The Emancipation Proclamation



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Even after the outbreak of the Civil War, Lincoln was reluctant to emancipate the slaves, believing that such an act would be unconstitutional, offend the many Northerners who opposed abolition, and persuade border states to join the secession. Instead, Lincoln's preference was to create a system of compensated emancipation, under which slaveowners would be paid for the loss of what they regarded as their "property." In fact, Washington, D.C. was the only place in which compensated emancipation was ever adopted.

On January 1, 1863 Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation extending freedom to all slaves in the seceded states. In practice, the Emancipation Proclamation only applied to slaves in states under confederate control, in other words, in precisely those places where Lincoln's words had no power. On the other hand, slaves who lived in union states--or confederate states already under the control of union troops--were unaffected. The Emancipation Proclamation probably did have an impact overseas, as it may have been a factor in convincing the English not to ally themselves with the confederacy. It also had a direct effect on the union war effort as it enabled African-Americans to join the army.

Domestically, reactions were mixed.Predictably, Southern newspapers denounced the action, and reported that Jefferson Davis had announced that the confederate army would no longer exchange hostages and would kill rather than taking hostage any African-American soliders. Northern cartoons reinforced racial stereotypes and even some supportive comments in the Northern press were interlaced with racist assumptions. The Emancipation Proclamation may perhaps best be understood as one in a series of steps that eventually freed slaves from their bonds.


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Lincoln's Attempts to Promote Compensated Emancipation


Lincoln was slow to embrace the cause of emancipation during the Civil War. He claimed that it would be unconstitutional to free the slaves, feared the reaction of the many Northerners opposed to abolitionConsider, for example, the way Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper described the initial Northern reaction to secession:

The determined and ultra conduct of South Carolina and the Seceding States has brought the Republican Party to a sudden sense of the folly and wickedness of persisting in an abstract absurdity at the risk of a civil war, or else a disruption of our great Republic. Rhode Island has commenced retracing her steps by repealing her Personal Liberty Bill, and the people of Boston have plainly intimated to the Wendell Phillip fanatics, through the Mayor of that city, that they will not countenance any of those Abolition meetings, which would fire the Union merely to "warm an idea." The destruction of our Union, merely to rescue a runaway nigger, would be as absurd as the Chinaman who set fire to his house merely to roast a little pig.

--"The Wisdom of Forbearance; or, the Present Phase of Affairs," Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, Feb. 2, 1861, 162

It is clear that the outbreak of the war did not immediately transform alll Northerners into abolitionists. Consider, for example, the reception given to abolitionist Wendell Phillips by Cincinnatians after the war had already raged for a full year:

NEWS AND NOTES Domestic. --Wendell Phillips attempted to lecture at the Opera House, Cincinnati, on the 24th March. He commenced avowing himself an Abolitionist and Disunionist. Persons in the galleries then hissed, yelled, and threw eggs and stones at him, some hitting him. The hissing was kept up for some time. Finally he made himself heard and proceeded until something again objectionable was said, and again eggs were thrown, hitting him. He persevered, and a third time was heard, and a third time stoned and egged. The crowd then moved down stairs crying, “Put him out,” “Tar and feather him,” and giving roans for the nigger, Wendell Phillips. They proceeded down the middle aisle toward the stage, and were met by Phillips’ friends. Here a fight ensued, amidst the greatest confusion, ladies screaming and crying, jumping on chairs, and falling in all directions. During the fight, Phillips was taken off the stage by his friends. The audience then moved out.

--The NY Illustrated News, April 12, 1862, 354

An even more serious concern for Lincoln was the possible reaction of the five border states to any move to emancipate the slaves. Their location, histories, economies, and culture gave all five states strong ties to the South. In addition, Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri were slave states, and slavery was still legal in West Virginia when it was officially recognized as a state and admitted to the Union in 1862, even though a compromise meaure limited some forms of the "peculiar institution."

Lincoln also regarded General Butler’s declaration that slaves were "contrabands of war" as an unconstitutional measure and disciplined Generals Hunter and McClelland for taking similar measures. Interestingly,

A system of compensated emancipation was the approach repreatedly recommended by the president (sometimes in connection with a proposal for colonization) as the best way of dealing with the issue of slavery in states loyal to the Union. Under such a plan, slaveowners would be paid in exchange for freeing their slaves. Lincoln believed that such an approach would be both constitutional and politic, helping unite a union which continued to be divided over the issue of abolition. Far from being settled by the outbreak of war, abolition continued to be the wedge that separated northerners of different political sympathies and created tension between the free states of the north and their slave-owning allies of the border states Lincoln sent a proposal to Congress on March 6, 1862 asking for the establishment of a system of compensated emancipation and that July the president met with representatives and senators of the border states in the hopes of convincing them to support his plan. In fact, Lincoln also used his proclamation overturning General Hunter's order emancipating the slaves of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida as an opportunity to make another appeal for compensated emancipation.

On the sixth day of March last, by a special message, I recommended to Congress the adoption of a joint resolution to be substantially as follows:

Resolved, That the United States ought to co-operate with any State which may adopt a gradual abolishment of slavery, giving to such State Pecuniary aid, to be used by such State in it discretion to compensate for the inconveniences, public and private, produced by such change of system.

The resolution, in the language above quoted, was adopted by large majorities in both branched of Congress, and now stands an authentic, definite, and solemn proposal of the nation to the States and people most immediately interested in the subject manner. To the people of those states I now earnestly appeal. I do not argue. I beseech you to make the arguments for yourselves. You can not if you would, be blind to the signs of the times. I beg of you a calm and enlarged consideration of them, ranging, if it may be, far above personal and partisan politics. This proposal makes common cause for a common object, casting no reproaches upon any. It acts not the Pharisee. The change it contemplates would come gently as the dews of heaven, not rending or wrecking anything. Will you not embrace it? So much good has not been done, by one effort, in all past time, as, in the providence of God, it is now your high privilege to do. May the vast future not have to lament that you have neglected it.

--Abraham Lincoln, "Proclamation Revoking General Hunter’s Order of Military Emancipation of May 9, 1862," May 19, 1862

On April 16, 1862 the District of Columbia became the first--and last--place in which Lincoln's plan was put into effect.

 


"UNCLE SAM--'There, Bob--there's a quarter for you, and now go and let that poor black bird loose," Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, April 5, 1862, 336.

 

Emancipation in the District of Columbia

An animated debate on the bill for the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia enlivened the Senate on the 1st of April. The original bill was amended, so that no payment for slaves shall be made to any person who aided the rebellion in any way. Mr. Pomeroy’s amendment, to the effect that there shall be an equitable settlement between master and slave rather than the assumption that any compensation is due to the former, was rejected. Another amendment offered was that the master might retain possession of the slave til the money appropriated for his purchase is paid. This was also rejected. An amendment striking out the sum of $300 as an average, was offered and rejected. The substitute for this bill, offered by Mr. Clark of New Hampshire, was considered; an amendment to that was adopted, fixing the average value of the slave at $500, and making one-half payable to the master, one-half to the slave himself, when the latter, being free, shall emigrate to another country. Another amendment, providing for submitting the question to the people of the District, was rejected.

In this debate the most noteworthy incident is the rejection of the amendment that the master might retain possession of the slave till the money appropriated for his purchase shall be paid. This throws into shade even the remarkable evidence that Congress is assuming absolute power in the abolition of slavery, which is given by the refusal to submit the question of abolition to the people of the District.

The President’s Emancipation policy has been made the policy of the Government. The joint resolution, which so readily passed the House of Representatives, was passed in the Senate, the vote being 32 for the measure and 10 against it. The Executive signature will at once complete this all-important act.

The bill to abolish Slavery in the District of Columbia has passed the Senate by a vote of 29 to 14.

--"Congress, April 7," New York Illustrated News, April 19, 1862, 370

 

Even after he put the world on notice of his intention to emancipate the slaves of the seceded states, Lincoln continued to urge both the people of the union and of the confederacy to accept a plan for compensated emancipation. In his second annual address to the nation delivered on December 1, 1862—only a little more than two months after announcing the Emancipation Proclamation and exactly a month before it was to go into effect--Lincoln advocated that a constitutional amendment be adopted offering to provide monetary compensation to those states agreeing to free their slaves anytime before the end of the century. Lincoln defended his plan as one that would please no one entirely but would therefore be a "harmonious compromise." Tellingly, Lincoln did not claim that his proposal represented an ideal, saying instead:

It is not 'can any of us imagine better?' but 'can we all do better?' Object whatsoever is possible, still the question recurs 'can we do better?'

--Abraham Lincoln, "Second Annual Message," December 1st, 1862

 


Excerpts from Lincoln's "Second Annual Message"

. . . I recommend the adoption of the following resolution and articles amendatory to the Constitution of the United States:

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, (two thirds of both houses concurring,) That the following articles be proposed to the legislatures (or conventions) of the several States as amendments to the Constitution of the United States, all or any of which articles when ratified by three-fourths of the said legislatures (or conventions) to be valid as part or parts of the said Constitution, viz:

Article ---.

Every State, wherein slavery now exists, which shall abolish the same therein, at any time, or times, before the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand and nine hundred, shall receive compensation from the United States as follows, to wit:

The President of the United States shall deliver to every such State, bonds of the United States, bearing interest at the rate of --- per cent, per annum, to an amount equal to the aggregate sum of for each slave shown to have been therein, by the eig[h]th census of the United States, said bonds to be delivered to such State by instalments, or in one parcel, at the completion of the abolishment, accordingly as the same shall have been gradual, or at one time, within such State; and interest shall begin to run upon any such bond, only from the proper time of its delivery as aforesaid. Any State having received bonds as aforesaid, and afterwards reintroducing or tolerating slavery therein, shall refund to the United States the bonds so received, or the value thereof, and all interest paid thereon.

Article ---.

All slaves who shall have enjoyed actual freedom by the chances of the war, at any time before the end of the rebellion, shall be forever free; but all owners of such, who shall not have been disloyal, shall be compensated for them, at the same rates as is provided for States adopting abolishment of slavery, but in such way, that no slave shall be twice accounted for.

Article ---.

Congress may appropriate money, and otherwise provide, for colonizing free colored persons, with their own consent, at any place or places without the United States.''

I beg indulgence to discuss these proposed articles at some length. Without slavery the rebellion could never have existed; without slavery it could not continue.

Among the friends of the Union there is great diversity, of sentiment, and of policy, in regard to slavery, and the African race amongst us. Some would perpetuate slavery; some would abolish it suddenly, and without compensation; some would abolish it gradually, and with compensation; some would remove the freed people from us, and some would retain them with us; and there are yet other minor diversities. Because of these diversities, we waste much strength in struggles among ourselves. By mutual concession we should harmonize, and act together. This would be compromise; but it would be compromise among the friends, and not with the enemies of the Union. These articles are intended to embody a plan of such mutual concessions. If the plan shall be adopted, it is assumed that emancipation will follow, at least, in several of the States.

As to the first article, the main points are: first, the emancipation; secondly, the length of time for consummating it---thirty-seven years; and thirdly, the compensation.

The emancipation will be unsatisfactory to the advocates of perpetual slavery; but the length of time should greatly mitigate their dissatisfaction. The time spares both races from the evils of sudden derangement---in fact, from the necessity of any derangement---while most of those whose habitual course of thought will be disturbed by the measure will have passed away before its consummation. They will never see it. Another class will hail the prospect of emancipation, but will deprecate the length of time. They will feel that it gives too little to the now living slaves. But it really gives them much. It saves them from the vagrant destitution which must largely attend immediate emancipation in localities where their numbers are very great; and it gives the inspiring assurance that their posterity shall be free forever. The plan leaves to each State, choosing to act under it, to abolish slavery now, or at the end of the century, or at any intermediate time, or by degrees, extending over the whole or any part of the period; and it obliges no two states to proceed alike. It also provides for compensation, and generally the mode of making it. This, it would seem, must further mitigate the dissatisfaction of those who favor perpetual slavery, and especially of those who are to receive the compensation. Doubtless some of those who are to pay, and not to receive will object. Yet the measure is both just and economical. In a certain sense the liberation of slaves is the destruction of property---property acquired by descent, or by purchased, the same as any other property. It is no less true for having been often said, that the people of the south are not more responsible for the original introduction of this property, than are the people of the north; and when it is remembered how unhesitatingly we all use cotton and sugar, and share the profits of dealing in them, it may not be quite safe to say, that the south has been more responsible than the north for its continuance. If then, for a common object, this property is to be sacrificed is it not just that it be done at a common charge?

And if, with less money, or money more easily paid, we can preserve the benefits of the Union by this means, than we can by the war alone, is it not also economical to do it? Let us consider it then. Let us ascertain the sum we have expended in the war since compensated emancipation was proposed last March, and consider whether, if that measure had been promptly accepted, by even some of the slave States, the same sum would not have done more to close the war, than has been otherwise done. If so the measure would save money, and, in that view, would be a prudent and economical measure. Certainly it is not so easy to pay something as it is to pay nothing; but it is easier to pay a large sum than it is to pay a larger one. And it is easier to pay any sum when we are able, than it is to pay it before we are able. The war requires large sums, and requires them at once. The aggregate sum necessary for compensated emancipation, of course, would be large. But it would require no ready cash; nor the bonds even, any faster than the emancipation progresses. This might not, and probably would not, close before the end of the thirty-seven years. At that time we shall probably have a hundred millions of people to share the burden, instead of thirty one millions, as now. And not only so, but the increase of our population may be expected to continue for a long time after that period, as rapidly as before; because our territory will not have become full.


The proposed emancipation would shorten the war, perpetuate peace, insure this increase of population, and proportionately the wealth of the country.


I cannot make it better known than it already is, that I strongly favor colonization. And yet I wish to say there is an objection urged against free colored persons remaining in the country, which is largely imaginary, if not sometimes malicious.

It is insisted that their presence would injure, and displace white labor and white laborers. If there ever could be a proper time for mere catch arguments, that time surely is not now. In times like the present, men should utter nothing for which they would not willingly be responsible through time and in eternity. Is it true, then, that colored people can displace any more white labor, by being free, than by remaining slaves? If they stay in their old places, they jostle no white laborers; if they leave their old places, they leave them open to white laborers. Logically, there is neither more nor less of it. Emancipation, even without deportation, would probably enhance the wages of white labor, and, very surely, would not reduce them. Thus, the customary amount of labor would still have to be performed; the freed people would surely not do more than their old proportion of it, and very probably, for a time, would do less, leaving an increased part to white laborers, bringing their labor into greater demand, and, consequently, enhancing the wages of it. With deportation, even to a limited extent, enhanced wages to white labor is mathematically certain. Labor is like any other commodity in the market---increase the demand for it, and you increase the price of it. Reduce the supply of black labor, by colonizing the black laborer out of the country, and, by precisely so much, you increase the demand for, and wages of, white labor.

But it is dreaded that the freed people will swarm forth, and cover the whole land? Are they not already in the land? Will liberation make them any more numerous? Equally distributed among the whites of the whole country, and there would be but one colored to seven whites. Could the one, in any way, greatly disturb the seven? There are many communities now, having more than one free colored person, to seven whites; and this, without any apparent consciousness of evil from it. The District of Columbia, and the States of Maryland and Delaware, are all in this condition. The District has more than one free colored to six whites; and yet, in its frequent petitions to Congress, I believe it has never presented the presence of free colored persons as one of its grievances. But why should emancipation south, send the free people north? People, of any color, seldom run, unless there be something to run from. Heretofore colored people, to some extent, have fled north from bondage; and now, perhaps, from both bondage and destitution. But if gradual emancipation and deportation be adopted, they will have neither to flee from. Their old masters will give them wages at least until new laborers can be procured; and the freed men, in turn, will gladly give their labor for the wages, till new homes can be found for them, in congenial climes, and with people of their own blood and race. This proposition can be trusted on the mutual interests involved. And, in any event, cannot the north decide for itself, whether to receive them?


This plan is recommended as a means, not in exclusion of, but additional to, all others for restoring and preserving the national authority throughout the Union. The subject is presented exclusively in its economical aspect. The plan would, I am confident, secure peace more speedily, and maintain it more permanently, than can be done by force alone; while all it would cost, considering amounts, and manner of payment, and times of payment, would be easier paid than will be the additional cost of the war, if we rely solely upon force. It is much---very much---that it would cost no blood at all.


Is it doubted, then, that the plan I propose, if adopted, would shorten the war, and thus lessen its expenditure of money and of blood? Is it doubted that it would restore the national authority and national prosperity, and perpetuate both indefinitely? Is it doubted that we here---Congress and Executive---can secure its adoption? Will not the good people respond to a united, and earnest appeal from us? Can we, can they, by any other means, so certainly, or so speedily, assure these vital objects? We can succeed only by concert. It is not 'can any of us imagine better?' but 'can we all do better?' Object whatsoever is possible, still the question recurs 'can we do better?' The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall our selves, and then we shall save our country.

Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history. We of this Congress and this administration, will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance, or insignificance, can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation. We say we are for the Union. The world will not forget that we say this. We know how to save the Union. The world knows we do know how to save it. We---even we here---hold the power, and bear the responsibility. In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free---honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best, hope of earth. Other means may succeed; this could not fail. The way is plain, peaceful, generous, just---a way which, if followed, the world will forever applaud, and God must forever bless.

--Excerpts from Abraham Lincoln's "Second Annual Message," December 1st, 1862

 

The Limits of the Emancipation Proclamation


By the summer of 1862, Butler had successfully declared fugitive slaves "contrabands" at Fort Monroe Virginia but Lincoln had thwarted General Fremont's attempt to free the slaves of rebels in Missouri (August, 1861) and overturned Hunter's order emancipating slaves in slaves in South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida (May, 1862). Compensated emancipation had freed slaves in Washington, D.C. (April, 1862) but had not been accepted anywhere else within the union. The discussion surrounding these events only intensified the already-heated debate over the question of slavery.

In August of 1862, Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune and noted abolitionist, wrote an open letter to the president entitled, "A Prayer for Twenty Millions," chiding him for being "unduly influenced by the counsels, the representations, the menaces, of certain fossil politicians hailing from the Border Slave States." Lincoln replied:

My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I don't believe it would help to save the Union.

--Abraham Lincoln, "Emancipation or Preservation of the Union?" The New York Times, New York, August 25, 1862

On September 22, 1863 Lincoln announced that the Emancipation Proclamation would take effect on January 1, 1863. The proclamation extended freedom only to slaves in rebel states in areas that had not already been occupied by Union troops. The following excerpt from the text specifies the limited territory covered by the proclamation:

Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, (except the Parishes of St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Jefferson, St. John, St. Charles, St. James Ascension, Assumption, Terrebonne, Lafourche, St. Mary, St. Martin, and Orleans, including the City of New Orleans) Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia, (except the forty-eight counties designated as West Virginia, and also the counties of Berkley, Accomac, Northampton, Elizabeth City, York, Princess Ann, and Norfolk, including the cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth[)], and which excepted parts, are for the present, left precisely as if this proclamation were not issued.

--Abraham Lincoln, The Emancipation Proclamation, January 1, 1863

Since the order applied only to those areas that had already rejected federal rule but had not yet been reclaimed by the Union, the Emancipation Proclamation had very little practical effect. It meant only that slaves who escaped from rebel areas and slaves in confederate states later conquered by union troops would be free.

 

 Reactions of Freedmen's Friends

I wish the policy of Govt. were more defined in regard to the districts "excepted" from the Presidents proclamation. They never should have been "excepted."

--L. B. Russell to Lucy Chase, Freedmen's Teacher, Boston, September 14, 1863

 

The Diplomatic Implications of the Proclamation


Before the war, Southerners had boasted that their control of the cotton crop would force foreign governments to side with them in any dispute with the North. South Carolina Senator James Henry Hammond had declared in 1858:

Without the firing of a gun, without drawing a sword, should they [Northerners] make war upon us [Southerners], we could bring the whole world to our feet. What would happen if no cotton was furnished for three years? . . England would topple headlong and carry the whole civilized world with her. No, you dare not make war on cotton! No power on earth dares make war upon it. Cotton is King.

-- James Henry Hamond, "Speech of Hon. James H. Hammond, of South Carolina, On the Admission of Kansas, Under the Lecompton Constitution: Delivered in the Senate of the United States, March 4, 1858," 1858 [Note: This is often referred to as the "Cotton is King Speech" and usually appears in an excerpted version. This link takes you to the complete text. For responses to "Cotton is King" in the AASA collections see these catalog records.]

However, the bumper crop of cotton sold on the international market in 1860 had led Great Britain to stockpile the supplies required for its textile mills. As a result, when the Union began to blockade the South in April, 1861, the British felt no pressure to intervene and instead issued a proclamation of neutrality.

Both north and south continued to court British support. Ironically, Lincoln's own insistence that the war was not "about" slavery made it easier for the South to solicit aid from Britain, which had abolished the slave trade in 1807 and freed all the slaves in its empire in 1833. Meanwhile, cartoons in Vanity Fair and other northern periodicals lampooned the British for recognizing the confederacy while claiming to support abolition.

By issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln publicly recognized slavery as a central issue in the civil war. This may have been a factor in discouraging Britain from actively supporting the southern cause.

Henry Adams, then acting as , wrote to his brother:

The Emancipation Proclamation has done more for us here than all our former victories and all our diplomacy. It is creating an almost convulsive reaction in our favor all over this country. The London Times furious and scolds like a drunken drab. Certain it is, however, that public opinion is very deeply stirred here and finds expression in meetings, addresses to President Lincoln, deputations to us, standing committees to agitate the subject and to affect opinion, and all the other symptoms of a great popular movement peculiarly unpleasant to the upper classes here because it rests on the spontaneous action of the laboring classes.

--Carl Sandburg, Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie and War Years, 1954, 347

In response, the confederacy offered a new interpretation of the meaning of the war in the hopes of offsetting the diplomatic effects of the emancipation proclamation. In an article entitled "The Cause of the Rebellion" published on March 15, 1862 (see below), a writer for Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper heaps scorn on the attempt to redefine the the war as a conflict based on a difference in economic systems.

 

An Excerpt from "The Cause of the Rebellion

After having roused the South to treason, under the pretext that their "peculiar institutions" were in danger, and that the "Abolitionists" were coming, it is certainly extraordinary that they should now turn round and stultify themselves by saying that this pretext was false, that the North is rather more pro-Slavery than the South, and that the only motive for breaking up the Government and sacrificing 100,000 lives was "not Slavery, but the very high price which, for the sake of protecting the Northern manufactures, the South was obliged to pay for manufactured goods which they required.

Start not, astonisted reader! These are the precise words used by Messrs. Rost, Yancy and Mann in their last appeal to Earl Russell for British sympathy, support and recognition!

So there was no principle involved int his gigantic insurrection, only a question of "price" of manufactures! Verily the rebels have resorted to an expensive expedient for reducing prices!

But it is idle to discuss such retexts seriously. We all know that the Commissioners only meant to appeal to the selfishness of England, by pretending that they are fighting the North because the North keeps out English manufacturers. They could not possibly have so far the stupidity of Eart russell and the English people as to suppose them ignorant of the cause and purpose of this war. The cause, the wide world knows, was Slavery, and the purpose is its extenuation and perpetuation.

"The Cause of the Rebellion," Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, March 15, 1862, 259

 

 

The Military Implications of the Proclamation: Recruitment of African-Americans


“A Queer Reconontre,” Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, March 7, 1863, 184

The crucial need for additional troops was probably an important force behind the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. The same document that offered freedom to slaves in particular areas simultaneously made African-Americans eligible to serve in the Union army.

And I further declare and make known, that such persons of suitable condition, will be received into the armed service of the United States to garrison forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service.

--The Emancipation Proclamation, January 1, 1863

The opening paragraph of an editorial in Harper's Weekly suggests that the need for black troops was probably one reason for the adoption of an Emancipation Proclamation that was not welcomed with enthusiasm by all in the North..

It is hoped by the Northern partisans of slavery that the Proclamation will be postponed or withheld altogether. But we fail to discover any ground for the hope. Whatever reasons led the President to issue the preliminary Proclamation in September last apply with equal force to the case as it stands at present, and our recent reverses supply additional motives for securing the active aid of 4,000,000 slaves, if it can be done.

--"Negro Emancipation," Harpers Weekly, January 10, 1863

For additional discussion of this topic, see The Debate Over Using African-American
in the Military.


"The Great Remedy," (Hartford: E.B. and E.C. Kellogg, 245 Main Street ; New York: Phelps and Watson, 18 Beekman Street and F.P. Whiting, 87 Fulton Street, [ca. 1863])

 

The title of the above illustration, "The Great Remedy," the date on the bottle of "Lincoln Blackstrap," and the picture of the cats labeled "contraband," "Jeff Davis," and Abe all suggest that emancipation was designed to bring black troops into the Union army. The depiction of African-Americans as a sharp-toothed black cats appearing to growl as it eyes a soft-looking white cat labeled "Jeff Davis" seems to reflect the belief that black soldiers would be savage and vindictive.

For more on the subject of African-Americans in the military during the Civil War, see The Freedmen as Soldiers.

 

Accounts of the Southern Response to the Proclamation in the Northern Press


Northern Accounts of Southern Responses
to the Emancipation Proclamation 

The iron is at last entering the rebels' soul. The blustering braggarts who insulted the spirit of the age by attempting to destroy the noblest Government on earth, and to rear up on its ruin a hideous deformity modeled on the pattern of the kingdoms of Ashantee and Dahomey: the sham chivalry who sickened Christendom by their pretensions, while they were living on the labor of 4,000,000 unpaid servants: the barbarous creatures, who thrust our prisoners into new Black Holes of Calcutta, and dug up our dead soldiers' bodies to make rings and drinking-cups and keepsakes of their poor bones: these monstrous products of the system of slavery are at length realizing the gulf into which they have plunged. Ordinary language fails to provide expletives for their wrath: there is no precedent in history fierce enough for the policy they are going to adopt. They call Mr. Lincoln an "ape," a "fiend," a "beast," a "savage," a "highwayman." Their Congress is resolved into a dozen committees, each trying to devise some new form of retaliation to be inflicted upon United States citizens and soldiers, if we dare to carry the proclamation into effect, and tamper—to use the words of the Richmond Enquirer—with "four thousand millions' worth of property!" They are going to hoist the black flag. They are going to put to death not only soldiers on the battle- field, but every Northerner found on Southern soil. Some they are going to try by courts-martial. But it doesn't seem that that is to benefit them much; for the end of the trial is to be death. No one has yet suggested torture before execution; but that will probably come. It will be nothing new in parts of the South.

--"The Proclamation in Secessia," Harper's Weekly, October 18, 1862, 658


...No proclamation which the Yankees have issued or may issue will have the slightest effect upon the slave population of the South. Wherever his armies have penetrated they have kidnapped every negro they could lay their hands on, and proclamation or no proclamation, whenever they are able they will continue to do the same. But beyond the lines of the Federal Army Slavery will continue intact and impregnable as the rock of Gibraltar.

--From "The Emancipation Proclamation--The South,"New York Daily Tribune (taken from the Richmond Dispatch), Monday, January 12, 1863, 8

 

"Butler Hanged-The Negro Freed-On Paper-1863,"Frank Leslie's Budget of Fun,
February 1, 1863 (Civil War Cartoon Collection, American Antiquarian Society)

 

Jefferson Davis's Response to the Proclamation
as Reported in Harpers' Weekly

HIS VIEWS OF THE PROCLAMATION.

In relation to President Lincoln's emancipation proclamation, he says he may well leave it to the instincts of that common humanity which a beneficent Creator has implanted in the breasts of our fellow-men of all countries to pass judgment on a measure of 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. Our own detestation of those who have attempted the most execrable massacre recorded in the history of guilty man is tinctured by a profound sentiment for the impotent rage which it discloses. As far as regards the action of this Government on such criminals as may attempt its execution, I confine myself to informing you that I shall, unless in your wisdom you deem some other course more expedient, deliver to the several State authorities all commissioned officers of the United States that may hereafter be captured by our forces in any of the States embraced in the proclamation, that they may be dealt with in accordance with the laws of those States, providing for the punishment of criminals engaged in exciting servile insurrections. In its political aspect this measure possesses great signification, and to it in this light I invite your attention. It affords to our people the complete and crowning proof of the true nature of the designs of the party which elevated to power the present occupant of the Presidential chair at Washington, and which sought to conceal its purposes by every variety of artful grace, and by the perfidious use of the most solemn and repeated pledges on every practicable occasion. He gives extracts from President Lincoln's inaugural, and comments fully upon the subsequent acts by Congress and the Administration.

--"Jefferson Davis's Message," Harper's Weekly, January 31, 1863, 67

 

Some of the Responses to the Proclamation in Northern Publications


"Doctor Lincoln's New Elixir of Life--For the Southern States,"New York Illustrated News, April 12, 1862, 368.

 

Sample Northern Responses to the Emancipation Proclamation

The extreme moderation with which the President advanced to his design, -- his long-avowed expectant policy, as if he chose to be strictly the executive of the best public sentiment of the country, waiting only till it should be unmistakably pronounced, -- so fair a mind that none ever listened so patiently to such extreme varieties of opinion, -- so reticent that his decision has taken all parties by surprise, whilst yet it is the just sequel of his prior acts, -- the firm tone in which he announces it, without inflation or surplusage, -- all these have bespoken such favor to the act, that, great as the popularity of the President has been, we are beginning to think that we have underestimated the capacity and virtue which the Divine Providence has made an instrument of benefit so vast. He has been permitted to do more for America than any other American man. He is well entitled to the most indulgent construction. Forget all that we thought shortcomings, every mistake, every delay. In the extreme embarrassments of his part, call these endurance, wisdom, magnanimity, illuminated, as they now are, by this dazzling success.

--from Ralph Waldo Emerson's "The President's Proclamation," The Atlantic, November, 1862, 638-642


It is claimed by the physiognomies that a man's whole physique,--his nerves, ganglia and brain and lobes,--enter his every act. He is the mere pantomimist of a plan and plot sketched in his constitution. You can tell the length of his nose from his sentences; the relative hardness of his backbone from his speech. On this principle we should not, perhaps, have expected a graceful and broad proclamation from the President, but a narrow and wiry affair; for the President is an awkward brother, without any comeliness that we should desire him. But whatever we looked for, we certainly have got a very awkward and wiry proclamation. It must have required considerable ingenuity to give two and a half millions of human beings the priceless boon of Liberty in such a cold ungraceful way. The heart of the Country was anticipating something warm and earnest. One could scarcely imagine that the herald of so blessed a dawn should have caught none of its glow. Was it not a time when some word of welcome, of sympathy, of hospitality for these long-enslaved men and women, might have been naturally uttered. Was it not a time for congratulating the liberated millions that the President of the Universe had opened the portals on which had been hitherto the padlock of the Constitution, which no terrestrial President could touch? But instead of an embrace we hade a gruff, "Stay where you are!" Mr. Lincoln does indeed call it an "act of justice," but if he had been in a dentist's chair he could not have made a worse face as it was extracted from him. Instead of an utterance of thankful joy at the opportunity vouchsafed him of benefiting the human race, we have a homily to the negroes on good behavior!

--from "The Proclamation," The Commonwealth, January 10, 1863


There was evidently no disposition on the part of this meeting to criticise the proclamation; nor was there with any one at first. At the moment we saw only its antislavery side. But further and more critical examination showed it to be extremely defective. It was not a proclamation of "liberty throughout all the land, unto all the inhabitants thereof," such as we had hoped it would be, but was one marked by discriminations and reservations. Its operation was confined within certain geographical and military lines. It only abolished slavery where it did not exist, and left it intact where it did exist. It was a measure apparently inspired by the low motive of military necessity, and by so far as it was so, it would become inoperative and useless when military necessity should cease. There was much said in this line, and much that was narrow and erroneous. For my own part, I took the proclamation, first and last, for a little more than it purported, and saw in its spirit a life and power far beyond its letter. Its meaning to me was the entire abolition of slavery, wherever the evil could be reached by the Federal arm, and I saw that its moral power would extend much further. It was, in my estimation, an immense gain to have the war for the Union committed to the extinction of slavery, even from a military necessity. It is not a bad thing to have individuals or nations do right, though they do so from selfish motives. I approved the one-spur-wisdom of "Paddy," who thought if he could get one side of his horse to go, he could trust the speed of the other side.

The effect of the proclamation abroad was highly beneficial to the loyal cause. Disinterested parties could now see in it a benevolent character. It was no longer a mere strife for territory and dominion, but a contest of civilization against barbarism.

The proclamation itself was throughout like Mr. Lincoln. It was framed with a view to the least harm and the most good possible in the circumstances, and with especial consideration of the latter. It was thoughtful, cautious, and well guarded at all points. While he hated slavery, and really desired its destruction, he always proceeded against it in a manner the least likely to shock or drive from him any who were truly in sympathy with the preservation of the Union, but who were not friendly to emancipation. For this he kept up the distinction between loyal and disloyal slaveholders, and discriminated in favor of the one, as against the other. In a word, in all that he did, or attempted, he made it manifest that the one great and all-commanding object with him was the peace and preservation of the Union, and that this was the motive and main-spring of all his measures. His wisdom and moderation at this point were for a season useful to the loyal cause in the border States, but it may be fairly questioned whether it did not chill the union ardor of the loyal people of the North in some degree, and diminish rather than increase the sum of our power against the rebellion; for moderate, cautious, and guarded as was this proclamation, it created a howl of indignation and wrath amongst the rebels and their allies. The old cry was raised by the copperhead organs of "an abolition war," and a pretext was thus found for an excuse for refusing to enlist, and for marshaling all the negro prejudice of the North on the rebel side. Men could say they were willing to fight for the Union, but that they were not willing to fight for the freedom of the negroes; and thus it was made difficult to procure enlistments or to enforce the draft.

--Frederick Douglass, "Chapter XII: Hope for the Nation," The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, 1892

 


"Contrabands Coming into Camp in Consequence of the Proclamation, Drawn by Mr. A. R. Waud," Harper's Weekly, January 31, 1863, 68


THE beginning of the effect of the President's Proclamation of Freedom is illustrated in our picture on page 68. Its author, Mr. Waud, thus describes it: "There is something very touching in seeing these poor people coming into camp—giving up all the little ties that cluster about home, such as it is in slavery, and trustfully throwing themselves on the mercy of the Yankees, in the hope of getting permission to own themselves and keep their children from the auction-block. This party evidently comprises a whole family from some farm: the mule cart, without a particle of leather about its rope harness, and with a carpet thrown over it for wagon-cover, is unique in its dilapidation. The old party with the umbrella is a type. Down on the Peninsula it appeared constantly on the Sabbath. No matter how fine a day, the old darkeys, clad in ancient dress-suits, white cotton gloves, and tall bell hats, always made their appearance with large 'Gampish' umbrellas—as I conjecture an insignia of respectability. Somehow or other the ladies of the colored persuasion manage to get hoops, although bonnets and other fashionable frivolities are out of their reach. "One of the females represented in the picture had a nearly white child, a girl; and, young and old, all seemed highly delighted at getting into our lines. Let us hope they may fare better than the thousands who found a refuge from the institution in Alexandria last year; the poor creatures died there as though a plague had smitten them."

--"Contrabands Coming In," Harper's Weekly, January 31, 1863, 78

To view selected cartoons on the Emancipation Proclamation published in the Northern press see Racial Stereotypes in the Civil War North: The Comic.

 


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