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“All persons held as slaves within said designated States
and parts of States are and henceforward shall be free.” ABRAHAM LINCOLN.
Pamphlet. Proclamation of Emancipation, by the President of the United States, January 1st, 1863.
[Boston, Mass., John Murray Forbes, ca. Jan. 20, 1863]. 8 pp., plus printed wraps, 2¼ x 3¼ in.
This miniature Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863 was distributed in the North and issued to soldiers in the field. As evidence of slavery’s central role in the war and Confederacy, a quote from the Confederate Vice President is printedon the front wrapper: “Slavery the Chief Corner-Stone. / ‘This stone (slavery), which was rejected by the first builders, is become the chief stone of the corner in our new edifice.’ – Speech of Alex. H. Stephens, Vice President of the so-called Confederate States, delivered March 31, ’61.”
General Andrew Jackson’s proclamation “To the Free Colored Inhabitants of Louisiana,” delivered September 21, 1814, welcoming black soldiers into his ranks, is printed on the back wrap. “Through a mistaken policy, you have heretofore been deprived of a participation in the glorious struggle for national rights in which our country is engaged. This no longer shall exist.
As sons of freedom, you are now called upon to defend our most inestimable blessing. As Americans, your country looks with confidence to her adopted children for a valorous support, as a faithful return for the advantages enjoyed under her mild and equitable government. As fathers, husbands, and brothers, you are summoned to rally around the standard of the Eagle, to defend all which is dear in existence.”
President Abraham Lincoln issued the 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 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 the 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 towards abolition. The President took the action, “sincerely believed to be an act of justice,” knowing that it might cost him the election.
Lincoln had always believed slavery to be immoral, and fought its expansion. At the same time, he recognized that the president did not possess the Constitutional power to abolish the institution. In a message to Congress on July 4, 1861, Lincoln stated that he had “no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with slavery in the States where it exists.” Soon after, he began to describe slaves as an economic and military “element of strength to those who had their service,” telling his advisers, “we must free the slaves or be ourselves subdued.” As the war dragged on, the “military necessity” of emancipation grew more apparent. African Americans helped force the issue by “self-emancipation”; escaping to Union lines. With the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln dramatically tied the Union’s war aims to ending slavery. Whether they approved or not, after January 1, 1863, Americans could no longer deny that emancipation was central to the Union war effort.
Signing the Proclamation carried considerable risk for Lincoln, whose paramount aim was to restore the Union. He saw that anti-abolition sentiment was widely shared in large parts of the North and throughout the army. He also knew that the Union hold on the five slave states that had remained loyal (Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri, and West Virginia) was tenuous at best, and that maintaining it was absolutely critical. Lincoln reportedly said that while he hoped to have God on his side, he must have Kentucky. Though ready to lay the groundwork for emancipation, Lincoln feared that delivering the Proclamation at the wrong time would doom its chances for public acceptance and harm the Union cause.
In the first week of July 1862, Lincoln asked Major Thomas Thompson Eckert, the chief of the War Department’s telegraph office, for some paper, “as he wanted to write something special.” Seating himself at Eckert’s desk, he began to write what has been regarded as the first draft of the Proclamation. To overcome Constitutional objections, Lincoln wrote the Proclamation as Commander in Chief, carefully crafting it as a war measure. He read an early draft to his cabinet, and Secretary of State William Seward, fearing it would be considered a desperate move, 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. His final Proclamation, on January 1, 1863, further demonstrated his own evolving views by eliminating earlier references to colonizing freed blacks and compensating slave-owners for voluntary emancipation. Lincoln 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.”
For the first time, the federal government acted to guarantee the freedom of African Americans. While its reach was limited by exceptions (loyal border states, all of Tennessee, and certain Louisiana parishes), “emancipation was immediate,” Eric Foner has written, in Union-occupied parts of Arkansas, Florida, North Carolina, Mississippi and the South Carolina Sea Islands. “Overall,” he points out, “tens of thousands of slaves—50,000 according to one estimate—gained their freedom with the stroke of Lincoln’s pen.”
One of the more controversial and successful aspects of the Proclamation was its support of black troops. Lincoln declared 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.” It has been estimated that 300,000 African-Americans fought for the Union between 1863 and 1865. By war’s end, they made up ten percent of federal forces and performed key roles in achieving the Union victory.
Lincoln worried that he had failed to sell abolition to a Northern public demoralized by a string of military defeats. During his 1864 reelection campaign, he and many others expected to lose. His opponent, General George B. McClellan, campaigned on a platform that protected slavery. Only the timing of critical victories by Generals William Sherman in Atlanta and Philip Sheridan in the Shenandoah Valley saved Lincoln’s re-election bid. Lincoln issued the Proclamation as soon as the exigencies of war first made the radical step of abolition possible. Despite the political risks, by 1864, he insisted on both reunion and emancipation as preconditions to any peace negotiation. Though the battle for civil rights would have to follow, Lincoln rightly regarded the Proclamation as “the central act of my administration, and the great event of the nineteenth century.”
Fine; small spot on front wrap not affecting text.
Charles Eberstadt, Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation (1950).
Sarah Forbes Hughes, Letters and Recollections of John Murray Forbes (1899).
Eberstadt 15; Monaghan 235.