U.S. Embassy to Belgium and U.S. Mission to the EU Co-Host Belgian Movie Premiere of “Lincoln”

In celebration of Black History Month, U.S. Ambassador to Belgium Howard Gutman and the U.S. Ambassador to the European Union William E. Kennard hosted the avant-premiere of the movie “Lincoln” in Brussels on January 22, 2012.

Over 500 Brussels attendees enjoyed a lively gathering for the pre-screening of “Lincoln”, a film about the passage of the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery in the United States. Heartfelt remarks by U.S. Ambassadors Kennard and Gutman gave context to the film, as they shared their own families’ personal struggles for success after humble beginnings and adversity.

Read Ambassador Gutman’s remarks: http://belgium.usembassy.gov/ambassador/speeches/could-there-be-a-day.html
Read Ambassador Kennard’s remarks: http://useu.usmission.gov/kennard_012213.html

More photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/us_ambassador_gutman/sets/72157632588286513/.

Watch a video report of the event:


Abraham Lincoln: A Legacy of Freedom, published by the Bureau of International Information Programs. View the entire book (PDF, 5.48 MB).


About the film:

Directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, and David Strathairn, the film covers the final four months of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln’s life.

In 1865, as the American Civil War winds inexorably toward conclusion, President Abraham Lincoln endeavours to achieve passage of the landmark Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution which will forever ban slavery from the United States. However, his task is a race against time, for peace may come at any time, and if it comes before the Amendment is passed, the returning Southern states will stop it before it can become law. Lincoln must, by almost any means possible, obtain enough votes from a recalcitrant Congress before peace arrives and it is too late. Yet the President is torn, as an early peace would save thousands of lives. As the nation confronts its conscience over the freedom of its entire population, Lincoln faces his own crisis of conscience — end slavery or end the war.


Last page of Emancipation Proclamation (AP Images)

150th Anniversary of Emancipation Proclamation

The Emancipation Proclamation, signed by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863, was a watershed in U.S. history. Although it did not free slaves throughout the United States, this presidential order to the military declared slaves in the Confederate states “forever free” and invited them to join the Union Army. Tens of thousands enlisted as the Union Army advanced through the rebel states, emancipating slaves as they went. These soldiers helped the Union Army to victory. The ratification of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which made slavery illegal, followed in 1865.

The morning he signed the Emancipation Proclamation, “Lincoln had shaken thousands of hands, so when he went to sign the Emancipation Proclamation his own hand was numb and shaking,” Lincoln scholar Doris Kearns Goodwin told NBC News. “He put the pen down. He said, ‘If ever my soul were in an act, it is in this act. But if I signed with a shaking hand, posterity will say “He hesitated.”‘ So he waited and waited until he could take up the pen and sign with an unusually bold flourish.” Above is his signature on the last of the proclamation’s five pages.


Lincoln as Emancipator

Lincoln and the slavery debate

This article is excerpted from Abraham Lincoln: A Legacy of Freedom, published by the Bureau of International Information Programs. View the entire book (PDF, 5.48 MB).

By Michael Jay Friedman

For some Americans, Abraham Lincoln remains the Great Emancipator, the man who freed the African-American slaves. For others, Lincoln was an opportunist who lagged behind the abolitionist movement, an advocate of black Americans’ voluntary emigration, and even a white supremacist.

Which is it? A fair answer requires that we evaluate Lincoln in the context of his times and of his role in public life.

A beautifully illustrated text of the Emancipation Proclamation that glorifies Lincoln as the Great Emancipator.

“I have always hated slavery as much as any abolitionist,” Lincoln said in 1858. But when political opponent Stephen A. Douglas charged that Lincoln favored racial equality, he responded that “I am not, nor have ever been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races.” Lincoln also attacked “that counterfeit logic which presumes that, because I do not want a Negro woman for a slave, I must necessarily want her for a wife.” And shortly before signing the Emancipation Proclamation freeing slaves in the Confederate South, President Lincoln invited a visiting free black delegation to consider emigrating to Haiti or Central America, saying, “It is better for us both … to be separated.”

Many of Lincoln’s actions are best understood by recalling that his chosen career was not moral prophet but instead, as the leading historian James M. McPherson has written,

a politician, a practitioner of the art of the possible, a pragmatist who subscribed to [abolitionist] principles but recognized that they could only be achieved in gradual, step-by-step fashion through compromise and negotiation, in pace with progressive changes in public opinion and political realities.

However much Lincoln bowed to public opinion, he always held fast to a core belief that, under the Declaration of Independence, all men possessed equally the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Lincoln also remained, for a man of the early- and mid-19th century, free of social prejudice.

Frederick Douglass, the great African-American thinker, publisher, and abolitionist, met with Lincoln at the White House in 1864 and reported that “in his company I was never in any way reminded of my humble origin, or of my unpopular color.” The president had received Douglass “just as you have seen one gentleman receive another.” Lincoln, Douglass concluded, was “one of the very few Americans who could entertain a Negro and converse with him without in anywise reminding him of the unpopularity of his color.”

The Real Issue Defined

Before attaining the presidency, Abraham Lincoln’s signature political issue was a determined opposition to the extension of slavery into the western territories. The issue was for Lincoln a moral one, and in his final 1858 Senate campaign debate with Stephen A. Douglas, he made that point with stunning clarity, defining “the real issue” as a conflict

on the part of one class that looks upon the institution of slavery as a wrong, and of another class that does not look upon it as a wrong. … It is the eternal struggle between these two principles — right and wrong — throughout the world. They are the two principles that have stood face to face from the beginning of time; and will ever continue to struggle. The one is the common right of humanity, and the other the divine right of kings.

But Lincoln’s ultimate political loyalty was to the Union. As the Civil War raged, Lincoln wrote Horace Greeley, influential editor of the New York Tribune: “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.” To that end, Lincoln allowed the slaveholding border states that sided with the Union to retain their slaves until the war’s end. When a Union general took it upon himself to declare slavery abolished in parts of the South, the president swiftly rescinded the order, reserving to himself the authority for such an act.

The problem, from the perspective of Abraham Lincoln the wartime political leader, was that northern public opinion still was not ready for emancipation. But as the historian James Oakes has documented, Lincoln’s rhetoric during the war’s early years prepared the nation for that step. Even as he rescinded General David Hunter’s May 1862 liberation order, Lincoln carefully included a paragraph asserting his authority to issue a similar order. In June, he began quietly to draft that order.

In July, with Union armies stalled, the president quietly informed leading cabinet members that he now viewed emancipation as a military necessity. This was arguably quite true, and it also was politically shrewd. Enslaved blacks now comprised a majority of the Confederacy’s labor force. Drawing them to the Union cause would simultaneously strengthen the North’s war effort and weaken that of its Confederate opponent. Even as a growing number of northern whites came to support abolition, many who opposed it and fought only to preserve the Union could see how freeing the slaves might decisive on the battlefield.

A Promise Kept

President Lincoln in the War Department Telegraph Office, drafting the Emancipation Proclamation.

On September 22, 1862, Lincoln issued what became known as the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. It announced his intent on January 1, 1863, to issue another order that “all persons held as slaves within any state or designated part of a state, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.”

With the new year, Lincoln kept his promise. The Emancipation Proclamation declared that all slaves within the Confederacy “are, and henceforward shall be free; and that the Executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons.” It also announced the Union’s intent to recruit and field black soldiers.

The future African-American leader Booker T. Washington was about seven years old when the Emancipation Proclamation was read on his plantation. As he recalled in his 1901 memoir Up From Slavery:

As the great day grew nearer, there was more singing in the slave quarters than usual. It was bolder, had more ring, and lasted later into the night. Most of the verses of the plantation songs had some reference to freedom. … Some man who seemed to be a stranger (a U.S. officer, I presume) made a little speech and then read a rather long paper — the Emancipation Proclamation, I think. After the reading we were told that we were all free, and could go when and where we pleased. My mother, who was standing by my side, leaned over and kissed her children, while tears of joy ran down her cheeks. She explained to us what it all meant, that this was the day for which she had been so long praying, but fearing that she would never live to see.

On the political front, Lincoln continued to defend emancipation on military grounds. “No human power can subdue this rebellion without using the Emancipation lever as I have done,” he wrote.

If they [African Americans] stake their lives for us they must be prompted by the strongest motive. … And the promise being made, must be kept. … Why should they give their lives for us with full notice of our purpose to betray them? … I should be damned in time and in eternity for so doing. The world shall know that I will keep my faith to friends and enemies, come what will.

More than a decade after Lincoln’s death, Frederick Douglass tried to explain Lincoln’s relation to the cause of emancipation. Compared to the abolitionists, “Lincoln seemed tardy, cold, dull, and indifferent,” he wrote. But “measure him by the sentiment of his country, a sentiment he was bound as a statesman to consult,” and Lincoln “was swift, zealous, radical, and determined.” Perhaps no statesman could accomplish more.

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