting along—bosses didn’t routinely expect college degrees, much less ask to see SAT scores. As one account of the era put it, hiring decisions were “based on a candidate having a critical skill or two and on soft factors such as eagerness, appearance, family background, and physical characteristics.”
The 2010s, in contrast, are a terrible time to not be brainy. Those who consider themselves bright openly mock others for being less so. Even in this age of rampant concern over microaggressions and victimization, we maintain open season on the nonsmart. People who’d swerve off a cliff rather than use a pejorative for race, religion, physical appearance, or disability are all too happy to drop the s‑bomb: Indeed, degrading others for being “stupid” has become nearly automatic in all forms of disagreement.
The Catholic Church was instrumental in passing the country’s strict abortion laws. Now it’s all but absent from the referendum about whether to repeal them.
DUBLIN—Millions of Irish people are voting today on whether to liberalize or maintain the country’s abortion laws, which are among the most restrictive in the world. Polls opened in the early morning, but the results of the referendum won’t be announced until Saturday. Regardless of how people vote, Ireland’s relationship to abortion has already changed. “We’re having conversations now that we have never had before in my country,” Fiona de Londras, a professor of global legal studies at the University of Birmingham, told me.
As voters prepared to cast their votes, it seemed there wasn’t a street pole in Dublin without a sign on it about the referendum. Also mingling in the streets were Irish expats. Thousands of them, it was estimated, would be flying home from around the world to participate in what has been dubbed a once-in-a-generation opportunity. Of the 1.4 million Irish citizens living abroad, 40,000 are eligible to vote in Irish elections—and those who are must do so in person.
The 9-year-old has built a huge following with profane Instagram posts, but the bravado of “the youngest flexer of the century” masks a sadder tale about fame and exploitation.
In mid-February, a mysterious 9-year-old by the name of Lil Tay began blowing up on Instagram.
“This is a message to all y’all broke-ass haters, y’all ain't doing it like Lil Tay,” she shouts as she hops into a red Mercedes, hands full of wads of cash. “This is why all y’all fucking haters hate me, bitch. This shit cost me $200,000. I’m only 9 years old. I don’t got no license, but I still drive this sports car, bitch. Your favorite rapper ain’t even doing it like Lil Tay.”
Referring to herself as “the youngest flexer of the century,” Lil Tay quickly garnered a fan base of millions, including big name YouTubers who saw an opportunity to capitalize on her wild persona. In late January, RiceGum, an extremely influential YouTube personality dedicated an entire roast video to Lil Tay.
There were no software glitches or sensor breakdowns that led to a fatal crash, merely poor object recognition, emergency planning, system design, testing methodology, and human operation.
On March 18, at 9:58 p.m., a self-driving Uber car killed Elaine Herzberg. The vehicle was driving itself down an uncomplicated road in suburban Tempe, Arizona, when it hit her. Herzberg, who was walking across the mostly empty street, was the first pedestrian killed by an autonomous vehicle.
The preliminary National Transportation Safety Board report on the incident, released on Thursday, shows that Herzberg died because of a cascading series of errors, human and machine, which present a damning portrait of Uber’s self-driving testing practices at the time.
Perhaps the worst part of the report is that Uber’s system functioned as designed. There were no software glitches or sensor malfunctions. It just didn’t work very well.