Commemorating the 160th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation

Today marks the 160th anniversary of Lincoln signing the final Emancipation Proclamation, which went into effect on January 1, 1863. The proclamation declared “that all persons held as slaves” within areas of rebellion “are, and henceforward shall be free.”

“I never in my life, felt more certain that I was doing right than I do in signing this paper. . . .” Lincoln said. “If my name ever goes into history it will be for this act, and my whole soul is in it.”

ECW’s Chris Mackowski and Kris White offer some commentary on today’s anniversary:

Additional Resources on the Emancipation Proclamation:

Text of the Emancipation Proclamation at the National Archives

10 Facts: The Emancipation Proclamation from the American Battlefield Trust

Lincoln’s most inelegant writing—and most important” by Chris Mackowski (September 22, 2012)

‘Thenceforward and Forever Free’: The Emancipation Proclamation as a Turning Point” by Dan Vermilya (December 3, 2017)

The Emancipation Proclamation: An International Turning Point” by Dwight Hughes (January 2, 2018)

“‘The World Will Little Note, Nor Long Remember’: The Battle of Shepherdstown and the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation” parts one and two by Kevin Pawlak (August 7, 2014)

“Perceptions of Emancipation in Gettysburg” parts one, two, and three by Jon Tracey (September 22, 2020)

Reflections on the Emancipation Proclamation” by Sarah Kay Bierle (January 21, 2019)

3 Responses to Commemorating the 160th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation

  1. Lincoln was ever resistant to any emancipation without a thorough plan of colonization in place. And while he feigned approval of a “voluntary” colonization, the evidence discovered in foreign archives reveals that General Butler was telling the truth when he said Lincoln intended to colonize “all” blacks out of the country.

    So why did Lincoln draft an emancipation proclamation without a solid plan of colonization in place? He answers that question by calling his EP a “war measure.” And he made clear it was a war measure out of desperation because the North was losing the war and was “at the end of our rope and had played our last card.”

    Even more significant as to why Lincoln looked to an emancipation strategy as a war measure, was the fact that he was being informed that the CSA leadership was offering an end to slavery if France and Britain would ally with the South in its second war for independence.

    The very same week in January 1862 that the CS diplomats involved in the “Trent Affair” arrived in England, a very anti-South newspaper broke the story that Jefferson Davis was offering a gradual end to slavery if the Brits and French would ally with the CSA. This information was relayed to Lincoln’s ambassador in England, Charles Francis Adams, on February 17, 1862 by an English dignitary who had met earlier that morning with a member of Parliament. Giving time for Adams to notify Lincoln of this info (which Adams records in his diary as needing to “be energetically treated), Lincoln then for the first time, on March 7, 1862, offers compensated emancipation to the slave States. Obviously he is attempting the preempt the CS offer of emancipation with one of his own. No slave States take him up on the offer.

    Meanwhile over the ensuing months more papers abroad are reporting the CS offer to end slavery. So on July 12, 1862, Lincoln calls a meeting of the 28 Congressional representatives of the border slave States in attempt to persuade them to take him up on his offer of compensated emancipation. Lincoln tells them that if their States emancipate, it will cause the seceded States to give up their cause which he believes was leveraged by slavery. The border State representatives vote 20 to 8 rejecting Lincoln’s offer. The 20 voting against him tell him that they do not think ending slavery in the border states will discourage the seceded States into giving up their cause, because their cause was NOT leveraged around slavery. They say the cause was leveraged around Northern infidelity to the Constitution!

    Of the 8 who voted for Lincoln’s offer of emancipation, 7 tell him that they have confirmed the CSA’s offer to end slavery in exchange for gaining foreign allies, calling the offer a “fact, now become history.” These men obviously convince Lincoln and so on the very next day after meeting with these representatives, July 13, 1862, Lincoln sits down and drafts his Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. Again, an obvious effort to head off and preempt the CSA’s offer of a gradual emancipation with one of his own.

    This is something Lincoln had heretofore resolutely resisted doing without a colonization plan in place because his own racist fears, and those of his Northern constituency, created great concern that the freed slaves might migrate into Northern States. Lincoln and the North had long made clear that they did not want to live with blacks. This was a major reason that during the antebellum period no major political Party ever proposed a plan for emancipation.

    Given the reason for his emancipation proclamation as a “war measure” to keep the British and French from allying with the CSA, attempting to apply a moral meaning to the EP is certainly lipstick on a pig! Especially when you consider that Lincoln had no plan whatsoever to provide care for the slaves once liberated. The closest he comes to any consideration of them at all is when he was prompted to do so by a question asked by the CS delegation at the Hampton Roads Peace Conference. The CS delegation, out of concern for the welfare of the freed slaves, ask what was to become of them. Lincoln’s response is quite telling, “Let them root hog,” an obvious alluding to the phrase “root hog or die.”

  2. To be honest, I find a lot problematic about your response, Rod. I think the crux of it centers here, when you say, the Southern States’ “cause was NOT leveraged around slavery.” I’ll refer you back to this 2019 post that provides links to the Secession documents of the Southern states. You’ll find a majority of seceding states explicitly mention slavery in their rationale:

    It boggles my mind when I see people willfully ignore the documentary evidence in favor of some sort of fabricated fantasy. I have difficulty buying the “concern for the welfare of the freed slaves” that supposedly motivated the Southern peace commissioners in 1865. That sounds awfully altruistic for a society that didn’t show much concern for them until that point.

  3. “concern for the welfare of the freed slaves” That sounds awfully altruistic for a society that didn’t show much concern for them until that point.” Or would show much altruistism past that point either.

    An excellent book on the debate in the Confederacy on emancipation, variously defined is Bruce Levine’s “Confederate Emancipation” Summary: the Confederacy didn’t emancipate their slaves, weren’t going to emancipation their slaves, and were not in the emancipation business.

    The EP is about the most radical act ever taken by an American president. It seized the nettle and removed the cause of secession for all time. Granted of course the Union could win the war.

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