Kirkpatrick Sale is a the author of twelve books that include SDS: The Rise and Development of the Students for a Democratic Society, Conquest of Paradise: Christopher Columbus and the Columbian Legacy, Rebels Against the Future: The Luddites and their War on the Industrial Revolution, and After Eden: The Evolution of Human Domination. He has been a contributor to magazines and newspapers including The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, The Nation, The American Conservative and Chronicles. Sale, a resident of Mount Pleasant, has a new book titled "Emancipation Hell: The tragedy wrought by the Emancipation Proclamation 150 years ago," where he brings to light a perspective on President Abraham Lincoln not often examined in popular discussion of the 16th President of the United States. With the recent release of a major motion picture film about President Lincoln, and the year 2012 being the 150th anniversary of his Emancipation Proclamation, Sale sat down with ABC News 4 producer Mike Wadsworth to talk about his new book and how he hopes people will reconsider the way this significant period of American history is viewed.
Why did you write this book?
"It's Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. He's the one who created it – Shoved it down the throats of his cabinet and he even knew that it probably wasn't legal. He just did it by himself. The reason is there's been so much hagiography about Lincoln – Everybody makes him so saintly, and that the Emancipation Proclamation was such a wonderful thing he did and Abe freed the slaves – Well he didn't. That's something that people don't know, so I felt I had to write a little book to explain it all.
There's this portrait that the average person has of President Lincoln. What's the portrait that you wanted to paint by doing a book like this?
Well, I don't want to take anything away from a true Lincoln. I'm just pointing out that this was a great mistake that he made. It was a tragedy that he created all by himself because he didn't free any of the slaves. Slaves in the South were not under Union control, they were under Confederate control. So, he didn't free those. And in the border states, he refused to apply the Emancipation Proclamation, so he didn't free them either. What he did was create a mess. There were many slave states around the world in the 19th century. They all got rid of Slavery without a tragic Civil War – They all did it. And mostly it was because they included compensation to the owners of the slaves, so that they wouldn't be left destitute like the people in the South were. When the war was over, both black and white were poor. They didn't have any place to go, any place to do because there was no compensation. Most of the other places also made previsions for putting the freed slaves back into the economy in some way. Either training them for one thing or another, or establishing wages for certain jobs. The Emancipation Proclamation did nothing of that. And here is the interesting thing – in December, a month before he issued that Proclamation, he went to Congress and he asked for an Amendment to the Constitution which would abolish slavery, but provide compensation to the owners, work on some way of training and educating the freed slaves, and provide colonization. If they weren't happy they could go to colonies in South America, in several different places, and the Caribbean. There were plenty of planters in the Caribbean who would've been delighted to have a whole bunch of freed slaves. They paid adequate wages. It would've been an excellent solution, but [Lincoln] didn't press that at Congress and Congress just thumbed its nose at it and said, "we're not gonna' do that." The Radical Republicans in Congress, back when there were Radical Republicans, wouldn't have anything to do with it and they didn't want to pay compensation because that would mean coming out of the North's coffers, but on the other hand those coffers had been filled, over the preceding years of this country, with Southern trade, mostly New Orleans and Charleston – providing the Government with the money used to run the country. But they didn't want to give that money back to the South. They wanted to destroy the South, and this is a terrible story and it's never told – It's never told. When I went to school, I didn't learn this stuff. This is all new to me, but it's there. It's quite obvious in the record. If you take off the rosy glasses that you look at Lincoln with, and you look at the man he was, on like this new movie that's out which makes him such a hero and freeing the slaves and all that, which he didn't do. And the 13th amendment didn't have much force until the war was won.
Lincoln was assassinated in 1865. How different would it have been if he were alive in those years following the Emancipation Proclamation?
"[Lincoln] was a compromiser and I do think that he would have compromised a good deal and he would have forced the Congress to compromise. I don't think he would have been particularly harsh on the South and I do think that he would have approved of a Freedman's Bureau to help the free slaves as much as they could, but they didn't do much. [The Freedman's Bureau] did a few hospitals, they did a few schools, but what would have been ideal would be to create ‘40 acres and a mule' for each slave. They couldn't have done it on Southern land. There wasn't enough land, but they could've done it in the West. There was nothing but empty lands in the West and they could have worked out a scheme, it would've cost money, but not that much, to give each one of the freed slave families 40 acres and mule or some very much like it. As it was, the freed slaves had no where to go and all they had was a plot of land where the plantation had been and instead of growing rice, they had to grow their food there. To make any money they had to be sharecroppers and give their crop to the former plantation owner who would pay very little to get it.
100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, Martin King, in the famous speech in 1963 on the Washington Mall, said "We are not yet free." That's 100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, "We are not yet free."
Let's talk about that point. You reference Frederick Douglas, 30 to 40 years after the Proclamation, saying ‘We are still not free." Then 100 years later, ‘We are still not free,' so to bring that into modern times, how do you see, in short, the Emancipation Proclamation affecting race relations today?
"Well, it destroyed race relations for easily a Century. Of course it had nothing to do with the advancements made in the 1960s, but that's when there became some balance and some more power on behalf of blacks in this country. But until then, [blacks] were not free, and Southerners were not particularly happy about this either. They didn't have slaves, but they didn't have much else! The South was very poor and still is poor to this day, compared to the rest of the nation. The Proclamation didn't have anything to do except poison race relations, along with the so-called Reconstruction Period, poison race relations, well to today in many places, although much is improved. It sowed the seeds of discord and enmity and poverty is what it did. And I hope on this 150th anniversary [of the Emancipation Proclamation], people will stop and take time and reflect on that and say, "What a terrible period in our country's history that Proclamation caused." – A tragedy as I call it in the book.
Talk about the factors, not always discussed, in which the races were still separated following the Proclamation.
"What happens after the war is that new Governments are created in the states with considerable black representation, but a great participation from carpetbaggers from the North. Many of the Governors, most of the Governors, were carpetbaggers from the North trying to get rich in a period of immense corruption on state and national levels. The economy was in tatters. The politics was in tatters at the same time, but at that time, the aim of the North was effectively to bleed the South of all it had - to impose on them railroads that they wanted to build through the South, owned by Northerners. In fact, everything that was sold in the South came from the North. There's the famous story of the guy in 1900 who was being buried. Everything he was being buried in – his clothes, the coffin itself, all of which could've come from the South, was made in the North. That was the scheme that the North imposed on the South. [The North] wanted to punish the South for its rebellion and they didn't want to just let it go and back and happy without paying a price. That was the whole thinking of the North and unfortunately that's the kind of mindset that continues even now. The Yankees will look with a little scorn and distain upon the South. Although many of them, I can testify as one, have come to live in the South, but there is still kind of a general attitude of Northern mindset of thinking the South is secondary. Obviously that was a result of how they fought after the war – A war that, as I say, was unique in the history of freeing slaves in the western hemisphere. The English empire, the French empire, the Dutch empire – they all got rid of slavery without war, but Lincoln had to do it with the war.
Another point about Lincoln is that he is the one who started the war by sending a ship of men and material into Charleston Harbor. He wanted this – He wanted to have this war. He thought that they would be able to wipe out the South in a few months. He didn't have any idea the resilience that there was in the South at that time. He created this awful, awful war and just so that he could have a unified nation. In his mind, the United States would be like the unified states of Europe. Germany had recently been unified. Italy was on the way to being unified. Those were modern nations of his time, and he wanted the United States to be one of them. And the Republican Party representing the industrial interests, also wanted it to be that way because then it would be a strong, centralized, wealthy, government. So, it was in their interest that Lincoln was serving.
You talk about, at one point, Lincoln made the abolishment of slavery the number one cause of the war when it really wasn't.
"That's one effect that the Proclamation did have. Until then, the war was theoretically all about preserving the Union. The Republican Congress in 1861 had even proposed an amendment to the Constitution making slavery forever. They weren't trying to get rid of slavery, and the South wasn't particularly all involved in preserving slavery either – they wanted to protect their way of life and their economy. That's what they wanted, but Lincoln didn't want that and the Proclamation, as a war measure, was intended to cause uprising on the plantations so that the blacks would take over the plantations and they wouldn't deliver food to the Confederate army. That was really what was in Lincoln's mind even though he doesn't come out and say so, but what the Proclamation did was ultimately give a new cause for the war. Initially the Northern soldiers said, "I don't want to fight to free these Negroes. That's not what I'm here for." As time went on, and as more and more abolitionist sentiment grew in the North, that became the purpose of the Northern army - to get rid of slavery and to free blacks. Once they freed them, they did everything they could to keep them from going north because they didn't want to live with them and they made that very clear. But they had a new cause – a battle cry of freedom, suddenly in 1863, that they hadn't had before. What that led to was more savagery and murdering of civilians as well as soldiers then there had been before. Sherman and his folks were all full of this great cause that they suddenly had, and they felt free to just ravage the South, to kill civilians, burn down whole cities, as they never would have without the impetus of the Proclamation."