September 22, 2012: 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation

2012 marks the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, an original of which – signed by Abraham Lincoln – hangs with honor in the Oval Office.

On September 22, 1862, President Lincoln announced his intention to order the emancipation of slaves in any confederate state that refused to return to the union.  None did, and on January 1, 1863, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.  The thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution at last made slavery illegal throughout the United States in 1865.  A long-festering national wound that divided America and helped provoke what was at the time one of the bloodiest Civil Wars in human history was finally closing.

Unlike any other nation, Canada had a prominent historical role in the end of American slavery.  The Underground Railroad was a network of secret routes and safe houses used by 19th-century slaves to escape to free states and to Canada, with the aid of abolitionists and allies sympathetic to their cause.  Figures vary, but as many as 30,000 slaves may have made their way to Canada.  They formed the beginnings of communities in Nova Scotia, Quebec, and Southern Ontario that exist to this day.

150 years ago, Canadians and Americans seeking to liberate people from oppression and bondage worked together to change history.

We have an opportunity to do it again.

There are still people held in servitude around the world.  Human traffickers hold as many as 27 million men, women, and children in compelled service, the modern form of slavery.  This trafficking in persons is a crime that affects every country in the world, including the United States and Canada.  Victims of human trafficking are subjected to violence and fear.  They cannot walk away.  But we can help them escape.The United States and Canada, along with many other nations, are committed to ending modern slavery wherever it exists.  Through prevention, prosecution, and protection – the “Three P Approach” — more victims are rescued and more traffickers are prosecuted each and every year.

We’re making progress, but we need help.  Government cannot do it alone.

So to meet this goal, we will need the fourth P—for partnership.  Ending modern slavery will require a wide range of partners: civil society, the faith community, the private sector, and committed individuals like you.

Celebrating the issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation serves to remind us of two things: the evil of slavery, and the noble work of righteous people who put a stop to it.   We should take inspiration from that great work of good to reaffirm our shared commitment to the enduring cause of freedom around the world.  The United States and Canada have been stalwart partners in that cause, in North America and around the world.  I hope everyone will join us in taking a stand for freedom.


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