America has undergone incredible hardships as a nation. No issue has
had more impact on the development of the American definition of freedom than
the issue of slavery. Did the Constitution specify which men were created
equal? Surprisingly enough the phrase "all men are created equal with certain
inalienable rights" did not mean what it does today.
The nation was divided on
the issue of slavery and the rights of the black man in its early stages as a
growing republic. Abraham Lincoln was a brave pioneer who dared to rub his hand
against the grain of slavery bringing the original ideals of America's founders
to a new light. He was a man who felt he was witnessing a slow decay in the
foundation of the American principles. His views were not met with unanimous
applause from the American people.
He battled against an equally strong
constituency the slave owner's and their presidential candidate, Judge Douglas.Abraham's grounds for the abolition of slavery were based on the words that
were scripted in the Declaration of Independence and the meaning of those words
as they related to American citizens and the celebration of the 4th of July.
Many American's argued that the Negroes were not entitled to the same rights
because they were not legally citizens of the United States of America. This
issue was dealt with in the ruling of the Dredd Scott case. Lincoln points out
that the ruling of the case was based on historical fact that was wrongly
Judge Taney, who presided over the case stated that "Negroes were no
part of the people who made, or for whom was made, the Declaration of
Independence, or the Constitution of the United States."This statement was
later refuted by Judge Curtis who shows that "in five of the then thirteen
statesfree negroes were voters, and, in proportion to their numbers, had the
same part in making the Constitution that the white people had."The fact that
Negroes were citizens who participated in the framing of the Constitution gave
them the same freedoms as the white men who helped shape the American ideals
classifying the Negro as a "citizen."
The strongest persuasion that Abraham could have possibly given the American
people were the words that the Declaration of Independence so powerfully spoke.
Lincoln fully understood the phrase "all men were created equal" as pertaining
to the entire human family. He explained:
"they intended to include all men, but they did not
intend to declare all men equal in all respects. They
did not mean to say all were equal in color, size,
intellect, moral developments, or social capacity."
This statement was perfectly logical. The Declaration goes on to state that the
"inalienable rights" that human beings have are the rights to "life, liberty and
the pursuit of happiness." This was the idea which Abraham believed was the
"standard maxim for free society.
"Abraham even used a parallel from the Bible."'As your Father in Heaven is perfect, be ye also perfect.'" This quote from
Matthew 5:48 was used to illustrate that God had set an impossible goal for us
to attain, and in the same way the framers of the Constitution and writers of
the Declaration of Independence gave mankind an endeavor to give equality to all
mankind.Douglas argued that the writers only meant to give the British
citizens in America equal rights to the British citizens then residing in Great
Britain. Douglas' argument for this hypothesis was:
"'they the writers referred to the white race alone,
and not to the African, when they declared all men
to have been created equal'"
It was terribly wrong because white' did not necessarily mean British. Where
did this statement leave white immigrants from Germany and France who were not
necessarily British'? The Declaration was not meant as a mere statement of
liberation from Britain but as the basis of a government that would uphold the
belief that the people deserved to be free from a King or other form of rule
which infringed on those rights that mankind deserves.
In fact, what worth was the Declaration eighty years after it was
written if it's only purpose was as statement of independence from Great
Britain? What's more, the Declaration of Independence would have given no
freedoms to men residing in America if it had read, as Douglas implied, "'We
hold these truths to be self-evident that all British subjects who were on this
continent eighty-one years ago, were created equal to all British subjects born
and then residing in Great Britain.'"To the citizen of the United States, the
Fourth of July would have come to mean absolutely nothing if freedom was granted
to an exclusive group of people.
Though Americans were divided on the issue of Negro rights and their
right to citizenship, an almost unanimous fear was the possibility of an
increase in interracial marriages following the abolition of slavery. Abraham
agreed with the separation of the races when it came to mixed blood. He gave
Americans numerical statistics which showed that interracial marriages were
significantly less within free states. The end of slavery (and thus separation
of whites and blacks) "is the only perfect preventive of amalgamation.
reasoning was based on the frequency of mulatto births arising from slaves and
their masters in comparison to the number of mulatto births that were among free
states. The mixing of the blood was occurring because the Negroes and whites
were in forced contact. The elimination of an almost universal fear was yet
another argument for the separation of the races.
Although he was not a modern day' civil right's activist, Lincoln's
logic eventually led to the abolition of slavery, tragically driving the nation
into a state of civil war. However, the American ideals which he embraced have
made their way into our modern societies standards leading to civil right's
programs which are constantly being reformed. Immigrants, of all nationalities
and colors now look to America as a symbol of great ideals.
Abraham said more
prophetically than he could imagine that the American ideals of freedom should
be "constantly spreading and deepening its influence, and augmenting the
happiness and value of life to all peoples of all colors everywhere." As a
result of his push for the preservation of the American ideal of freedom,
slavery no longer exists and is even considered unconstitutional on the grounds
that it is in direct contradiction with the conception that "all men are created