10 Lies You’re Told About American Slavery

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Slavery remains one of the most uncomfortable subjects in the history of the United States of America. Indeed, it can hardly be relegated to being only American “history” as we’ll soon see in greater depth. There are large groups of historical revisionists that have a vested interest in trying to downplay it or reshape it in a way that’s more comfortable for their agendas. There are also some people that have grown up with overly simplistic versions of slavery in the past and its current state. We here at TopTenz will strive do our small part to push back against both.

10. “Abolitionism was a Popular Northern Movement”

The idea that Union armies marched with the intention of freeing slaves is integral to the romanticization of the American Civil War and the lionizing of Abraham Lincoln, as seen in speeches like the one that Jeff Daniels gives in film Gettysburg. It gave a long, grueling war a sense of purpose that was meant to help everyone feel better about the end result.

It’s also not really what the situation actually was like in the North. The New York Times reports that as recently as 1860 an abolitionist movement called the Liberty Party ran a candidate that didn’t win a majority in a single county. The largest abolition newspaper in the country only had a circulation of around three thousand at a time when the combined population of the Northern states was more than twenty million. Even among the black population that joined the Union Army, the vast majority were former slaves recently freed by the army they joined. When the Emancipation Proclamation was signed in 1862, it led to a spike in desertions among Union troops, some of whom were explicit about how emancipation was the motivating factor. In brief, it could hardly have been said that the average soldier would have been moved by a speech about freeing slaves.

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