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Good morning, it’s Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020. On this date 158 years ago, a wartime president changed the course of American history. Using the carnage on the battlefield at Antietam as a pretext, Abraham Lincoln issued his preliminary version of the Emancipation Proclamation.
On the first day of the coming year, Lincoln’s Sept. 22, 1862 order proclaimed, “all persons held as slaves within any State … in rebellion against the United States shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.”

The measure was carefully constructed to avoid turning public opinion against the federal government in border states, where slavery was still practiced. But once Lincoln’s edict was issued, the die was truly cast. The politician who had insisted that his motivation was to keep the Union intact, the president who had exhorted his generals to crush the rebellion, the prairie statesman who had long argued against human bondage -- suddenly, with a stroke of his pen, all three of those men were one and the same.

I’ll have more on this pivot point in the evolution of the United States in a moment. Astute readers might recall that I wrote about these events in this space three years ago. Then it seemed like history. Today, it feels like current affairs. First, though, let me point you to RealClearPolitics’ front page, which presents our poll averages, videos, breaking news stories, and aggregated opinion pieces spanning the political spectrum. We also offer original material from our own reporters and contributors, including the following:

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GOP Makes Case for Itself as the “Party of American Workers.” Phil Wegmann previews a set of policy proposals being released this morning.

Court Packing Is a Bad Idea. Here’s a Better One. Morton Kondracke explains why Democrats’ threats to expand the Supreme Court would backfire, and how their concerns can be addressed differently.

The American Voter Will Pick Next Supreme Court Justice. Eight GOP senators face tough reelections, so it’s incumbent on the chamber to delay filling Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat until the people weigh in at the polls, James Sieja contends. 

Beware Ad Homonyms. Richard Samuelson recalls Julian Bond’s insights on racial sensitivity/political correctness as another college professor is punished for saying what has been deemed to be the wrong thing.

Trump Won the Big 10 Primary. In RealClearMarkets, A.J. Rice assesses the political impact of the conference’s decision to play football this fall. 

U.S. Leadership in AI Is Not Guaranteed, But It’s Possible. In RealClearPolicy, Reps. Will Hurd and Robin Kelly lay out proposals for staying ahead of the Chinese. 

Decoupling From China Carries Great Risk. In RealClearWorld, Will Krumholz warns that strained relations with Beijing must be addressed by the next president, whoever that is. 

Congress Can Get Deterrence Right in the Asia-Pacific Region. In RealClearDefense, Adam Taylor applauds bipartisan agreement in the House and Senate versions of the National Defense Authorization Act. 

California Has Plenty of Electricity; It’s Just Not Being Used. In RealClearEnergy, Jon Wellinghoff argues that poorly structured energy markets are unsustainable. 

Why Were Some People Buried Face-Down in Medieval Europe? RealClearScience editor Ross Pomeroy spotlights archeologists’ theories.

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Out of respect for the rule of law, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation under his authority as a wartime commander-in-chief. And in 1864, he would convince the delegates at the Republican convention to include in the party's platform a plank calling for a constitutional amendment barring slavery.

Lincoln’s reliance on Antietam as a private rationale for his bold gambit was a stretch: That gruesome engagement was a standoff more than a Union victory. True, it caused Robert E. Lee to abandon his invasion of Maryland, all but eliminating the likelihood Washington would be occupied by rebels. But Union losses were higher than the Confederates' at Antietam, and by keeping much of his force in reserve and not pursuing the weakened Confederates, George B. McClellan had missed his chance to cripple Lee's Army.

The nation would pay a frightful price for McClellan's caution. Then again, it paid a frightful price at Antietam, a one-day battle that cost some 4,000 Americans theirs lives, with another 17,000 wounded, many of them grievously, with several hundred from each army missing and presumed dead.

The fighting began in the foggy dawn on Sept. 17, 1862. It ended by nightfall. The following morning, each side tended to the wounded and buried their dead. No one then alive on these shores had ever witnessed anything like it. In one day, America lost more men in combat than during the War of 1812 and the Mexican-American War combined. It remains the single costliest date in U.S. military history. Antietam's death toll was not surpassed by Pearl Harbor, or D-Day -- or 9/11.

Perhaps the one American unsurprised by this was the man most saddened by it. As author William Lee Miller pointed out in “Lincoln's Virtues,” Abraham Lincoln believed a grim celestial justice was at work in places like Antietam Creek. That the Emancipation Proclamation should emerge from such a crucible had a somber logic to it, which Lincoln more than hinted at in the inaugural address now etched in stone at his memorial.

“It is the passage just preceding the famous last paragraph, with its call for malice toward none and charity for all, and by its dark power it sets off and strengthens the noble ending,” Miller wrote. “That second, long sentence would contain an excruciating picture of the justice of God, and, like the address as a whole, would make stunningly clear than in Lincoln’s view this would be a war about slavery, and that the whole nation was responsible, and must pay a terrible price:

Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’”

Carl M. Cannon 
Washington Bureau chief, RealClearPolitics
@CarlCannon (Twitter)
ccannon@realclearpolitics.com

Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.



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