Whereas, on the twenty-second day of September, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-two, a proclamation was issued by the President of the United States, containing, among other things, the following, to wit:
That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.”
On today’s date, September 22 in the year 1862, a mere 151 years ago, United States President Abraham Lincoln issued the statement quoted above: the Emancipation Proclamation. This document (pictured above), to become effective on January 1, 1863, was limited; it only affected states of the Confederacy. But it changed the very purpose of the war, and it eventually lead to the end of legal slavery in the United States for good and all. Lincoln had written a draft of the document earlier that summer, but had been advised that it would be best to wait until a military victory had occurred, so the act would not seem to be a desperation measure. The Federal victory at the Battle of Antietam, five days earlier brought the right moment, and made Emancipation possible. From this point on, the Civil War became a crusade for freedom itself.
The Need for Emancipation
The need for the Emancipation of the slaves had been pressed on Lincoln since the very start of the war. Repeatedly he had been pressed by Abolitionists both in America and abroad of the need to make Abolition a clear aim of the war. “The quarrel, cover it with cotton as we may is between freedom and slavery, right and wrong, the dominion of God and the dominion of the Devil…” declared the British paper “the Spectator” in June of 1861. “We ask you to consider that slavery is everywhere the inciting cause and the sustaining base of treason.” wrote Horace Greeley in an open letter on Aug. 20, 1862. Lincoln had in fact told some of his cabinet members that he was planning a move towards Emancipation as early as July 13 of 1862. But he maintained throughout the war that his main goal was to save the Union. “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union,….” he declared in reply to Greeley on August 22. “…and is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it. If I could save it by freeing all of the slaves, I would do it. And if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that.” But the possibility that the Confederacy might gain recognition by England or France was very real. The Southern victories at the Battles of Bull Run, and the recent wins by Lee on the Peninsula, and the Seven Days had Prime Minister Palmerston of England speaking openly of the need for European brokered negotiations for peace and separation of the two states.
Lincoln Announces Emancipation to His Cabinet.
So it was that on July 22, 1862, in the scene depicted above that Lincoln announced to his astonished cabinet that he had written up and was planning on delivering in public a proclamation to
free the slaves. There were various comments, but Lincoln had made it clear that he had already decided upon this step. Then his Secretary of State, William Seward (above) said: “Mr. President, I approve of the proclamation, but I question the expediency of its issue at this juncture. The depression of the public mind consequent upon our repeated reverses is so great that I fear the effect of so important a step. It may be viewed as the last measure of an exhausted government, …our last shriek on the retreat.” Lincoln said: “(This) was an aspect of the case that in all my thought upon the subject, I had entirely overlooked.” So Lincoln put his draft aside for the moment, changing a few words here and there waiting for a success on the battlefield. “Finally came the week of Antietam.” he said. “I determined to wait no longer. The news came that the advantage was on our side.. I called the cabinet together to hear it, and it was published the following Monday.”
The Reaction: Worries, Acrimony, Colored Regiments!
Lincoln had believed that neither he, nor the congress had the power to alter slavery where it already existed. But as a war measure to weaken the might of the rebellious states to make war, he definitely had the power as the Commander in Chief to take whatever steps he thought necessary to secure the safety of the Union. By use of the Emancipation Proclamation, he had not only struck at the main economic base for the Southern economy, but he had also authorized the arming of black men, and the formation of “Colored Regiments”, which proved to be an important source of
manpower for the rest of the war. His Navy Secretary, Gideon Welles (above) was worried that this was a dangerous usurpation of power: “…an exercise of extraordinary power which cannot be justified on mere humanitarian principles…” But welcomed the freed slaves to the fight: “The slaves must be with us or against us in the War. Let us have them.” The Southern reaction was to say the least, acrimonious. Jefferson Davis called the Proclamation “the most execrable measure recorded in the history of guilty man.” But almost immediately the ennobling effect of this raising of the war’s aims to the eradication of slavery began to be felt. Lincoln’s Secretary John Hay noticed the new attitude towards the war at a Washington dinner he attended: “It was no longer a question of the Union as it was that was to be re-established. It was the Union as it should be; that is to say washed clean of it’s original sin. We were no longer merely the soldiers of a political controversy. We were the missionaries of a great work of redemption.” And abroad the Proclamation had exactly the effect that Lincoln had been hoping for. Neither France nor England was willing to support the South against a Union declared to end slavery. On January 22, 1863, Henry Adams wrote to Seward: “I feel safe in saying there will be an end to all effective sympathy in Great Britain for the rebellion.” And so did the Union victory at Antietam, however Pyrrhic it was make possible the raising of the war to a higher cause, and thus change the course of the war and of American history itself.
I should also mention that today is also important for another reason: On this date, 53 years ago Betty Jane and Stuart Woolley brought into the world, their fourth son, Stacey Glenn Woolley. He has grown up into a dedicated conservative, a truly talented musician, a member of the Detroit and Cincinnati Symphony Orchestras, a devoted husband, an excellent dad, a first rate trouble-maker and not least of all my best friend in the world since we met in Mrs. Preston’s Kindergarten Class at Westwood Elementary School in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1964. A truly goofy man AND a FIRST-RATE Trouble-Maker!! Happy Birthday, Bubby!!
“The Diary of Gideon Welles” , Houghton Mifflin Co., New York, 1911
“The Inner Life of Abraham Lincoln” by F.B. Carpenter, Houghton, Osgood & Co., Boston, 1879
– Episode 3, “Forever Free”, Dir. by Ken Burns, PBS Video, 1989.
By Doris Kearns Goodwin, Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, New York, 2006.
By Bruce Catton, American Heritage Publ..Co. Inc., New York, 1960.