Tag Archives: Emancipation

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 Illinois had also recently repealed its laws forbidding blacks from entering the state which, according to Harper’s Weekly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.

—–

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

The Thirteenth Amendment: The Vote

January 31, 1865 – The U.S. House of Representatives passed a constitutional amendment permanently abolishing slavery in America.

The Lincoln administration, led by Secretary of State William H. Seward, lobbied various Democrats thought to be willing to support the abolition amendment. These congressmen were promised prized government jobs and favors in exchange for their votes. The effort seemed to be paying off, but then rumors of peace talks threatened to kill the amendment.

Lincoln had dispatched Seward to Fort Monroe a few hours before the vote was scheduled to begin, confident that House Republicans had enough votes to get the necessary two-thirds majority. But Democrats who had voiced support for the measure hesitated now that peace talks might end the war. They feared that a constitutional amendment abolishing slavery could offend the Confederate envoys and break up the talks, and the war would go on indefinitely.

Congressman James M. Ashley, the amendment’s sponsor, wrote a frantic note to Lincoln as voting time neared: “The report is in circulation in the House that peace Commissioners are on their way or are in the city, and is being used against us. If it is true, I fear we shall lose the bill. Please authorize me to contradict it, if not true.” Lincoln responded, “So far as I know, there are no peace commissioners in the city, or likely to be in it.” Lincoln was correct in that no commissioners were in Washington, but he conveniently failed to acknowledge that they were within Federal lines.

In the end, the two-thirds majority needed to start the ratification process was secured, as the vote was 119 in favor and 56 opposed. Of the 80 House Democrats, 16 voted in favor (14 of whom would not be in the new Congress later that year and thus did not risk their reelection chances), and eight abstained, thus allowing the bill to pass. A swing of just five votes could have killed the amendment.

The speaker announced, “The constitutional majority of two-thirds having voted in the affirmative, the joint resolution is passed.” The Congressional Globe reported that upon this announcement, “The members of the Republican side of the House instantly sprang to their feet, and, regardless of parliamentary rules, applauded with cheers and clapping of hands. The example was followed by male spectators in the galleries, who waved their hats and cheered long and loud, while the ladies… rose in their seats and waved their handkerchiefs…”

The House of Representatives upon passage of the Thirteenth Amendment | Image Credit: Harper’s Weekly, Vol. IX, No. 425, 18 Feb 1865

Another person reported that there was “an uncontrollable outburst of enthusiasm.” A Republican congressman wrote, “Members joined in the shouting and kept it up for some minutes. Some embraced one another, others wept like children. I have felt, ever since the vote, as if I were in a new country.” Those celebrating in the House gallery included several black men and women who had not been allowed in the House chamber until last year. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton ordered a 100-gun salute fired to commemorate the amendment’s passage, and the House adjourned for the rest of the day “in honor of this immortal and sublime event.”

This was the second version of the “Thirteenth” Amendment to the Constitution. The first version had passed in March 1861 and prohibited the Federal government from interfering with slavery where it already existed. This failed ratification because the southern states had already seceded. Ironically, the southern secession prompted northern politicians to place even greater restrictions on slavery until finally abolishing it altogether. This became the first constitutional amendment to place restrictions on individuals rather than the government.

This new amendment satisfied Lincoln, who feared that his Emancipation Proclamation would be overturned by the courts after the war because it was admittedly just a wartime measure with no real legal basis. State legislatures soon began debating and voting on the amendment’s ratification, which would make Lincoln’s proclamation permanent.

—–

References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 211-13; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 512-13; 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 15635-45; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 606-07, 620-23, 630; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 686-90; McGinty, Brian, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 752-53; 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. 839

Jefferson Davis’s 1864 Message to Congress

November 7, 1864 – The second session of the Second Confederate Congress assembled and received President Jefferson Davis’s optimistic annual message.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Throughout the war, Davis had emphasized the need to defend territory. But after sacrificing several armies while still losing territory, Davis now reversed course. He explained that the loss of Atlanta and the Shenandoah Valley gave the military more flexibility by freeing it from having to defend cities or regions:

“The truth so patent to us must, ere long, be forced upon the reluctant Northern mind. There are no vital points on the preservation of which the continued existence of the Confederacy depends. There is no military success of the enemy which can accomplish its destruction. Not the fall of Richmond, nor Wilmington, nor Charleston, nor Savannah, nor Mobile, nor all combined, can save the enemy from the constant and exhaustive drain of blood and treasure which must continue until he shall discover that no peace is attainable unless based on the recognition of our indefeasible rights.”

The message did not mention the U.S. presidential elections scheduled for the next day; Davis avoided making any statement that could push northerners to vote for Abraham Lincoln. Regarding the economy, Davis called the financial outlook “far from discouraging.” He asked Congress for measures to increase military recruitment, including waiving some exemptions from the Conscription Act.

Davis also requested legislation allowing the government to buy 40,000 slaves from slaveholders and use them for military labor for the rest of the war. This would replace the current law allowing the military to impress slaves into service without compensation for limited time periods. As the military would then be expected to teach slaves “in the manner of encamping, marching, and parking trains,” the “length of service adds greatly to the value of the negro’s labor.”

After “service faithfully rendered,” Davis recommended that the slaves be rewarded with freedom. However, since slavery was a state issue, each state would have to decide for itself on that. Davis argued that such a grant by the states “would doubtless be more readily accorded as a reward for past faithful service, and a double motive for zealous discharge of duty would thus be offered to those employed by the Government, their freedom, and the gratification of the local attachment which is so marked a characteristic of the negro, and forms so powerful an incentive to his action.”

Davis was not prepared to accept slaves as combat soldiers, stating, “Until our white population shall prove insufficient for the armies we require, and can afford to keep in the field; to employ as a soldier the negro who has been merely trained to labor, and as a laborer the white man, accustomed from his youth to the use of firearms, would scarcely be deemed wise or advantageous by any.” However, “Should the alternative ever be presented of subjugation or the employment of the slave as a soldier, there seems no reason to doubt what should then be our decision.”

Suggesting that slaves could become free citizens in exchange for military service marked what Davis called “a radical modification in the theory of the law.” An editorial in the Richmond Whig countered that trading service for freedom wrongly assumed “that the condition of freedom is so much better for the slave than servitude, that it may be bestowed upon him as a reward.” If implemented, it would be “a repudiation of the opinion held by the whole South… that servitude is a divinely appointed condition for the highest good of the slave.”

In conclusion, Davis stated that he was willing to negotiate with the North regarding peace, but only if the North recognized southern independence and not “our unconditional submission and degradation… This is the true path to peace; let us tread it with confidence in the assured result.”

—–

References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 484; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 63-64; 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 13076-96; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 518; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 593-94; 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. 833-34; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 334

The Cherokee Nation Joins the Union

February 26, 1863 – The National Council of Cherokee Indians approved resolutions repealing its ordinance of secession, renouncing its support for the Confederacy, declaring new support for the U.S., and abolishing slavery in the Cherokee Nation.

John Ross | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The council’s decision to change course was difficult because many Cherokee slaveholders sympathized with the Confederacy, and many who did not own slaves wanted to stay neutral. Prominent Cherokee leader John Ross had urged allying with the Confederates after their victories at Bull Run and Wilson’s Creek in 1861, arguing that they would likely win the war, and their land bordered the Indian Territory on three sides.

However, the Confederacy could do little to aid the Native Americans in the Indian Territory, leading to widespread poverty, famine, and death. Indians serving the Confederacy had not been paid for months, and the government commandeered their horses. As long as the Cherokee sided with the Confederacy, the U.S. government would not pay them annuities promised in prior treaties.

Finally, Unionist Indian forces serving in the Federal Army of the Frontier were dispatched under Colonel William A. Phillips to protect not only the suffering Indians in the Indian Territory, but the refugees who had fled to Missouri and Kansas as well. Phillips and Brigadier General James G. Blunt provided $12,000 worth of supplies for relief.

During this time, Colonel Stand Watie, a Cherokee serving the Confederacy, led his force back into the Indian Territory to prevent the Cherokee Nation from assembling the Council and voting to support the U.S. The Council assembled under Phillips’s protection, without John Ross and others who supported the Confederacy.

On the 26th, the Council approved “an act revoking the alliance with the Confederate States and re-asserting allegiance to the United States.” The Council also approved “an act emancipating slaves throughout the Cherokee Nation.” This included granting citizenship to all freed male slaves. Thus, the Cherokee Nation became the first government to voluntarily end slavery in America.

—–

References

Abel, Annie Heloise, The American Indian in the Civil War (University of Nebraska Press, 1992); Cunningham, Frank, General Stand Watie’s Confederate Indians (University of Oklahoma Press, 1998); Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 265-66; Lause, Mark A., Race and Radicalism in the Union Army; Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 323

President Davis’s 1863 Message to Congress

January 12, 1863 – President Jefferson Davis submitted his message on the state of the Confederacy to the Confederate Congress as it assembled for its third session at Richmond.

By this time, inflation plagued the South, as the printing of paper money without backing by precious metals sent the cost of living skyrocketing. The Confederate military still held firm against the Federals, but resources were dwindling and there was little hope for foreign aid.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Davis declared that the first two years of the new nation “affords ample cause for congratulation and demands the most fervent expression of our thankfulness to the Almighty Father, who has blessed our cause.” He cited recent Confederate military successes as “another example of the impossibility of subjugating a people determined to be free; and have demonstrated that no superiority of numbers or available resources can overcome the resistance offered by such valor in combat, such constancy under suffering, and such cheerful endurance of privation as have been conspicuously displayed by this people in the defense of their rights and liberties.”

Davis still held out hope that foreign nations would recognize Confederate independence, but he acknowledged that such an opportunity was quickly vanishing due to increased Federal aggression, both on land and at sea.

He denounced the Emancipation Proclamation:

“We may well leave it to the instincts of common humanity which a beneficent Creator has implanted in the breasts of our fellowmen of all countries to pass judgment on a measure by which several millions of human beings of an inferior race, peaceful and contented laborers in their sphere, are doomed to extermination, while at the same time they are encouraged to a general assassination of their masters by the insidious recommendation ‘to abstain from violence unless in necessary self-defense.’”

To Davis, the proclamation was “complete and crowning proof of the true nature of the designs of the (Republican) party which elevated to power the present occupant of the Presidential chair at Washington.” He cited President Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural address of March 1861 (in which Lincoln pledged not to interfere with slavery where it already existed) as evidence that the party had lied about its intentions all along.

Calling the proclamation “the most execrable measure in the history of guilty man,” Davis announced that he would turn over any commissioned Federal officers enforcing it to the appropriate state government for punishment as “criminals engaged in inciting servile insurrection.” In most southern states, that punishment was death.

Davis asserted that Lincoln’s decree proved his “inability to subjugate the South by force of arms,” and its appeal to morality provided foreign nations the “justification in withholding our just claims to formal recognition.” Ultimately, the proclamation meant that “restoration of the Union has been rendered forever impossible by the adoption of a measure which from its very nature neither admits of retraction nor can coexist with union.”

Regarding the Treasury Department, Davis asked members of Congress to approve legislation improving the Confederacy’s financial structure to pay down the national debt:

“Among the subjects to which your attention will be specially devoted during the present session you will no doubt deem the adoption of some comprehensive system of finance as being of paramount importance.”

Regarding the War Department, Davis requested “some revision of the exemption law (i.e., the amended Conscription Act) of last session. Serious complaints have reached me of the inequality of its operation,” and Davis recommended exempting enough men to form local police squads that would keep law and order at home while the rest of the men fought the war.

Davis also stated:

“I recommend to the Congress to devise a proper mode of relief to those of our citizens whose property has been destroyed by order of the Government, in pursuance of a policy adopted as a means of national defense. It is true that full indemnity cannot now be made, but some measure of relief is due to those patriotic citizens who have borne private loss for the public good, whose property in effect has been taken for public use, though not directly appropriated.”

Davis reminded Congress:

“Our Government, born of the spirit of freedom and of the equality and independence of the States, could not have survived a selfish or jealous disposition, making each only careful of its own interest or safety. The fate of the Confederacy, under the blessing of Divine Providence, depends upon the harmony, energy, and unity of the States.”

He concluded, “With hearts swelling with gratitude let us, then, join in returning thanks to God, and in beseeching the continuance of his protecting care over our cause and the restoration of peace with its manifold blessings to our beloved country.”

—–

References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 165; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 253-54; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 311; 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. 565; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: C.B. Richardson, 1866; revised version New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 576-77, 583; 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), Q163

The Emancipation Proclamation

January 1, 1863 – President Abraham Lincoln signed the executive order emancipating all slaves in states and parts of states controlled by the Confederacy.

The Emancipation Proclamation | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The traditional New Year’s Day reception at the White House began at 11 a.m. The first hour was reserved for government officials, then the gates were opened to the public for the next two hours. Lincoln greeted guests in the Blue Room until 2 p.m. and then retired to the Executive Office, where the official draft of the Emancipation Proclamation, having been professionally engrossed at the State Department, awaited.

Lincoln’s hand was numb from shaking so many hands at the reception. This made him worry that his signature might look shaky on the document, which could cause people to claim that “‘he had some compunctions.’ But,” Lincoln said, “any way, it is going to be done!”

Administration officials witnessed him carefully sign the Emancipation Proclamation. Secretary of State William H. Seward also signed the document, the Great Seal of the United States was affixed, and it was sent to the State Department for official filing. Copies were sent to the press, and news of the signing soon spread throughout the country and then the world.

The decree pertained only to areas “the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States.” It did not pertain to 13 parishes in Louisiana, 48 counties in western Virginia, seven counties in Virginia, or the loyal slave states of Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware. Thus, the proclamation technically freed nobody except in certain areas of the Confederacy under Federal military occupation, such as Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley or western Tennessee.

The order went beyond the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation of September 22 by calling on slaves to “abstain from all violence” in an effort to ease fears that it would encourage slaves to rebel against their masters. Lincoln also added that he was issuing the proclamation as “an act of justice,” not just a military necessity.

Perhaps most importantly, the proclamation authorized the recruitment of blacks into the Federal military and navy, even if only “to garrison and defend forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts.” This would give the Federals an enormous manpower advantage against the Confederacy.

The proclamation indicated that Lincoln finally abandoned his longtime ambition to colonize former slaves outside the U.S. From this point forward, emancipation without colonization would be the unstated administration policy, though Lincoln still supported gradual, compensated emancipation in the loyal slave states.

Although the proclamation had dubious legal merit and questionable enforceability, it gave the U.S. a foreign relations advantage because countries such as Great Britain and France would not assist a slaveholding country against a country officially opposed to slavery. People in Britain held massive rallies celebrating the proclamation, and European recognition of Confederate independence soon became virtually impossible.

As word spread on the 2nd, northerners held mass meetings either celebrating or condemning the proclamation. Free blacks, former slaves, and abolitionists gathered at Boston’s Tremont Temple to rejoice this first step toward full freedom. Unionists also celebrated at Norfolk, Virginia; and Beaufort, South Carolina. Some abolitionists expressed disappointment that the proclamation did not free slaves in states loyal to the Union or parts of the Confederacy under Federal occupation.

Those critical of the proclamation argued that it was an unconstitutional decree with no basis in law. An editorial in the New York Herald called it “practically a dead letter… unwise and ill-timed, impracticable, and outside the Constitution.” The Richmond Examiner called the proclamation the “most startling political crime in American history.”

In Lincoln’s home state of Illinois, a Democratic legislator predicted that the widows and orphans of dead Federal soldiers would “become prey to the lusts of the freed negroes who will overrun our country.” The Democratic-controlled legislature approved a measure denouncing the Emancipation Proclamation and condemning Lincoln for turning the war’s cause into slave liberation.

Across the Atlantic, British Foreign Secretary Lord John Russell criticized the document for offering no “principle averse to slavery” because it made slavery “at once legal and illegal.” The London Quarterly Review opined, “It is little less than mockery to ask us to believe that Federals are fighting solely to extinguish, and Confederates solely to perpetuate, slavery.”

However, Lincoln shrewdly used a workers’ demonstration in England to garner support in promoting his proclamation. Manchester workers had long been suffering from the cotton shortage, for which Lincoln blamed not his blockade, but “the actions of our disloyal citizens.” Lincoln wrote:

“I know and deeply deplore the sufferings which the workingmen at Manchester and in all Europe are called upon to endure in this crisis… Under these circumstances, I cannot but regard your decisive utterance upon the question as an instance of sublime Christian heroism which has not been surpassed in any age or in any country… I hail this interchange of sentiment, therefore, as an augury that whatever else may happen, whatever misfortune may befall your country or my own, the peace and friendship which now exist between the two nations will be, as it shall be my desire to make them, perpetual.”

Lincoln told the workers that the war would determine “whether a government, established on the principles of human freedom, can be maintained against an effort to build one upon the exclusive foundation of human bondage.” However, this did not acknowledge the fact that slavery still existed in the U.S. as well as the Confederacy, and Lincoln had not made emancipation a war aim until now, almost two years after the conflict began.

Nevertheless, Charles Francis Adams, U.S. minister to Britain, wrote Seward about British reaction to the proclamation in late January. Adams stated that the British government and press had initially expressed skepticism toward the document’s legality and sincerity, but “if they become once fully aroused to a sense of the importance of this struggle as a purely moral question, I feel safe in saying there will be an end of all effective sympathy in Great Britain with the rebellion.”

Overall, most northerners feared the societal changes that the Emancipation Proclamation could bring. Regardless, the document transformed the war’s character by pushing the slavery issue to the center of American dialogue. This in turn pushed Congress to begin the process of enacting a constitutional amendment that could bypass a potential Supreme Court ruling against the proclamation and permanently end slavery.

—–

References

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 258; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 251; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 8617-25, 8789-810, 9137; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 120, 155; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 248, 251; Gara, Larry, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 242; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 497, 499; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 306-08, 312-13; McGinty, Brian, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 752-53; 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. 563; 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), Q163

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.

—–

References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 85-86; Bailey, Ronald H., The Bloodiest Day: The Battle of Antietam (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 157-59; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 59; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 15039-47; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 217; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 7927-50, 7960, 8027, 8832-8843; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 704, 707; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 214; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 4925; Gara, Larry, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 242; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 481-82; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 95-96; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 269-71; 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. 556-57; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: C.B. Richardson, 1866; revised version New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 529-31; 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), Q362