Historically Yours – Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation

President Abraham Lincoln walked a tightrope at the start of the Civil War. If Lincoln had stated that emancipation of the slaves was the purpose of the war, it is highly questionable if the majority of his soldiers, owning no slaves, would have sacrificed their lives in a cause in which they had no financial interest. Although Lincoln personally despised slavery, the abolitionists represented a small fraction of the voting population in the North. “My paramount object in this struggle,” Lincoln wrote, “is to save the Union.” Five slave-ownership Border States, having rejected gradual compensation emancipation, remained in the Union by a tether. If pushed too far, they would secede, join the Confederacy and destroy what was left of the Union. With every bloody battle, more people came to the realization that the war’s sacrifices would be meaningless unless it resulted in the end of slavery. The slaves themselves, abandoned by their masters as the Union lines moved south, flocked to liberation in the Northern army. Lincoln dreamed of 200,000 former slaves fighting in the Union cause.

Confederate agents, with cotton as the bait, were making significant progress in seeking aid and recognition from England and France. By the summer of 1862, Lincoln began to realize different tactics were needed if the war was to be won and the Union preserved; the slaves must be emancipated.

In midsummer, 1862, Lincoln called a Cabinet meeting and revealed his determination to adopt an emancipation policy. Secretary of State Seward suggested that Lincoln postpone its issuance until he could give it to the country supported by a military success, instead of issuing it at that time, which followed a major military defeat. Thus, Lincoln put his draft of the proclamation aside, waiting for a victory.

After the Battle of Antietam, Lincoln “determined to wait no longer.” His Emancipation Proclamation, effective January 1, 1863, was the most telling political stroke of the Civil War. Although it gave technical freedom only to the 3,000,000 slaves in the states in rebellion, it gave no freedom to the 440,000 slaves in the five Border States. This kept the Border States in the Union while public opinion changed to signal the end of slavery.

Since emancipation was now a stated purpose of the war, world opinion, which had previously favored the underdog South, switched decisively to the liberating North. England, which had previously outlawed slavery, stopped building Confederate naval vessels. By war’s end, Lincoln realized his dream; some 200,000 Negro troops were fighting for the Union army. Lincoln’s last major effort prior to his death was to legally end slavery on all parts of the nation. The Thirteenth Amendment, carrying out Lincoln’s wishes of ending slavery, was adopted on December 18, 1865.

Sources: Wikipedia, “Emancipation Proclamation,”: Civil War Trust, “Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation,”: American Civil War – History.com, “Emancipation Proclamation,”: The New York Times, “The Emancipation of Abe Lincoln,” National Archives,” The Emancipation Proclamation”, Primary Documents of America, “Emancipation Proclamation.”.


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