By Dr. Frank Smith (Special from Trice-Edney News Wire)
Editor’s Note: The Association for the Study of African American Life and History, which promotes, preserves and researches the history and culture of African Americans, set the annual 2011 Black History Month theme as “African Americans and the Civil War.” This is the third in a four-part series on the theme.
Well here is the story. The 1860 presidential election was a very close race in which President Lincoln did not even get a majority of the popular vote. By carrying the state of Ohio, Lincoln did, however, win a majority of the votes in the Electoral College and therefore was declared the winner.
As things turned out, the state of Ohio was one of the few states in the Union to allow free Blacks to vote in 1860. In the 1860 race for president in the swing state of Ohio there were 8,900 Black Republicans who voted in the general election in a state that Lincoln carried by 6,000 votes. The Ohio and Pennsylvania newspapers carried the story first saying that the Black vote was decisive in carrying the state for Lincoln. But the southern papers soon picked it up and started to call Lincoln a Black president. The Confederates used the information to spread racial hatred toward Lincoln and the Republican Party.
There was also the issue of the Dred Scott Supreme Court decision that established that Blacks – neither slave nor free — were recognized as citizens under the Constitution.
The Confederates argued that in light of Dred Scott, it was illegal for Ohio to have permitted Blacks to vote; and therefore the Lincoln election should be declared null and void and Lincoln should not be allowed to take office.
As a result, President Lincoln would take office inheriting a divided nation because several states, led by South Carolina, would meet in special session and vote for disunion. One by one these states in their widely circulated “Causes of Secession” cited Lincoln and the Republican Party’s hostility to slavery. They would come together in Montgomery, Ala., to form the rebel republic that would be called the Confederate States of America. They would elect Jefferson Davis as their president, Robert E. Lee to head their rebel army, and set themselves on a course to declare war on the United States of America.
On April 12, 1861, the rebels would fire on Fort Sumter and bring the country to its knees. After two years of trying to save the Union without disturbing slavery, President Lincoln — as a military necessity — would be forced to issue the Emancipation, free the slaves, and enlist 200,000 Blacks as soldiers into the Union army in order to save the nation. Citing the argument that the United States Colored Troops (USCT) had earned the right to freedom, citizenship and vote, Congress would amend the Constitution to end slavery and pass still another Amendment to end slavery and make Blacks citizens.
Blacks played a decisive role in the Ohio election of President Lincoln and came to his aid on the battlefield to help decide the outcome of the Civil War.
April 12, 2011 will mark the 150th anniversary of the firing on Ft. Sumter and the start of the American Civil War. The African American Civil War Memorial Foundation will commemorate the beginning Civil War with celebrities reading from Civil War period newspapers, speeches, and other documents announcing the coming of the war and its profound effect on the ending of slavery in America. We will also have celebrities read from selected press responses to the election of President Lincoln and the anti- slavery platform of the Republican party of 1860.
The African American Civil War Memorial lists the names of 209,145 Black union soldiers who joined President Lincoln to save the Union and keep it united under one flag. The monument, located at the corner of 10th and U Streets N.W. Washington, D.C., was built by a private foundation that operates a museum. On July 18, 2011 the museum will host a Grand Opening for its newly renovated 5,000 square foot space with new exhibits, artifacts, and state of the art educational programs adjacent to the monument.
Dr. Frank Smith Jr. is executive director of the African American Civil War Museum and Monument.