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.
They weren’t the first victims of a mass shooting the Florida radiologist had seen—but their wounds were radically different.
As I opened the CT scan last week to read the next case, I was baffled. The history simply read “gunshot wound.” I have been a radiologist in one of the busiest trauma centers in the nation for 13 years, and have diagnosed thousands of handgun injuries to the brain, lung, liver, spleen, bowel, and other vital organs. I thought that I knew all that I needed to know about gunshot wounds, but the specific pattern of injury on my computer screen was one that I had seen only once before.
In a typical handgun injury that I diagnose almost daily, a bullet leaves a laceration through an organ like the liver. To a radiologist, it appears as a linear, thin, grey bullet track through the organ. There may be bleeding and some bullet fragments.
Many seniors are stuck with lives of never-ending work—a fate that could befall millions in the coming decades.
CORONA, Calif.—Roberta Gordon never thought she’d still be alive at age 76. She definitely didn’t think she’d still be working. But every Saturday, she goes down to the local grocery store and hands out samples, earning $50 a day, because she needs the money.
“I’m a working woman again,” she told me, in the common room of the senior apartment complex where she now lives, here in California’s Inland Empire. Gordon has worked dozens of odd jobs throughout her life—as a house cleaner, a home health aide, a telemarketer, a librarian, a fundraiser—but at many times in her life, she didn’t have a steady job that paid into Social Security. She didn’t receive a pension. And she definitely wasn’t making enough to put aside money for retirement.
How did Missouri’s Republican governor go from rising star to felony charges in barely one year?
It’s customary to refer to a politician’s quick rise as “meteoric.” Overlooked in that cliché is a truth about what happens to meteorites: They strike the ground violently and destructively.
That’s worth considering in light of the meteoric rise of Missouri Governor Eric Greitens, who was arrested Thursday afternoon and charged with felony invasion of privacy charges in connection with a 2015 extramarital affair. The first-term Republican has not resigned, but he’ll face an uphill battle to hold onto his office, and his once-bright political career seems likely to, well, crater.
Greitens’s troubles began in early January, when several outlets reported that he had engaged in an extramarital affair in 2015. The ex-husband of Greitens’s former lover surreptitiously recorded her describing how Greitens had photographed her nude and indicated that the images would serve as blackmail material. “You’re never going to mention my name, otherwise this picture will be everywhere,” she quoted him as saying on the tape.
The Second Amendment enshrined the principle of individual liberty—and extending a militarized state into the schools would only undermine it.
The Second Amendment is a remarkable piece of the Constitution. “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed,” it reads.
Set aside for the moment questions about its practical interpretations today and its usefulness as a legal tenet—the provision presents a starkly revolutionary moral and political theory. Written by the powerful men in charge of the nation, the amendment expressly preserves the right of individuals to protect themselves against the future tyranny of the powerful men in charge of the nation. In fact, it enshrines this as a moral obligation, mixing into the very core of American civics the expectation that uncivil disobedience might be a necessary patriotic duty should the government cease to serve the people.
The revolutionary ideals of Black Panther’s profound and complex villain have been twisted into a desire for hegemony.
The following article contains major spoilers.
Black Panther is a love letter to people of African descent all over the world. Its actors, its costume design, its music, and countless other facets of the film are drawn from all over the continent and its diaspora, in a science-fiction celebration of the imaginary country of Wakanda, a high-tech utopia that is a fictive manifestation of African potential unfettered by slavery and colonialism.
But it is first and foremost an African American love letter, and as such it is consumed with The Void, the psychic and cultural wound caused by the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, the loss of life, culture, language, and history that could never be restored. It is the attempt to penetrate The Void that brought us Alex Haley’s Roots, that draws thousands of African Americans across the ocean to visit West Africa every year, that left me crumpled on the rocks outside the Door of No Return at Gorée Island’s slave house as I stared out over a horizon that my ancestors might have traversed once and forever. Because all they have was lost to The Void, I can never know who they were, and neither can anyone else.
The CNN-hosted event highlighted the voices of student activists, and showed why the gun debate might actually be different this time around.
I was 10 years old when, in 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold murdered 12 students at Columbine High School, in what was then the most-deadly school shooting in American history. What I can recall most from my childhood mind from the time aren’t the gruesome details in the news reports or even the sense of dread that gripped students and teachers across the country, but the feeling that something central about the country had changed. Something about America had shifted, and it was significant enough that even a child’s understanding could grasp it.
Almost two decades later, after multiple mass shootings and dozens of slain children, it’s clear that what changed wasn’t the mobilization of a country to stop events like Columbine, but the beginning of the normalization of those events. Now, even the fervor of post-massacre gun debates has been fraught with fatalism. Every debate is the same, without any denouement. Advocates cry out for common-sense reforms, NRA-backed politicians decry those measures, donor lists are released, and people complain about the politicization of tragedy. But nothing ever really happens. The gun debate has become a moribund ritual.
The Canadian prime minister’s trip could nonetheless help him with a voting bloc he covets.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi hasn’t hidden his fondness for foreign leaders. He has embraced them, tweeted at them, and sent them birthday wishes—all in an effort to make India a global player in international affairs. So when Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, he of the perfect coiffure, high-voltage smile, and beautiful family arrived in New Delhi this week for a state visit, it should have been a perfect photo-op. Instead, neither Modi nor any of his senior ministers showed up to receive the Trudeaus.
Trudeau has smiled his way through India, however, meeting with business executives, signing billions of dollars worth of business deals, posing for photographs with Bollywood actors, and donning Indian attire befitting his own Indian wedding reception. The Indians, for their part, have denied the Canadian prime minister is being snubbed (one unnamed official went as far as to call it “protocol”). But a snub it is—and the diplomatic brush-off has its roots in an Indian separatist movement from the 1980s and present-day Canadian domestic politics.
The president’s suggestions range from arming teachers to Obama-style background-check regulation.
Crises are crucibles, bringing out a leader’s core characteristics. The aftermath of the shooting last week at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, has thrown two sides of President Trump into sharp relief.
Over the course of 48 hours, Trump has suggested a variety of possible responses to gun violence in schools. Some of them look like the product of the independent, unconventional politician some people had hoped for—willing to buck partisan orthodoxies about gun control in favor of policies that he sees as common sense, and which draw broad public support: tighter background checks, mental-health restrictions, higher age limits for buying rifles. Other suggestions show the other Trump: An impulsive politician who quickly grabs onto ideas without thinking them through, and finds it hard to resist throwing red meat to his base, like suggesting the arming of teachers. They also display his tendency to see the world in Manichean terms, and his emphasis on heroic individuals rather than systemic forces. The clash between these two Trumps is a central tension of his presidency. Thus far, it is the second set of tendencies that has triumphed over and over. Will the gun debate end any differently?
The microscopic kind, not the scary, slimy monster type
On the night before Halloween in 1938, a strange story crackled over radios across the United States. An announcer interrupted the evening’s regular programming for a “special bulletin,” which went on to describe an alien invasion in a field in New Jersey, complete with panicked eyewitness accounts and sounds of gunfire. The story was, of course, fake, a dramatization of The War of The Worlds, the science-fiction novel published by H. G. Wells in 1898. But not all listeners knew that. The intro to the segment was quite vague, and those who tuned in a few minutes into the show found no suggestion that what they were hearing wasn’t true.
The exact nature of the reaction of these unlucky listeners has been debated in the decades since the broadcast. Some say thousands of people dashed out of their homes and into the streets in terror, convinced the country was under attack by Martians. Others say there was no such mass panic. Regardless of the actual scale of the reaction, the event helped cement an understanding that would later be perpetuated in science-fiction television shows and films: Humans, if and when they encounter aliens, probably aren’t going to react well.
Decades before he ran the Trump campaign, Paul Manafort’s pursuit of foreign cash and shady deals laid the groundwork for the corruption of Washington.
The clinic permitted Paul Manafort one 10-minute call each day. And each day, he would use it to ring his wife from Arizona, his voice often soaked in tears. “Apparently he sobs daily,” his daughter Andrea, then 29, texted a friend. During the spring of 2015, Manafort’s life had tipped into a deep trough. A few months earlier, he had intimated to his other daughter, Jessica, that suicide was a possibility. He would “be gone forever,” she texted Andrea.
His work, the source of the status he cherished, had taken a devastating turn. For nearly a decade, he had counted primarily on a single client, albeit an exceedingly lucrative one. He’d been the chief political strategist to the man who became the president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, with whom he’d developed a highly personal relationship.