As 2018 wanes, I am reminded of the words of poet Edith Lovejoy Pierce who wrote, “We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year’s Day.” Every year we have the opportunity to write a new story, to change our story’s trajectory, or hopefully continue writing a story that means health and happiness in the New Year.
While considering the New Year and New Year’s Day, I took some time to review prolific events that happened on New Year’s Day. For example, Mohammed captured the city of Mecca in the year 630. Traveler’s checks went into circulation in London in 1772. Ellis Island began processing immigrants to the United States in 1892, the first college football game, called the Rose Bowl, was played in 1902, and Edwin Hubble announced his discovery of galaxies outside the Milky Way in 1925.
By far, the most important New Year’s Day in American history was January 1st, 1863. That was the day when President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. The Emancipation Proclamation was the product of many years in President Lincoln’s personal “story.” We can clearly see the proclamation’s inception in his speech at the Republican Convention in 1858. Lincoln said, “ ‘A house divided against itself cannot stand.’ I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved – I do not expect the house to fall – but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other.”
Two years later, Abraham Lincoln won the Presidency of the United States by a landslide in the Electoral College, despite only earning 39% of the popular vote. For the foreseeable future, it was clear Republican Presidents would continue to be elected, and it was reasonable for southern states to deduce that as a result, the country was more likely to become “all one thing” – free.
Lincoln hoped to persuade many southerners to maintain the Union instead of pursue secession in his first Inaugural Address. He also made it clear that he believed being President required him to preserve the Union, saying, “I therefore consider that, in the view of the Constitution and the laws, the Union is unbroken; and, to the extent of my ability, I shall take care, as the Constitution itself expressly enjoins upon me, that the laws of the Union be faithfully executed in all the States.” Southern states seceded, and the Civil War began.
Through 1862, Lincoln developed plans for the Emancipation Proclamation. He did not only want to issue a proclamation. He wanted to do it right. In her book, Team of Rivals, Doris Kearns Goodwin wrote, “For despite the continued criticism of his inaction on slavery, Lincoln kept his proclamation concealed until victory could offer the propitious moment. Everything depended on the success of his army.” Lincoln knew the benefits of military success and how important it was for the proclamation to be successful.
So he waited. He waited through the dark days of the Second Battle of Bull Run, when according to the New York Times, he could hear, “the deep peals of the artillery of the contending hosts which, having now changed location, are struggling for supremacy before the National Capital.” He waited until the success of the Union military forces at the Battle of Antietam, after which he announced his plans to issue the proclamation.
Some people doubted whether Lincoln would go through with it. But former slave and abolitionist leader Fredrick Douglass immediately understood the significance of Lincoln’s announcement, writing, “Abraham Lincoln may be slow… but Abraham Lincoln is not the man to reconsider, retract and contradict words and purposes solemnly proclaimed over his official signature… If he has taught us to confide in nothing else, he has taught us to confide in his word.”
Not only did Lincoln understand the importance military success would have for the proclamation, he also understood the significance of the words he used. He had multiple meetings with advisors and Cabinet members to discuss and dissect the proclamation before issuing it on January 1st, 1863. I especially like the words he used to close the proclamation. “And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution, upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God.”
I agree with a quote attributed to Angie Lynn, “Imagine if we treated each new dawn of each new day with the same reverence and joy as we do each new year…” I would add, imagine if we treated each new day as a day we were going to issue something as important as the Emancipation Proclamation.
How would we do it? Look to Lincoln. Lincoln was principled. He was persistent. He was patient. And he was purposeful. Seems a good place to start.
As you know, my Senate office is continuing to transition. If you have any additional thoughts or ideas, you can reach me or Glenda at 815-284-0045. My website is www.senatorstewart.com and it will be completed soon. We are adding a newsletter feature as well, so stay tuned!