Saturday, September 22, 2012

Lincoln Issues the Emancipation Proclamation

Lincoln reads the Emancipation Proclamation
150 years ago today Abraham Lincoln issued he most important document of the Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation. When Lincoln was elected president he was clearly anti-slavery, but he said he had no intention of interfering with slavery where it existed, only choking it by stopping it's spread into the territories. When the war, came he said that it was only to save the Union, and “if I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it...." At this point, however, Lincoln's intentions are hard to know. He may have been saying this because he actually meant it, or he might have just being trying to gain popular support for emancipating the slaves. We don't know, because although he may be called Honest Abe, he was not actually honest when it came to politics.

Lincoln had been planning for some time to issue an emancipation proclamation, but he had been waiting for a Union victory so that it would not look like a last ditch attempt to win. Antietam, although not as great a victory has he hoped for, gave him the opportunity he was looking for.

Lincoln's proclamation said:
I, ABRAHAM LINCOLN, President of the United States of America, and commander-in-chief of the army and navy thereof, do hereby proclaim and declare that hereafter, as heretofore, the war will be prosecuted for the object of practically restoring the constitutional relation between the United States and each of the states and the people thereof, in which states that relation is or may be suspended or disturbed.
That it is my purpose, upon the next meeting of Congress, to again recommend the adoption of a practical measure tendering pecuniary aid to the free acceptance or rejection of all slave states, so called, the people whereof may not then be in rebellion against the United States, and which states may then have voluntarily adopted, or thereafter may voluntarily adopt, immediate or gradual abolishment of slavery within their respective limits; and that the effort to colonize persons of African descent with their consent upon this continent or elsewhere....
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.
That the Executive will, on the first day of January aforesaid, by proclamation, designate the states and parts of states, if any, in which the people thereof, respectively, shall then be in rebellion against the United States; and the fact that any State, or the people thereof, shall on that day be, in good faith, represented in the Congress of the United States by members chosen thereto at elections wherein a majority of the qualified voters of such state shall have participated, shall, in the absence of strong countervailing testimony, be deemed conclusive evidence that such state, and the people thereof, are not then in rebellion against the United States.
Lincoln said he had authority to do this because it was a war measure. However, the whole war for the preservation of the Union was based upon the principle that the states attempting to secede were really part of the Union. If that is true the president did not have the right do emancipate the property of southerners if he could not do it in peace time.
The Emancipation Proclamation was not a humanitarian document. It only declared the slaves free in territory not under the control of the United States. Therefore, unless the Union army was victorious in the war, the slaves would remain in their servitude. It also gave the Confederates the chance to save their slaves by returning to the Union before January 1st, 1863. or receive compensation for them through an (unconstitutional) act of Congress.
This proclamation had vast impact. It changed the cause of the war in the mind of the world from preservation of the Union into a war to abolish slavery. Everyone was not happy that. Some soldiers, in fact, deserted because they did not want to fight to end slavery. In any event the Union army eventually supported it, as it gave them a higher motive to fight for than to coerce the southern states. The impact in foreign policy was also great. European nations had been considering recognizing the Confederate States. But with the proclamation Lincoln was able to change their perception of the war to one over slavery, and although they might have been willing to aid in the separation of the Union, they would not aid in the preservation of slavery. The Emancipation Proclamation destroyed the south's best hope for victory – foreign recognition. From then on they would have to look to their own armies for victory.


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