On the morning of June 19, 1865, more than two months after the end of the Civil War, Major General Gordon Granger arrived on horseback at Galveston, Texas. He had with him some 2,000 Federal troops. The war was over, yet Texas had refused to recognize freedom for those slaves within its jurisdiction. President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, issued two years earlier during the war, had been deemed by several states as an unlawful presidential decree – not a law made by Congress. Before Gordon Granger’s arrival, there had simply not been enough Federal troops in Texas to enforce freedom for those slaves in the State. Now with more than enough Federal troops, and intent on freeing those slaves in Galveston, Gordon Granger’s orders were delivered and the newly freed men celebrated: “Juneteenth” was born.
Juneteenth, however, was not the end of slavery in the United States. Even after Galveston, other states still resisted Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. It was not until the U.S. Congress ratified the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution on December 6, 1865 – almost six months later – that slavery was officially outlawed in the Nation:
“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” – Thirteenth Amendment.
Although certainly not the last chapter in the struggle for Civil Rights in America, the national outlawing of slavery and involuntary servitude was another major milestone toward the ideal of individual liberty, of freedom, and of equality – an ideal that had been set in motion centuries before. Embodied in the political philosophies of writers such as John Locke, Thomas Paine, and Rousseau, it was the spirit of liberty and freedom that compelled the American Colonists to pick up arms and rebel against their King in 1776.
These same notions of freedom and liberty came to be embodied in the Constitution and in the Bill of Rights. Whereas men debated matters that should never be debated again (like the “three fifths compromise) such was the spirit and power of the Constitution that in less than seventy five years after its adoption in 1789, its processes and originating ideals ended the institution of slavery in the United States; an institution that had existed in the world for tens of thousands of years.
Hence, Juneteenth (also called Emancipation Day) is a fitting day to celebrate the end of slavery in the United States. On June 3, 1979, Texas became the first state to proclaim Juneteenth a state holiday, and this past Friday, June 18th, 2021, President Biden declared Juneteenth a National holiday.
Shore Times salutes the spirit of individual liberty and the freedom from oppression for all men and women as embodied in the Constitution and as now celebrated by all on Juneteenth!