OSKALOOSA — Dr. Ronald Rietveld give a presentation on Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation at the Book Vault Tuesday as part of the Mahaska Reads program.
Before the presentation began, William Ottens, director of the Oskaloosa Public Library, discussed the Mahaska Reads program. He said how grateful he felt to be able to bring this program back to life considering it has been idle for two years. Ottens and his team made sure that things were perfect to end the Mahaska Reads program with a crowd-pleasing presentation. Rietveld, a historian and professor emeritus, has spoken at numerous venues in the past to talk specifically about Abraham Lincoln and the history surrounding him. He spoke openly and in depth about Lincoln and the historical document that would abolish slavery forever in this country, — The Emancipation Proclamation.
At the beginning of the of the presentation, Rietveld talked about the Lincoln Library and the 150th anniversary of the Civil War and assassination of Lincoln.
“There are a lot of questions and a lot of mis-information about him,” Rietveld said.
He dove right in weighing on when Lincoln was first elected president.
“On March 4, 1861, when President Lincoln was inaugurated as 16th president of the United States, he said, 'I had no purpose directly or indirectly to interfere with the institution of slavery in the states where it exists and I have no lawful right to do so,'" Rietveld quoted Lincoln as saying.
Rietveld said that during that time, there was very little that Lincoln could do because of the U.S. Constitution. He added that slaves and slavery were deemed as property under the Constitution. Rietveld inferred that slavery was solely up to the states and that it was not a national matter. What led to the shift was the fact that Lincoln figured the slaves could be beneficial by having them fight in the war.
“Just in a matter of months, the only way that Lincoln could save the Union was to become and agent for the freedom of African-Americans in the areas of the rebellion,” Rietveld said.
“If the final Emancipation Proclamation was issued on Jan. 1, 1863, (and) was to be valid by April of 1865, the proclamation would give freedom to the rebel slaves,” he added.
It was the U.S. Supreme Court, the highest law in the land that Rietveld quoted Lincoln as saying, "If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong."
He also said that during the 1850s, it was a very violent time. They would have fights on the House floor as it related to the slavery issue.
“In March of 1862, there was a joint resolution passed to aid any state willing to adopt a plan of gradual emancipation,” Rietveld said.
He explained in his presentation that slaves could be put to work in some capacity.
“They could be used to build roads and trenches and do all the stuff the white soldier could do,” he said.
It was one day in July that he revealed for the first time that he was thinking about this proclamation.
“Lincoln had a habit of thinking on paper and would write everything down without anyone seeing. But in the case of this important idea that Lincoln had, it was imperative the issues regarding slavery, the war, and the status of the country were all addressed. When he was planing this document he faced heavy criticism from critics from all sides of the spectrum.
“The moderate Republicans were not happy, conservatives were not happy, the radicals were not happy and the Democrats were not happy,” Rietveld said.
“On December 1, 1862, (Lincoln) suggested three constitutional amendments to the United States Constitution that congress should pass and they supported these. One would be that each state where slavery existed would be abolished by January 1, 1900,” Rietveld said.
Rietveld said that slavery was so much apart of life during that time, that people thought it would take a generation to end the institution (of slavery).
It was said that Lincoln would often be seen wearing kid gloves. The reason was because he would shake many hands with individuals that it would badly injure his hand. By the time he was ready to sign the Emancipation Proclamation, he made several attempts to sign the document because his hands were badly swollen. Lincoln was afraid that if people saw him trembling while signing it, it would make people think he hesitated to sign it. When he finished signing it he said, "that will do."
Rietveld said the original document was lost in the great Chicago fire in 1861. In addition, Lincoln refused to alter the Proclamation even when under pressure from his colleagues and close advisors. This was true especially in the boarder states.
Rietveld addressed a letter that was written to the citizens of Springfield, Ill.
"I certainly wish that all men could be free...It certainly cannot be retracted any more than a dead man can be brought to life. The promise made must be kept," Rietveld quoted Lincoln as saying.
“In December of 1863, an Ohio Congressmen introduced a joint resolution to submit to the states as a proposition to emend the Constitution by abolishing slavery forever,” Rietveld said.
In April of 1864, the resolution to abolish slavery failed in the House with less than 2/3 vote.
It was when Fredrick Douglas entered the scene, where he tried to get Lincoln's attention, which he did. Douglas was amazed that he was treated with equality as apposed to someone who is black. Douglas and Lincoln had a conversation and he was impressed with his overall presence.
“The amendment to end slavery was effective November 18, 1865," Rietveld said.
City Editor Jonathan R. Pitman can be reached by email at email@example.com