POST-GAZETTE - Res Publica
Lincoln and King: Freedom and Equality
by David Trumbull -- January 18, 2013

With 12 Oscar nominations, Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" has been nominated for more Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awards than any other motion picture of 2012. The picture is a dramatization of the rounding up of votes, in the United States House of Representatives, to pass the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. The amendment passed by the necessary two-thirds vote of both the House and the Senate and was on its way to ratification by the necessary three-quarters of the States when Lincoln was assassinated on Good Friday, 1865.

Getting the amendment through the House (it had passed easily in the Senate) was a major effort, told in an engaging manner in the movie. Permanently ending slavery in the U.S. by means of Constitutional Amendment was, for Lincoln, an imperative. His Emancipation Proclamation, issued 150 years ago this month, did not free all slaves, being restricted to those in rebellious areas not under the effective control of the United States. Furthermore, as a proclamation based on Lincoln's wartime powers as Commander in Chief, it was uncertain how, or even if, it would have force once peace was concluded.

Limited as it was, the Emancipation Proclamation was the first step in what became an irreversible path toward, first freedom, and later equality, for Americans of African ancestry. In August of 1863 Giuseppe Garibaldi wrote from Italy to President Lincoln, declaring: "Posterity will call you the great emancipator, a more enviable title than any crown could be, and greater than any merely mundane treasure."

The Thirteenth Amendment made African-Americans free. The subsequent Fourteen (application of the civil rights of U.S. citizens to the States) and Fifteenth (right of African-Americans to vote) promised to settled the question of equality. In reality, they marked merely the beginning of the quest for equality of all Americans. It would not be until the civil rights movement of the middle twentieth century that the rights guaranteed by the 14th and 15th Amendments would be effective in every State.

Monday we honor the memory of Martin Luther King, Jr., whose advocacy for nonviolence was essential to the success of the civil rights movement. Like Lincoln, King was assassinated (April 4, 1968) and, like Lincoln, King continues after death to inspire others to carry on the quest for freedom and equality.