Abraham Lincoln signs the Emancipation Proclamation

Abraham Lincoln signs the Emancipation Proclamation

On January 1, 1863, Abraham Lincoln signs the Emancipation Proclamation. Attempting to stitch together a nation mired in a bloody civil war, Abraham Lincoln made a last-ditch, but carefully calculated, decision regarding the institution of slavery in America.

By the end of 1862, things were not looking good for the Union. The Confederate Army had overcome Union troops in significant battles and Britain and France were set to officially recognize the Confederacy as a separate nation. In an August 1862 letter to New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley, Lincoln confessed “my paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and it is not either to save or to destroy slavery.” Lincoln hoped that declaring a national policy of emancipation would stimulate a rush of the South’s enslaved people into the ranks of the Union army, thus depleting the Confederacy’s labor force, on which the southern states depended to wage war against the North.

WATCH: Emancipation Proclamation: How Lincoln Used War Powers Against Slavery

Lincoln waited to unveil the proclamation until he could do so on the heels of a Union military success. On September 22, 1862, after the battle at Antietam, he issued a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation declaring all enslaved people free in the rebellious states as of January 1, 1863. Lincoln and his advisors limited the proclamation’s language to slavery in states outside of federal control as of 1862, failing to address the contentious issue of slavery within the nation’s border states. In his attempt to appease all parties, Lincoln left many loopholes open that civil rights advocates would be forced to tackle in the future.

Republican abolitionists in the North rejoiced that Lincoln had finally thrown his full weight behind the cause for which they had elected him. Though enslaved people in the south failed to rebel en masse with the signing of the proclamation, they slowly began to liberate themselves as Union armies marched into Confederate territory. Toward the end of the war, enslaved people left their former masters in droves. They fought and grew crops for the Union Army, performed other military jobs and worked in the North’s mills. Though the proclamation was not greeted with joy by all northerners, particularly northern white workers and troops fearful of job competition from an influx of freed slaves, it had the distinct benefit of convincing Britain and France to steer clear of official diplomatic relations with the Confederacy.

Though the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation signified Lincoln’s growing resolve to preserve the Union at all costs, he still rejoiced in the ethical correctness of his decision. Lincoln admitted on that New Year’s Day in 1863 that he never “felt more certain that I was doing right, than I do in signing this paper.” Although he waffled on the subject of slavery in the early years of his presidency, he would thereafter be remembered as “The Great Emancipator.” To Confederate sympathizers, however, Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation reinforced their image of him as a hated despot and ultimately inspired his assassination by John Wilkes Booth on April 14, 1865.

READ MORE: What Abraham Lincoln Thought About Slavery


Abraham Lincoln signs the Emancipation Proclamation - HISTORY

BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA:
A PROCLAMATION.

Whereas, on the twentysecond day of September, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty two, a proclamation was issued by the President of the United States, containing, among other things, the following, towit:

"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."

Now, therefore 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 authority and government of the United States, and as a fit and necessary war measure for suppressing said rebellion, do, on this first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty three, and in accordance with my purpose so to do publicly proclaimed for the full period of one hundred days, from the day first above mentioned, order and designate as the States and parts of States wherein the people thereof respectively, are this day in rebellion against the United States, the following, towit:

Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, (except the Parishes of St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Jefferson, St. Johns, St. Charles, St. James, Ascension, Assumption, Terrebonne, Lafourche, St. Mary, St. Martin, and Orleans, including the City of New-Orleans) Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South-Carolina, North-Carolina, and Virginia, (except the fortyeight counties designated as West Virginia, and also the counties of Berkley, Accomac, Northampton, Elizabeth-City, York, Princess Ann, and Norfolk, including the cities of Norfolk & Portsmouth) and which excepted parts are, for the present, left precisely as if this proclamation were not issued.

And by virtue of the power, and for the purpose aforesaid, I 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 I hereby enjoin upon the people so declared to be free to abstain from all violence, unless in necessary self-defense and I recommend to them that, in all cases when allowed, they labor faithfully for reasonable wages.

And I further declare and make known, 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.

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.

In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty three, and of the Independence of the United States of America the eighty-seventh.

By the President:
WILLIAM H. SEWARD, Secretary of State.


Did Lincoln Sign the Emancipation Proclamation to Keep France Out of the War?

Did Lincoln sign the Emancipation Proclamation because France was about to support the South?

Abraham Lincoln’s decision to issue the Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863 after the tactically unsatisfying victory at Antietam was intended to bring the issue of slavery to the fore and add a moral element to the Union cause. In so doing it was also meant to challenge the morality of both Britain and France, both of which had banned slavery, toward any thoughts they may have entertained of recognizing the Confederate government. However vital recognition was to Richmond, however, even that would not have necessarily meant material support. In the case of France, opinion was divided between its nobility and its republicans over the politics and principles of the war—its chief concern (as with Britain) centered over the unavailability of Southern cotton for its textile industry.

Confederate diplomat John Slidell had not been accepted as an ambassador in Paris, but he did go so far as to propose to ship raw cotton to France if Emperor Napoleon III would recognize Richmond and provide warships to break the Union blockade. The fall of New Orleans to Union forces in April 1862, however, evaporated any French thoughts of entertaining Slidell’s proposal. Britain, too, had thought the better of committing itself to the southern cause. The Emancipation Proclamation simply gave both powers an added reminder that staying out of the American conflict would, in the long run, be the healthiest decision.

Jon Guttman
Research Director
World History

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Abraham Lincoln signs the Emancipation Proclamation - HISTORY

Stymied, Lincoln came up with a unique solution if he could not eliminate slavery in the Union, he would do it in the Confederacy. He would abolish slavery in the Southern States based on his military powers as commander-in-chief of the Union's war effort. His decision was prompted by the realization that slave labor provided the foundation of the South's ability to wage war. On the battle front, slaves dug the trenches, built the battlements, cooked the meals and drove the wagons. On the home front, they tilled the fields, ginned the cotton, and performed many other duties that underpinned the South's economy. Slave labor freed the Confederate soldiers for combat. Without their slaves, the South's military power would be seriously diminished. Thus, his proclamation to end slavery in the South would be a military action intended to further the Union's war effort for, as Lincoln declared: "civilized belligerents do all in their power to help themselves or hurt the enemy."

He revealed his plan and a first draft of the proclamation to his Cabinet on July 22, 1862. He made it clear that he was not seeking their approval, as he had made up his mind to issue the proclamation. He did, however, ask for their comments. Secretary of State Seward questioned the timing of the announcement. The war was not going well for the North. A year earlier it had been soundly defeated at the First Battle of Bull Run and subsequent attempts to attack the South had sputtered. Seward felt that announcing the proclamation at this time would appear to be a desperate attempt of a broken government to rally opinion at home and abroad to its cause. Better to wait for a victory on the battlefield. Lincoln agreed.

The Union's victory came in September when it repulsed Lee's invasion of the North at the Battle of Antietam (see Carnage at Antietam, 1862). Lincoln issued a preliminary draft of the proclamation on September 22 that warned the Confederate States that if they did not return to the Union by January 1, 1863, he would issue a second proclamation declaring the slaves of those states "forever free". His warning was ignored. The general reaction in the North was supportive, but many had doubts as to whether Lincoln would actually follow through with his plan.

". the act itself was only the simplest and briefest formality."

John Nicolay and John Hay were Lincoln's private secretaries and were there on that New Years' Day when he signed the Emancipation Proclamation:

It is a custom in the Executive Mansion to hold on New Year's Day an official and public reception, beginning at eleven o'clock in the morning, which keeps the President at his post in the Blue Room until two in the afternoon. The hour for this reception came before Mr. Lincoln had entirely finished revising the engrossed copy of the proclamation, and he was compelled to hurry away from his office to friendly handshaking and festal greeting with the rapidly arriving official and diplomatic guests.

The rigid laws of etiquette held him to this duty for the space of three hours. Had actual necessity required it, he could of course have left such mere social occupation at any moment but the President saw no occasion for precipitancy. On the other hand, he probably deemed it wise that the completion of this momentous executive act should be attended by every circumstance of deliberation.

Vast as were its consequences, the act itself was only the simplest and briefest formality. It could in no wise be made sensational or dramatic. Those characteristics attached, if at all, only to the long-past decisions and announcements of July 22 and September 22 of the previous year. Those dates had witnessed the mental conflict and the moral victory.

No ceremony was made or attempted of this final official signing. The afternoon was well advanced when Mr. Lincoln went back from his New Year's greetings, with his right hand so fatigued that it was an effort to hold the pen. There was no special convocation of the Cabinet or of prominent officials. Those who were in the house came to the executive office merely from the personal impulse of curiosity joined to momentary convenience.

His signature was attached to one of the greatest and most beneficent military decrees of history in the presence of less than a dozen persons after which it was carried to the Department of State to be attested by the great seal and deposited among the archives of the Government."

References:
This eyewitness account appears in: Nicolay. John G. and John Hay, Abraham Lincoln, a History vol. 6 (1890) Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals (2005).


The Emancipation Proclamation


Thursday, January 1, 1863, was a bright, crisp day in the nation's capital. The previous day had been a strenuous one for President Lincoln, but New Year's Day was to be even more strenuous. So he rose early. There was much to do, not the least of which was to put the finishing touches on the Emancipation Proclamation. At 10:45 the document was brought to the White House by Secretary of State William Seward. The President signed it, but he noticed an error in the superscription. It read, "In testimony whereof I have hereunto set my name and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed." The President had never used that form in proclamations, always preferring to say "In testimony whereof I have hereunto set my hand. . . ." He asked Seward to make the correction, and the formal signing would be made on the corrected copy.

The traditional New Year's Day reception at the White House began that morning at 11 o'clock. Members of the Cabinet and the diplomatic corps were among the first to arrive. Officers of the Army and Navy arrived in a body at half past 11. The public was admitted at noon, and then Seward and his son Frederick, the Assistant Secretary of State, returned with the corrected draft. The rigid laws of etiquette held the President to his duty for 3 hours, as his secretaries Nicholay and Hay observed. "Had necessity required it, he could of course have left such mere social occupation at any moment," they pointed out, "but the President saw no occasion for precipitancy. On the other hand, he probably deemed it wise that the completion of this momentous executive act should be attended by every circumstance of deliberation."

After the guests departed, the President went upstairs to his study for the signing in the presence of a few friends. No Cabinet meeting was called, and no attempt was made to have a ceremony. Later, Lincoln told F. B. Carpenter, the artist, that as he took up the pen to sign the paper, his hand shook so violently that he could not write. "I could not for a moment control my arm. I paused, and a superstitious feeling came over me which made me hesitate. . . . In a moment I remembered that I had been shaking hands for hours with several hundred people, and hence a very simple explanation of the trembling and shaking of my arm." With a hearty laugh at his own thoughts, the President proceeded to sign the Emancipation Proclamation. Just before he affixed his name to the document, he said, "I never, in my life, felt more certain that I was doing right than I do in signing this paper."

When I made my first serious study of this document, several copies of the December 30 draft were in existence. The copies of Cabinet officers Edward Bates, Francis Blair, William Seward, and Salmon P. Chase were in the Library of Congress. The draft that the President worked with on December 31 and the morning of New Year's Day is considered the final manuscript draft. The principal parts of the text are written in the President's hand. The two paragraphs from the Preliminary Proclamation of September 22, 1862, were clipped from a printed copy and pasted on to the President's draft, "merely to save writing." The superscription and the final closing are in the hand of a clerk in the Department of State. Later in the year, Lincoln presented his copy to the ladies in charge of the Northwestern Fair in Chicago. He told them that he had some desire to retain the paper, "but if it shall contribute to the relief and comfort of the soldiers, that will be better," he said most graciously. Thomas Bryan purchased it and presented it to the Soldiers' Home in Chicago, of which he was president. The home was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Fortunately, four photographic copies of the original had been made. The official engrossed document is in the National Archives and follows Lincoln's original copy.

It is worth observing that there was no mention, in the final draft, of Lincoln's pet schemes of compensation and colonization, which were in the Preliminary Proclamation of September 22, 1862. Perhaps Lincoln was about to give up on such impracticable propositions. In the Preliminary Proclamation, the President had said that he would declare slaves in designated territories "thenceforward, and forever free." In the final draft of January 1, 1863, he was content to say that they "are, and henceforward shall be free." Nothing had been said in the preliminary draft about the use of blacks as soldiers. In the summer of 1862 the Confiscation Act had authorized the President to use blacks in any way he saw fit, and there had been some limited use of them in noncombat activities. In stating in the Proclamation that former slaves were to be received into the armed services, the President believed that he was using congressional authority to strike a mighty blow against the Confederacy.

It was late afternoon before the Proclamation was ready for transmission to the press and others. Earlier drafts had been available, and some papers, including the Washington Evening Star had used those drafts, but it was at about 8 p.m. on January 1 that the transmission of the text over the telegraph wires actually began.

Young Edward Rosewater, scarcely 20 years old, had an exciting New Year's Day. He was a mere telegraph operator in the War Department, but he knew the President and had gone to the White House reception earlier that day and had greeted him. When the President made his regular call at the telegraph office that evening, young Rosewater was on duty and was more excited than ever. He greeted the President and went back to his work. Lincoln walked over to see what Rosewater was sending out. It was the Emancipation Proclamation! If Rosewater was excited, the President seemed the picture of relaxation. After watching the young operator for a while, the President went over to the desk of Tom Eckert, the chief telegraph operator in the War Department, sat in his favorite chair, where he had written most of the Preliminary Proclamation the previous summer, and gave his feet the proper elevation. For him, it was the end of a long, busy, but perfect day.

A Union soldier reads the Emancipation Proclamation to newly freed slaves. After Lincoln signed the Proclamation, celebrations took place throughout the country. (NARA, 79-CWC-3F8)

For many others in various parts of the country, the day was just beginning, for the celebrations were not considered official until word was received that the President had actually signed the Proclamation. The slaves of the District of Columbia did not have to wait, however, for back in April 1862 the Congress had passed a law setting them free. Even so, they joined in the widespread celebrations on New Year's Day. At Israel Bethel Church, Rev. Henry McNeal Turner went out and secured a copy of the Washington Evening Star that carried the text of the Proclamation. Back at the church, Turner waved the newspaper from the pulpit and began to read the document. This was the signal for unrestrained celebration characterized by men squealing, women fainting, dogs barking, and whites and blacks shaking hands. The Washington celebrations continued far into the night. In the Navy Yard, cannons began to roar and continued for some time.

In New York the news of the Proclamation was received with mixed feelings. Blacks looked and felt happy, one reporter said, while abolitionists "looked glum and grumbled . . . that the proclamation was only given on account of military necessity." Within a week, however, there were several large celebrations in which abolitionists took part. At Plymouth Church in Brooklyn, the celebrated Henry Ward Beecher preached a commemorative sermon to an overflow audience. "The Proclamation may not free a single slave," he declared, "but it gives liberty a moral recognition." There was still another celebration at Cooper Union on January 5. Several speakers, including the veteran abolitionist Lewis Tappan, addressed the overflow audience. Music interspersed the several addresses. Two of the renditions were the "New John Brown Song" and the "Emancipation Hymn."

Ralph Waldo Emerson proclaimed, "Today unbind the captive," in his reading of the "Boston Hymn." (NARA, 111-BA-1113)

A veritable galaxy of leading literary figures gathered in the Music Hall in Boston to take notice of the climax of the fight that New England abolitionists had led for more than a generation. Among those present were John Greenleaf Whittier, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Francis Parkman, and Josiah Quincy. Toward the close of the meeting, Ralph Waldo Emerson read his "Boston Hymn" to the audience. In the evening, a large crowd gathered at Tremont Temple to await the news that the President had signed the Proclamation. Among the speakers were Judge Thomas Russell, Anna Dickinson, Leonard Grimes, William Wells Brown, and Frederick Douglass. Finally, it was announced that "It is coming over the wire," and pandemonium broke out! At midnight, the group had to vacate Tremont Temple, and from there they went to the Twelfth Baptist Church at the invitation of its pastor, Leonard Grimes. Soon the church was packed, and it was almost dawn when the assemblage dispersed. Frederick Douglass pronounced it a "worthy celebration of the first step on the part of the nation in its departure from the thraldom of the ages."

The trenchant observation by Douglass that the Emancipation Proclamation was but the first step could not have been more accurate. Although the Presidential decree would not free slaves in areas where the United States could not enforce the Proclamation, it sent a mighty signal both to the slaves and to the Confederacy that enslavement would no longer be tolerated. An important part of that signal was the invitation to the slaves to take up arms and participate in the fight for their own freedom. That more than 185,000 slaves as well as free blacks accepted the invitation indicates that those who had been the victims of thraldom were now among the most enthusiastic freedom fighters.

Meanwhile, no one appreciated better than Lincoln the fact that the Emancipation Proclamation had a quite limited effect in freeing the slaves directly. It should be remembered, however, that in the Proclamation he called emancipation "an act of justice," and in later weeks and months he did everything he could to confirm his view that it was An Act of Justice. And no one was more anxious than Lincoln to take the necessary additional steps to bring about actual freedom. Thus, he proposed that the Republican Party include in its 1864 platform a plank calling for the abolition of slavery by constitutional amendment. When he was "notified" of his renomination, as was the custom in those days, he singled out that plank in the platform calling for constitutional emancipation and pronounced it "a fitting and necessary conclusion to the final success of the Union cause." Early in 1865, when Congress sent the amendment to Lincoln for his signature, he is reported to have said, "This amendment is a King's cure for all the evils. It winds the whole thing up."

Despite the fact that the Proclamation did not emancipate the slaves and surely did not do what the Thirteenth Amendment did in winding things up, it is the Proclamation and not the Thirteenth Amendment that has been remembered and celebrated over the past 130 years. That should not be surprising. Americans seem not to take to celebrating legal documents. The language of such documents is not particularly inspiring, and they are the product of the deliberations of large numbers of people. We celebrate the Declaration of Independence, but not the ratification of the Constitution. Jefferson's words in the Declaration moved the emerging Americans in a way that Madison's committee of style failed to do in the Constitution.

Thus, almost annually--at least for the first hundred years--each New Year's Day was marked in many parts of the country by a grand celebration. Replete with brass band, if there was one, an African-American fire company, if there was one, and social, religious, and civic organizations, African Americans of the community would march to the courthouse, to some church, or the high school. There, they would assemble to hear the reading of the Emancipation Proclamation, followed by an oration by a prominent person. The speeches varied in character and purpose. Some of them urged African Americans to insist upon equal rights some of them urged frugality and greater attention to morals while still others urged their listeners to harbor no ill will toward their white brethren.

As the 50th anniversary of the Proclamation approached, James Weldon Johnson, already a writer of some distinction, was serving a tour of duty as U.S. Consul in Corinto, Nicaragua. His biographer, Eugene Levy, tells us that Johnson for some time had considered writing a poem commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. In September 1912, when he read of the ceremonies marking the Preliminary Proclamation, he realized that he had only 100 days in which to write the poem. Using all of his spare time, of which there was little, Johnson hammered out "Fifty Years." There was not enough time to publish it in one of the major literary monthly journals, so he turned to the New York Times, which published it on its editorial page on January 1, 1913.

Addressing his fellow African Americans in the first stanzas, Johnson said:

O Brothers mine, to-day we stand
Where half a century sweeps our ken,
Since God, through Lincoln's ready hand,
Struck off our bonds and made us men.

Just fifty years--a winter's day--
As runs the history of a race
Yet, as we look back o'er the day,
How distant seems our starting place!

Then, in a more assertive tone, making certain that humility did not replace self-confidence, he said:

This land is ours by right of birth,
This land is ours by right of toil
We helped to turn its virgin earth,
Our sweat is in its fruitful soil.

To gain these fruits that have been earned,
To hold these fields that have been won,
Our arms have strained, our backs have burned,
Bent bare beneath a ruthless sun.

Then should we speak but servile words,
Or shall we hang our heads in shame?
Stand back of new-come foreign hordes,
And fear our heritage to claim?

No! stand erect and without fear,
And for our foes let this suffice--
We've bought a rightful sonship here,
And we have more than paid the price. . . .

That for which millions prayed and sighed
That for which tens of thousands fought,
For which so many freely died,
God cannot let it come to naught.

In the second half of the Proclamation's first century, the annual celebrations diminished in extent as well as in fervor. Some celebrants, with an eye on a quick buck, began to promote June 19, the day on which President Lincoln signed a bill abolishing slavery in the territories. The bill did not apply to Texas, which was a state in the Confederacy, but slick promoters there soon drew attention to that day and persuaded Texans, Oklahomans, and others in the Southwest that this was indeed the day of emancipation. It was never quite clear to me, moreover, why we in Oklahoma celebrated August 4 as well as Juneteenth and January 1, but clearly the summer months had many advantages over a January observance.

Something else was diluting the celebrations of the anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. It was bad enough that a casual reading of the Proclamation made clear that it did not set the slaves free. It was also clear that neither the Reconstruction amendments nor the legislation and Executive orders of subsequent years had propelled African Americans much closer to real freedom and true equality. The physical violence, the wholesale disfranchisement, and the widespread degradation of blacks in every conceivable form merely demonstrated the resourcefulness and creativity of those white Americans who were determined to deny basic constitutional rights to their black brothers.

Several years before 1963, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People began to use the motto "Free by '63." Other groups adopted the motto and focused more attention on the drive for equality. Many leaders were especially sensitive to the significance of the Emancipation Centennial in pointing up racial inequality in American life. On September 22, 1962, when Governor Nelson Rockefeller of New York spoke in Washington to mark the opening of the exhibit of the Preliminary Proclamation, "the state's most treasured possession," he said, "the very existence of the document stirs our conscience with the knowledge that Lincoln's vision of a nation truly fulfilling its spiritual heritage is not yet achieved."

During the centennial year itself, the United States Commission on Civil Rights presented to the President a report on the history of civil rights, most of which I wrote on contract with the Commission. Knowing that I would be out of the country during most of the centennial year, I published my history of the Emancipation Proclamation as my contribution to the observance.* On Lincoln's birthday in 1963, President and Mrs. Kennedy received more than a thousand black and white citizens at the White House and presented to each of them a copy of the report of the Civil Rights Commission, called Freedom to the Free. Speaking at Gettysburg later that year, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson said, "Until justice is blind, until education is unaware of race, until opportunity is unconcerned with the color of men's skins, emancipation will be a proclamation but not a fact." President Kennedy took note of the absence of equality when he said, "Surely, in 1963, 100 years after emancipation, it should not be necessary for any American citizen to demonstrate in the streets for an opportunity to stop at a hotel, or eat at a lunch counter . . . on the same terms as any other customer."

Although it is now possible for most African Americans to eat at a lunch counter in most parts of the United States, the extension of these civilities has been accompanied by subtle, yet barbarous forms of discrimination. These forms extend from redlining in the sale of real estate to discrimination in employment to the maladministration of justice. In issuing the Emancipation Proclamation and wording it as he did, Lincoln went as far as he felt the law permitted him to go. In subsequent months he went a bit further, inch by inch, until before his death he was calling for the enfranchisement of some blacks. The difference between the position of Lincoln in 1863 and Americans in 1993 is that our leaders in high places seem not to have either the humanity or the courage of Lincoln. The law itself is no longer an obstruction to justice and equality, but it is the people who live under the law who are themselves an obvious obstruction to justice. One can only hope that sooner rather than later we can all find the courage to live under the spirit of the Emancipation Proclamation and under the laws that flowed from its inspiration.

This essay is based on a talk given by John Hope Franklin at the National Archives, January 4, 1993, on the occasion of the 130th anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.

*The Emancipation Proclamation (Garden City, NW: Doubleday and Company, 1963 reprint, Arlington Heights, IL: Harlan Davidson, Inc., 1994).

John Hope Franklin has taught at Fisk University, the University of Chicago, and most recently, Duke University, where he is James B. Duke Professor of History Emeritus. Past president of the American Historical Association and the Society of Phi Beta Kappa, his publications include From Slavery to Freedom (1947), The Emancipation Proclamation (1963), and Race and History: Selected Essays, 1938-1988 (1990).


Abraham Lincoln signs Emancipation Proclamation, Jan. 1, 1863

As the nation approached its third year of civil war, President Abraham Lincoln on this day in 1863 signed the Emancipation Proclamation. The five-page manifesto declared “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free.”

Its broad wording aside, the document nevertheless left slavery in place in the loyal border states. It also exempted those parts of the Confederacy that had come under federal control. Most importantly, the promised freedom was premised on a Union victory.

At year’s end, things were not looking good for the Union. The Confederate forces had overcome Union troops in a series significant battles. Both Britain and France were weighing whether to recognize the Confederate states of America as a separate independent nation.

In an August 1862 letter to New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley, Lincoln wrote that “my paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and it is not either to save or to destroy slavery.” The president hoped that declaring a national policy of emancipation would stimulate a rush of the Southern slaves into the ranks of the beleaguered Union army, thereby disrupting the Confederacy’s labor intensive economy.

While the proclamation did not end slavery, it nevertheless transformed the character of the war. Henceforth, each advance of federal troops against the foe expanded the domain of freedom. Moreover, the proclamation paved the way for the enlistment of black men into the Union Army and Navy, enabling the liberated to become liberators. By the war’s end, nearly 200,000 black soldiers and sailors had fought on the Union side.

Initially, Lincoln waited to unveil the proclamation until he could do so after a Union military success. Accordingly, on Sept. 22, 1862, after the battle at Antietam, he had issued a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation declaring all slaves free in the rebellious states as of Jan. 1, 1863. Republican abolitionists in the North rejoiced that Lincoln had finally thrown his full weight behind the cause for which they had elected him. Though slaves in the South failed to rebel en masse with the signing of the proclamation, they slowly began to liberate themselves as Union armies marched into Confederate territory. Toward the end of the war, slaves left their former masters in droves. They fought and grew crops for the Union Army, performed other military jobs and worked in the North’s mills. Though the proclamation was not greeted with joy by all northerners, particularly northern white workers and troops fearful of job competition from an influx of freed slaves, it had the distinct benefit of persuading Britain and France to steer clear of official diplomatic relations with the Confederacy.

Though the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation signified Lincoln’s growing resolve to preserve the Union at all costs, he still rejoiced in the ethical correctness of his decision. Lincoln admitted on New Year’s Day in 1863 that he never “felt more certain that I was doing right, than I do in signing this paper.” Although he waffled on the subject of slavery in the early years of his presidency, he thereafter would be remembered as “The Great Emancipator.” To Confederate sympathizers, however, Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation reinforced their image of him as a hated despot and ultimately inspired his assassination by John Wilkes Booth on April 14, 1865.

The Emancipation Proclamation confirmed slaves' insistence that the war for the Union must become a war for freedom. It added moral force to the Union cause and strengthened the Union both militarily and politically. As a milestone along the road to slavery's final destruction, the Emancipation Proclamation has assumed a place among the great documents of human freedom.


Emancipation Proclamation

It was Benjamin Franklin in 1790 who first addressed Congress in his famous “Petition from the Pennsylvania Society for the Abolition of Slavery” to provide the means to abolish the institution of slavery on grounds of principle. His petition was not welcome, specially from congressmen from the southern states. A committee was assigned and concluded that Congress was restrained under the 1787 Constitution to end slavery and its trade.

Recruitment poster used in 1863 to attract black soldiers to join the Union Army.

Abraham Lincoln did not consider the Civil War as the struggle to free slaves but as a struggle to keep the Union together. In May 1862 Lincoln began to think of emancipation on the grounds of policy rather than principle, emancipation came as a military policy.

As the Union conquered more Confederate territory, slaves were set free and joined the ranks of the Union Army. The government did not have a plan or clear policy on how to deal with the influx of men. As the war was dragging longer than expected voluntary recruitment started to diminish and conscription was unpopular, man power was badly needed. These newly freed slaves were willing to fight and provided the necessary force to suppress rebellion in the South. As Union forces took control of Confederate areas, slaves were immediately freed. The Proclamation provided the legal framework to set them free and allowed suitable freedmen to join the U.S. armed forces.

The President called a group of African American leaders which included Frederick Douglass to discuss the inclusion of African Americans in the Union Army. Black troops slowly grew in importance. More than 180,000 who served showed heroism in battle.

Emancipation did not free all slaves

The Proclamation did not apply to slave states that were part of the Union such as Kentucky, Missouri, Delaware and Maryland, as well as Tennessee and parts of Virginia. The reason is that Lincoln did not want to antagonize those slave states that remained part of the Union.

In March the President informed Congress that he would on January 1, 1863 emancipate all slaves in rebellious states. On September 22, 1862, after the Union’s victory at Antietam, Abraham Lincoln issued a preliminary decree, stating that unless rebellious states returned to the Union by January 1st, slaves would be granted freedom.

By the end of the year none of the Confederacy states had returned to the Union. President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1st, 1863 giving freedom to about 3 million slaves in 10 rebellious states.

Constitutional validity of slavery

The 13th Amendment was passed by the Senate on April 8, 1864, and by the House on January 31, 1865. It was the first of the three Reconstruction Amendments adopted following the American Civil War.

Even as Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation he had not changed his position on the constitutionality of slavery where it already existed. The constitution did not explicitly mentioned the word “slavery” but there were clauses protecting it such as the three fifth clause. This clause allowed states to count slaves for the purpose of representation in government.

The Emancipation Proclamation was justified as a war measure necessary to defeat the Confederation. President Lincoln had the constitutional authority as commander in chief of the armed forces without the approval of congress to issue the Proclamation. In his second term he was a firm advocate of the Thirteenth Amendment which was issued after his death and abolished slavery in the country.

Provisions protecting slavery in the Original Constitution:

Article I, Section. 2 – Slaves count as 3/5 persons for the purpose of representation in the government.

Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons (i.e., slaves).

Article I, Section. 9, clause 1 – The government had no power to ban slavery until 1808.

The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a Tax or duty may be imposed on such Importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each Person.

Article IV, Section. 2 – Free states cannot protect slaves, protection of the Fugitive Slave Act.

No Person held to Service or Labour in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labour, but shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labour may be due.

Efficacy of the Proclamation

Lincoln had continuous doubts about the efficacy of the decree. Proclaiming slaves free did not make them free, he had to plan a transition from slavery to freedom. The main objection to emancipation was the belief that blacks and whites could not live together.

The Proclamation threatened to break up Republicans and Democrats. The Army was on the edge of mutiny and the president’s leadership threatened like never before. In every major city in the North people were celebrating while in the South they had another reason to fight for the independence of the Confederacy.

The Emancipation Proclamation marked a turning point in the evolution of Lincoln’s view of slavery. It was also a critical moment in the fate of some 180,000 African Americans who joined the Union Army and Navy which paved their road to citizenship and the 13th Amendment which freed all slaves in the United States.


The Emancipation Proclamation – Document

Whereas, on the twenty-second day of September, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-two, a proclamation was issued by the President of the United States, containing, among other things, the following, to wit:

“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.”

Now, therefore 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, on this first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and in accordance with my purpose so to do publicly proclaimed for the full period of one hundred days, from the day first above mentioned, order and designate as the States and parts of States wherein the people thereof respectively, are this day in rebellion against the United States, the following, to wit:

Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, (except the Parishes of St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Jefferson, St. John, St. Charles, St. James Ascension, Assumption, Terrebonne, Lafourche, St. Mary, St. Martin, and Orleans, including the City of New Orleans) Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia, (except the forty-eight counties designated as West Virginia, and also the counties of Berkley, Accomac, Northampton, Elizabeth City, York, Princess Ann, and Norfolk, including the cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth[)], and which excepted parts, are for the present, left precisely as if this proclamation were not issued.

And by virtue of the power, and for the purpose aforesaid, I 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 I hereby enjoin upon the people so declared to be free to abstain from all violence, unless in necessary self-defence and I recommend to them that, in all cases when allowed, they labor faithfully for reasonable wages.

And I further declare and make known, 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.

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.

In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty three, and of the Independence of the United States of America the eighty-seventh.

By the President: ABRAHAM LINCOLN
WILLIAM H. SEWARD, Secretary of State.


This Day In History: The South Reacts to Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation (1863)

On this date in history, news of Lincoln&rsquos Emancipation Proclamation reaches the Southern States. Pro-Confederate newspapers react with horror at the news.

There has been much controversy over why Lincoln issued the proclamation, which granted many slaves their freedom. Some believe that he did it for idealistic and humanitarian reasons. For some, he issued the Proclamation for strategic reasons. By the end of 1862, the situation facing the North was not good. Then the French and British were edging closer to recognizing the Confederacy and this would have been a great blow for the Union. Then General Robert E Lee and other Confederate generals had been able to inflict some heavy defeats on the Yankee army. Lincoln was very concerned about the future of the war and he believed that the Union itself was at stake.

Lincoln appears to have issued the Emancipation proclamation partly out of abhorrence of the institution of slavery and also to undermine the South&rsquos war efforts. He hoped that the emancipation would lead to many slaves fleeing their places of work and this would deplete the South&rsquos workforce. If slaves ran away, then the Confederacy&rsquos economy would suffer. This would help to turn the tide of the war in favor of the North.

Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln wanted to issue the proclamation after a Union military victory. He had issued a preliminary proclamation after the battle of Antietam. The proclamation effectively outlawed the institution and practice of slavery in the Southern Secessionist States. Northern abolitionists welcomed this move but wanted the Emancipation to be proclaimed in all of the States of the Union. However, Lincoln did not do this and he deliberately issues an ambiguous Proclamation in order to appease all shades of white opinion. It must

The proclamation effectively outlawed the institution and practice of slavery in the Southern Secessionist States. Northern abolitionists welcomed this move but wanted the Emancipation to be proclaimed in all of the States of the Union. However, Lincoln did not do this and he deliberately issues an ambiguous Proclamation in order to appease all shades of white opinion. It must be remembered that many whites in the North also were sympathetic to slavery.

Battle of Antietam (1862)

Lincoln&rsquos proclamation was condemned by the South. It did not lead to a massive slave rebellion in the South, but they began to slowly escape from slavery in small groups. Towards the end of the Civil War many more slaves left their masters and many headed north or out west. Many joined the Union army or worked in Northern industries. Many freed slaves faced continued discrimination in the North and even in the Union army. They generally idolized Lincoln and they did all they could to help the Union to defeat the South.

Lincoln was happy that he signed the Proclamation and he believed that it was morally and the right thing to do. He also believed that it would help to preserve the Union by undermining the slave-based economy of the South. The Proclamation did mark a significant step in the emancipation of African-American slaves. It was not until after the Civil War that all African-American slaves were freed. Even after this especially in the South, African-American faced continued restrictions on their liberties and freedoms &ndash such as the ‘Jim Crow&rsquo Laws.


The Emancipation of Abe Lincoln

ONE hundred and fifty years ago, on Jan. 1, 1863, Abraham Lincoln presided over the annual White House New Year’s reception. Late that afternoon, he retired to his study to sign the Emancipation Proclamation. When he took up his pen, his hand was shaking from exhaustion. Briefly, he paused — “I do not want it to appear as if I hesitated,” he remarked. Then Lincoln affixed a firm signature to the document.

Like all great historical transformations, emancipation was a process, not a single event. It arose from many causes and was the work of many individuals. It began at the outset of the Civil War, when slaves sought refuge behind Union lines. It did not end until December 1865, with the ratification of the 13th Amendment, which irrevocably abolished slavery throughout the nation.

But the Emancipation Proclamation was the crucial turning point in this story. In a sense, it embodied a double emancipation: for the slaves, since it ensured that if the Union emerged victorious, slavery would perish, and for Lincoln himself, for whom it marked the abandonment of his previous assumptions about how to abolish slavery and the role blacks would play in post-emancipation American life.

There is no reason to doubt the sincerity of Lincoln’s statement in 1864 that he had always believed slavery to be wrong. During the first two years of the Civil War, despite insisting that the conflict’s aim was preservation of the Union, he devoted considerable energy to a plan for ending slavery inherited from prewar years. Emancipation would be undertaken by state governments, with national financing. It would be gradual, owners would receive monetary compensation and emancipated slaves would be encouraged to find a homeland outside the United States — this last idea known as “colonization.”

Lincoln’s plan sought to win the cooperation of slave holders in ending slavery. As early as November 1861, he proposed it to political leaders in Delaware, one of the four border states (along with Kentucky, Maryland and Missouri) that remained in the Union. Delaware had only 1,800 slaves the institution was peripheral to the state’s economy. But Lincoln found that even there, slave holders did not wish to surrender their human property. Nonetheless, for most of 1862, he avidly promoted his plan to the border states and any Confederates who might be interested.

Lincoln also took his proposal to black Americans. In August 1862, he met with a group of black leaders from Washington. He seemed to blame the presence of blacks in America for the conflict: “but for your race among us there could not be war.” He issued a powerful indictment of slavery — “the greatest wrong inflicted on any people” — but added that, because of racism, blacks would never achieve equality in America. “It is better for us both, therefore, to be separated,” he said. But most blacks refused to contemplate emigration from the land of their birth.

In the summer of 1862, a combination of events propelled Lincoln in a new direction. Slavery was disintegrating in parts of the South as thousands of slaves ran away to Union lines. With the war a stalemate, more Northerners found themselves agreeing with the abolitionists, who had insisted from the outset that slavery must become a target. Enthusiasm for enlistment was waning in the North. The Army had long refused to accept black volunteers, but the reservoir of black manpower could no longer be ignored. In response, Congress moved ahead of Lincoln, abolishing slavery in the District of Columbia, authorizing the president to enroll blacks in the Army and freeing the slaves of pro-Confederate owners in areas under military control. Lincoln signed all these measures that summer.

The hallmark of Lincoln’s greatness was his combination of bedrock principle with open-mindedness and capacity for growth. That summer, with his preferred approach going nowhere, he moved in the direction of immediate emancipation. He first proposed this to his cabinet on July 22, but Secretary of State William H. Seward persuaded him to wait for a military victory, lest it seem an act of desperation.

Soon after the Union victory at Antietam in September, Lincoln issued the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, a warning to the Confederacy that if it did not lay down its arms by Jan. 1, he would declare the slaves “forever free.”

Lincoln did not immediately abandon his earlier plan. His annual message to Congress, released on Dec. 1, 1862, devoted a long passage to gradual, compensated abolition and colonization. But in the same document, without mentioning the impending proclamation, he indicated that a new approach was imperative: “The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present,” he wrote. “We must disenthrall our selves, and then we shall save our country.” Lincoln included himself in that “we.” On Jan. 1, he proclaimed the freedom of the vast majority of the nation’s slaves.

The Emancipation Proclamation is perhaps the most misunderstood of the documents that have shaped American history. Contrary to legend, Lincoln did not free the nearly four million slaves with a stroke of his pen. It had no bearing on slaves in the four border states, since they were not in rebellion. It also exempted certain parts of the Confederacy occupied by the Union. All told, it left perhaps 750,000 slaves in bondage. But the remaining 3.1 million, it declared, “are, and henceforward shall be free.”

The proclamation did not end slavery in the United States on the day it was issued. Indeed, it could not even be enforced in most of the areas where it applied, which were under Confederate control. But it ensured the eventual death of slavery — assuming the Union won the war. Were the Confederacy to emerge victorious, slavery, in one form or another, would undoubtedly have lasted a long time.

A military order, whose constitutional legitimacy rested on the president’s war powers, the proclamation often disappoints those who read it. It is dull and legalistic it contains no soaring language enunciating the rights of man. Only at the last minute, at the urging of Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase, an abolitionist, did Lincoln add a conclusion declaring the proclamation an “act of justice.”

Nonetheless, the proclamation marked a dramatic transformation in the nature of the Civil War and in Lincoln’s own approach to the problem of slavery. No longer did he seek the consent of slave holders. The proclamation was immediate, not gradual, contained no mention of compensation for owners, and made no reference to colonization.

In it, Lincoln addressed blacks directly, not as property subject to the will of others but as men and women whose loyalty the Union must earn. For the first time, he welcomed black soldiers into the Union Army over the next two years some 200,000 black men would serve in the Army and Navy, playing a critical role in achieving Union victory. And Lincoln urged freed slaves to go to work for “reasonable wages” — in the United States. He never again mentioned colonization in public.

Having made the decision, Lincoln did not look back. In 1864, with casualties mounting, there was talk of a compromise peace. Some urged Lincoln to rescind the proclamation, in which case, they believed, the South could be persuaded to return to the Union. Lincoln refused. Were he to do so, he told one visitor, “I should be damned in time and eternity.”

Wartime emancipation may have settled the fate of slavery, but it opened another vexing question: the role of former slaves in American life. Colonization had allowed its proponents to talk about abolition without having to confront this issue after all, the black population would be gone. After Jan. 1, 1863, Lincoln for the first time began to think seriously of the United States as a biracial society.

While not burdened with the visceral racism of many of his white contemporaries, Lincoln shared some of their prejudices. He had long seen blacks as an alien people who had been unjustly uprooted from their homeland and were entitled to freedom, but were not an intrinsic part of American society. During his Senate campaign in Illinois, in 1858, he had insisted that blacks should enjoy the same natural rights as whites (life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness), but he opposed granting them legal equality or the right to vote.

By the end of his life, Lincoln’s outlook had changed dramatically. In his last public address, delivered in April 1865, he said that in reconstructing Louisiana, and by implication other Southern states, he would “prefer” that limited black suffrage be implemented. He singled out the “very intelligent” (educated free blacks) and “those who serve our cause as soldiers” as most worthy. Though hardly an unambiguous embrace of equality, this was the first time an American president had endorsed any political rights for blacks.

And then there was his magnificent second inaugural address of March 4, 1865, in which Lincoln ruminated on the deep meaning of the war. He now identified the institution of slavery — not the presence of blacks, as in 1862 — as its fundamental cause. The war, he said, might well be a divine punishment for the evil of slavery. And God might will it to continue until all the wealth the slaves had created had been destroyed, and “until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword.” Lincoln was reminding Americans that violence did not begin with the firing on Fort Sumter, S.C., in April 1861. What he called “this terrible war” had been preceded by 250 years of the terrible violence of slavery.

In essence, Lincoln asked the nation to confront unblinkingly the legacy of slavery. What were the requirements of justice in the face of this reality? What would be necessary to enable former slaves and their descendants to enjoy fully the pursuit of happiness? Lincoln did not live to provide an answer. A century and a half later, we have yet to do so.


Lincoln's Cottage and the Emancipation Proclamation

Pondering the state of the Union war effort in early 1862, President Lincoln lamented that “the bottom is out of the tub.” He was hardly exaggerating precious little seemed to be going right for President Lincoln in the early months of 1862. The Union war machine seemed to be jammed in neutral military inaction in the Eastern Theater begat widespread exasperation with both the Army of the Potomac and the Lincoln administration. Even the joint victories at Forts Henry and Donelson in February did not quell public agitation for long. Trying to find a way to manage all the seemingly disparate pieces of the war effort, Lincoln’s attention was constantly consumed by the endless number of office seekers who bombarded him with requests for patronage on a daily basis. On a personal level, Lincoln was emotionally crushed by the death of his son Willie from typhoid in late February, but even the constant pressures of war kept him from being able to grieve properly.

Eager to gain some measure of privacy to grieve for his son and manage the war effort free from distractions, President Lincoln and his family moved to a house at the Soldier’s Home, three miles north of the White House overlooking the city, for the summer season. Lincoln and his family had intended to take up residence there during the summer of 1861, but the attack on Ft. Sumter and the outbreak of the war necessitated staying in the White House. Despite the serenity at Soldier’s Home, Lincoln was never able to escape the constant reminders of the grim cost of war. Union soldiers were buried in the cemetery on the grounds, and the troop tents of Lincoln’s Presidential guard were in plain sight. The Soldier’s Home did provide the Lincoln family with a place to relax while also giving him a place to conduct private meetings and think through important decisions pertaining to the direction of the war. The Soldier’s Home thus became the setting for Lincoln’s decisions regarding emancipation. In the estimation of historian Matthew Pinsker, the thirteen total months Lincoln spent at Soldier’s Home during his presidency affords us “a new look at Abraham Lincoln’s presidential leadership” by “offering a window into the elusive boundary that separates a president’s public and private experience.” This is where he worked on his emancipation policy, meeting with colleagues, friends, and critics.

Emancipation was not a sudden change of policy for Lincoln, but rather a gradual one. During the spring and into the summer of 1862, historian Matthew Pinsker notes that “the President was moving steadily toward a realization that the scope of the rebellion had permanently altered the terms of the political debate.” Knowing that the need to issue an emancipation proclamation depended on the success or failure of the Union army, discussions on military affairs held direct implications for emancipation. In June and early July, discussion Lincoln had with Congressmen Orville Browning at Soldier’s Home underscored the President’s obvious frustration with military affairs, suggesting that he was correspondingly warming to the idea of emancipation as a military measure. Over the course of the summer of 1862, Lincoln became increasingly frustrated with not only the military stalemate, but the truculent nature of emancipation in the border-states. His time at Soldier’s Home allowed him to give voice to these frustrations and parse out his thoughts about the timing of emancipation.

While Lincoln made important decisions all three summers he was at Soldier’s Home, perhaps none was more critical than emancipation. From this comfortable retreat Lincoln shaped his policy that would redefine the goals of the Civil War. Consequently, Soldier’s Home can be seen as one of the epicenters of American emancipation, helping to illuminate the long road taken by Abraham Lincoln and the United States in the half decade before 1865, when the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified.

Abraham Lincoln Writing the Emancipation Proclamation

Abraham Lincoln Writing the Emancipation Proclamation Jes W. Schlaikjer, 1957 Friends of Jes W. Schlaikjer

Jes W. Schlaikjer was an official artist for the U.S. government and well know painter of portraits and historic scenes in the mid 1900s. A great admirer of Abraham Lincoln, Schlaikjer determined to paint an historical scene of Lincoln toiling on the Emancipation Proclamation one evening in September 1862 at the Soldiers’ Home. While he painted this scene from his imagination, Schlaikjer was inspired to paint the scene after discovering Lincoln was known to have carried notes and jottings for the document to and from the Soldiers’ Home. Schlaikjer took great pains to ensure the details of the scene were historically accurate. Correspondence between the artist and the Chicago Historical Society in March 1957 reveals the level of detail Schlaikjer sought and received, from Lincoln's iconic top hat down to the delicate beading and stitching of “A” and “L” on the tongue of each of his moccasins. These items and others in the painting are still preserved by various museums and collectors today.

When Schlaikjer finished, the painting was unveiled in the rotunda of the Senate Office Building for the Lincoln sesquicentennial in 1959. At the unveiling, Senator John Sherman Cooper of Kentucky remarked, "This unusual painting shows Lincoln at one of the critical moments of his life, preparing a document which created a major social revolution. The painting has captured the simple dignity, the solemn earnestness and determination of President Lincoln just before the battle of Antietam." The painting was then loaned for three months, eventually making its way back to the artist.

To this day, Schlaikjer’s painting remains one of the few artistic depictions of Lincoln working on the Emancipation Proclamation at the Soldiers’ Home.


Watch the video: A New Birth of Freedom - Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation