By James Donahue
Every school child knows the story about Abraham Lincoln and the great American struggle
to free the slaves.
What the text books don't teach, and most adult Americans don't understand, is that
slavery was never abolished in America. What happened was a shifting from a landowner relationship with his "owned" workers,
to an industrial relationship of controlled workers in a capitalistic system.
The Civil War was a battle over political ideologies. The question of freeing slaves
was not the issue. The war was fought over the right of states to maintain autonomy, and decide for themselves issues like
slavery, as opposed to controls under a strong central government. That the Union Army won this battle, and opened the door
for cheap labor to serve the industrial revolution, appears to have been a wrong turn in American history.
Even Lincoln's famous Emancipation Proclamation, that many believe was a declaration that led to the end of slavery, has been misinterpreted.
Ron and Don Kennedy, in their book "The South was Right," report: "A reading of the
proclamation will show that Lincoln declared free those slaves who were held 'within any state or part of a State the people
whereof shall be in rebellion against the United States.' In other words, he declared free those slaves over whom he had no
The Kennedys go on to say: "Indeed the six parishes of Louisiana that were at that
time under Yankee control were specifically excluded from this great document of freedom, as were the forty-eight counties
designated as West Virginia! The proclamation states that these excepted areas are 'left precisely as if this proclamation
were not issued'."
A key to the thought processes going on among the American aristocrats at the time
may be found in the knowledge that Ulysses S. Grant's wife kept personal slaves throughout the war. Her slaves were not freed
until the 13th Amendment was enacted. Grant was quoted as saying that the slaves were maintained in his home because "good
help is so hard to come by these days." We wonder if he started that thread-worn cliché.
Indeed. The issue has always been cheap labor to do the work of the few wealthy individuals
who own and operate affairs of the nation.
The development of a workable steam engine prior to the Civil War launched the industrial
revolution. Coal miners, fruit pickers, factory workers and a wide variety of other laborers were needed. This demand intensified
after Henry Ford invented the concept of assembly line production.
My father, who grew up just after the turn of the 20th Century and lived through the
Great Depression years, talked about painting barns and picking strawberries in Kansas for a dollar a day. He worked 10-hour
days, and thought it was good money.
Indeed, a dollar seemed to buy a lot in those days, just as a wage of $80 a day seems
good to some people now.
When you look at the whole picture with an objective eye, however, you realize that
slavery still exists in America, but in a more subtle way than it did in 1861.
Slaves in those days, who were lucky enough to be placed in a good home, had their
needs provided for them. They worked without pay, but were given a place to live and sleep, they were fed and clothed. A smart
slave owner wanted his work force to be healthy and happy so the farm work was done on time. Unfortunately, not all slave
owners were benevolent and kind and the horror stories about the things that happened on these plantations are still remembered.
Setting human wickedness aside, the technical difference between "owned" slaves and
"free" laborers is that contemporary workers must spend the wages they earn to provide for themselves. Often, with both husband
and wife holding full-time jobs, and the children farmed off to day-care centers and public schools, families still lack the
means to buy food, clothing and shelter. The extra cost of buying a badly needed automobile to get people to and from their
jobs, paying taxes and insurance, and paying doctor bills, can be overwhelming.
True, the "free" worker has the independence to quit one job and seek another, when
economic times are good. And if he or she gets lucky, the new job might pay a few cents more an hour than the old one, or
offer a better health insurance package. But that is about the best we can hope for.
The concept of real freedom . . . the freedom that we can only dream about . . . used
to be dangled like the proverbial carrot in front of the mule. We called it retirement. What most people never realized was
that retirement benefit programs, including the federal Social Security system, were designed to provide only a few months
of payment before the "average" retired person died.
In other words, the slave system keeps everyone's noses to the grindstone until we
are worn out and of no more value to the masters we serve. We spend our lives slaving for a wealthy few that own and control
the corporation we labor for. There is little time to pursue our personal bliss.
That the life span of Americans has been on the increase in recent years has stirred
our government to push the time for drawing Social Security benefits a little farther out on the stick. While I was eligible
to draw Social Security at 62, my wife, who is two years younger than I am, had to wait until she was 65.
How many great artists, writers or inventors have been so caught up in the rush to
earn enough badly needed cash to provide for their families, they never get time to bring their creative talent to fruition?
With this thought in mind, I ask if Lincoln was really the Great Emancipator? Did
the Civil War free anybody? True, the outcome of the Civil War set the stage for equality among the blacks, but even that
turned out to be a lie. The blacks continue struggling for the things they were promised even to this day.
The concept of equality has been a fairy tale.
After the attacks of September 11, most Moslems and certainly people of Middle Eastern
origin are clearly not equal in the United States. We singled out the Japanese Americans and placed them in concentration
camps after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Ask the American Indians about equality. Or the Chinese and Irish laborers who slaved
for big business interests as the nation's railroads and factories went into production.
People who come to this country from other lands still pledge allegiance to our flag
and proclaim their gratitude. Indeed, living conditions for the masses are much worse in other parts of the world. But they
could have been so much more here.
All that we think we are as Americans, is an illusion.