On January 1, 1863, Americans, having already bled and grieved through two years of the Civil War, found little happiness in hearing "Happy New Year's." But President Abraham Lincoln used that bleak New Year's Day 150 years ago to address the central issue of the great conflict - slavery -- by issuing the Emancipation Proclamation.
While the Emancipation Proclamation, having no statutory standing in the Confederate States until after the Civil War, did not actually end slavery, it bolstered the Union forces and laid the legal groundwork supporting the post-war abolition movement that culminated with ratification of the 13th Amendment in 1865.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the 1860 Census shows that just over 311,000 people, less than 1% of the nation's total population of 31.5 million, were listed as "free blacks." Out of today's all free population of over 315 million Americans, more than 39 million people proudly claim African heritage.
How did America's Founding Fathers, while creating something called a "Bill of Rights," fail to address slavery? Because, movements for sweeping social change in a political environment take time and typically succeeds only after a quantum shift in public opinion.
Consider that according to the Encyclopedia Britannica, 14 of 21 recognized Founding Fathers, including Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Jay and George Washington, owned slaves at some points in their lives.
Horrendous as it seems now, the slave trade was as important to the American economy of 1787 as the auto industry is today. While many of the Founding Fathers agreed that slavery absolutely not what Americas was all about, they were also resolved to ensuring private property rights, limited government and harmony among the states, all of which they considered contrary to ending slavery at the time. In addition, they realized that much of the agricultural progress in the young nation was attributable to the labor of slaves.
Remember, 78 years passed between the Constitutional Convention in 1787 and President Lincoln's issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation and ratification of the 13th Amendment in 1865. Another 99 years passed between the 13th Amendment and passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The 177 years from the creation of the Bill of Rights, to passage of the Civil Right Act represents nearly 80% of our nation's history.