Kidnapped by the State: Maryland’s Response to January 1, 1860 Emancipation Proclamation
By Purnell Pinkney (February 20, 2015)
In observance of Black History Month, this article deviates from the customary socio-political commentary and instead describes an historical event which affected the lives of a large number of African Americans at the dawn of their statutory freedom in January 1863. It is intended to animate the lives of our African American ancestors and to document a single occurrence in their valiant struggle for human dignity, family cohesion and constitutional justice in their native land…the United States of America.
A DESPERATE ALLIANCE
As the long, bloody American Civil War entered its most critical phase, President Abraham Lincoln issued a January 1, 1863 Emancipation Proclamation. This 5 page handwritten document forever changed the human landscape of the United States and ushered in an era of social chaos and political violence that lasted up through the 1960s.The proclamation declared “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “ are, and henceforward shall be free.” Lincoln’s wording of the order indicated that there were states not in rebellion against the Union. Maryland, Delaware, Kentucky, Missouri and the newly created West Virginia were assigned the status of what came to be known as “border states.” Maryland remained in the Union, albeit barely. To assure Maryland’s continued allegiance to the Union, President Lincoln suspended Habeas Corpus and arrested 30% of its state legislature’s members, forcing cancellation of its sessions due to lack of a quorum.
During the Civil War, 60,000 troops from Maryland fought for the Union and 25,000 joined the Confederate army. With this situation and other signs of Southern sympathy evident in the state, Lincoln decided to post a Union Army regiment in the city of Baltimore for the duration of the war. Maryland had to remain in the Union or Washington D.C. would be surrounded by Confederate states and separated from the protection of Union military forces.
With secessionist sentiment in Maryland firmly suppressed, Lincoln turned his attention to more pressing matters. He issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which in effect, granted freedom to “some” slaves at the time of its enactment …but not to “all” of the slaves in America. That peculiar situation, partial liberation, posed a unique set of circumstances for the state of Maryland. Though slaves were free, according to the law, only the slaves in the Confederate states were actually being released from servitude. Clearly, it was just a matter of time before emancipation arrived in Maryland. Political leaders in the state sensed that the dismantling of the state’s slave-based economic system was in progress and braced for its impact by devising an incredible scheme. The desperate plot required the cooperation of then MD Governor, Augustus W. Bradford, the Maryland State Legislature in Annapolis, local sheriffs in each county of the state and the Maryland Courts; the elements of a state-wide conspiracy quietly gathered behind closed doors.
On September 22, 1862, President Lincoln indicated his intention to abolish slavery issue by announcing his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. Once and for all he was prepared to established that slavery was at the root of Civil War; a conclusion that the slaves had reached from the beginning of the conflict. Lincoln’s announcement sent shockwaves through the slave-owning plantation class in Maryland. With an economy firmly resting upon free labor and unrestrained control of a captive labor force, the state’s aristocracy faced unparalleled financial disaster if radical and sudden changes to that arrangement became law. The impending emancipation of Maryland’s slaves meant that a labor crisis of unprecedented proportion was rapidly bearing down on the suddenly vulnerable plantation class. A way of economic and social life generations in the making now faced unexpected and imminent collapse.
At risk, was the cumulative wealth of generations of inherited and acquired assets produced from an abominable system of chattel slavery. Most people in the commonwealth never knew a different way of life. There was no way that the Maryland aristocracy could stand by and allow the means of their own impoverishment to unfold unresisted and by way of a statute that they considered an illegal intrusion into property rights.
The governing elite of Maryland had slightly more than three months to devise a plan to counter what seemed to be the certain issuance of a general emancipation order by President Lincoln. But how can an entire slave work force be replaced on short notice? The solution to this and other equally important questions strained the ability of the white political/economic ruling class to think rationally and critically. In the face of a threat to the planter-class way of life that was unimaginable in the recent past, Maryland’s elites turned to what they knew held their slavocracy together; brute force. Almost reflexively, a contingency plan was devised to coerce the blacks in the state to submit to the will of the white power elites in the state. This would be a struggle against the Federal government, against the human impulse for freedom and potentially against the armed might of the Union Army.
Poor whites, who were generally held in disdain by the plantation class, watched the dilemma unfold in bewilderment. Many of them were convinced that rich whites who had for so long viewed them with contempt, were now being forced out of their lofty positions at the top of the economic ladder. This underclass of poor whites lacked the skills, the will and the numbers to replace the labor of the black slave class. Free blacks, who for various reasons had been manumitted by their owner, had long been marginalized within the slave system. Their movement was proscribed and they were routinely forced to work at jobs that did not compete with whites. They too were wary of the idea of a general emancipation; uncertain of how they would be situated in a wage-based, free market economy.
Maryland’s primary cash crop in the 1800’s was tobacco. This plant required manual labor-intensive cultivation to get to market. An unpaid workforce, bound to the land was the ideal situation for the plantation owners. The only way to acquire and maintain such a group of workers was by chattel slavery; an institution already in place in the state, but facing inevitable dismantling by a Republican president, Abraham Lincoln. To salvage some remnant of the reprehensible, but lucrative, slave system—an alternative arrangement needed to be hastily constructed. Under the pressure of time constraints, the Maryland State Legislature, Governor Augustus W. Bradford, County Sheriffs and State Judges conspired to counter any potential federal prohibitions against slavery by corrupting the purpose and authority of the State of Maryland’s Orphans Court. The plan these “border-state” conspirators agreed upon was cunning, but ill-conceived; yet also revealing in that it exposed the level of desperation that the slave-owning class had reached in their effort to maintain power.
A MOST DESPICABLE ACT
With statutory slavery in the final stages of dissolution and a bloody civil war raging, former masters in many instances thought that former slaves would remain loyal to “old master and old mistress.” Slavery had held together the parts of the old society, but all of that was now dissolving. Former slave owners vainly searched for ways to salvage the essence of the old chattel system. All the while slaves were abandoning plantations in droves. Those too old to leave were sometimes being forced off of the plantations and forced to fend for themselves as they faced an uncertain future thrust upon them by spiteful former owners. These unfortunate souls faced starvation, declining health, disorientation and a lingering death. The white plantation class, nonetheless, held to the view that the customs and rituals of slavery still prevailed and they intended to demonstrate their commitment to that conviction. The inevitable showdown between the abolitionists of the Republican Party and the slave owning class of the Democratic Party careened toward a critical mass.
“For on the very first day of emancipation (January 1, 1863), all over the state, they (former slave owners) began seizing freedmen’s children and whisking them off to the county seats, sometimes by the wagonloads, to be bound as apprentices to the county orphan courts. Slaveholders who had opposed emancipation with the prediction that ex-slave children would be thrown into destitution hastened to make liars of themselves by apprenticing even infants…though they generally preferred children old enough to work. The old apprenticeship laws allowed binding to suitable masters and mistresses with the parents’ consent, while giving the orphans’ court discretion to act without the consent of parents adjudged vagrant or thought not to be inculcating proper ‘habits of industry.’ Whatever scant protection black parents and children might have expected from such an open-ended law, conceived in the first instance as a means of subordinating free black people in a slave society, went by the board in the scramble that followed emancipation. Judges did not even bother to hear testimony concerning the parents’ ability to care for the children; and the fact that the children; and the fact that masters and mistresses frequently hired the apprentices out and appropriated their wages sufficiently contradicted the argument that the children were without means of support. In fact, some of the children at the time of their seizure had already entered agreements, approved by their parents, to work for wages. Parents attempting to reclaim from apprenticeship children from whom they had been separated in slavery were apt to be confronted with the contention that, as they had not cared for the children before, they had no claim to them now.” Slavery and Freedom on the Middle Ground: Maryland during the Nineteenth Century – Barbara Jeanne Fields, Yale University Press, 1985.
As late as 1873, some black ex-slave parents were still trying to regain custody of their own children. As word of this outrageous perversion of the legal system in Maryland made its way into Washington D.C., the Freedmen’s Bureau began to file suits against former slave owners asking the courts to reverse rulings based on Writs of Replevin; demands by slave owners for the return of their human property. Parents who summoned the courage to appear in court in defense of their children were sometimes physically attacked with impunity by former owners or constables in the court room, in full view of sitting judges. These county judges became the main obstacles to productive, meaningful lives of ex-slaves through a concerted effort to as much as possible create a system of semi-servitude that mirrored the pre-emancipation era. As the influence and authority of the federal Freedmen’s Bureau waned, oppression of Maryland’s emancipated slaves increased. Even an October 1867 United States Circuit Court ruling with Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase presiding, which established that any distinctions between white and black apprentices was illegal, failed to liberate illegally indentured black children.
“(Slave) Masters had always claimed the labor of the slaves by right of personal ownership, not as a commodity which, belonging to the slaves themselves, had to be purchased from them and regulated through the impersonal mediation of the market” – Barbara Jeanne Fields, Yale University Press, 1985.
THE AFTERMATH: “STANDIN YERE WONDRIN”
It took several hundred years, horrific bloodshed and the collective prayers of untold numbers of black slaves for the mercy of God to reach out and deliver slaves in America from perpetual bondage. Release from the clutches of slavery was the miracle that slaves in Maryland had plaintively beseeched their creator to grant them. When on January 1, 1863, that “great day of Jubilee” finally came in Maryland, its arrival was accompanied by an outrageous insult from slave owners desperate to maintain vestiges of the old chattel slavery system. The plantation class needed an immediate source of free labor. In an effort to meet that need, a cabal of planters, legislators, judges and law enforcement officers, the powerbrokers of the state of Maryland, secretly mobilized to arbitrarily separate black children from their black parents and relatives. Confused, powerless and overwhelmed by immobilizing sadness, these parents were forced to comply with the demands of the Maryland authorities or face the physical brutality of the enforcement arm of the government in the form of local sheriffs or constables. The elation of emancipation almost immediately gave way to dreaded recollections of the old bondage system. It was the U.S. government that had freed the slaves, so the former slaves naturally looked to the government for protection and intervention when they were abused or mistreated. Clearly, the forced apprenticing of black children qualified as maltreatment of the highest order. These black families appealed to the one agency in the U.S. government they most trusted to represent their interests; the Bureau of Refugees Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, commonly known as the Freedmen’s Bureau.
In October 1865 the Freedmen’s Bureau was established by the “Radical Republican Congress” to aid, protect and provide for the 4 million ex-slaves in the United States. This federal agency represented freed blacks in legal matters and employment conflicts, as a sort of public defender advocate. As expected, this agency became the first line of defense for beleaguered black families in litigation against unscrupulous plantation owners. The stakes were high, as this was a matter of survival for the former slave owners, and a case of long awaited new beginnings for black Americans.
Black Marylanders braced themselves and settled into long-term legal struggles with their former white masters. But a brutally racist court system generally proved to be an insurmountable legal obstacle to full relief. With the help of the Freedmen’s Bureau, any of these black families seeking custody of their own children had to file cases against the state; an almost medieval process in the 1800’s. Rather soon, the Freedmen’s Bureau lost enthusiasm for the child apprenticing cases. For at the same time, Bureau agents were confronted with the task of feeding, sheltering, providing health care and reviewing labor contracts for hundreds of thousands of ex-slaves; a monumental job. In a few frustrating years, rather than pursue these cases to a legal conclusion, the agency began to recommend that illegally apprenticed black children remain in place so as to avoid lengthy litigation. As a result, criminal complaints of illegal apprenticeships from black parents remained on the Bureau’s books as late as 1870, with the Maryland state legislature still addressing the issue in 1876.
“Apprenticeship in Maryland not only faced opposition from the national state (as represented by the Freedmen’s Bureau) but more importantly, quickly outlived its usefulness to the former (slave) owners who had at first seized eagerly upon it. As a means of helping them (the slave owning class) cope with the reality of emancipation, its function was transitional. As a direct device for the compulsion of (free) labor, its scope had been limited all along.”- B.J. Fields, p.153.
Former slave owners eventually realized that the estimated 2,519 (black) children apprenticed by coercion between November 1864 and April 1867 could never replace the more than 87,000 slaves in Maryland who were freed at the time of emancipation. The ex-slaves had no interest in why their former masters would demand the right to exploit the labor of defenseless minors. The former slaves only knew that their children were being forcefully taken from them.
By Purnell Pinkney
Children derive exquisite pleasure out of playing the game of “pretend.” All kinds of personas are suddenly possible in this game and credibility merely requires holding the attention of playmates long enough to impress and entertain. That’s what children do in their innocence. They play social make-believe games. Adults also play the “pretend game;” it’s called acting, Hollywood, the “silver screen, “Broadway” and a half dozen or so other names. As adults however, “pretending” is serious big-business…in fact it is a socio-cultural, cash-cow industry. Actors of all shapes, sizes, ages, colors and levels of ability, are paid handsomely to pretend that they are not themselves, but rather, that they are some imaginary character freshly minted from the mind of a skilled writer. The “star” actor class in America… the 5% to 10% of them, who earn approximately 85% to 90% of the total wages paid to all of these performers, are generally recognized as “celebrities.”
So powerful has the influence of Hollywood celebrities grown that their cinematic success is now wrongly assumed to indicate… 1) elevated IQ’s and 2) possession of political notions of what is best for the American people. And so the U.S. public finds itself being nudged in a certain social and political direction by a class of people who are, a) paid to “NOT” be their “REAL” selves, b) who must constantly seek the personal approval of the public, c) who as a result of that pursuit are most likely to be neurotic to various degrees, d) who at all costs must maintain their theatrical persona in order to sustain marketability and e) who spend their entire professional lives avoiding the public exposure of their private lives. No one can be reliably certain of when these people are “in” or “out” of character. But so profound is the impact of the images of these folks on the silver screen, that a normally rational viewing audience will abandon common sense and bestow upon these performers some sort of special gift of prescience. In committing this error of presumption, the public inadvertently elevates ordinary everyday people who happen to work in an exclusive occupation to the lofty status of a kind of “American Nobility.” On a wide range of socio-political issues, large numbers of enthusiastic admirers eagerly subscribe to the opinions and judgments of this movie land pseudo-aristocracy. These fans steadfastly refuse to acknowledge that everything about Hollywood, including the actors and actresses, is contrived, controlled, fictitious, fake or imaginary…everything, that is, except the cash raked in by various studios from the revenues generated from the periodic block buster film.
So popular has the trade in fantasy become that Hollywood in recent times has slowly ratcheted up its influence on a dumbed-down public and openly entered partisan politics. Hollywood is now an unapologetically leftist operation. It is using its influence and financial clout to advance the agenda of the leftist elements in American politics by appealing to the naïve sensibilities of America’s millennials and at the same time, troll for the support of independents and minorities. This industry was instrumental in President Obama’s 2008 election and 2012 re- election. Nonetheless, it is now becoming evident that dealing in fantasy while positioning to dispense political and social dogma is a recipe for national chaos.
Regrettably black men in America are innocent casualties of this political “passion play.” The Hollywood version of America’s black men call for violent, misanthropic, unrefined, immature, predatory images and no amount of appealing to the studios to stop the damaging trend has produced results. There are no disclaimers on crazy-violent films that warn that the contents are make-believe…not true-to-life. Where there is viewer confusion, fantasy becomes dangerous; especially for black men in America at the hands of Hollywood studio executives. It can generate false images, untrue characterizations and more importantly, the attribution of beliefs, values and behaviors to black men that are misleading and derogatory. Notice that the unpredictable brute stereotype attached to black men who are actors continues to persist and just as importantly, these characterizations continue to fill the seats in movie theaters.
Having succeeded in casting black men and black communities as hopelessly pathological, Hollywood set its sights on imposing its version of social, economic and political reality on the American public via mass media scripting of certain elements of the secular- progressive agenda. To accomplish this objective, Hollywood relied upon the method it knows best; scripting. Without a script, Hollywood implodes…just as it did during the turbulent Civil Rights, Anti-War, “Academic Freedom” era of the 1960’s.
At that time theaters and movie houses simply became irrelevant as the “real” world of reconciling America’s espoused values with its actual values was publicly debated. During these epic struggles, fantasy was put in its proper place; the bottom of the list of national priorities. Hollywood struggled mightily through that slump and was unable to extricate itself from the decline until it stumbled upon the novel idea of “Blaxploitaion Movies.” The first and most successful of these movies was the block buster film, “Super Fly.” It is the opinion of many that this film, with its all-black cast, single-handedly ended the Black Power movement and the Civil Rights movement in America while simultaneously ushering in a self-indulgent era that glorified and encouraged sex, drugs and criminality in black communities across America. The effects of this movie and others of that genre are still reverberating throughout black communities across the nation.
But the film industry was just beginning to flex its muscles…for it had rediscovered the vulnerability of the American viewing audience to the power of suggestion and cinematic imagery. The transition from influencing pop-culture to orchestrating political thought proved to be an easy task; the apparatus was already in place. The studios had money, politicians, an ideology and an impressionable new audience to engage. This alliance was so powerful and new on the American political landscape that it was difficult to counter; for it had no clearly defined leader or identity to refute or discredit. Consequently, this union of Hollywood and political dogma appeared vague and innocuous. Even more important was that this scripting alliance was so positioned that its objectives appeared to represent the enlightened will of the American people.
The strategic weak link in this coalition however, was the absence of a means of stifling popular opposition to the scheme. To remedy that problem, “political correctness” which had been steadily injected into the public psyche over a period of about 20 years, was the perfect solution…shame and the prospect of public vilification throttled dissent. No one and nothing dared to openly oppose the Hollywood/progressive/leftist agenda; neither churches, not conservatives nor the activist “Tea Party” groups ventured to risk the wrath of this new alliance.
For a while the agenda of this new force was virtually unstoppable … and then something happened. It became increasingly clear that nothing that the liberal-progressive Congress and President succeeded in passing into law, produced the desired results. Consequently, anything they wanted that failed to obtain legislative success was forced on the American public by activist judges and a passive U.S. Attorney General. Though the crown jewel of the Left’s agenda, “amnesty for 10 million illegal aliens” still eludes Congressional passage…it is almost a foregone conclusion that president Obama is “evolving” on the issue and will grant the amnesty before he leaves office in 2016.
Is it possible that the present state of affairs in America is the result of a series of scripted socio-political legislation introduced by the Left and aimed at creating a new version of America by totally dismantling the value system, religious ideals and social mores that have made the United States the most powerful and influential nation in modern history? The answer to this question seems to be a resounding “yes.” If there is sufficient evidence to conclude that Hollywood is complicit in this scheme, then it can be established once and for all that the use of scripting as a political tactic is indeed being used as a device to lull the masses into a sense of false security all the while subjecting the same masses to manipulation by an unprincipled cabal of zealots whose intent is to force their views upon the electorate.
Black men were always suspicious of the sudden and ubiquitous changes being forced upon them and their communities across the nation. Political correctness suppressed the concerns of these men however, and the Left ran roughshod over their sensibilities as the scripting expanded and intensified to encompass freedom of speech on certain subjects and personal behavior with respect to other situations. Nonetheless black men generally acquiesced to the script as it was given to them…if not they risked being accused of violating “political correctness” protocol and faced certain exposure to public ridicule by the media. This situation amounted to a form of psycho-social, high-stakes, behavioral blackmail. So how does this scripting operate in its ordinary and practical application?
Consider these examples:
1. One of Hollywood’s most masculine, macho, tough-looking actors suddenly announces his support for homosexual marriage. A few months later he produces a flop of a movie about a 1960s singing group. His movie was heavily promoted and released. Looked like the studios rewarded him for his favorable public stance on homosexuality. Scripted?? Looks possible.
2. Bill and Hillary Clinton were vehemently against homosexual marriage when President Clinton signed the DOMA Bill in 1996. By 2008 they were vigorously for it and in 2012 they encouraged the U.S. Justice Department not to enforce it laws against it. Sudden conversion…or scripting?
3. Anyone who disagrees with the liberal party-line is a bully, bigot or a Neanderthal. These labels enter the public discourse through the media and gain general acceptance. The use of the labels however, is a misapplication of the terms. Scripting??
4. A mediocre NBA player announced that he is a homosexual and the President of the United States invited him to the White House. Sales of his jersey supposedly skyrocket. At present this player is apparently not on the court but is being used as a “Poster Child” for diversity of any kind. Scripting gone sour??
5. Mr.Obama condones gay marriage and a slew of Hollywood types; male and female “come out” to the applause and admiration of their peers. Some of them were in career slumps and used the “disclosure” to try to re-charge flagging careers. Others had no career and try to use the gay card to jump-start a career in cinema. Actors vie for the opportunity to disclose their sexuality. Scripting??
6. President Obama laments the inaction of Congress on immigration and signals his sympathy for illegals and waves women and children besiege the US southern border overwhelming resources and personnel. It is the largest mass migration of unescorted children across international borders since the Europe’s “Children’s Crusade” to free the Christian Holy Land in the year 1212 AD. Latinos sending their children on a 1200 mile trip alone, through dangerous territory, on the top of freight trains?? No one saw them as they debarked? No one saw them coming toward the U.S. border?? Nonsense…this was a clear case of Scripting.
7. Global warming did not seem to find traction so now the liberal mantra is switched to “climate change.” No explanation for the change is offered.
8. A homosexual football player awaiting his selection to an NFL team announced his gay orientation to the fanfare of national press coverage. After a tearful acknowledgement that he had been drafted in the last round of the NFL draft he kissed his boyfriend in the mouth on national TV and it was replayed over and over ad nauseum by liberal media groups. Weeks later he had a book deal with Oprah and an exclusive interview on her show. A few months later the gay player was released by the Dallas Cowboys, the last team to give him a shot. For whatever reasons, he is no longer in the NFL. There was very little media coverage of his being cut from the squad in Dallas. Scripting gone sour??
9. The media encourages American children to play soccer. Soon a ho-hum American soccer team drafts one of the world’s premier players to bolster sagging attendance at games. US sports media have a field day covering the occasion and the player receives immediate commercial endorsement contracts. The player, Mr. David Beckham leaves at the end of his contract not to return. Americans consistently reject soccer as a mainstream major sport to the dismay of the scripting machine!!
10. A horrific shooting takes place and the script calls for the media to attack the 2nd amendment and gun ownership in America. A solemn President Obama appears on TV to call for much stricter gun control. No mention of the mental condition of the perpetrator is made. The people who have done most of the mass killings in America are proven to be mentally imbalanced. The Script calls for silence if confronted with that sort of evidence. It calls for silence on the murder and mayhem in the streets of President Obama’s hometown, Chicago. In 2011 the city recorded nearly 500 murders annually by criminals with guns acquired by extra-legal means. Scripting perhaps??
11. Common Core was considered the “Holy Grail” of the liberal educational agenda. It has been revealed to be a “Common Crime” against the children on America. The script called for complete adherence to the dictates of the program. The American people are rejecting the plan completely in state after state. Script gone sour??
12. The script calls for the rejection of organized religion and in particular Christianity. Religious organizations have taken to the courts to protect their First Amendment rights and they are prevailing in most cases. Script reversal??
13. The script calls for the Holder Justice department to selectively enforce the laws of the nation. Suits filed against the U.S. Justice Department are piling up and aimed at forcing that agency to enforce the laws of the land.
14. Using the IRS to blunt the efforts of conservative groups to legally organize was another key element of the script. That plan has been exposed and discredited. Civil and criminal suites have been filed against the IRS and key administrators therein. Script gone awry??
15. Americans want jobs. The script call for a welfare state. President Obama extends unemployment benefits as long as he can to stave off an inevitable crisis resulting from the lack of jobs. Script out of control??
The fundamental change that president Obama promised the nation and by extension, black men, in 2008 is a far cry from the transformation that black men had expected. And besides, the details of the planned transformation were never fully explained. As a result, different demographics had different notions of how the transformation would occur and how they would be affected. African American men naively thought that change meant a new day in employment opportunities, safe communities, health care, education, business opportunities and access to the Oval Office to present the case for black America’s inclusion in the impending prosperity of the nation. Instead they got smoke and mirrors and chastening, condescending lectures on what they needed to do to measure up to the expectations of their nation’s president. The script prepared for black men did not call for their economic advancement or the alleviation of their array of continuing problems. These men were simply written out of the “Hope and Change” agenda, restrained at a safe distance from real political power and given a numbing dose of “benign neglect.” There was to be no happy ending in the script prepared for brothers. Instead they were publicly scolded whenever the opportunity presented itself and made to feel that they themselves were the source of all of their problems…that they would continue to languish in poverty, crime and unemployment unless they accepted the script. Black men seem to have rejected that offer and now they are beginning to reject their critic: the President of the United States. The separation appears to be overdue and perhaps even…permanent.