Tag Archives: Abolition

The Freedmen’s Bureau

March 3, 1865 – President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill into law establishing the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, which became known as the Freedmen’s Bureau.

By this time, it was clear that both the war and slavery would soon end, and a government program would be needed to help transition slaves to freedom. The bill creating such a program was based on the findings of the American Freedmen’s Inquiry Commission, which had been formed by the War Department in 1863.

The bill’s passage had been delayed by debate over whether the program belonged under the War or Treasury Department. The Radical Republicans who dominated Congress wanted the Bureau under the Treasury Department because it was headed by their close ally, Salmon P. Chase. But after Chase resigned last June, the Radicals agreed to place it under the War Department. Major General Oliver O. Howard, currently commanding the Army of the Tennessee under William T. Sherman, later became head of the new agency.

The Freedmen’s Bureau consolidated the efforts of many local organizations in becoming the first social welfare agency in U.S. history. Bureau agents were authorized to take “control of all subjects relating to refugees and freedmen from rebel States.” This included providing temporary food, clothing, and shelter to over four million former slaves with no jobs, money, homes, or education. To avoid accusations of granting preferential treatment to blacks, the Bureau offered aid to poor southern whites as well (but few accepted). Bureau agents also adjudicated disputes between blacks and whites since blacks could not testify against whites in most American courts.

A Freedmen’s Bureau School | Image Credit: LatinAmericanStudies.org

Agents were empowered to seize some 800,000 acres of “abandoned” or confiscated land in the Confederacy, border states, the District of Columbia, and the Indian Territory. From this land, former slaves would “be assigned not more than forty acres” to rent for three years, after which time they could buy the land if desired, with “such title thereto as the United States can convey.” This caused a constitutional problem because Congress had no power to grant bills of attainder, while the president had powers to pardon former Confederates and return their property.

Radicals strongly supported the confiscation and redistribution of Confederate property as punishment for secession. Radical Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, the Bureau law’s sponsor, sought to make the agency a permanent cabinet post, but Congress instead gave it a one-year term, starting at war’s end.

Southern whites resented Bureau agents because many acted for political rather than humanitarian purposes. Since most agents were Republicans, they worked to ensure that freed slaves also became Republicans in a region where white Democrats comprised the majority of property owners and taxpayers. Even some free blacks expressed concern about such unprecedented Federal control over life, liberty, and property; civil rights leader Frederick Douglass feared that government aid could “serve to keep up the very prejudices, which it is so desirable to banish” by granting blacks special treatment over whites.

Despite criticisms, the Bureau issued some 150,000 rations per day throughout the summer. It also helped set up thousands of elementary, industrial, and technical schools during its existence. But as for the Federal promise of “forty acres and a mule” to each freed slave family, only about 3,500 blacks in South Carolina and Georgia actually benefited from the redistribution.

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References

Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 541-42; DiLorenzo, Thomas J., The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2003), p. 209; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 290; Ferrell, Claudine, Reconstruction: Greenwood Guides to Historic Events 1500-1900 (Greenwood, 2003), p. 8; Foner, Eric, Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 (New York: HarperCollins, 1988), p. 68; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 561; FreedmensBureau.com; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 265; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 646-47; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 842; Murphy, Richard W., The Nation Reunited: War’s Aftermath (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 28; Napolitano, Andrew P., Dred Scott’s Revenge: A Legal History of Race and Freedom in America (Kindle Edition), p. 108

The Thirteenth Amendment: Ratification Begins

February 23, 1865 – Minnesota became the 15th state to ratify the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution permanently abolishing slavery.

Celebrating the end of slavery | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

On February 1, the day after Congress passed this new amendment, President Abraham Lincoln signed a joint congressional resolution submitting the proposed measure to the state legislatures for ratification. Since the amendment had already been approved by two-thirds of both chambers of Congress, Lincoln’s signature was merely a symbolic gesture.

On the same day, Lincoln’s home state of Illinois became the first state to ratify the amendment. Illinois had also recently repealed its laws forbidding blacks from entering the state which, according to Harper’s Weekly

“… were as much a part of the code of slavery as any slave law of Arkansas or Mississippi… all colored persons (in Illinois) were presumed to be slaves unless they could prove themselves to be free… they were held to be guilty until they proved their innocence: thus directly reversing the first humane maxim of the common law. By another act, if any negro or mulatto came into the State and staid ten days, he was to be fined fifty dollars, and sold indefinitely to pay the fine.”

That evening, Lincoln addressed a crowd celebrating passage of the amendment at the White House. He said, “The occasion was one of congratulation to the country and to the whole world. But there is a task yet before us–to go forward and consummate by the votes of the states that which Congress so nobly began.”

Lincoln praised members of Congress for approving the measure, which he called “the fitting if not indispensable adjunct to the consummation of the great game we are playing.” He said that courts could have ruled his Emancipation Proclamation unconstitutional, “But this amendment is a King’s cure for all the evils. It winds the whole thing up.”

Throughout February, state legislatures debated and voted on whether to approve the amendment. By month’s end, in addition to Illinois the following states approved: Rhode Island, Michigan, New York, West Virginia, Maine, Kansas, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Nevada, and Minnesota. Also approving were the Unionist legislatures of Missouri, Maryland, and Louisiana.

The “Restored Government of Virginia,” led by Francis H. Pierpont and having authority only in regions of Virginia under Federal military occupation, voted to ratify the amendment. The state of Virginia still had a popularly elected government loyal to the Confederacy, but U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward deemed Pierpont’s regime legitimate enough to count its ratification towards the three-fourths majority needed to add the amendment to the Constitution. Of the non-Confederate states, only Delaware and Kentucky rejected the amendment.

This measure could not become law without support from at least a minority of southern states. The Lincoln administration expected to restore these states to the Union, and a condition of their restoration would be to approve the amendment, giving it an excellent chance of becoming law. When the Thirteenth Amendment was finally ratified in December, slavery in America was abolished forever.

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References

Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 15664-74; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 686-90; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 631-43; SonOfTheSouth.net: Black Laws in Illinois

From Cyrus Lewis, 1st Missouri Engineers

Letter from Cyrus H. Lewis of the 1st Missouri Engineers to his parents.

Head Qrts. 1st Regt. Engrs.

Mo. Vols.

Atlanta, Ga.

Nov. 3, 1864

DEAR FATHER AND MOTHER,

After a strong time of anxious waiting, I have again received from your hand a welcome letter bringing the pleasing intelligence of your good health and well being. Ah! If there is anything that will afford consolation and comfort to worn and wearied soldiers, it’s the reading of communications from parents and loved ones at home. It inspires the soldiers with more confidence and energy to press onward toward the grand ultimatum of this awful but magnificent warfare.

Union Flag | Image Credit: etseq.law.harvard.edu

Union Flag | Image Credit: etseq.law.harvard.edu

Awful, I say, because of the great destruction of life, and the deep mourning of the land. Magnificent because it is accomplishing the abolition of (that foul stain) human slavery and planting and cultivating in its stead the principals of true radical reform. Hence the great and paramount object the people should have in view is supporting the present administration and carrying to the presidential chair the very man who had presided over the government during the last four years of trial and warfare and who has always been found at the helm guiding and directing the great ship of our country.

The present issue is one of the greatest and most important in the history of our country or that the land has ever known. Here is life or death to our republican form of government and free institutions. If McClellan is elected, we will have peace but it will be upon the recognition of the damnable rotten Confederacy of the south. If such should be the case, I and a thousand would spend the rest of our days in fighting against it.

We have lived, prospered and been protected under a free government, and we wish to preserve the same for the welfare and happiness of our posterity. The welfare of millions yet unborn is dependent upon us, and thus far we are responsible for their welfare. It behooves us then to do all in our power to sustain the government. It is to be one on the 8th day of this month.

Father, I want no greater consolation than to know that you are going to support the government. If I have the privilege of voting, I am going to cast my vote for Lincoln and Johnson and for the people. I have read and studied the Chicago Platform, and I pronounce it treason of the darkest hue. They call it democracy and are holding it up to the people as democracy and are trying to make the people think it’s right by crying peace, peace, and talking about free speech, but when Mr. Murphy of Maryland opposed the nomination of McClellan at Chicago, they hissed him down and cried put him out, put him out. But since he could not say all that he wished to until he had knocked down two or three of his fellow democrats, I think it is a fair demonstration of their democracy.

It is like a thief feigning to be a clergyman or a wolf in lamb’s clothing. It seems that they have taken upon themselves the responsibility of damning to all eternity the black abolitionists and have gone so far as to pronounce the federal soldiers hessians and hirelings right in their face and, yes, of the militia at Chicago, and there was no resistance made. If it has come to such a test that militia will give consent to such views and proceedings by remaining silent, then it is high time that we were waking up to a quicker and keener sense of the duties involving upon as American citizens and soldiers for the maintenance of government and its laws, but perhaps I have already written too much upon this subject. Though it is one that I am deeply interested in, I will drop it, feeling that the hand of kind providence is lifted in behalf of our country.

We are now fitted out for a campaign of fifty days but we have no knowledge of our destination. We ill no doubt be entirely cut off from communicating with our friends for a time. Therefore you must not think it strange if you don’t hear from me for some time…

Yours In Truth,

CYRUS H. LEWIS TO

SAMUEL C. AND MARTHA LEWIS

AND ALL TRUE UNION PEOPLE

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Source: Tapert, Annette (ed.), The Brothers’ War: Civil War Letters to Their Loved Ones from the Blue and Gray (New York: Vintage Books, 1988), p. 223-225

The National Union Convention Adjourns

June 8, 1864 – Delegates re-nominated Abraham Lincoln for president as expected, but they opted to replace the current vice president with a Democrat supportive of the war effort.

On the second day of the National Union Convention in Baltimore’s Front Street Theater, the delegates’ first order of business was to adopt a party platform. It was drafted by Henry J. Raymond, editor of the New York Times and supporter of President Lincoln. Despite Republican pledges to unite with War Democrats, this platform was dominated by the Republican Party.

The platform included 11 planks, five of which resolved to support Lincoln’s continuing war policies, to refuse to compromise with “rebels,” to force the Confederates’ “unconditional surrender,” and to honor those “who have periled their lives in defense of their country.” The delegates especially supported the recruitment of former slaves into the army, and they called for black servicemen to receive the same protection under the law as whites.

Other planks encouraged foreign immigration, supported fiscal responsibility, urged construction of a transcontinental railroad, and approved the Lincoln administration’s stance against European monarchies interfering in the affairs of Western republics (particularly France’s invasion of Mexico).

The third plank received the most hat-waving and applause: “Resolved, That as Slavery was the cause, and now constitutes the strength, of this Rebellion… (we) demand its utter and complete extirpation from the soil of the Republic.” It called for a constitutional amendment to permanently abolish slavery.

Famed abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, on hand as a reporter for his newspaper The Liberator, reported that when the abolition plank was introduced, “the whole body of delegates sprang to their feet… in prolonged cheering. Was not a spectacle like that rich compensation for more than 30 years of personal opprobrium?”

Conspicuously, no resolution was offered either supporting or opposing Lincoln’s reconstruction plan. This was currently under heated debate in Congress, and since it was beginning to divide the Republican Party, the delegates left it alone.

The next order of business was the nomination of presidential and vice presidential candidates. To nobody’s surprise, Lincoln was nominated for a second term on the first ballot. The only dispute came when the delegates could not decide on who should introduce Lincoln as their nominee.

Lincoln won by a vote of 484 to 22. The 22 dissenting votes came from Missouri’s Radical delegation, which instead voted for Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant. This was mostly just a symbolic gesture because at the roll call, the Missourians switched their votes to make Lincoln’s nomination unanimous.

The vote for vice president was much more contentious. Incumbent Vice President Hannibal Hamlin of Maine had expressed dissatisfaction with the office over the last four years because he contributed little to administration policy. He told an associate, “I am only a fifth wheel of a coach, and can do little for my friends.” But he expected to be re-nominated regardless, especially after Lincoln had been unanimously chosen.

Many delegates backed Hamlin, but many others noted that Hamlin identified more with the New England Radicals than the new National Unionists and therefore favored a Democrat to make this a truly balanced ticket. When delegates pressed Lincoln’s secretary John Hay to make a choice on the president’s behalf, Hay showed them a message from Lincoln: “Wish not to interfere about V.P. Can not interfere about platform. Convention must judge for itself.”

Simon Cameron of Pennsylvania put forth Hamlin for re-nomination. The Kentucky delegation countered by naming Lovell H. Rousseau, and the New York delegation named Democrat Daniel S. Dickinson. Tennesseans then put forth the name of Andrew Johnson.

Johnson had defied his constituents by becoming the only southern U.S. senator who did not leave Congress when his state seceded. He was a rigid constitutionalist strongly opposed to both secession and the southern aristocracy. As military governor of Tennessee, Johnson supported abolishing slavery. He shared the Radicals’ sentiment that the “rebels” had to be severely punished for trying to form their own nation. But he also shared the conservatives’ sentiment that the president, not Congress, should administer reconstruction after the war. As such, he supported Lincoln’s “Ten Percent Plan.”

Johnson won the nomination on the first ballot with 200 votes, followed by Hamlin with 150 and Dickinson with 108. Thurlow Weed’s New York machine switched allegiance from Dickinson to put Johnson over the top. Delegates opposed to Johnson then switched their votes to make it unanimous for him.

Campaign poster | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

There were grumblings among the delegates about having a southerner on the ticket, regardless of his professed loyalty to the Union. But because the vice presidency was considered such an irrelevant position, most were happy with the compromise. Nobody seemed to consider the possibility that Lincoln might die in office, as William Henry Harrison and Zachary Taylor had done before him.

An attendee wrote that after the nominations were official, “the long pent up enthusiasms burst forth in a scene of wildest confusion,” and a band played “Hail, Columbia” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

The next day, a committee appointed by the National Union delegation, headed by Convention President William Dennison, traveled to Washington and personally congratulated Lincoln on his nomination. Lincoln told Dennison and the committee:

“I do not allow myself to suppose that (the delegates) have concluded to decide that I am either the greatest or best man in America, but rather they have concluded it is not best to swap horses while crossing the river, and have further concluded that I am not so poor a horse that they might not make a botch of it in trying to swap.”

Regarding the resolution calling for abolishing slavery, Lincoln said that those who joined the Confederacy once had a chance to come back to the Union without “the overthrow of their institution,” but that chance was now gone. The president concluded by saying he would not officially accept the nomination “before reading and considering what is called the Platform.”

Lincoln also met with members of the Union League, who endorsed the nominees and platform of the National Union Convention (even though the League would have preferred a more punitive stance against the Confederacy, especially regarding the confiscation of southern property). Lincoln told the members, “I will neither conceal my gratification, nor restrain the expression of my gratitude, that the Union people, through their convention… have deemed me not unworthy to remain in my present position.”

Reiterating his support for abolishing slavery, Lincoln said that “such amendment of the Constitution as now proposed became a fitting, and necessary conclusion to the final success of the Union cause.” He then recalled a “story of an old Dutch farmer, who remarked to a companion once that ‘it was not best to swap horses when crossing streams.’”

That night, an Ohio delegation with a brass band serenaded the president at the White House. Lincoln responded, “What we want, still more than Baltimore conventions or presidential elections, is success under General Grant.” He asked the serenaders to give three cheers for Grant and “the brave officers and soldiers in the field.”

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 172; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 421; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 10758-69, 10790, 10974; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 7960-70; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 452; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 621-25; Hoffsommer, Richard D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 333-34; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 517-18; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 716; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q264

The Radical Republican Convention

May 31, 1864 – Radicals and other disgruntled Republicans held a convention in Cleveland to nominate a candidate to defeat President Abraham Lincoln’s bid for reelection.

Maj Gen John C. Fremont | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Many Republicans were dissatisfied with Lincoln’s performance, particularly his “lenient” plan to bring the southern states back into the Union. Some had proposed replacing Lincoln with Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase, but Chase had been discredited by the Pomeroy Circular. When Major General John C. Fremont, who had long quarreled with Lincoln before resigning in 1862, expressed interest in running against him, his backers quickly organized an assembly at Chapin Hill a week before the Republican National Convention took place.

This Radical convention sought to protest the “imbecile and vacillating policy of the present Administration in the conduct of the war.” Organizers expected thousands to attend, but only about 400 actually showed. Of these, only 158 were delegates, many of whom held no significant political influence. They were mostly abolitionists and German immigrants loyal to Fremont (especially in Missouri), but some Democrats attended in an attempt to form a new “Radical Democratic” alliance against Lincoln.

Many Radicals who learned that the convention would be stacked with Fremont supporters refused to attend. Republicans and Democrats who pushed for Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant to oppose Lincoln also stayed away. Even Horace Greeley, the influential editor of the New York Tribune who called for this convention in the first place, withdrew his support.

The most prominent name associated with the convention was abolitionist Wendell Phillips, and even he did not attend. Instead he submitted a written statement calling the Lincoln administration “a civil and military failure, and its avowed policy ruinous to the North in every point of view…”

Phillips condemned Lincoln’s reconstruction plan because it “makes the freedom of the negro a sham, and perpetuates slavery under a softer name,” and he concluded, “If Mr. Lincoln is re-elected I do not expect to see the Union reconstructed in my day, unless on terms more disastrous to liberty than even disunion would be.”

Delegates adopted a platform that advocated:

  • A constitutional amendment to permanently abolish slavery and “secure to all men absolute equality before the law”
  • Granting black men the right to vote
  • Congress, not the president, administering reconstruction
  • Seizing the land of Confederates by military force and redistributing it to Federal soldiers, former slaves, or anyone else the Radicals deemed worthy
  • Abolishing the Electoral College and electing the president by popular vote
  • Limiting the president to one term
  • Barring the president from violating civil liberties, including suspending the writ of habeas corpus

Fremont was nominated by acclamation. The delegates expected him to run a strong race, just as he did as the first ever Republican presidential candidate in 1856. As a nod to the small Democratic constituency in attendance, Democratic Brigadier General John Cochrane was nominated vice president. Fremont agreed to run in the naïve hope that Radicals and Democrats could form a broad enough coalition to beat Lincoln in November.

In his acceptance statement, Fremont declared that he represented “a view to prevent the misfortune of (Lincoln’s) reelection,” which “would be fatal to the country.” He condemned Lincoln’s mismanagement of the war. However, he ignored the party’s pledge to uphold social and political equality, and he openly opposed the Radical plan to redistribute confiscated land.

A pundit called this disappointing convention “a most magnificent fizzle” that only featured “disappointed contractors, sorehead governors, and Copperheads.” Noting the delegates’ lack of political clout, the pro-Lincoln New York Times called the assembly “a congregation of malcontents… representing no constituencies, and controlling no votes.” Most Radicals renounced this party for its alliance with Democrats and ultimately acknowledged that the best way to advance their agenda was to back Lincoln.

When Lincoln was told that only 400 people attended this assembly, he thumbed through a Bible until he came upon 1 Samuel 22:2 and read, “And every one that was in distress, and every one that was in debt, and every one that was discontented, gathered themselves unto him; and he became a captain over them: and there were with him about 400 men.”

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 172; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 10517, 10691-713; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 7910-31; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 447; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 624; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 511-12; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 715-16; Schweikart, Larry and Allen, Michael, A Patriot’s History of the United States (New York: Penguin Books, 2004), p. 342; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q264

Reconstruction Begins in Arkansas

January 19, 1864 – A legally dubious convention amended the Arkansas constitution to abolish slavery in the state.

Maj Gen Frederick Steele | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Delegates assembled at Little Rock to consider constitutional changes, the most important of which was to end slavery in accordance with President Abraham Lincoln’s Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction. The delegates were not popularly elected to represent the people of Arkansas, and as they debated, the popularly elected (pro-Confederate) state government continued functioning in southwestern Arkansas, which was not yet under Federal military occupation.

Under this amended Unionist constitution, Arkansas was now eligible to be restored to the U.S. Convention delegates approved submitting the constitution to a popular vote on March 14. Those eligible to vote would be white men who swore allegiance to the Union. Lincoln wrote Major General Frederick Steele, commanding the Federal occupation forces in the Department of Arkansas:

“Sundry citizens of the State of Arkansas petitioned me that an election may be held in that State, in which to elect a Governor; that it be assumed at that election, and thenceforward, that the Constitution and laws of the State, as before the rebellion, are in full force, except that the Constitution is so modified as to declare that there shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude…”

According to Lincoln, the legality of the constitutional convention was not to be questioned; as long as the delegates voted to abolish slavery, Steele was authorized to “fix the rest.” The delegates elected Isaac Murphy as provisional governor until the elections were held in March. Lincoln would leave Steele to work with civil authorities on the details of forming the new Unionist government for Arkansas, as long as those details included ending slavery.

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References

Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 16868-85; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 360-61; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 10303; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 390-91; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 456-58; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q164

The Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation

September 22, 1862 – President Abraham Lincoln issued his decree stating “that all persons held as slaves” within rebellions areas “are, and henceforward shall be free” if those areas did not submit to Federal law by January 1.

By the 20th, Lincoln had gathered enough information to convince him that the Battle of Antietam had been a Federal victory. As such, he returned to the decree he had drafted in July. He also received a letter from Congressman Robert Dale Owen, an Indiana abolitionist who reminded the president that he had threatened the Confederates with slave confiscation if they did not stop rebelling against the U.S. within 60 days. Owen wrote:

“The twenty-third of September approaches, the date when the sixty-day notice you have given to the rebels will expire–expire without other reply to your warning than the invasion of Maryland and a menace to Pennsylvania. Is it to rest there? Patiently we have waited the time. Is nothing to follow? Are our enemies to boast that we speak brave words–and there an end of it?”

Owen argued that an emancipation decree would be “the very turning point in the nation’s fate! A day to the rebels of despair, to every loyal heart of exultant rejoicing! A day of which the anniversary will be celebrated with jubilee while the American Union endures! A day to be remembered not on our land alone, but wherever humanity mourns over the wrongs of the slave, or rejoices in his liberation!”

Lincoln summoned his cabinet to a noon meeting at the White House on September 22, one day before his 60-day deadline expired. He began by reading a passage called “High-Handed Outrage at Utica” from a new book sent to him by popular humorist Artemus Ward. Lincoln then reminded the members of the proclamation draft he shared with them in July. He had waited since then for military success, and although the Federal victory at Antietam had not been as decisive as hoped, Lincoln told them:

“When the rebel army was at Frederick, I determined, as soon as it should be driven out of Maryland, to issue a proclamation of emancipation, such as I thought most likely to be useful. I said nothing to anyone, but I made the promise to myself and to my Maker. I think the time has come now. I wish it were a better time. I wish that we were in a better condition. The action of the army against the rebels has not been quite what I should have best liked. But the rebel army is now driven out, and I am going to fulfill that promise.”

Lincoln said he would not seek his cabinet’s advice on the matter, but he would accept suggestions to correct the document’s language or “any other minor matter.” The members unanimously agreed with emancipation. But Postmaster General Montgomery Blair feared that it could cause rebellion in the loyal slave states, demoralize the army, and give the Democrats “a club… to beat the Administration” in the upcoming midterm elections.

Lincoln said that he had exhausted every effort to get the loyal slave states to begin their own voluntary emancipation programs. Since they refused, “we must make the forward movement” without them. Lincoln believed, “They (will) acquiesce, if not immediately, soon.” And the prospect of losing the midterm elections “had not much weight with him” because the Democrats’ “clubs would be used against us take what course we might.”

The Emancipation Proclamation | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The original draft ordered the military to adhere to the laws passed in March and July to “recognize the freedom” of slaves escaping into Federal lines. Secretary of State William H. Seward suggested the passage be changed to “recognize and maintain the freedom.” Lincoln agreed, thus assuring slaves that once freed, they would not be returned to bondage.

The proclamation only freed slaves in seceded states, so it technically freed no one since those states considered themselves part of a separate nation beyond Federal authority. The decree exempted the loyal slave states of Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware, as well as southern regions under Federal occupation, mostly in Louisiana. Seceded states would also be exempted if they renounced secession and returned to the Union within 100 days (i.e., January 1), otherwise they would lose their human property.

Lincoln cited “military necessity” under his power as “President of the United States of America, and Commander-in-chief of the Army and Navy thereof” to issue such a proclamation. He also cited provisions of the two Confiscation Acts, even though this decree actually avoided enforcement of the Second Confiscation Act, which called for the immediate emancipation of all slaves within a conquered region (this order allowed slavery to continue in the conquered regions).

The proclamation made no mention of a moral or ethical obligation to free humans in bondage. It served solely as a weapon to cripple the Confederacy’s ability to fight the war. The decree’s first two paragraphs explained that Lincoln’s main goal remained reunion, not abolition, and he repeated his frequent calls to compensate loyal slaveholders who voluntarily freed their slaves and to encourage the voluntary deportation of blacks from America, “upon this continent or elsewhere.”

A crowd led by the Marine Corps Band gathered at the White House to serenade Lincoln when the proclamation went public on September 24. Lincoln appeared in an upstairs window and told them:

“What I did, I did after a very full deliberation, and under a very heavy and solemn sense of responsibility. I can only trust in God I have made no mistake. I shall make no attempt on this occasion to sustain what I have done or said by any comment. It is now for the country and the world to pass judgment and, maybe, take action upon it.”

Lincoln then lauded the troops, saying this was “scarcely so great as the difficulties of those who, upon the battle field, are endeavoring to purchase with their blood and their lives the future happiness and prosperity of this country. Let us never forget them.” He then concluded, “In my position I am environed with difficulties.”

Northerners had a mixed reaction to the Emancipation Proclamation. Abolitionists, especially in New England, celebrated its release. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “It makes a victory of our defeats. Our hurts are healed; the health of the nation is repaired.” Abolitionist Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts declared that “the skies are brighter and the air is purer, now that slavery has been handed over to judgment.” Some Radical Republicans, such as Congressman Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania, hoped this would inspire the slaves to be “incited to insurrection and give the rebels a taste of real civil war.”

But for some abolitionists, the proclamation did not go far enough. Horace Greeley, who had long urged Lincoln to free the slaves, opined in the New York Tribune that Federal defeats over the past few months would discourage freed slaves from joining the military:

“There was a time when even this bit of paper could have brought the negro to our side; but now slavery, the real rebel capital, has been surrounded by a Chickahominy swamp of blunders and outrages against that race which no paper spade can dig through.”

Other northerners expressed deep resentment and joined in angry protest. The Washington Daily National Intelligencer stated, “Where we expect no good, we shall be only too happy to find that no harm has been done by the present declaration of the Executive.” The Washington Evening Star called Lincoln’s edict “void of practical effect.”

Some northerners feared that freed slaves would migrate to the northern states and compete with them for jobs. This fear seemed confirmed when Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton ordered “contraband” slaves in Illinois to replace farm laborers who had joined the army. Even some Republicans began breaking from their party, reminding Lincoln that their goal had been to stop the expansion of slavery, not stop slavery altogether. Northern Democrats predicted the decree would “render eternal hatred between the two sections” and embolden the Confederates to put up even stronger resistance.

Outraged southerners viewed this as an unconstitutional attempt to overturn established law, a power belonging only to Congress. They also noted that Lincoln issued the proclamation out of “military necessity,” even though the Federal war capabilities far exceeded the Confederacy’s, with plenty of resources to continue turning out war materiel while using the world’s third most powerful navy to block those same resources from reaching the South. And it confirmed initial southern fears that the Republicans’ main goal was not to preserve the Union, but to destroy the southern way of life.

Many southerners believed this aimed to encourage slaves to rebel against their masters, which they considered particularly despicable since most masters had gone to war, leaving women and children to fend for themselves against potentially hostile slaves. Even some northerners expressed concern about Radicals cheering for “the prospect that it will inaugurate a negro insurrection in the South.” The London Times asserted that the unconstitutional edict would spark “arson, the slaughter of innocents, and a host of unmentionable horrors.” However, no mass slave uprisings occurred after the publication of this decree.

Knowing that the proclamation would be overturned in Federal courts and could not be enforced without military success, Lincoln hoped to serve two purposes. First, he sought to turn European opinion against the South by making the war a moral struggle between a slaveholding nation and a nation taking the first steps to end slavery. Second, Lincoln hoped to motivate slaves to escape their masters and support the Federal cause.

The second purpose received help from civil rights leaders such as Frederick Douglass, who encouraged blacks to enlist in the Federal military; two of Douglass’s sons joined the war effort. By month’s end, the 1st Regiment Louisiana Native Guards, calling themselves the “Chasseurs d’Afrique,” became the first formally recognized black regiment. Soon black volunteers from other southern states began moving north to join the army and navy.

The Emancipation Proclamation drastically changed the scope of the war and subsequent American history. Although it had no real legal authority, it ultimately paved the way for a constitutional amendment permanently abolishing slavery in America.

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References

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