In this excerpt from a 2008 interview with Brian Lamb, Dr. Thomas DiLorenzo addresses Lincoln and emancipation:
LAMB: Did Lincoln free the slaves?
DILORENZO: Well, the 13th amendment freed the slaves, to be sure. Lincoln late in his term did support the 13th amendment. And so when the states ratified the 13th amendment, that’s what freed the slaves. During the war, a lot of slaves freed themselves as two huge armies went through and created anarchy and chaos, a lot of them freed themselves. And of course, the Emancipation Proclamation, who anyone could read online or off-line, specifically exempted all of the areas of the United States that were in control of the union at the time. It was even so specific as to mention each parish in Lewisiana where the Union Army was in charge at the time of the Emancipation Proclamation. And so it didn’t apply to what was called ”rebel territory,” and so it literally didn’t have the ability to free anybody. And besides that, the president at this time didn’t have the ability to end slavery. There would have been a constitutional amendment, which is what happened eventually. But that’s one of the great myths of American history, I think. And I was surprised, by the way, I went to the new Lincoln presidential museum in Springfield, Illinois which is really a remarkable technological feat. It’s a beautiful museum. And they have the face of an ex-slave on a big screen and a voice-over saying what I just said to you saying that, you know, calling Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation a sham because it didn’t free anybody. And I was frankly shocked that they would put this up in the Lincoln museum because I’ve gotten all kind of criticism from merely stating the obvious. And at the time, there were newspapers in Europe and America that were saying this. There were abolitionists in the north who were condemning Lincoln because they thought this was a fraud. They thought, you know, he says he wants to emancipate the slaves, but look at the document, it doesn’t emancipate anybody. It just – it only applies to rebel territory where they had no ability to emancipate anyone.
Crossroads Comments: DiLorenzo downplays Lincoln’s role in pushing forward the Thirteenth Amendment, which was the final blow to slavery. However, he overlooks Lincoln’s role in freeing slaves earlier. Lincoln supported state initiatives for emancipation in Louisiana, Tennessee, Arkansas, West Virginia, Maryland, and Missouri; he went so far as to frame an unsuccessful proposal in Kentucky; and, of course, he worked for emancipation in the District of Columbia. Moreover, contrary to his claim, the Emancipation freed slaves at the time and later, in the wake of Union military advances. DiLorenzo would have been on stronger ground had he also discussed congressional initiatives in this regard, but by simply focusing on two measures, he offers a misleading understanding of how freedom came from Lincoln’s perspective. That said, DiLorenzo does credit enslaved blacks and antislavery whites with playing a role in the process as well, and that is a welcome corrective to assumptions that it was all Lincoln’s doing.
DiLorenzo argues that Lincoln really didn’t have the power to free the slaves. It is useful to recall that when one returns to his arguments about Lincoln, peaceful abolition, and the beginning of the war, where Lincoln is blamed for not doing more to secure peaceful abolition (although he’s also criticized for opposing secession). It’s hard to reconcile these three positions:
1. Lincoln should have sought a peaceful path to emancipation.
2. As president Lincoln didn’t really have the power to free anyone.
3. Lincoln should have let the southern states go, thus perpetuating slavery in those states.
When you add to this DiLorenzo’s portrayal of Lincoln as a tyrant, things become even more confusing.
Finally, read carefully: DiLorenzo states that the Emancipation Proclamation “specifically exempted all of the areas of the United States that were in control of the union at the time.” At first, you may wonder why I’m drawing attention to that wording. After all, the four border states that did not secede were not affected by the Emancipation Proclamation. Then again, neither were portions of the so-called Confederate States of America, right? Yes, yet again, the Confederacy turns invisible when DiLorenzo speaks of the Civil War. Nor does DiLorenzo offer the notion of military necessity as both expanding Lincoln’s presidential powers while at the same time defining where he could not employ that doctrine (thus limiting his power). Lincoln himself explained as much to Salmon P. Chase on September 2, 1863:
Knowing your great anxiety that the emancipation proclamation shall now be applied to certain parts of Virginia and Louisiana which were exempted from it last January, I state briefly what appear to me to be difficulties in the way of such a step. The original proclamation has no constitutional or legal justification, except as a military measure. The exemptions were made because the military necessity did not apply to the exempted localities. Nor does that necessity apply to them now any more than it did then. If I take the step must I not do so, without the argument of military necessity, and so, without any argument, except the one that I think the measure politically expedient, and morally right? Would I not thus give up all footing upon constitution or law? Would I not thus be in the boundless field of absolutism? Could this pass unnoticed, or unresisted? Could it fail to be perceived that without any further stretch, I might do the same in Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Missouri; and even change any law in any state? Would not many of our own friends shrink away appalled? Would it not lose us the elections, and with them, the very cause we seek to advance?
Stay tuned for dinner and dessert.