Sunday, February 1, 2015

Abraham Lincoln and the Horn of Freedom

     Since the days of Daniel Boone, North Carolina's Watauga County has been a gateway to the West and a threshold of freedom. We celebrate this every summer in Boone with the venerable outdoor drama,  Horn in the West.”
     Playwright Kermit Hunter's opening lines still thunder:
In the evening West, beyond the last mountain peak, slowly dies the sun in a sea of bronze and crimson. In its setting is the majestic assurance that tomorrow will rise, that a new day will dawn.
Always the hopes and dreams of mankind lie not in the East, but in the fiery land of the sunset. The gaze of man is westward, as if he could glimpse, somewhere beyond the great golden reaches of Eternity–as though he could hear, blowing in the distant sunset, the Horn of Freedom!
     Horn in the West is set in America's first great rebellion, the colonial secession from Great Britain. Unresolved issues from the Revolutionary era ultimately led to the second rebellion, the Civil War, where this blog is set.
     In the mountains of western North Carolina, you can find plenty of parallels between the 1780 campaign of British Col. Patrick Ferguson, the villain in “Horn in the West, and the 1865 raid led by Union Gen. George Stoneman, the antagonist in the song“The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down. Both were cavalrymen who were ordered to crush rebellions and wound up terrorizing the citizenry of the mountains. Ferguson riled the Overmountain Men with threats to lay waste your country with fire and sword. Stoneman blazed with the intensity of his orders from Gen. Ulysses Grant: Leave nothing for the Rebellion to stand upon. To this day, many up here scorn their names.
     Stoneman's Raiders and the Overmountain Men both marched out of “the fiery land of the sunset, in this case Tennessee. The Overmountain Men defeated Ferguson in the Battle of Kings Mountain, which turned out to be the tipping point of the American Revolution. The Civil War was all but over by the time Stoneman charged onto the scene, but his raid crippled what was left of the Confederacy and may have hastened the surrender of Robert E. Lee. 
     As for the “Horn of Freedom, there are more parallels evident in how our forefathers responded to tyranny, injustice, and exploitation, whether from King George III or King Cotton. 
     At the height of the Civil War in January 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation to free the slaves in the rebellious states. However, there was no way for the Federal government to enforce the executive order until the rebellion was defeated. For thousands of slaves, their first jubilant steps of freedom were following in the dust of Sherman's march in 1864 or Stoneman's Raid in 1865.
     Just like the Declaration of Independence, the Emancipation Proclamation had to be fought for before it gained authority. Blood had to be shed, as the Bible says in the book of Hebrews. Battlefields had to be consecrated, as Lincoln said at Gettysburg.
Lincoln's superfluous signature on the 13th Amendment
     It was 150 years ago when Lincoln took the next step. On Wednesday, February 1, 1865while Sherman marched from Savannah toward Columbia, Grant besieged Lee at Petersburg, and Stoneman mustered his cavalry in NashvilleLincoln signed the 13th Amendment to end slavery throughout the United States.
     Lincoln's signature was unnecessary, since the president does not have a constitutional role in the amendment process. As far as I know, the 13th is the only one actually signed by a president. 
     The 13th Amendment would not become part of the Constitution until it was ratified by 27 of the 36 states. That meant it would need to be approved by several of the southern states. By the time Stoneman raided Boone eight weeks later, 19 states had already ratified it. The amendment process stalled after Lincoln was assassinated, and it turns out that Reconstruction governments in Stoneman's path were the final four who made it the law of the land: South Carolina Nov. 13, Alabama Dec. 2, North Carolina Dec. 4, and Georgia Dec. 6, 1865.
     Mississippi could have been the clincher but voted against ratification Dec. 5, 1865. It would be nearly 130 years before Mississippi formally approved the 13th Amendment in 1995.


What? You've never seen "Horn in the West"?
Let me know when you're in Boone this summer, and you can be my guest.

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