Our Declaration of Independence of 1776 held these truths to be “self-evident”:
“We are all created equal. We are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights. Among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among us, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
Before Abraham Lincoln was sworn in as President in 1861, he stopped in Philadelphia, and made a speech at Independence Hall. Here is some of what he said:
“I have never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence. . . It was not the mere matter of the separation of the Colonies from the motherland; but that sentiment in the Declaration of Independence which gave liberty, not alone to the people of this country, but, I hope, to the world for all future times. It was that which gave promise that in due time, the weight would be lifted from the shoulders of all men. This is a sentiment embodied in the Declaration of Independence. Now, my friends, can this country be saved upon that basis? If it can, I will consider myself one of the happiest men in the world, if I can save it. If it cannot be saved upon that principle, it will be truly awful. But if this country cannot be saved without giving up that principle, I was about to say I would rather be assassinated on this spot than surrender it.”
On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the “Emancipation Proclamation”. It freed every slave in the 11 southern states in rebellion against the United States. Most slaves in those states did not become free until more than two years later, when the last rebel army surrendered in Texas on “Juneteenth”, June 19, 1865. Approximately two million white and 200,000 black soldiers fought in the Union Army. Approximately 310,000 whites and 40,000 blacks died during the war.
Just before July 4, 1863, the Union won two major battles. One was at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The other was at Vicksburg, Mississippi. However, the losses suffered by the Union Army in those battles were frightful. That November, Abraham Lincoln gave this speech to dedicate a cemetery where many of the 3,100 union soldiers killed in the Battle of Gettysburg were buried. In that speech, Lincoln urged Americans to continue the war to end slavery so that America would have “a new birth of freedom”.
Abraham Lincoln Address at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
November 19, 1863.
Four score and seven (87) years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
November 19, 1863
The Emancipation Proclamation only freed slaves in the eleven “Confederate” “states in rebellion”. It did not free slaves in the four slave states that did not rebel, namely Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri. On November 1, 1864, Maryland amended its State Constitution to free all slaves there. In December of 1865, the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified. That freed all slaves in the United States. In 1868, the 14th Amendment was adopted. It granted equal rights to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States” and included freed black slaves. In 1870, the 15th Amendment was adopted giving freed black slaves the right to vote.
Southern white Democrats in those 15 former slave states bitterly resisted these measures. One of them murdered Republican President Abraham Lincoln on April 15, 1865. Others formed the KKK and fought a guerilla war of murder and terror against both white and black Republicans for the next 12 years. They called northern Republicans who came to help newly freed blacks in the South “carpetbaggers”. They called southern white Republicans “scalawags”. Lincoln’s Vice-President, Andrew Johnson, was a Democrat who opposed equal rights for blacks. He enabled them until Republican President Ulysses S. Grant was elected to replace him in 1869. Although Grant used federal troops to protect blacks for the next eight years, white Democrats took back political control of the old slave states in the South in 1877. They maintained that control for the next 90 years. During that time, millions of blacks left the South to find freedom, safety, and opportunity in the North. Atlantic City, New Jersey was a popular destination.
In 1915, black and white Civil War veterans raised funds to build a monument in Atlantic City to celebrate 50 years since the Union victory. That monument still stands at Providence and Atlantic Avenues in Atlantic City.