Democrats have given conservatives many reasons to be wary of the Juneteenth push. As I reported on Thursday, President Joe Biden used his signing of the law to make Juneteenth a national holiday to push his radical agenda, specifically his federal takeovers of zoning and election law. Biden has used race to demonize Republicans, fuel his domestic war on terror, and champion critical race theory. Now Biden wants to put his personal stamp on Juneteenth, defining the holiday as a reason to push his agenda.
Conservatives cannot let him twist the meaning of Juneteenth, however. Conservatives should celebrate the holiday for what it represents, while combatting the Left’s attempts to weaponize it.
Americans have long confused significant dates in the abolition of slavery in the U.S. Many Americans believe that President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves. In reality, it did not. Lincoln issued the proclamation as a war measure, declaring that slaves in Confederate-held territory would be free under Union law. This proclamation could not free any slaves until the Union had retaken the territory in question.
The true abolition of slavery did not come until December 6, 1865, with the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment. This amendment outlawed slavery throughout the United States, including in the two Union border states — Delaware and Kentucky — where slavery remained legal at the end of the war.
Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union Army General Gordon Granger proclaimed freedom for slaves in Texas (more than two months after General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox on April 9). While Juneteenth does not celebrate the final liberation of the last slaves in the U.S. (that did not come until 1866, when the Choctaw, allies of the Confederates, finally freed their slaves), it does celebrate the final slaves technically freed under the Emancipation Proclamation, not the 13th Amendment.
The holiday is significant because the Emancipation Proclamation began as a war measure, but when the Union won the war, the proclamation transformed into a downpayment on freedom from bondage.
Juneteenth commemorates the final defeat of the Confederacy, which the southern states founded in order to preserve and extend the horrific practice of race-based chattel slavery. South Carolina’s declaration of secession confirms this, as do the events of the 1850s. While some advocates of the Lost Cause argue that the Confederacy was not founded in support of slavery, the southern states rebelled from the Union after Abraham Lincoln became president.
Contrary to popular belief, Lincoln was not an abolitionist. Instead, he favored limiting the spread of slavery to the lands where the Compromise of 1820 had left the issue. He argued strenuously against the politicians who sought to expand the issue of slavery into territories north of the 1820 line, most notably Kansas and Nebraska. The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 opened up those territories to “popular sovereignty,” a process by which settlers would determine whether a state was slave or free. This unleashed a pre-Civil War in Kansas, as slavery advocates fought to ensure that slavery could spread north.
Similarly, the 1857 Dred Scott decision centered on the question of whether or not slaves became free in states where slavery was illegal. The Supreme Court’s ruling in Dred Scott v. Sandford opened up the possibility of slavery extending into free states, an expansion that Lincoln and other non-abolitionist northerners could not abide. Moderates in the North did not advocate for abolition, but they did believe that slavery was evil and they did not want slavery in their towns and neighborhoods.
The South left the Union not because Lincoln wanted to abolish slavery but because he wanted to restrain it. In fact, Lincoln repeatedly said that if he could preserve the Union without freeing a single slave, he would do so.
Lincoln also believed that God effectively forced his hand. The goal of the Emancipation Proclamation was to inspire slave rebellions in the Confederacy, and it largely failed to achieve that goal. But the proclamation did embolden freedmen who fought for the Union, and black men demonstrated their nobility by fighting alongside their fellow Americans.
Juneteenth represents the triumph of freedom over slavery and the partial fulfillment of the promise of the Declaration of Independence — that all men are created equal. In other words, it marks an important milestone in the realization of the American ideal. Patriots should celebrate the holiday and stop Democrats from using it as an excuse to claim that “institutional racism” still plagues America.