I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves, within said designated States and parts of States, are, and henceforth shall be, free; and that the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and navy authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons. And I hereby enjoin upon the people so declared to be free to abstain from all violence; and I recommend to them that in all cases, when allowed, they labor faithfully for reasonable wages.
But, inasmuch as the Almighty has created His children of various hues, I plead again, that if one of these children be cast in an image of pearl, another in the image of ebony, another in the image of bronze, if their work be meritorious, then should they receive social and public recognition for their works sake. Those works demonstrate beyond all cavil that the souls enshrined within those caskets emanate from the same divine source and partake of the same indefinable essence of infinitude.
To-day Massachusetts, and the whole of the American republic, from the border of Maine to the Pacific slopes, and from the Lakes to the Gulf, stand upon the immutable and everlasting principles of equal and exact justice. The days of unrequited labor are numbered with the past. Fugitive slave laws are only remembered as relics of that barbarism which John Wesley pronounced the sum of all villainies, and whose knowledge of its blighting effects was matured by his travels in Georgia and the Carolinas.
The black man will not be faded out by miscegenation. The fate of the Indian, and the supposed fate of all weaker races in the presence of the stronger, will not be the fortune of the American negro. He has his great defense already in his hand. He is the peer at the ballot-box and in the courts of his white fellow-citizen. For the present, through his ignorance, he is made his tool, or is wronged out of his rights. He may make merchandise his right of suffrage for a while; but it is his, and every year he will come to have a higher conception of its significance.
The only written theology of the negro is found in the plantation melodies; what are they but the plaintive strains of weeping faith which came from hearts in vital union with God? He has an absolute faith in a personal Saviour who, only, has power on earth to forgive sin, and in a Holy Spirit upon whom he relies as the witness with his spirit that he is a child of God.
The old South rested everything on slavery and agriculture, unconscious that these could neither give nor maintain healthy growth. The new South presents a perfect democracy, the oligarchs leading into the popular movementa social system compact and closely knitted, less splendid on the surface, but stronger at the corea hundred farms for every plantation, fifty homes for every palace, and a diversified industry that meets the complex needs of this complex age.
When I recall the negro as I knew him during the existence of slavery, in the Carolinas, in the States of the Gulf, and in those along the Mississippiwhen I behold the improvement that has been brought about in his being and condition since his liberationI feel bound to say that he is doing as well as could be expected, and to express the opinion that he will do yet better under a larger liberty. He has been transformed within a generation, and the work of transformation will go on steadily, if it be not impeded.
The new South is enamored of her new work. Her soul is stirred with the breath of a new life. The light of a grander day is falling fair on her face. She is thrilling, sir, with the consciousness of growing power and prosperity. As she stands full-statured and equal among the peoples of the earth, breathing the keen air and looking out upon an expanding horizon, she understands that her emancipation came because in the inscrutable wisdom of God her honest purpose was crossed and her brave armies were beaten.
There is a good day coming for the South. Through darkness and tears and blood she has sought it. It has been an unconscious Via Dolorosa. But, in the end, it will be worth all it has cost. Her institutions before were deadly. She nourished death in her bosom. The greater her secular prosperity the more sure was her ruin. Every year of delay but made the change more terrible. Now, by an earthquake, the evil is shaken down. Her own historians in a better day shall write that from that day the sword cut off the cancer she began to find her health.
During the darkest days of slavery on every plantation there were Christian negroes who could be trusted anywhere and with anything, so much so that when the war came their masters felt free to go to the front and leave their treasures, their wives, their daughters and helpless children in the absolute care and protection of these negroes, and their trust was not betrayed. To-day you will find in these black belts the most honorable marriages, and the tie in many cases sacredly kept, churches disciplining members for immoralities, and ministers, ignorant men, giving their trumpet no uncertain sound upon these great principles.
The white children have been brought up on dusky bosoms and love them. It is caste that alone creates an offense, and this is unchristian and must die out, as will every other indignity to humanity and to God. The black man, wearing his unfaded and God-given badge of race, equally cultivated, equally rich and self-possessed, will live beside his white neighbor and enjoy the opportunities and bounties of a common heaven equally with his Saxon fellow-citizen, both alike unconscious of the different livery each one wears. This condition of things is seen in all portions of Europe, and will, ere long, be witnessed on American soil.
On January 1, 1863, went forth the decree of emancipation, the proclamation of which startled the world with its just magnanimity and challenged the admiration of an onlooking universe. Five millions of people, helpless, worse than poor because of their ignorance, made the air resonant with their songs of praise. Along the dusty turnpikes men, women, and children journeyed with joybut where? The worlds history does not furnish a parallel case. But with undaunted courage they faced the world, wrested from the field its stores, and, under the star of nominal liberty, they are marching on to-day to a higher destiny and to an exalted plane of heroic endeavor undreamed of by their liberator.
To liberty and enfranchisement is as far as law can carry the negro. The rest must be left to conscience and common sense. It should be left to those among whom his lot is cast, with whom he is indissolubly connected and whose prosperity depends upon their possessing his intelligent sympathy and confidence. Faith has been kept with him in spite of calumnious assertions to the contrary, by those who assume to speak for us or by frank opponents. Faith will be kept with him in the future, if the South holds her reason and integrity.
No land ever, even in war, did so brave and bold a thing as to take from the plantation a million black men who could not read the Constitution or the spelling-book, and who could hardly tell one hand from the other, and permit them to vote, in the sublime faith that liberty, which makes a man competent to vote, would render him fit to discharge the duties of the voter. And I beg to say, as I am bound to say, that when this one million unwashed black men came to vote, though much disturbance occurredas much disturbance always occurs upon great changesthey proved themselves worthy of the trust that had been confided to them.
Through fire and blood freedom and citizenship came to us. The conflict was waged for the preservation of the Union, but back of all of that were the prayers, the tears, and the heart throbs of the millions in the bonds of chattel slavery. We stand to-day in the presence of the American people, and with uncovered heads before the statue of Abraham Lincoln to celebrate the emancipation from slavery in the District of Columbia. This occasion should be a suggestive one to us. We should realize that awful grandeur in the responsibility of American citizenship, and we should read our duty on the starry firmament of the old flag. This is our country, our home. We know no cause but the American cause; no flag but the American flag! Let others appeal to England and the nations of the earth, but our appeal is to the American people and to their sense of fair play.
But, as the storm-dipping eagle nurtures her eaglets amid the thunder-scarred crags and peaks of the loftiest mountains, and teaches them to float with joy on the lightning-torn bosom of the blackest storm, so had the Almighty, while the storms of wars horrors were marshaling their forces of awful wrath, raised up the man of liberty amid the majestic forests of a western home. Like ancient Israel, the prayers, tears, and groans of mothers and sisters had gone up a pitiful memorial to God. And when the thunders of cannon, on land and sea, began to shock the continent with their fearful din, forth came the choice of Godthe man of libertyAbraham Lincoln. Notwithstanding that various official mistakes were made in the commencement of his administration, never has there a greater man graced the American soil, nor the whole circumference of Gods footstool, than Abraham Lincoln.
Let this day be to us as sacred as was the night of the Passover to ancient Israel. Let the anthems of your praise ring out with joyous liberty until the glad sound shall be caught up by the hoary heights of the western mountains, Lincoln and freedom! By the mountains let the electric words be hurled down to the embattled hillsthence, down to the lowlands, through the shaded aisles of dark-plumed forests, until the skies shall catch the glad soundLincoln, beyond the stars, and freedom inseparable now and forever. Thus, hurled from glory to glory, and from age to age, shall these words pass on until the unsightly piece of ebony, quarried from the depths of slaverys pit, shall prove a priceless jewel gleaming in the diadem of humanity.
During the war, when he knew that his liberty was the gage, when he knew the battle was to decide whether he should or should not be free, although the country for hundreds of miles was stripped bare of able-bodied white men, and though property and the lives of the women and children were at the mercy of the slave, there never was an instance of arson, or assassination, or rapine, or conspiracy, and there never was an uprising. They stood still, conscious of their power, and said, We will see what God will do for us. Such a history has no parallel. And since they began to vote, I beg leave to say, in closing this subject, that they have voted just as wisely and patriotically as their late masters did before the emancipation.