Skip to main content

Where are we in the Shadows of the Great Emancipator?

February 19, 2013

Where are we in the Shadows of the Great Emancipator?

“[S]outherners often clinched their defense of slavery by pointing to the plight of British workers.”  –Wilfred Carsel  1

Paul Finkelman is the President William McKinley Distinguished Professor at Albany Law School in Albany, NY and the author and editor of more than 40 books.  Professor Finkeleman noted that Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, when combined with Sherman’s March to the Sea, liberated the greatest number of people in history, outdone only by Allies march into Berlin in WWII. 

Professor Finkelman dispelled the mythic image of a heroic Lincoln and replaced it with a fact-based analysis of Lincoln’s good sense and moral principles.  However, talk about his fairness and cunning may be attention misplaced. 

After federal troops were withdrawn from the South—an estimated two to three blacks were lynched each weak in the late 19th and 20th centuries.  Nationwide, the figure climbed to nearly 5,000. 2  Besides lynching, many blacks suffered disproportionate imprisonment, and many more trapped in poverty and could not leaved overpriced slums.34  Before and after the Civil War, one might say African Americans were within a cultural gulag.567

 “Emancipator” implies a freedom that arguably never came.  Thus, society would do better to remember:

The European Union, a political entity of 350 million individuals, has a prison population (including violent and nonviolent offenders) of roughly only 300,000.  This is one-third the number of prisoners which America, a country of 274 million, incarcerates for just nonviolent offenders.8

In addition, it may be profitable to examine the source of labor in the products we use every day.  Kevin Bale is one of the world’s leading experts on contemporary slavery and he estimates there are 27 million slaves in the world today.  America is a large product-purchasing nation so it has moral obligation to ensure world trade does not rest on cruel labor. 9

I like Paul Finkleman’s talk on Lincoln.  I like how he noted the concern Lincoln had with ending slavery.  I just think any talk on slavery is incomplete if it ends with the Civil war, and does not include cheap labor or prison labor—among other things much beyond the scope of this op-ed. 

Works Cited

1. Oastler, Richard. [1835] 1972. Eight Letters to the Duke of Wellington: A Petition to

the House of Commons: and a Letter to the Editor of the Agricultural and Industrial

Magazine. London: James Cochrane & Co. Reprinted in Richard Oastler:

King of Factory Children: Six Pamphlets, 1835-I 861. New York: Arno Press. [ 1841 – 18441 1968. Fleet Papers. 4 vols. New York: Greenwood Press



4. Bertocchi, Graziella, and Arcangelo Dimico. Slavery, Education, and Inequality., 2010. EconLit. 17 Feb. 2013 .

5. McGlynn, Frank, and Seymour Drescher eds. The Meaning of Freedom: Economics, Politics, and Culture After Slavery. Pitt Latin American Series. Pittsburgh and London: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1992. EconLit. 17 Feb. 2013 .

6. Persky, J. (1998). Wage slavery. History of Political Economy, 30(4), 627-651. Retrieved from

7. Temperley, Howard, ed. After Slavery: Emancipation and its Discontents. Studies in Slave and Post-Slave Societies and Cultures. Slavery and Abolition, Vol. 21, no. 2, August 2000. London: Cass; distributed by International Specialized Book Services, Portland, Oreg, 2000. EconLit. 17 Feb. 2013 .


9. Kevin Bales, Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy, University of California Press, 1999. 

For more information please see: