It’s the 150th anniversary of the Civil War and there are more Americans than ever ignorant of its cause, slavery. Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation went into effect Jan. 1, 1863 and he feared slave vengeance in the South, but it did not happen and the last excuse for human bondage was gone. Yet “Lincoln,” the recent movie about passage of the Constitution’s 13th Amendment, dramatizes how close the vote was, even with the deep South unrepresented.
Who were the people Lincoln trusted to be wise and humane? Women were among those who could not vote; patriotic men were in the field, or wounded, or dead. The Union lost 360,000 people and the South 100,000 fewer. Still, Lincoln was re-elected in 1864 despite losing big in New York City. He walked the streets of Richmond, Va., the day it fell, shaking hands with grateful black residents, and on the anniversary of Fort Sumter’s surrender was assassinated by a delusional gunman. Allegheny County light artillerymen at Ford’s Theater carried Lincoln to his deathbed.
President Obama’s strong self-identification with Lincoln inspires a similar intensity of hatred by unbalanced armed racists. In his last photographs, the deeply sad Lincoln allowed himself a slight smile, perhaps anticipating the humor and populism of Republican Sarah Palin. Today’s political divide is an outgrowth of the Civil War with party names reversed, but our region’s early history reveals a common interest by both Democrats and Republicans in suppressing it.
Pontiac’s Rebellion, for instance, began regionally 250 years ago on May 28 with an attack killing five people at a trading post near the mouth of the Youghiogheny River’s Sewickley Creek. It was targeted first because of George Croghan, Ohio Country’s leader for more than 30 years. In 1777, Croghan was banished in a military coup by a general under George Washington. In 1746, Croghan became an Iroquois sachem and was in 1754 a captain in charge of the Indians when he first clashed with Washington during the Fort Necessity campaign. Ohio Country history during this period is disconnected without Croghan as the pivotal figure and as an Indian, but the implications of his story fundamentally challenge the current status quo and are officially denied.