Documents in: Bahasa Indonesia Deutsch Español Français Italiano Japanese Polski Português Russian Chinese Tagalog
International Communist League
Home Spartacist, theoretical and documentary repository of the ICL, incorporating Women & Revolution Workers Vanguard, biweekly organ of the Spartacist League/U.S. Periodicals and directory of the sections of the ICL ICL Declaration of Principles in multiple languages Other literature of the ICL ICL events

Subscribe to Workers Vanguard

View archives

Printable version of this article

Workers Vanguard No. 1021

5 April 2013

Spartacist Forum

150 Years Since the Emancipation Proclamation

Finish the Civil War!

Part One

The following is a presentation, edited for publication, by Spartacist League speaker Brian Manning at a March 23 New York City forum.

The Commander-in-Chief of bloody U.S. imperialism was inaugurated again a couple of months ago, and he cynically repeated the words of Abraham Lincoln and the Declaration of Independence—fine words about fighting for justice and equality. But Barack Obama is Commander-in-Chief of a capitalist system long into its imperialist epoch of decay. Today, racist U.S. imperialism continues to carry out what has been more than a century of pillage and war across the globe, brutally exploiting labor at home and abroad while qualitatively arresting wider social and economic development. The American capitalist rulers are the main enemy of the world’s working people and oppressed, as the millions of dead bodies from Hiroshima to Korea to Vietnam to Iraq to Afghanistan silently attest.

In 1852 Frederick Douglass said, “There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States at this very hour.” Substitute “ruling class” for “people” and it holds true today. But in the interim there was a great revolution in this country—the Second American Revolution. The Civil War was the last great, progressive act of the American bourgeoisie. To further the consolidation of industrial capitalism, at a time when the exploitation of free labor represented an historical advance, the North was compelled to destroy the system of chattel slavery in the South. Slavery has been smashed, but the legacy of slavery, racial oppression, lives on.

The foundations of Obama’s current residence and indeed the foundations of capitalist America were built by the labor of black slaves. The election of the first black president in history has done nothing and will do nothing to relieve the continuing nightmare of racial oppression for the mass of the black population. That oppression is structurally embedded in American capitalism and will not be overcome short of socialist revolution.

Obama’s liberal apologists, including those on the left who consider themselves socialists, like the International Socialist Organization (ISO) and Socialist Alternative, make excuses for Obama. They complain that Obama’s hands are tied, that he can’t do anything because if he does the right wing will say he was doing it for black people. Well, Obama’s hands aren’t tied! The hands of the working class are tied, chained to the racist capitalist Democratic Party by trade-union misleaders who preach that the Democrats are the lesser evil. Obama likes to appeal for unity—one nation, one people. But this is a class-divided country—the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. And the two classes have no common interests. In this capitalist country, the head of the government always represents the ruling class. Obama represents the system that is based on exploitation, oppression and war. The cynical sops he throws out are so much poisonous pabulum to fool the gullible or satisfy the sycophants.

With the release of the Lincoln movie, it was inevitable that there would be favorable comparisons of Lincoln and Obama. But we are talking apples and oranges. Abraham Lincoln was president in a different epoch, when capitalism was historically progressive, when for a short time the interests of the nascent bourgeoisie coincided with the interests of black people in their fight against slavery and racist oppression, when the triumph of capitalism despite all the horrors inherent in that system of exploitation meant, as Abraham Lincoln put it, “a new birth of freedom.” Obama does not represent the culmination of the fight for black freedom but the effort of a retrograde system to preserve its barbaric rule by placing a black man at the helm.

One hundred and fifty years ago, when Lincoln was president, the capitalist system was different—not prettier, not benign, but compelled by history to eliminate a more backward economic system. The Union armies, black and white, began the task of ending black oppression by burning out the system of slavery. But the task of achieving full equality for black people still remains. The special oppression born of slavery will be destroyed only through a class-struggle fight against that oppression and the system that perpetuates it—capitalism. We fight for the full integration of black people into an egalitarian socialist society—revolutionary integration. It is up to the multiracial working class, led by its most conscious elements forged together in a revolutionary vanguard party, to finish the job. That’s why we say: Finish the Civil War!

The Civil War: A Social Revolution

An antiquated social order does not cede its place to a new order without resistance—not today, not ever. A change in social regimes presupposes the harshest form of class struggle, i.e., revolution. The American Civil War was the most titanic and bloody of all social struggles during the 19th century. That struggle and the changes it wrought in the social and economic system, particularly in regard to the black population, set the stage for the American socialist revolution today. It was of decisive significance because the first American Revolution, in 1776, didn’t accomplish all of the tasks demanded of the bourgeoisie, specifically, national unification under a common political economy. It did not answer the question of who was to have political and economic supremacy: the slavocracy or the bourgeoisie. The first American Revolution was born of a compromise that gave the slavocracy an inordinate amount of power.

Compromise, that’s what the American system is all about, that’s how change comes about, right? The president of Emory University in Atlanta recently lauded the compromise that left black people enslaved and counted as three-fifths of a human being. But I bet the slave, shackled and whipped in perpetuity, didn’t think it was much of a compromise.

Despite pervasive racist attitudes among all social classes in the North, the compelling historic interests of Northern capital, expressed in the founding of the Republican Party as explicitly anti-slavery, led to a war against the southern slavocracy. The Radical program eventually became government policies. The armies of the Confederacy were defeated on the battlefields of the Civil War, and the political and economic power of the slaveowners’ oligarchy was shattered. The bourgeois dictatorship set up during the war was consolidated and the republic remodeled into conformity with the class aims and interests of the bourgeoisie. The way was paved for the exploitation of the North American continent and the world by American capital.

The North’s victory was possible only through the emancipation of the millions of black chattel slaves and the arming of 200,000 of them in a war that destroyed the slave system. Today, the descendants of those slaves form a key component of the American proletariat, which will be the gravedigger of capitalism. The joint struggle of blacks and whites together has been a key motor force for social progress in this country, from the liberal-led civil rights movement that resulted in the end of de jure segregation to the massive class battles—many led by reds—that led to the formation of the integrated CIO unions.

In the 19th century, the Civil War and Reconstruction constituted the most far-reaching example of that joint struggle. The turbulent decade following the Civil War was one of interracial bourgeois democracy in the South, carried out by the freedmen and their white allies and protected by federal troops, many of them black. This period, known as Radical Reconstruction, was the most egalitarian experiment in U.S. history. A hundred and fifty years after the fact, the bourgeoisie wants to bury the truth about the Civil War. They would like to blot out any record of the fact that a social revolution occurred, that armies of black former slaves bloodily suppressed white racist armies. The bourgeoisie wants to paint an image of the war as a tragic conflict, a purely military affair, and to extol the virtues of Lincoln the gifted and wily compromiser, the kindly Father Abraham who freed the slaves.

Because of the reality of black oppression today, people generally don’t appreciate the significance of the Emancipation Proclamation. Black people today are no longer slaves, but neither are they free. The war and its results were a good thing. It was a social revolution in so far as labor is concerned. Slavery was destroyed. It is just unfortunate that it did not come sooner and that its job was not done more thoroughly.

The Northern bourgeoisie was reluctant to wage revolutionary warfare against the slavocracy, and afterward they made their peace with the Southern propertied classes and their minions at the expense of the emancipated blacks. The period after the destruction of the slave system was a period characterized by great fluidity in social relations, as the old social order had been destroyed. But the defeat of Reconstruction ensured the subordinate position of black people in American society. Black people were eventually consolidated into a race-color caste, integrated into the capitalist economy but forcibly segregated at the bottom of society. This was codified around the turn of the last century in the system known as Jim Crow.

The contours of society that emerged out of the Civil War and the defeat of Reconstruction—the economic system, the social relations, the political structure—are essentially the contours of American society that we know today. That’s not to say there haven’t been some changes since then, for example, those resulting from the civil rights movement. But the basic lines are still the same.

The young working class did not enter the struggle against the slave power as a class on its own account, or with as much consciousness of its own aims as had been the case in the bourgeois revolutions in Europe in the 19th century. In the North, the white working class was the base of the slaveholders’ Democratic Party. You know, it’s nice to be able to denounce the Democrats here and not have people argue, “Oh, they’re the lesser of two evils.” Political parties cannot ignore their heritage. The Democrats were the party of slavery, the party of the White Leagues and the Redeemers, the party of the Dixiecrats. And now they’re the party of Obama.

It was only when the Northern bourgeoisie conquered political power and remodeled the state according to its own wants that the inevitable conflict between labor and capital became imminent. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in Europe fought from the very beginning for the victory of the Union, the Northern bourgeoisie, in the Civil War. This was not because they were interested in a better, more just bourgeois society per se but because they wanted the working class to fight for socialist revolution, to seize power in its own name. They knew that it could not do so as long as slavery dominated and disfigured the country, stunting the development and consciousness of the proletariat. As Marx wrote, “Labour cannot emancipate itself in the white skin, where in the black skin it is branded.”

And the War Came

In 1860 the slaveowners said that the slave system was great. It had been in place on this continent for 250 years. But in 1865, four million black slaves had been freed in the course of a great Civil War. A key milestone was the Emancipation Proclamation, which was the death knell of slavery on the North American continent.

In this talk I want to focus in a little more detail on the summer and fall of 1862, on the various challenges that Abraham Lincoln had to confront when making his decision for emancipation. That’s when the character of the war changed. Before the battle of Antietam in Maryland in September 1862 and the announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation in the wake of that Union victory, it was possible that a compromise settlement that left slavery intact could have been hammered out. Afterward, only a hard war was possible—a war of subjugation in which the slavocracy and its ability to wage war against the Union were destroyed.

As Marxists and historical materialists, we see the world in class terms. In 1860, the South had to expand or die. The question was who was going to be master of the North American continent. Marx wrote:

“The present struggle between the South and North is, therefore, nothing but a struggle between two social systems, the system of slavery and the system of free labour. The struggle has broken out because the two systems can no longer live peacefully side by side on the North American continent. It can only be ended by the victory of one system or the other.”

— “The Civil War in the United States,” November 1861

The slave system was increasingly a brake on material progress. By all indices—industrial production, miles of railroad, agricultural production—the South lagged way behind the North. Just as European capitalism had to liberate itself from the outworn restrictions of feudalism, so a dynamic American capitalism could no longer coexist with the outworn institution of slavery. Abraham Lincoln was elected on a program of no expansion of slavery. He could not have been elected on an abolition program. But even so, his program was not acceptable to the South.

Lincoln wanted to put slavery on a road to eventual extinction, and his favorite schemes were for gradual compensated emancipation and the colonization of black people outside of the country. The slavocracy, that thin layer of wealthy planters that ruled the South and the federal government for most of its existence up till then, still would have none of that. Lincoln was also inclined to denounce slavery as denying men and women the hard-earned fruits of their labor. He thought it was immoral for some to eat while others did all of the work. Lincoln and the Republicans extolled the virtues of the free labor system whereby everyone supposedly has a chance to improve their condition.

Now, there hasn’t been much acknowledgement of the Emancipation Proclamation sesquicentennial. But the Wall Street Journal did notice, and what they focused on was that Lincoln believed in liberty of all kinds, beginning with economic freedom. That’s rich coming from the newspaper that speaks for the lords of finance capital, some of the most despicable parasites, who believe it’s their right to suck the lifeblood out of the poor and oppressed masses around the world.

The Democrats had dominated the political scene since the time of Andrew Jackson. But in 1860 the party split between a Northern and a Southern wing. Many in the Northern wing opposed secession, and so the Democrats lost to the Republicans. With Lincoln’s election, eleven states seceded and rose in armed rebellion, attacking federal forces at Fort Sumter. Lincoln never compromised on the need to save the Union despite pressure to do so. But initially his war aims were limited to restoring the Union and bringing the Confederate states back into the Union as it had been. Lincoln wanted to draw in to that fight all the elements that wanted to save the Union. Hence, his conciliatory policies toward the border states and the War Democrats. He could not have mobilized for the war without the help of the War Democrats.

The Southern war aims were very explicit: to protect and defend slavery. The Confederate vice president, Alexander Stephens, in a speech right after secession—the famous “cornerstone speech”—said that his new government’s “foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not the equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and moral condition.” So even if the North was not fighting against slavery, the South was fighting for slavery.

Butler and the “Contrabands”

From the beginning, the abolitionists raised the call to turn the war into an abolition war. For years, through tireless and courageous agitation, the abolitionists had sought to bring the slavery question to the fore. There had been the prelude to the Civil War in “Bleeding Kansas,” and John Brown and his integrated band had sent a lightning bolt through the nation with the Harpers Ferry raid in 1859. Now the chance to wage war against the slave power was here. The great black abolitionist Frederick Douglass wrote:

“Fire must be met with water, darkness with light, and war for the destruction of liberty must be met with war for the destruction of slavery.... Let the slaves and free colored people be called into service, and formed into a liberating army, to march into the South and raise the banner of Emancipation among the slaves.”

—“How to End the War,” Douglass’ Monthly (May 1861), printed in Life and Writings of Frederick Douglass, Vol. 3

The slaves knew the stakes. They had their own agenda and immediately started coming into Union lines. Union commanders were wondering: “What do we do with these slaves coming into our lines?” The slaves had been doing work for the Confederates, raising food, of course, and working for the army as teamsters and laborers. The Northern government had no consistent policy as to what to do about slaves and the slavery question, as yet. So, in May 1861, General George McClellan, who was a pro-slavery War Democrat in Virginia, told his armies to send the slaves back to their owners and be prepared to suppress slave insurrections.

On the other hand, Benjamin Butler—a political appointee and a lawyer from Massachusetts—was also a Democrat, but one who actually started changing when confronted with the problems of war. Butler came up with a new policy, the contraband policy. Also in Virginia in May 1861, three slaves who had been building Confederate fortifications came into Union lines. The next day, a Confederate colonel who had been their owner came in under a flag of truce and demanded his property back under the authority of the Fugitive Slave Law. Well, Butler told him no, they’re contraband of war and we’re keeping them. And he sent the colonel packing. That policy was eventually endorsed by the federal government.

So the slaves came into Union lines by the thousands, saying, “We’re contrabands!” and the pressure to abolish slavery started rising. But Lincoln was not ready to act on the slavery question. In August 1861, General Frémont, who had been the 1856 candidate of the Republican Party, issued an order in Missouri freeing the slaves of rebels. His armies weren’t faring too well and he needed some help. He was dealing with what would become a really brutal guerrilla war in Missouri. He issued an order which stated:

“All persons who shall be taken with arms in their hands within these lines shall be tried by court martial, and, if found guilty will be shot. The property, real and personal, of all persons in the State of Missouri, who shall take up arms against the United declared to be confiscated to the public use, and their slaves, if any they have, are hereby declared free men.”

—quoted in William Wells Brown, The Negro in the American Rebellion (1971)

Lincoln forced Frémont to revoke that order, and in December 1861 he fired his Secretary of War, Simon Cameron, who had been advocating emancipation. Granted, Cameron was truly corrupt and ineffective. Nevertheless, he was advocating emancipation. Lincoln ended up replacing Cameron with War Democrat Edwin Stanton, who turned out to be a great choice.

Not a whole lot was happening on the battle front. There were a few victories for the Union, notably by Ulysses S. Grant west of the Appalachians. Meanwhile, McClellan was training the Army of the Potomac in Virginia. Lincoln was pressuring him to act, but he just stayed with his huge army, camped around Washington, D.C., doing nothing but drilling.

Toward Emancipation

In the spring of 1862, neither side was closer to victory. Lincoln continued efforts at gradual, compensated emancipation. He begged the border states to embrace compensation, hinting to them that bigger changes might be coming down the pike if they did not embrace compensated emancipation. Lincoln also signed into law all measures passed by Congress proscribing slavery, including the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia and the federal territories.

For many soldiers, the experience of war was turning them against slavery. A volunteer from the Third Wisconsin Regiment wrote, “The rebellion is abolitionizing the whole army.” In May 1862, General David Hunter, commanding the Department of the South, comprising South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, declared that slaves in his Department were forever free. Lincoln overturned that order, much to the chagrin of abolitionists, and said that if anyone were to act, it would be the president, not his generals. But Lincoln did not object to emancipation per se.

Hunter was operating from the Sea Islands, just off the coast of South Carolina and Georgia. The slave masters had fled at the beginning of the war, when the Union Navy arrived. Hunter had been requesting reinforcements so he could carry on some work on the mainland but had not been able to get any from Washington. So he started arming the slaves on his own. The War Department got wind of this and wanted to know what Hunter was doing. He replied in a letter:

“No regiment of ‘fugitive slaves’ has been or is being organized in this department. There is, however, a fine regiment of persons whose late masters are ‘fugitive rebels’.... They are now, working one and all, with remarkable industry to place themselves in a position to go in full and effective pursuit of their fugacious and traitorous proprietors.”

—quoted in Dudley Cornish, The Sable Arm (1990)

Many of those first organized by Hunter later went on to be incorporated into the Union Army as the First and Second South Carolina Colored Troops.

Any momentum created by the Union victories at Fort Donelson and Shiloh was offset by the stalled Peninsula Campaign in Virginia in the spring and early summer of 1862, which culminated in a series of savage engagements known collectively as the Seven Days’ Battles, fought between June 25 and July 1. George McClellan, leading the main Northern army, the Army of the Potomac, had been delaying, dilly-dallying all winter. Then, when forced into battle, he was overcautious, tentative and anxious to blame anyone—particularly Lincoln—for his own failures. He got to within a few miles of Richmond and then retreated. Two years later, Lincoln confided to artist Francis Carpenter that “I felt that we had reached the end of our rope on the plan of operations we had been pursuing; that we had about played our last card, and must change our tactics, or lose the game.”

In mid June, Lincoln apparently first decided to issue an emancipation order, and he discussed this with his vice president, Hannibal Hamlin. Six months earlier, in December 1861, Lincoln said in his message to Congress: “The war continues. In considering the policy to be adopted for suppressing the insurrection I have been anxious and careful that the inevitable conflict for this purpose shall not degenerate into a violent and remorseless revolutionary struggle.” But increasingly, the war was becoming exactly that on the slavery question and on the question of the destruction of the South’s ability to make war. To bring this to fruition, Lincoln had to dance through a minefield: Pro-slavery generals who didn’t want to fight to finish off the rebels, border state opposition to tampering with slavery, public opinion in the North, which was hardly universally abolitionist.

McClellan in the Way

On July 8, Lincoln’s most powerful general, McClellan, gave him a letter. Really it was a political manifesto urging a conservative war policy and urging Lincoln to abjure all thoughts of emancipation and put control of all military affairs into McClellan’s hands. McClellan was a real piece of work. He had been placed in command the previous fall and had effectively reorganized and trained the army. He was totally full of himself, disdainful of Lincoln and angling for power. He surrounded himself with cronies all with the same view: keep things as they are, don’t touch slavery.

But Congress and Lincoln had other ideas. On July 17, Congress passed the Second Confiscation Act, which allowed the seizure of rebel property, including slaves who would be emancipated. Although he signed it, Lincoln had his doubts, still. He actually wrote out a veto message that said, “The severest justice may not always be the best policy.” Lincoln was not a consistent proponent of hard war, yet. At the same time, he wrote a letter to a Treasury official in New Orleans who complained that Union policy seemed headed toward emancipation. Lincoln wrote testily: “What would you do in my position? Would you drop the war where it is? Or would you prosecute it in future with elderstalk squirts charged with rosewater?”

On July 22, Lincoln presented a draft of the Emancipation Proclamation to his cabinet. Secretary of State William Seward suggested that Lincoln hold off issuing this preliminary proclamation until there was a Union victory. Otherwise, it might be viewed as an act of desperation on the part of the Union.

Lincoln acceded to this, but that victory did not come for another two months. You know, Lincoln was such a bundle of contradictions. As we wrote in our pamphlet Black History and the Class Struggle (No. 22): “The American Civil War was a bourgeois revolution, and Lincoln was both bourgeois and revolutionary at the same time. With all the contradictions this implies.” Here’s a good example. Lincoln had already determined that he was going to emancipate the slaves in August 1862, and so he met with black leaders that month at the White House to encourage them to embrace colonization. He argued that blacks should leave the country because “you and we are different races. Even when you cease to be slaves, you are yet far removed from being placed on an equality with the white race. But for your race among us, there could not be war. It is better for us both to be separated.”

The black delegation was not impressed, and told him so. Black slaves had built the South, had supported themselves and their masters and created untold wealth for their masters besides. And the war had raised the hopes of the black population. What little sentiment there had been for emigration before the war totally dissipated after the war began.

Then on August 17 Horace Greeley wrote in his New York Tribune “The Prayer of Twenty Millions Demanding Emancipation.” Lincoln wrote his famous response:

“My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it. And if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that....

“I have here stated my purpose according to my view of official duty; and I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men everywhere could be free.”

Lincoln was still worried about the border states. How would whites there react to an emancipation edict? Cassius Clay, a Kentucky radical Unionist after whom Muhammad Ali would later be named, told Lincoln to chill out: Anybody who’s in a border state who wanted to fight for the Confederacy is already fighting for the Confederacy. Meanwhile, McClellan is sitting idly with his army. He said he was gratified to receive “letters from the North urging me to march on Washington and assume the government.”

On August 30 there was another Union disaster: General Pope was defeated at the Second Battle of Bull Run. McClellan looked on gleefully as Pope’s forces around D.C. were routed, holding his own forces back from coming to their relief. He figured if Pope was defeated it could only further his own agenda. Pope had lost the confidence of his officers and the army. So Lincoln appointed McClellan to command all of the armies around D.C., over the strenuous objections of his cabinet. Secretary of War Stanton had passed around a statement calling for McClellan’s removal, which almost all of the cabinet signed. Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase said that McClellan should be taken out and shot. But Lincoln didn’t see an alternative. He kept McClellan as the top general, but he was a total wreck about it.

McClellan Removed

The summer of 1862 was the key turning point in the war. The strategies of both the North and the South had to change if either was to win a victory. At the end of August, the South launched a simultaneous invasion of two border states, Maryland and Kentucky, to “liberate” the supposedly pro-Confederate population from Yankee oppression. Lincoln and Confederate president Jeff Davis were not acting as the heads of stable national governments defending well-established constitutional systems but as leaders of embattled political movements whose regimes were vulnerable to the play of social and political forces they struggled to control.

Lincoln knew from the moment McClellan came to Washington in July 1861 to assume command of the Army of the Potomac that “Little Mac,” as he was called, had incessantly schemed and conspired and politicked to try to gain control of the administration. In August and September of 1862, Lincoln came to believe that McClellan was deliberately sabotaging the war effort and that the ideas being espoused at army headquarters were increasingly disloyal and treasonous. The capital was rife with rumors of plots and counterplots in the summer and fall. Colonel Thomas Key, who was on McClellan’s staff, told a New York Tribune reporter that high officers in the Army of the Potomac were planning to “change front on Washington.” McClellan’s circle of confidants considered him to be the one man capable of saving the Union from both secession and radicalism, and the Army the only institution strong enough and loyal enough to control the administration.

Lee invaded Maryland and McClellan lucked out. He got a copy of Lee’s order detailing the disposition of Confederate troops going into Maryland. So at Antietam the Union was able to thwart the Confederate invasion. But McClellan refused to go in for the kill, to destroy Lee’s army. To his mind, that was not part of the plan.

Lincoln had not effected the strategic transformation he had envisioned in early July, the shift from a strategy of conciliation to a strategy of subjugation. That required the permanent sidelining of McClellan and the promulgation of the Emancipation Proclamation. But the victory at Antietam enabled Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, which he did in preliminary form on September 22. But it also aggrandized McClellan, who opposed emancipation and was willing to use his power to thwart Lincoln. Additionally, on September 24, Lincoln authorized the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus anywhere in the country, which allowed the arrest and detention of those accused of being Confederate agents or sympathizers and the suppression of newspapers for sedition.

It remained to be seen whether the military leadership was prepared to fight a war of subjugation, an emancipation war. Lincoln and his cabinet worried about how McClellan would respond. Lincoln did not publicly acknowledge the existence of the McClellan conspiracy; to do so would be to provoke a direct and dangerous confrontation between civil and military authorities. McClellan was either disloyal or incompetent, or both. So he had to go. But how to get rid of him, when he had just won the Battle of Antietam and public opinion was still in a tizzy over the issuance of the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation and the suspension of habeas corpus? And all this was on the eve of midterm elections. This was not the Korean War of the 1950s, when the primacy of civil over military authority was already well-established. When General MacArthur objected to Harry Truman’s war policies, Truman had a precedent for firing him. Plus, MacArthur was halfway around the world, not 70 miles from D.C.

Lincoln started weakening McClellan’s position by exposing his flaws as a general, and McClellan had to decide what to do. He discussed it with his coterie in the army and prominent Democratic Party supporters who came to his camp up at Antietam, and even his pro-administration generals, all of whom advised him not to usurp civil authority. But McClellan did what he wanted. He issued an order to his army on the subject of the Emancipation Proclamation, carefully avoiding explicit opposition to the president but saying that the remedy for political errors, if any are committed, is to be found only in the action of the people at the polls, a clear challenge to the president. Furthermore, McClellan refused to move his army to attack Lee, again, despite direct orders. Lincoln waited until midterm elections were over (the Republicans got trounced, by the way) and removed McClellan from his generalship. McClellan accepted it passively.



Workers Vanguard No. 1021

WV 1021

5 April 2013


Hands Off Syria, Iran!

Obama in Israel: Stomping on the Palestinians


There’s No “Reforming” the Gang in Blue

Oakland Cops: Racist Killers on the Loose


Gun Rights and Shays’ Rebellion



Letters Policy


Defending Labor Against Capitalist Assault

(Quote of the Week)


Wal-Mart: Labor Bureaucracy’s Non-Organizing Drive


Canada: Racist Hell for Native Peoples


Spartacist Forum

150 Years Since the Emancipation Proclamation

Finish the Civil War!

Part One


Mumia Abu-Jamal Attorneys Challenge Resentencing Process


A Death Sentence for Defending Her Client?

Lynne Stewart

By Mumia Abu-Jamal