|51 Liberty For All 1865
THE U.S. CIVIL WAR, which ended in 1865, not only transformed the lives of millions of black Americans, it also fixed the nation on a new course. The wealthiest and most powerful slaveholding class in the world was destroyed, and an agricultural slave society was crushed by a rising industrial and capitalist North. But the crucial moment in the four-year struggle that claimed 600,000 lives had really come two years earlier, when President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, officially turning a war for the restoration of the Union into a war of liberation.
Abolitionists had encouraged Lincoln to issue such a document from the start of the war. In fact, ever since a handful of English Quakers launched a public campaign against the slave trade in 1787, abolitionists there had kept the slavery question in public view. Women boycotted sugar produced by slave labor, thousands signed petitions to Parliament, and in the United States such well-known figures as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott and William Lloyd Garrison vigorously insisted that the conscience of the nation could find rest only with the abolition of slavery.
While slaves would celebrate January 1, 1863, as the Day of Jubilee, their actions had long been instrumental in advancing emancipation. They worked as spies and laborers and volunteered their lives to fight in the Union Army. By the end of the war, 179,000 African American men had served in the U.S. military, constituting almost 10 percent of the Northern armed forces. For the nation's 3.5 million slaves, for its abolitionists and for some of its politicians, the crucible of civil war would allow the U.S. to live up to its best traditions, expressed in the Declaration of Independence, as a land of liberty and equality for all. The foundation was laid for the emergence of the United States as a great world power.
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