Lincoln Reads the Emancipation Proclamation to His Cabinet
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An engraving by Alexander Hay Ritchie commemorates the moment Lincoln first presented the Emancipation Proclamation to his Cabinet. [ABRAHAM LINCOLN].
Print. The First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation Before the Cabinet. 1866.
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Ritchie’s engraving, based on the painting by Francis Bicknell Carpenter now hanging in the U.S. Capitol Building, shows Abraham Lincoln presenting the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation to his cabinet on July 22, 1862. From left to right, it shows Edwin M. Stanton, Secretary of War, Salmon P. Chase, Secretary of the Treasury, Lincoln, Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy, Caleb B. Smith, Secretary of the Interior, William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Montgomery Blair, Postmaster General, and Edward Bates, Attorney General.
Francis Bicknell Carpenter, a New York artist, was so impressed with Lincoln’s bold act that he recruited Illinois Congressman and abolitionist Owen Lovejoy to arrange a White House sitting. Carpenter met Lincoln on February 6, 1864, and set up a studio in the State Dining Room. His tenure at the White House lasted six months while he completed the painting. His time there also gave him the material for an 1866 book, Six Months at the White House with Abraham Lincoln.
Fearing the Emancipation Proclamation would be considered a desperate move, Secretary of State William Seward advised the president to wait for a Union victory before issuing the order. Two months later, when Union troops stopped Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s invasion of Maryland at Antietam Creek, Lincoln finally had his opportunity. On September 22, 1862, Lincoln issued his Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, giving the South 100 days to end the rebellion or face losing their slaves. On both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line, Lincoln’s order was condemned as a usurpation of property rights and an effort to start racial warfare.
When the South failed to acquiesce, Lincoln, as promised, issued the final Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. With this Executive Order, he took a decisive stand on the most contentious issue in American history, redefined the Union’s goals and strategy, and sounded the death knell for slavery. The president carefully worded the final document to affect only those states still in rebellion as of January 1, 1863:
I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, by virtue of the power in me vested as Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States in time of actual armed rebellion against the authority and government of the United States, and as a fit and necessary war measure for suppressing said rebellion...do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated states and parts of states are, and henceforward shall be, free; and that the executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons. ... And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind and the gracious favor of Almighty God.
The full text of his proclamation reveals the major issues of the Civil War: slave labor as a Confederate resource; slavery as a central war issue; the status of African Americans who escaped to Union lines; courting border states; Constitutional and popular constraints on emancipation; hopes of reunion; questions of Northern acceptance of black soldiers; and America’s place in a world moving toward abolition. The President took the action, “sincerely believed to be an act of justice,” knowing that it might cost him the election.
The final Proclamation showed Lincoln’s own progression on the issue of slavery, and eliminated earlier references to colonizing freed blacks and compensating slave owners for voluntary emancipation. It also added provisions for black military enlistment. Pausing before he signed the final Proclamation, Lincoln reportedly said: “I never, in my life, felt more certain that I was doing right than I do in signing this paper.”