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Hannibal Courier - Post - Hannibal, MO
  • From the start, John Brooks Henderson had key role in ending slavery

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  • Abraham Lincoln turned to John Brooks Henderson for a very specific reason.
     The president needed a trustworthy cheerleader, and he found one of the best in the lawmaker from the Mississippi River town of Louisiana.
    Pike County author Brent Engel is tracing the history of Henderson’s involvement in ending slavery, and is writing a play entitled “The Forgotten Emancipator” that will be staged later this year.
    Engel said that just two months after being appointed to the Senate, Henderson was championing Lincoln’s efforts.
    On March 26, 1862, Henderson offered a joint resolution calling for the federal government to compensate slave owners in states that adopted emancipation.
     He added that no state which accepted the deal could then withdraw from the Union, and that all states could return at the end of the Civil War.
    Engel said Lincoln reached out to border state legislators such as Henderson because he was searching for ways to prevent losing more territory to the South as he tried to confirm federal power and end the war.
    “A practical re-acknowledgement of the national authority would render the war unnecessary, and it would cease at once,” Lincoln said. “If, however, resistance continues, the war must also continue, and it is impossible to foresee all of the incidents which may attend, and all of the ruin which may follow.”
    On the floor of the Senate on March 27, 1862, Henderson said he regarded the president’s words as “a prophecy I believe will be realized if this war continues.”
    Henderson said that the resolution on compensated emancipation was intended as a first step, and that it showed the states that the federal government had no intention of retribution.
    Lincoln’s proposal “comes not in the spirit of arrogance, demanding conformity with the views of others, but with humility, acknowledging that if slavery be an evil it is a sin for which we are all responsible, and for the removal of which we are willing to come with practical benevolence,” Henderson said.
    The senator pointed out that the monstrous amount of money spent on the war would have easily paid for the freedom of every slave in America, had reason won over bloodlust.
    “If northern men had treasured these things, and learned that kind words can accomplish more than wrath, and if southern men had resolved to look upon slavery as upon other questions of moral and political economy, and both had determined to examine this as all other subjects – in calmness and deliberation – we would have been spared the evils that now oppress us,” Henderson said.
    A week later, the Senate voted to ban slavery in the District of Columbia. Lincoln signed it within days. Henderson opposed the measure, saying that the number of blacks still held in bondage was declining rapidly there and that the “laws of labor” would eventually lead to slavery’s end.
    Page 2 of 2 - But he also took a moment to chastise Northerners for their attitudes about black people. He said that until views changed, there was no point in unrestrained emancipation.
     “Whether this position be true or not, the future may demonstrate that the present nominal slavery of the three thousand (blacks in Washington, D.C.) is but little worse, if any, than that boasted heaven-born freedom which makes the negro a social and political outcast in every northern State of the Union,” he said.
    Lincoln later lost interest in compensated emancipation, as well as a proposal to set up a colony for freed blacks in Central America. Instead, he quietly began drafting what would become the Emancipation Proclamation.
    A Confederate retreat at Antietam in September 1862 gave Lincoln the prod he needed to publish the document on Jan. 1, 1863.
    For his part, Henderson said he would not admonish slave-owners from his state or those who were fighting for the Union, but told everyone within earshot that he could never side with Southerners who believed Africans to be inferior or those who espoused slavery as a natural condition for blacks.
    Henderson also pledged his allegiance to the Union, swearing never to “lift a hand against my country.”
    “If you commit errors, or outrage public sentiment, I want no other revolution than the right of the ballot box,” he said. “With the Constitution unimpaired, we may yet appeal to the popular heart for the approval of right and the redress of wrong.”
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