American Experience: Season 24, Episode 11

The Abolitionists - Part 3 (2012)

TV Episode  |  TV-PG  |   |  Documentary, History
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Ratings: 7.4/10 from 45 users  
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The battle between pro-slavery and free-soil contingents rises to fever pitch.



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Episode credited cast:
Narrator (voice)
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Ingrid Alli ...
Aunt Hester
Anthony Burns
Aaron Angus ...
Boston Mob Leader
Lynn Bandoria ...
Rosetta Douglass
Franky Garrison
Scott Carter ...
Sarah Grimké
Leiv Clegg ...
Tommy Coleman ...
Shields Green
Trina Comissiong ...
Slave Auction Child
Crystal Cupp ...
Mrs. Grimké


The battle between pro-slavery and free-soil contingents rises to fever pitch.

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2012 (USA)  »

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Henceforth Free.
24 August 2015 | by (Deming, New Mexico, USA) – See all my reviews

Another informative episode in an exceptional series. This program covers basically events after the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860. He won not a single slave state. The deep South seceded at once. The a second block of marginal states like Virginia and Tennessee. A number of slave states hung in the balance.

The abolitionists were disgusted that Lincoln didn't immediately declare slavery illegal. William Lloyd Garrison was disgusted with Lincoln. Frederick Douglass was disgusted with both Garrison and Lincoln. Some of that rancor remains today but I don't understand why so many intelligent critics can't see what Lincoln saw.

The Civil War was being fought by BOTH sides as an issue of states' rights. Lincoln wanted to preserve the union. The Confederacy wanted to cancel its membership in what it viewed as a kind of gentleman's club. Of course, for the South, it was to preserve a slave economy that supported a wealthy aristocracy. The most important "right" of the states, from their point of view, was the preservation of slavery.

But four slave-holding states had not seceded: Missouri, Maryland, Delaware, and Kentucky. And that's all Lincoln had to do was turn it into a war to free the slaves. He'd be fighting a Civil War against four MORE states. And that's not counting the racism among many Northerners who genuinely believed in the union -- with or without slavery. It seems like two plus two to me, yet Lincoln still gets barbs from the left for not outlawing slavery before the Emancipation Proclamation that, in itself, only granted freedom to some slaves, not all.

The program slights Lincoln too by dismissing his notion of sending slaves somewhere else because America was a "one-race nation." Of course it sounds bent now, but the importing of slaves had stopped only forty years earlier. Some undoubtedly still had family in Africa, and slavery was outlawed everywhere else in the Western hemisphere. It was one of several reasons behind the Mexican-American war. I hope future historians are easier on us than we are on Lincoln.

In any case, the Emancipation Proclamation was greeted with joy among the abolitionists. It freed all the slaves in the South, on paper. Now all that needed to be done was to win the war. Blacks were enlisted in the army. Douglass' two sons joined, as did Garrison's first born son. The Emanicipation Proclamation had freed the slaves but it didn't make slavery illegal. The thirteenth amendment to the Constitution did that immediately after the war.

The consequences of slavery, in my opinion, are still with us. The insults of the past have been carried through generations and created a self-conscious group of victims. African-Americans now have a solidarity that most white people don't. There remains a wall between the races. On both sides of the wall, it's "us" against "them." We seem unable to breach the wall.

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