The act only freed those slaves owned by Confederates fighting against the Union. Many in the country saw it as the first step in freeing the slaves. In this commentary from December 1862 our editors saw it as a way of ending the war while being fair to Southerners. The slaves seem to be of secondary consideration:
The President urges at great length, what he terms "compensated emancipation" of slavery. This important subject seems to override all others in his estimate, hence, he devotes much more attention to it than to any other public question. He proposes to inaugurate the great jubilee with the year 1900, by payment of the owners of slaves as a mutual concession on both sides, and as a matter of justice to those who are owners of this species of property. It being quite evident that the war between slavery and freedom will continue to be waged with increased vigor, the President hopes to modify its intensity, by fixing upon a certain period, when the institution shall forever cease. He thinks this policy will shorten the war, and secure justice to all concerned; while, at the same, the country will be saved from the effects of violent and sudden changes in its domestic arrangements. This view of the case strikes us as humane, and if the more radical portion of the two sections would but accept it, as a ground of settlement, peace would again bless us; but so intensely bitter have these contending elements become, that we fear no such compromise would be acceptable or satisfactory.
[Scientific American, December 13, 1862]
In New York City anger at the war and the newly instituted draft caused riots that quickly degenerated into race riots. The white rioters chose to blame the African Americans for causing the war and for poor economic conditions. The violence directed against free blacks horrified the editors, as this article from August 1863 attests:
The city and county are as liable for damages inflicted on the colored people of this metropolis, as they are for all other losses suffered by our citizens during the late riot.
The energetic and philanthropic action of the merchants and business men of the city, goes very far to redeem the stain cast upon our good name by the infamous acts of the rioters, and the miserable politicians who were concerned In the late demonstration.
They will now see, and let them learn a lesson from it if they can, that the majority of the citizens of this metropolis, so far from siding with them in their acts of rapine and murder, instinctively loathe them, and hasten to relieve the sufferings of their poor victims by all the means in their power. The wildest savage that ever existed in Abyssinia would scorn to descend to the depths of depravity exhibited in this city during the late riot towards a helpless people, whose only offence was that their faces were not so white as those of the black· hearted assassins who attacked and murdered so many in our public thoroughfares.
[Scientific American, August 1, 1863]
BUSINESS BEFORE ETHICS
One argument against slavery was based not on moral grounds but on economic grounds. Many believed free labor was far more efficient. Our editors made this argument in favor of emancipation in an article on economics in September 1864:
No estimate of further resources of the country furthermore can be considered complete, which fails to take into account the great augmentation of values which is sure to accrue in time to the South from the substitution of free for slave labor. This matter is set in a clear light by the following statement, which any one who doubts can verify for himself by referring to the official statistics of the census of 1860. If the product per head of the population in the Slave States had been the same in 1859 that it was in the Free States, there would have been added to the aggregate national wealth returned at that time the additional value $1,531,631,000--a sum nearly equal to the entire national debt, June, 1864.
[Scientific American, September 24, 1864]
END OF SLAVERY
In 1865 the 13th Amendment to the Constitution was passed by the Senate and the House, outlawing slavery. Even before it was adopted, this reader from New York commented on labor and the end of slavery:
Thus a new era has dawned. Slavery, with its snailish conveniences, is gone forever. And thousands of the hands that had heretofore picked the cotton in its season, and did nothing the balance of the year, will not be available hereafter. For if the negro is really free, he has the same right that any other freeman has to support his wife and children, without their being compelled to work in the field.
[Scientific American, August 19, 1865]
The end of the war and the freedom of the slaves meant a speedy return to the business of invention and making money, which was the focus of the magazine to begin with. This editorial from June 1865 notes the tremendous social change resulting from 4,000,000 freed slaves:
Buckle, in his learned "History of Civilization," says, that all the great reforms have been the removal of some obstruction to human freedom. Such a reform, more radical and thorough in the scope of its operation, and wider in extent than any which preceded it, has swept over our Southern States, converting 4,000,000 of the inhabitants from simple chattels into freemen.
And even breathes a sigh of relief that everyone can get back to work (although the "skilled laborers" mostly turned out to be carpetbaggers):
Now all these obstructions are removed, and no man can estimate the results; he whose imagination is capable of the boldest flight will come nearest to the truth. A vast horde of skilled laborers from the Northern States and Europe will pour into the South, and mining, manufacturing and mechanical industry will spring at once into life and vigor; the ribs of the mountains will be blasted asunder; the streams will be turned into mill courses; cities, canals and railroads will be constructed, and wealth will be accumulated with a rapidity unparalleled in the history of mankind.
[Scientific American, June 10, 1865]
In the 19th century the issue of ending slavery in the United States was more difficult than it might seem, as it is complex today worldwide [see "The Social Psychology of Modern Slavery," by Kevin Bales, Scientific American, April 2002]. I would have been pleased if at some point one of our forebears at Scientific American had seized the high moral ground and thunderously denounced slavery as a "monstrous injustice" (as Abraham Lincoln said in a speech in Peoria, Illinois, in October 1854). Unfortunately we see instead an ambivalence and a reluctance to comment in print on the question of slaves and slavery. The attitude seems to be that for matters outside of science, technology and invention, the political and moral wrangling was best left to others.
WHAT IS A SLAVE?
What are the moral implications of being able to legally "own" another person? We can look outside of Scientific American at a text from a meeting of "abolitionists" (people who wanted to completely abolish slavery) held in Illinois in October 1837. Here is what the abolitionists believed a slave did not have, according to the minutes of the meeting:
1. The right to be recognized and treated by all, and at all times, as an intelligent, rational, moral, accountable, and immortal being, — in other words, as a man. [note: It took even longer for people to recognize that "man" here should be "person," to include both men and women.]
2. The right of knowledge in all matters essential to duty and happiness.
3. The rights of conscience and of speech.
4. The right of forming and enjoying all those social relations which are founded in the nature of man, and essential to his welfare and happiness. [note: Slave families were not considered to exist legally--children and spouses could be separated from their family at the whim of the slave-owner]
5. The right of personal chastity.
6. The right to possess the avails [note: meaning wages and payment] of his own corporeal and intellectual powers, and whatever may be lawfully given them by others.
7. The right of protection against personal injury, or the loss of life.
8. The right of being esteemed and treated in society, and of enjoying its advantages according to their intellectual and moral worth.
SOURCE: Notes from an abolitionist meeting in 1837: Proceedings of the Illinois Anti-Slavery Convention. October 1837 (Supplement to the Alton Observer).