Paul Greenberg

Soon he would establish military tribunals, and have the most eloquent of Northern sympathizers with the Southern cause, a prominent Ohio politician named Clement L. Vallandigham, picked up and deposited beyond the Confederate lines.

He would order Southern ports blockaded, and his generals would suppress various newspapers for various periods of time - the Chicago Times, New York World, New Orleans Crescent, a couple of papers in Baltimore (the South and the Gazette), the Philadelphia Evening Journal . . . .

In perhaps his most controversial edict, the president would emancipate all the slaves in Southern territory - a move that that is still guaranteed to rankle unreconstructed Confederates at every Civil War roundtable. He would be called a hypocrite for freeing the slaves only where he had no power to do so, and not freeing them where he could.

His only legal justification for such a radical move was a narrow one: the wartime powers of the president. Which was why the Emancipation Proclamation emancipated only slaves in territory held by those at war with the United States of America.

Legally, the proclamation changed nothing, not at first. But all recognized its significance. Morally and politically, it changed everything. A thrill went through the country - and the world. This was no longer a war just to save the Union, but a war to set men free. And as the Union troops advanced, so did freedom.

The 16th president of the United States had a gift for putting complicated constitutional issues simply, and letting the people judge. "With public sentiment," he once said, "nothing can fail; without it, nothing can succeed." His words struck home - in the Lincoln-Douglas debates, at Gettysburg, in the biblical rhythms of the Second Inaugural, in his quips and stories.

In the end, he would manage to win the most crucial battle of all, the one for public opinion. Which is another reason why I'm writing this column on the 197th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln in Little Rock, Ark., U.S.A. - not C.S.A.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.


 


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