From now on at the beginning of each post, I will add several interesting tidbits about Luxembourg’s culture that YOU probably did not know.
Fact 1: In a recent poll, Luxembourgers picked Les Miserables — pronounced “less meiser-able-leez” if you’re from West Texas — as their favorite musical.
Fact 2 (with perhaps more truth than Fact 1): The national animal of the Grand Duchy is the lion, a Earth creature made famous in the Disney classic The Lion King.
Fact 3: Cook County is the reason I’m running into issues with my dual-citizenship project. I technically have everything I need, but the less-than-competent employees at the records office in Chicago, located under Daley Plaza, decided not to certify documents that I specifically asked them, in several clearly written and easy-to-understand letters, to certify. Now that I’m in the nation’s capital, I’m planning not a trip to Luxembourg, but Chicago, where I will raise all hell in the records office with my Aunt Mary Lou, herself a anti-government conservative who has a passion for ranting about government corruption and inefficiency.
I think I’ll stick with three facts per post. I’m not sure if y’all can retain this vitally important information. I might have already intimidated you with my wealth of knowledge pertaining to the world’s only Grand Duchy — did you know that? Huh? HUH? BET YA DIDN’T.
Standing in Line for the Emancipation Proclamation
Yesterday I stood in line for two and a half hours, outside in the 20-degree weather of DC, to see three-fifths of the Emancipation Proclamation, which happened to be celebrating its 150th birthday. The Proclamation kind of sort of freed slaves in the states of the confederacy — read Eric Foner’s assessment of the document below — and is rarely shown in public due to its fragile condition (Unlike the Charters of Freedom, which were written on high-quality animal skin paper, Lincoln wrote his Jan. 1, 1863, military order on poor-quality 19th century paper, which, after being improperly stored in the State Department until the 1930s, deteriorated so rapidly that its restoration has proved a tough task).
Although seeing the pages themselves elicited from me what I call a historygasm, waiting in line proved to be a living hell. It wasn’t the waiting itself that frustrated me; while I waited, I read half a book, titled Where They Stand, that Sarah’s parents gave me for Christmas and that is also written by Robert Merry, who also authored my favorite Polk biography. It was the people behind me in line who were, for lack of an appropriate word that gives justice to their insufferableness, pricks. They complained the entire time about the slow pace of the line. The man and woman even made a competition of it.
“Well you went to Starbucks to get us coffee,” he said snidely. “I’ve been out here 30 minutes longer. You shouldn’t be complaining.” His tone of voice reeked of pretention, and I could tell by his attitude that he thought himself better of every person on the planet.
After 30 minutes in line, someone from the National Archives approached them and interviewed the woman for the Archives’ publication. When asked why she came out to see the Proclamation, the woman said, “Well, young people just don’t appreciate history. Now that I’m older, I appreciate the context in which all of the events surrounding the Proclamation happened.” Well, I suppose the 23-year-old in front of you must not count. Also, did you notice all the elementary school kids running around, surely reenacting the Battle of Antietam? Oh wait, they’re just really into wrestling. And now the security guard is yelling at them for being on the grass, even though at least 30 kids have been running around on the grass outside the Archives for the past hour.
The couple behind did not relent in their the bitching and whining, and outrage only grew when the winds picked up smacked everyone in their faces with bitter cold. “Dear god,” I proclaimed. “Please, with your divine power, allow a military drone from the Department of Defense to malfunction, accidentally take off and somehow crash land into the people standing directly behind me while of course leaving me unscathed?”
Finally, our part of the line snaked into the building, where the security guard kept shouting, “Y’all don’t need to take off your shoes, mmmkay? We ain’t the airport. We ain’t here to traumatize you.”
After darting through the metal detector and running up the stairs to the Rotunda, I entered another line that led to a glass case in which three of the five pages, the other two being facsimiles, were being guarded by black men in Union soldier uniforms. Empowering, no doubt, besides the fact that Mr. and Mrs. Rudeness caught up with me and were now behind me. They continued squawking like underfed toucans about the poor customer service of the National Archives. Finally, they took out their rage on a poor young woman, a college-age volunteer or employee, who was already profusely apologizing to passersby about the long wait.
“Excuse me,” Mr. Jerkwad McGee croaked. “Why was this so poorly planned?”
“I apologize sincerely,” the young lady replied. “The curators did not expect such a large number of people to show up, and we’ve been running into issues getting people through the line.”
“Well someone should have thought of this,” chimed in Mrs. Jerkwad McGee. “I mean, this is history, and there are many people behind us who won’t see the Proclamation.”
“Can I speak to your manager,” asked Mr. Jerkwad McGee.
“I’m sorry, but we’re not really allowed to give out the names of our supervisors. However, my name is ———.”
“This is ridiculous,” the man said, offended. “Who is in charge here?”
At this point, I prayed that the ghostly specter of Abraham Lincoln would materialize above the Proclamation, ax in hand, and chase away these people. Finally, a black Union soldier greeted me with a hello. I thought to ask him, “Do you have a bayonet I could borrow for just a minute?”
But the pain of listening to the Mr. and Mrs. Jerkwad — whose faces I cannot describe, for had i actually turned around to glare at them, I might have been compelled to strangle them with my briefcase’s shoulder strap — quickly dissipated as I walked by the Emancipation Proclamation.
My immediate thought; “Whoa, this thing is actually legible, unlike that chicken scratch, the Declaration of Independence, on the other side of the room!”
Unfortunately, I could not spend several hours letting my drool pour out of my mouth and pool onto the case covering the five pages of the Proclamation. The security guard stationed behind the case vigilantly asked visitors to move along, an understandable request considering thousands of people were waiting for a glimpse of this historical document.
But all I needed was a few seconds. After exiting the line, I leaned against the dark marble wall of the rotund and read the Proclamation in its entirety. Senior Editor of The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates, quotes historian Eric Foner in describing what this five-page document really is.
A military order, whose constitutional legitimacy rested on the president’s war powers, the proclamation often disappoints those who read it. It is dull and legalistic; it contains no soaring language enunciating the rights of man. Only at the last minute, at the urging of Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase, an abolitionist, did Lincoln add a conclusion declaring the proclamation an “act of justice.”
Nonetheless, the proclamation marked a dramatic transformation in the nature of the Civil War and in Lincoln’s own approach to the problem of slavery. No longer did he seek the consent of slave holders. The proclamation was immediate, not gradual, contained no mention of compensation for owners, and made no reference to colonization.
In it, Lincoln addressed blacks directly, not as property subject to the will of others but as men and women whose loyalty the Union must earn. For the first time, he welcomed black soldiers into the Union Army; over the next two years some 200,000 black men would serve in the Army and Navy, playing a critical role in achieving Union victory. And Lincoln urged freed slaves to go to work for “reasonable wages” — in the United States. He never again mentioned colonization in public.
I’ve also read somewhere that the Proclamation shifted the meaning of the war. Originally the Civil War aimed to preserve the Union, or tell the Confederate states to get back in this Union right now or you’re all grounded. Now the war became about freeing an oppressed people, for which Americans tend to show approval, unless they’re Irish-Americans whose jobs could be stolen from free slaves (See New York City draft riots, which happened in the summer of the year that Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation, or, if you’re lazy and hate reading, watch Gangs of New York).
While reading the document, I noticed something peculiar. Lincoln orders and declares “that all persons held as slaves … are, and henceforward shall be free.” OK, that makes sense. West Virginians, who had seceded from Virginia and, from the new Virginia-West Virginia border, were shouting “how’s it feel now to have people secede from you,” were exempt from the Proclamation because they were part of the North. This makes sense as well. But then when I read the part about Louisiana, famous for shrimp, gumbo and not getting hurricane relief, the following passage bemused me:
… Louisiana (except the Parishes of St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Jefferson, St. John, St. Charles, St. James Ascension, Assumption, Terrebonne, Lafourche, St. Mary, St. Martin, and Orleans, including the City of New Orleans) …
Why were these counties exempt?
I approached the young lady, the one who had incurred a verbal beating from the a-holes behind me, and asked her why these counties were exempt.
“Huh,” she said. “I’ve never been asked that question, so I’ve never really noticed it.”
Is slavery still legal in certain parishes of Louisiana? I thought immediately. Oh wait, there’s this thing called the Thirteenth Amendment. NEVER MIND.
“I can, however,” the young lady interrupted my thinking, “tell you that West Virginia was admitted into the Union yesterday (December 31, 1862).”
“Cool!” I said. “At least now I know when West Virginia was admitted into the Union.”
Turns out she was wrong about that; a journalism major always vets. West Virginia submitted an application for statehood on December 30, 1862, but wasn’t officially admitted into the Union until June 20, 1863.
I also discovered that the parishes in Louisiana were already mostly under Union control, so they were considered part of the Union, thus the reason why they were exempt from the Proclamation.
“Sweet,” I said and then realized that, while most people were out a bar enjoying themselves, I was looking up information on the Emancipation Proclamation. I was also sneezing, coughing and suffering from painful headaches, no doubt a result from the hours spent standing outside in line to see five pieces of paper
By the way, did you know that in a recent survey, Luxembourgers overwhelming voted that their favorite historical document in the United States is the Emancipation Proclamation?
It’s fact. Maybe.