Is slavery evil? It depends
Slate magazine has an article on Lord Dunmore's emancipation proclamation, which was issued during the American War of Independence. It's interesting how the analysis of Dunmore's proclamation mirrors that of Lincoln's decades later:
Dunmore’s proclamation turned out to be “practical rather than moral,” as the historian Sylvia Frey has put it. Dunmore accepted only the slaves of patriots, refusing to take loyalists’ slaves who did not have their owners’ permission. (The British often returned slaves to masters who remained loyal to the crown.) When the British Parliament debated a bill to arm slaves as a military-wide policy, members roundly rejected it by a vote of 278 to 107. Edmund Burke expressed the view of many when he announced in the House of Commons “the horrible consequences that might ensue from constituting 100,000 fierce barbarian slaves to be the judges and executioners of their masters.”"Practical rather than moral" well describes the actual motivations behind Lincoln's more famous Emancipation Proclamation. In fact, what Lincoln did can better be described as downright hypocritical, as Lincoln himself noted:
Abraham Lincoln's direct statements indicated his support for slavery; He defended slave owners' right to own their property, saying that "when they remind us of their constitutional rights [to own slaves], I acknowledge them, not grudgingly but fully and fairly; and I would give them any legislation for the claiming of their fugitives" (in indicating support for the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850).In fact, when Lincoln engineered the illegal secession of West Virginia from Virginia in 1863, he helped create the last slave-holding state. General George McClellan led the occupation of Virginia's northwestern counties in the early months of the war. McClellan blatantly proclaimed that the slaves of Union loyalists would NOT be freed. In his proclamation to the Union men of West Virginia, issued May 26, 1861, he even assured them his army would enforce slavery:
"The General Government cannot close its ears to the demand you have made for assistance. I have ordered troops to cross the river. They come as your friends and brothers—as enemies only to armed Rebels, who are preying upon you; your homes, your families, and your property are safe under our protection. All your rights shall be religiously respected, notwithstanding all that has been said by the Traitors to induce you to believe our advent among you will be signalized by an interference with your Slaves. Understand one thing clearly: not only will we abstain from all such interference, but we will, on the contrary, with an iron hand crush any attempt at insurrection on their part."That was not simply McClellan's personal opinion. As Colonel Rutherford B. Hayes noted in his journal, "Nobody in this army thinks of giving to the Rebels their fugitive slaves. Union men might perhaps be differently dealt with-probably would be." So slavery was okey-dokey as long as it was practiced by good Unionists. And, as Kevin Levin reminds us, the US has a long history of defending its investment in the institution of slavery. During the War of 1812, the British again liberated slaves. The anger Americans felt toward this tactic is reflected in The Star-Spangled Banner:
The third verse speaks directly to the British policy of liberating slaves in the Chesapeake region of Maryland and Virginia and their recruitment into the army. And where is that band who so vauntingly swore That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion, A home and a country, should leave us no more? Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution. No refuge could save the hireling and slave From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave: And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave, O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave. The “land of the free and the home of the brave” takes on a whole new meaning after reading this verse. I suspect that you will never hear our anthem quite the same way.Levin is right. When I hear that screeching, warbling song, I can't help but think of the hypocrisy of those who try to portray the WBTS as the virtuous North versus the evil South.