Domestic Reaction

Lincoln's Last Warning

Lincoln’s Last Warning

Writing the Emancipation Proclamation

Writing the Emancipation Proclamation

The Southern sympathizer Volck saw prostitution and degradation as the result of the freeing of the slaves

The Southern sympathizer Volck saw prostitution and degradation as the result of the freeing of the slaves

George S. Boutwell

George S. Boutwell

John Forney

John Forney

Lincoln Biographer Isaac N. Arnold, “Before the sun went down on the memorable 22d of September, the contents of this edict had been flashed by the telegraph to every part of the republic. By a large majority of the loyal people of the nation, it was received with thanks to its author, and gratitude to God. Bells rang out their joyous peals over all New England and over New York, over the mountains of Pennsylvania, across the prairies of the West, even to the infant settlements skirting the base of the Rocky Mountains. Great Public meetings were held in the cities and towns; resolutions of approval were passed, and in thousands of churches thanksgiving was rendered. In many places the soldiers received the news with cheers, and salvos of artillery; in others, and especially in some parts of the army commanded by General McClellan, some murmurs of dissatisfaction were heard, but generally, the intelligence gave gladness, and an energy and earnestness before unknown. The governors of the loyal states held a meeting at Altoona, on the 24th of September, and sent an address to the President, saying: ‘We hail with heartfelt gratitude and encouraged hope the proclamation.'”1

Historian James G. Randall wrote: “By that time [of the Altoona conference] he had clipped the gubernatorial wings by publicly associating himself with their effort, giving it his own emphasis, and the governors found themselves with nothing to do but to endorse the President’s policy, which they did in a laudatory public statement. Lincoln smilingly thanked the visiting magistrates for their support and indicated that no fact had so thoroughly confirmed to him the justice of the emancipation proclamation as the approval of the executives of the loyal states. On some aspects he would not answer them specifically at the time, he said, but he would give these matters his most favorable consideration, carrying them out ‘so far as possible.'”2 Randall wrote: “According to one account the governors found the President doing the talking, then ushering them out before their complaints had been presented. The public statements that issued from the White House interview were favorable to the President; it was in that sense that the Altoona incident took its place in history.”3

Historian Allan Nevins noted: “One result of the [Emancipation] proclamation was to turn a potentially harmful convention of Northern governors at Altoona, Pennsylvania, into an innocuous farce. Its prime mover was Andrew G. Curtin of Pennsylvania, who early in September had written [John] Andrew of Massachusetts that the time was ripe to give the war a definite aim, and that the loyal executives should take prompt, united, decisive action. Correspondence among various Northern governors followed. Tod of Ohio, Blair of Michigan, Berry of New Hampshire, Pierrepont of Connecticut, and others were drawn into the movement. It inevitably aroused some pernicious newspaper speculation that it was hostile to Lincoln, that it aimed at the overthrow of McClellan that it was a maneuver by Andrew and Curtin to get themselves re-elected, and so on. Happily, these two governors had enough sense to go to Lincoln beforehand. He told them of his impending proclamation, and with characteristic considerateness asked if they wished him to defer its issuance until they had requested him to act. They replied that he should by all means bring it out first, and they would follow it with a strong address of commendation. This was done; the conference met on the Allegheny crest September 24, and agreed to a paper written by Andrew. All appended their names but Bradford of Maryland, who, aware how deeply his State was torn, remarked: ‘Gentlemen, I am with you heart and soul, but I am a poor man, and if I sign that address I may be a ruined one.’ Misrepresentation of the conference nevertheless persisted, and it had better never been held.”4

Contemporary biographer Joseph Holland wrote that Massachusetts Congressman George S. Boutwell visited President Lincoln in Washington in October. “In the course of the interview, he told the President that an active leader of the People’s Party in Massachusetts had asserted, in a public speech, that Mr. Lincoln as frightened into issuing the emancipation proclamation, by the meeting of loyal governors at Altoona, Pennsylvania, which had occurred during the summer. ‘Now,’ said the President, dropping into a chair, as he if meant to be at ease, ‘I can tell you just how that was. When Lee came over the river, I made a resolve that when McClellan should drive him back, – and I expected he would do it some time or other, – I would send the proclamation after him. I worked upon it, and got it pretty much prepared. The battle of Antietam was fought on Wednesday, but I could not find out till Saturday whether we had really won a victory or not. It was then too late to issue the proclamation that week, and I dressed it over a little on Sunday, and Monday I gave it to them. The fact is, I never thought of the meeting of the governors at Altoona, and I can hardly remember that I knew anything about it.”5

Meanwhile, a public reaction to the Emancipation Proclamation mounted in Washington, D.C.. On September 24, John Hay wrote in his diary: “I told the President of the Serenade that was coming and asked if he would make any remarks. He said no, but he did say half a dozen words & Said them with great grace and dignity. I spoke to him about the editorials in the leading papers. He said he had studied the matter so long that he knew more about it than they did.”6Hay wrote in an anonymous newspaper column that the serenaders “collected in large numbers at Brown’s Hotel and moved up the Avenue, keeping time to the music of the Marine Band, and haled before the white columns of the portico of the Executive Mansion, standing lucid and diaphanous in the clear obscure like the architecture of a dream. The crowd flowed in and filled every nook and corner of the grand entrance as instantly and quietly as molten metal fills a mould. The portico was filled, the pedestals of the outer columns were crowded; eager hands clung to the spikes of the iron railings, and an adventurous crowd clambered over the gates and dropped into the basement area. The band burst into a strain of stirring and triumphant harmony, and as it closed the tall President appeared at the window.”7

The President told the serenaders, “I can only trust in God I have made no mistake. [Cries ‘No mistake – all right; you’ve made no mistakes yet. Go ahead, you’re right.’] I shall make no attempt on this occasion to sustain what I have done or said by any comment. [Voices – ‘That’s unnecessary; we understand it.’] It is now for the country and the world to pass judgment on it, and, may be, take action upon it. I will say no more upon this subject. In my position I am environed with difficulties [A voice – ‘That’s so.’] Yet they are scarcely so great as the difficulties of those who, upon the battle field, are endeavoring to purchase with their blood and their lives the future happiness and prosperity of this country.”8 Several weeks later, Illinois General John M. Palmer sent a message to President Lincoln to stand firm against critics and Confederates: “I have read your speech to the people who called on you, after the issuing of the Proclamation & note the apprehension you expressed that you might have made a mistake. For Gods Sake Mr President dont doubt any more. Let every man that sees you henceforth learn that you feel that you are right.”9

Hay reported that the President’s voice that night was full of an earnest solemnity, and there was something of unusual dignity in his manner. He seemed to think he had placed himself sufficiently clearly on the record, and his acts should be justified by results and not by argument. He bade the crowd good night, and while they were clamoring for more speech, he entered a carriage in waiting at a side door, accompanied by Mr. Hay, his Secretary, and drove through the shouting throng unnoticed to the Soldiers’ Home.”10

That same night, according to Hay, “At Governor Chase’s there was some talking after the Serenade. Chase and [Cassius] Clay made speeches and the crowd was in a glorious humor. After the crowd went away, to for Mr. Bates to say something, a few old fogies staid at the Governors and drank wine. Chase spoke earnestly of the Proclamation. He said ‘this was a most wonderful history of an insanity of a class that the world had ever seen. If the Slaveholders had staid in the Union they might have kept the life in their institution for many years to come. That what no party and no public feeling in the North could ever have hoped to touch they had madly placed in the very pat of destruction.’ They all seemed to feel a sort of new and exhilarated life; they breathed freer; the Prest. Pro[clamatio]n had freed them as well as the slaves. They gleefully and merrily called each other and themselves abolitionists, and seemed to enjoy the novel sensation of appropriating that horrible name.”11

The support for the Emancipation Proclamation had an impact even on a member of the Cabinet. Postmaster General Montgomery Blair, who had asked to file his objections, wrote the President: “Upon consideration I think it best not to file the paper spoken of yesterday. For though it shows that I only questioned the expediency of the proclamation at this moment it may if filed & the fact escapes be supposed to be of a different character.”12 A different meaning was the subject of a congratulatory letter from an Illinois friend of Mr. Lincoln:

I know you have but little time to read letters of mere compliment, but if you ever do such things at all I have thought that it might tend to strengthen your resolves in cases of deep importance.

I most sincerely thank you for Your 22 of Septe[mbe]r proclamation.

1st I believe it is right as far as it goes. I should have liked it better had it been unconditional freedom so far as you could make any proposition unconditional; but I do not forget that you are to be the judge and that you have done much.

2nd It was politic because the fact is that thus far every pro slavery democrat once shot at by the rebels becomes a practical abolitionist[.] All such will thank you in their hearts– If in any part of the army the contrary appears in any degree, it is because that the officers are pro slavery and ought to be put upon the tract of unconditional obedience to the law & orders. I know of none such but there may be such! Wherever found these sort ought to retire-

Third The stay at home men pro slavery democrats, who lately sought your alliance in organizing a so called conservative party, were only rallying their strength to dispute your power, as the commander in chief, to strike a blow at slavery, if you deemed it necessary to do so. These men now deny your power and are opposed to the proclamation.

Fourth It will afford a better safer broader and more substantial platform – (I mean the proclamation ) than any we have heretofore had, and will rally in support of the Government and Country a larger support than we have had heretofore. It will kill all old parties and simplify the matter, so that we shall have the Army & Navy and all truly loyal men on one side – and Jeff Davis so called confederacy & his sympathizers on the other.

Every man that stands by the President the Army & Navy & the proclamation as an irrepealable thing, will be pitched overboard by the [Clement] Vallandingham democracy – the conservatives who were very innocently helping this class of the democracy, will find themselves, compelled to stand by the President or go clean over. It may be that in some States and districts the Vallandingham democracy, may gain some members of Congress – but not so many as they would have gained by the aid of the so called conservatives-

Fifth The Proclamation will after January – if the rebels do not get back with Congress – be a proclamation of Liberty, such as no people ever fought under before

By that time the army will be fully acquainted with it and if I am not more mistaken than I ever was, they will be fully up to its spirit – “Liberty & Union” will have a new meaning.13

John W. Forney, who owned newspapers in both Washington and Philadelphia, wrote the President: “Your Emancipation proclamation followed by that suspending the writ of habeus corpus against the sympathizers with secession has created profound satisfaction among your true friends; but it has also multiplied your duties. We shall now be assailed front, flank and rear by our enemies and if we would save the next national House of Representatives the power of the Administration must be strongly felt in every Congressional district in the free states. It is in order to invoke you, in the midst of your many troubles, to look at this subject that I will do myself the honor of paying you a visit on Monday next about 12 O’clock.”14 Former New York Tribune Managing Editor Charles Dana wrote Secretary of State William H. Seward a letter which Seward shared with President Lincoln:

The “Proclamation” wd. please me better if it had omitted one short paragraph “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”– this jars on me like a wrong tone in music – nor do I believe either of the two names signd to it would hesitate one moment to shoulder a musket and “go in” to crush out an effort to repress what is intimated they will not.– This is the only “bad egg” I see in “that pudding” – & I fear may go far to make it less palatable than it deserves to be– I hope I may be in error for I have no pride of opinion – in this or any other matter-

I fondly look to the end of this rebelling against the Constitution – without a departure (one jot) from the Constitution – and I think it can be so done-

Now according to my notion – it is as much the duty of Gov’t to repress – what the Executive Power asserts it will not repress as any other duty – imposed by the Constitution15

Other journalists were less complimentary about the Proclamation. The New York Herald‘s James Gordon Bennett editorialized: “While the Proclamation leaves slavery untouched where his decree can be enforced, he emancipates slaves where his decree cannot be enforced. Friends of human rights will be at a loss to understand this discrimination. As a war measure it is unnecessary, unwise, ill-timed, impracticable, outside the Constitution and full of mischief.”16 While the New York World disapproved of emancipation, it mocked the proclamation: “The President has purposely made the proclamation inoperative in all places where we have gained a military footing which makes the slaves accessible. He has proclaimed emancipation only where he has notoriously no power to execute it. The example of the accessible parts of Louisiana, Tennessee, and Virginia renders the proclamation not merely futile, but ridiculous.”17 Robert S. Harper wrote: “In the interval between the preliminary announcement and the actual Proclamation, President was subjected to a barrage of criticism that was unusual even for his administration. The Democratic press grew still more hostile, and even those newspapers of that party which supported the war regretted the change in policy. Under the heading, ‘The President and His Critics,’ the Springfield (Mass.) Republican published this story from its Washington correspondent:

Some one sent Mr. Lincoln a batch of newspaper criticism upon him and his conduct of the war last week. In speaking about it to a friend, Mr. Lincoln said, ‘Having an hour to spare on Sunday I read this batch of editorials and when I was through reading I asked myself , ‘Abraham Lincoln, are you a man or a dog?’ The best part of the story was Mr. Lincoln’s inimitable manner of telling it. His good nature is equal to every emergency. The editorials in question were very able, and yet Mr. Lincoln smiled very pleasantly as he spoke of them, though it was evident that they made a decided impression upon his mind.18

In Washington, the National Intelligencer was not impressed with the draft Proclamation and said it expected “no good” to come from it: “This new proclamation with regard to the contingent emancipation of slaves in the insurgent States not being self-enforcing any more than the proclamation of Gen. [David] Hunter in regard to the immediate emancipation of slaves in the States of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, the only difference between the two papers resides in the signatures respectively attached to them. And as, in themselves considered, they are likely to prove equally void of practical effect, we are not without the suspicion that the President has taken this method to convince the only class of persons likely to be pleased with this proclamation of the utter fallacy of the hopes they have founded upon it. This opinion, we may add, derives confirmation from the fact that he suspends for some months of so much of his declaration as denounces the emancipation of slaves in punishment for contumacy on the part of the Insurgent States, while he gives immediate force and effect, so far as force and effect result from proclamations, to the regulations prescribed by the new article of war and the provisions of the confiscation act in the matter of slaves. On any other theory than this the proclamation may be said to open issues too tremendous, and to be fraught with consequences too undeveloped, to admit of calculation or forecast by any intelligence we can command.”19

Back in Springfield, Mr. Lincoln’s favorite newspaper, the Illinois State Journal wrote:
“President Lincoln has at last hurled against rebellion the bolt which he has so long held suspended. The act is the most important the most memorable of his official career – no event in the history of this country since the Declaration of Independence itself has excited so profound attention either at home or abroad. The Journal continued:

While its justice is indisputable, we may well suppose that the step has been taken reluctantly. A people waging a causeless and unholy war against a mild and just Government have forfeited the right to protection by that Government. No principle is clearer. Yet the President has repeatedly warned the people of the rebellious States to return to their allegiance without effect. He now employs the power with which Congress and the Constitution have clothed hm. There can be but one opinion among all true friends of the country. The President must and will be sustained. That extremists will condemn – one class because emancipation is not immediate and unconditional: the other because it is proclaimed even prospectively, is to be expected. But those who refuse to support the Government in the exercise of its necessary and just authority are traitors and should be so treated, whatever name they may wear. True patriots of every name rally around the President, determined that the Union shall be preserved and the laws enforced.20

About a week after the Cabinet meeting, President Lincoln received a letter of congratulations on the draft proclamation from Vice President Hannibal Hamlin, who did not attend Cabinet meetings and seldom visited the White House. Hamlin wrote the President: “I do not know, as, in the multiplicity of the correspondence with which you are burthened, this note will ever meet your eye– But I desire to express my undissembled and sincere thanks for your Emancipation Proclamation. It will stand as the great act of the age– It will prove to be wise in Statesmanship, as it is Patriotic– It will be enthusiastically approved and sustained and future generations will, as I do, say God bless you for the great and noble act.”21 In a letter to the former Maine senator, who was himself a confirmed abolitionist, Mr. Lincoln replied with measured reserve:

It is known to some that while I hope something from the proclamation, my expectations are not as sanguine as are those of some friends. The time for its effect southward has not come; but northward the effect should be instantaneous. It is six days old, and while commendation in newspapers and by distinguished individuals is all that a vain man could wish, the stocks have declined, and troops come forward more slowly than ever. This, looked soberly in the fact, is not very satisfactory. We have fewer troops in the field at the end of six days than we had at the beginning – the attrition among the old outnumbering the addition by the new. The North responds to the proclamations sufficiently in breath; but breath alone kills no rebels.”22

In New York City, attorney George Templeton Strong observed on September 27 that “President’s Emancipation Manifesto much discussed and generally approved, though a few old Democrats (who ought to be dead and buried but persist in manifesting themselves like vampires) scold and grumble. It will do us good abroad, but will have no other effect.”23

Historian James M. McPherson wrote: “Perhaps no consequence of Antietam was more momentous than this one. It changed the character of the war, as General-in-Chief Halleck noted in a communication to Ulysses S. Grant: ‘There is now no possible hope of reconciliation….We must conquer the rebels or be conquered by them….Every slave withdrawn from the enemy is the equivalent of a white man put hors de combat.’ The proclamation would apply only to states in rebellion, which produced some confusion because it thus seemed to liberate those slaves who were mostly beyond Union authority while leaving in bondage those in the border states. This apparent anomaly caused disappointment among some abolitionists and radical Republicans. But most of them recognized that the commander in chief’s legal powers extended only to enemy property. Some of that ‘property’, however, would be freed by the Proclamation or by the practical forces of war because thousands of contrabands in Confederate states were already without Union lines.”24

The President’s Proclamation did not meet with universal acceptance, even among his own military subordinates. George McClellan, commander of the Army of the Potomac, was furious and had a hard time restraining his criticism. Historian T. Harry Williams wrote: “McClellan and his friends seemed to think that the head of the government had no right to adopt a policy of which they disapproved. Fitz John Porter called Lincoln a political coward who trifled with the lives of thousands of soldiers for political purposes. McClellan said that he would resign, because he would lose his self-respect if he served a government that supported emancipation.”25 On September 26, McClellan wrote a friend: “I am very anxious to know how you and men like you regard the recent Proclamations of the Presdt inaugurating servile war, emancipating the slaves, & at one stroke of the pen changing our free institutions into a despotism – for such I regard as the natural effect of the last Proclamation suspending the habeas Corpus throughout the land.”26 Historian Allan Nevins wrote:

“In private utterances, few Northern critics were harsher than McClellan, who was aware that Democrats spoke of him as their next Presidential nominee… His ideas were shared by Fitz-John Porter, who maliciously reported to Manton Marble of the World: ‘The Proclamation was ridiculed in the army – causing disgust, discontent, and expressions of disloyalty to the views of the administration, amounting I have heard to insubordination, and for this reason – All such bulletins tend only to prolong the war by rousing the bitter feelings of the South – and causing unity of action among them – while the reverse with us. Those who fight the battles of the country are tired of the war and wish to see it ended soon and honorably – by a restoration of the union – not mere suppression of the rebellion.’ The question of the real attitude of the troops toward the document is complex, and the evidence too conflicting, for easy summarization. The army was a reflection of the nation, possessing its radical and conservative wings, and certainly Fitz-John Porter misstated the attitude. The safest generalization was this: that most Northern soldiers approved of the proclamation, but did so not so much from humanitarian motives as because their blood was now up, they wanted to win a decisive victory, and Lincoln’s edict seemed to herald a relentless prosecution of the war. The army, Colonel W.H. Blake of the Ninth Indiana wrote Schuyler Colfax, has one central idea, to whip the rebels and dictate peace. It contained little abolitionist sentiment; but ‘there is a desire to destroy everything that in aught gives the rebels strength,’ ‘there is a universal desire among the soldiery to take the negro from the secesh master,’ and so ‘this army will sustain the emancipation proclamation and enforce it with the bayonet.’

But though the plain soldier, like Lincoln, thought of emancipation primarily as a war measure, in countless instances he also rejoiced in its enlargement of human freedom. As the Union troops in marching South studied the worst aspects of slavery, they quickly learned to hate it. When they saw the auction block, the whipping post, the iron gyve, when they glimpsed the field hand cringing under his master’s gaze, when the fleeing slave bared his scarred back, or told a tale of young children wrenched from the mother’s arms, they resolved that slavery must die.27

“The reaction in the ranks to Lincoln’s decree was also strongest among troops from the Ohio River states,” noted historian David E. Long. “Twenty-three hundred soldiers from Indiana deserted during the war, and even though the defeat at Fredericksburg contributed to this, much of it was the result of disaffection with the proclamation announcement.”28

Shortly after the public announcement, Edward Stanly, military governor of North Carolina, left his post to come to Washington to protest. He later related to journalist James Welling his conversations with the President, which Welling in turn recorded in his diary of September 27, 1862: “Mr. Stanly said that the President had stated to him that the proclamation had become a civil necessity to prevent the Radicals from openly embarrassing the government in the conduct of the war. The President expressed the belief that, without the proclamation for which they had been clamoring, the Radicals would take the extreme step in Congress of withholding supplies for carrying on the war – leaving the whole land in anarchy. Mr. Lincoln said that he had prayed to the Almighty to save him from this necessity, adopting the very language of our Saviour, ‘If it be possible, let this cup pass from me,’ but the prayer had not been answered.”29

“Conservative Republicans and War Democrats were equally unhappy,” wrote historian George H. Mayer. “John Sherman, who had found Ohio clamoring for the use of Negro troops a month earlier, encountered stony silence when he endorsed the proclamation. Orville H. Browning abruptly gave up his campaign for re-election in Illinois. Already marked for political extinction by the radicals for voting against the second Confiscation bill, Browning tersely urged his fellow citizens to vote, but neglected to tell them how they should vote. Many prominent War Democrats also sat on their hands and allowed the rank and file to drift back to the Democratic party. The exodus from the Unionist coalition was particularly large in the free counties along the Ohio River, where citizens harbored the unreasoning fear that the proclamation would discharge a flood of runaway slaves on their doorsteps. The regular Democratic organization in the key Northern states began to make headway with the slogan: ‘The Union as it was the Constitution as it is.’ Party orators denounced the Republicans as Abolitionists and promised to restore peace by applying the Jeffersonian principle of respect for diverse local institutions. The Democratic press fired away at the Administration for alleged suspension of civil liberties, arbitrary arrests and extravagant expenditures. ‘A vote for the Republican ticket, the New Haven Register informed its readers, ‘is a vote to mortgage every dollar’s worth of property for the Abolitionist Disunionists to carry on this Negro war, and flood the whole North…with lazy, thieving Negroes to be supported by charity and the taxes of our people.”30 Historian Fawn Brodie wrote

When Representative [William H.] Wadsworth of Kentucky protested in the House, ‘As to that proclamation, we despise and laugh at it…The soldiers of other States will not execute it. May my curse fall upon their heads if they do!’ [Pennsylvania Congressman Thaddeus] Stevens put to him a single question:

“Will it take Kentucky out of the Union?”

“No: by St. Paul,” he replied. ‘She cannot be taken out of the Union by secession and abolition combined!”

Lincoln biographer Carl Sandburg wrote: “The Democratic party, already campaigning for the November elections, raised the issue that the war for the Union had been changed to a war for abolition. McClellan wrote his wife that the President’s proclamation, and other troubles, ‘render it almost impossible for me to retain my commission and self-respect at the same time.'” Lincoln had now gone over to the radicals, the Louisville Democrat and other papers told readers. ‘The abolitionists have pressed him into their service.'”31

Radicals were more enthusiastic about the Proclamation. “‘Hurrah for Old Abe and the proclamation,’ wrote [Senator Benjamin] Wade, and if the radicals did not think the document went far enough – it applied only to areas under Confederate control by January 1, 1863 – nevertheless they could console themselves with the realization that they had contributed greatly to the progress which had been made. Negro troops were being raised; freedom was clearly in the ascendant, and once more the President had shown that he could be influenced,” wrote Wade biographer Hans L. Trefousse.32

However, the draft proclamation did not necessarily bring unqualified endorsements from abolitionists, either white or black. Historian Edna Greene Medford wrote: “When he finally did embrace emancipation in September 1862, in the form of a preliminary proclamation, African Americans greeted the news with restrained optimism. Members of the black press, clergy, and other prominent leaders of the community jubilantly proclaimed that the end of slavery was near. But during the 100 days between the preliminary proclamation and the actual declaration of freedom, they fought the temptation to consider emancipation a fait accompli. In one of his customarily damning editorials in his monthly paper, Douglass gave voice to the apprehensions of the black community. Declaring that there was reason for ‘both hope and fear,’ his confidence was tempered by the tone of the preliminary document, whose words, Douglass charged:

…kindled no enthusiasm. They touched neither justice nor mercy. Had there been one expression of sound moral feeling against Slavery, one word of regret and shame that this accursed system had remained so long the disgrace and scandal of the Republic, one word of satisfaction in the hope of burying slavery and the rebellion in one common grave, a thrill of joy would have run around the world, but no such word was said, and no such joy was kindled. 33

Nevertheless, white abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison wrote Abraham Lincoln: “As an instrument in his hands, you have done a mighty work for the freedom of millions who have so long pined in bondage in our land – nay, for the freedom of all mankind. I have the utmost faith in the benevolence of your heart, the purity of your motives, and the integrity of your spirit. This I do not hesitate to avow at all times. I am sure you will consent to no compromise that will leave a slave in his fetters.”34

Intellectual Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: “The extreme moderation with which the President advanced to his design, – his long-avowed expectant policy, as if he chose to be strictly the executive of the best public sentiment of the country, waiting only till it should be unmistakably pronounced, – so far a mind that none ever listened so patiently to such extreme variations of opinion, – so reticent that his decision has taken all parties by surprise, whilst yet it is the just sequel of his prior acts, – the firm tone in which he announces it, without sequel of his prior acts, – the firm tone in which he announces it, without inflation or surplusage, – all these have bespoken such favor to the act, that, great as the popularity of the President has been, we are beginning to think that we have underestimated the capacity and virtue which the Divine Providence has made an instrument of benefit so vast.”35

Historian LaWanda Cox wrote: “The constraints under which Lincoln felt he must labor were not always recognized by antislavery men, and this gave rise to charges of irresolute policy and wavering commitment. To develop public support or outflank opposition, he would at times conceal his hand or dissemble. And he kept his options open. While such skills added to his effectiveness, they also sowed mistrust and confusion. Similarly misunderstanding arose from his constitutional scruples, which he applied to congressional action as well as his own. Also diminishing the recognition of his leadership was the vanguard position of the Radicals. That he marched behind them should not obscure the fact that Lincoln was well in advance of northern opinion generally and at times in advance of a consensus within his own party. Viewed against his deference to the processes of persuasion and the limitations set by the Constitution, the persistence and boldness of his actions against slavery are striking.”36

Historian T. Harry Williams wrote that President Lincoln’s “proposed edict was only a pale likeness of the sweeping measure demanded by the Jacobins.” Williams wrote: “The Jacobins greeted Lincoln’s announcement of a new policy with guarded expressions of chilly approval. They viewed it as a move in the right direction but they wondered why he had not moved sooner and why he moved so haltingly now. For his proclamation, with its mild tone and the mere threat to emancipate at a future date, did not measure up to radical standards. Neither could the Jacobins see anything but barren failure for the president’s plan as long as the enforcement of its was left in the unsympathetic hands of the Democratic generals and the conservatives in the Cabinet. The McClellans, the Buells, the Sewards, and their like, would smother any attempt to destroy slavery, warned the radicals. Let Lincoln purge the administration of such and install in their places men who believed in emancipation.”37 Historian Russell F. Weigley wrote that “the political dividends that the antislavery Republicans had predicted from emancipation were not forthcoming, at least not immediately. Northern wage-earners feared the economic competition of emancipated slaves, and the socially insecure dreaded an influx of African Americans into their Northern neighborhoods.”38

According to historian Benjamin P. Thomas, “No slave insurrections followed the President’s action. While some slaves welcomed ‘Lincum’s’ proclamation with wild rejoicing, others, especially in the deep South, shared their masters’ fear and hatred of Yankees. Most slaves in the interior regions of the Confederacy continued to work faithfully for the white family that fed and clothed them. But wherever the Union armies penetrated, this situation changed. In some areas under military occupation the slaves, deserted by their masters or fleeing from the plantations, flocked to Union encampments as heavens of refuge. Thus, over the long term, the effect of Lincoln’s edict would depend on the outcome of the war. A Confederate triumph would render it a dead letter; a Union victory would give it life.”39

“The military and diplomatic advantages resulting from emancipation were, to a considerable extent, counterbalanced by its political disadvantages,” wrote historian David Herbert Donald.40 Pennsylvania newspaper editor Alexander K. McClure wrote: “I was earnestly opposed to an Emancipation Proclamation by the President. For some weeks before it was issued I saw Lincoln frequently, and in several instances sat with him for hours at a time after the routine business of the day had been disposed of and the doors of the White House were closed. I viewed the issue solely from a political standpoint, and certainly had the best of reasons for the views I pressed upon Lincoln, assuming that political expedience should control his action.”

McClure observed in his memoirs: “I reminded Lincoln that political defeat would be inevitable in the great States of the Union in the elections soon to follow if he issued the Emancipation Proclamation – that New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois would undoubtedly vote Democratic and elect Democratic delegations to the next Congress. He did not dispute my judgment as to the political effect of the proclamation, but I never left him with any reasonable hope that I had seriously impressed him on the subject.”41 Indeed, wrote Russell Weigley, the Emancipation Proclamation did not bring the “political dividends that the antislavery Republicans had predicted from emancipation…”42

Presidential aide William O. Stoddard wrote that “Mr. Lincoln well knew that the proslavery and all other anti-Administration politicians at the North would instantly be stirred to a white heat of activity. The fall elections were near, and he had before him a struggle on behalf of the Nation.”43 Historian Allan Nevins wrote: “The political test of the experiment of military emancipation thus announced by the President came almost immediately in the autumn elections for State officers and State Legislatures, and especially for Representatives to the thirty-eighth Congress. The decided failure of McClellan’s Richmond campaign and the inaction of the Western army had already produced much popular discontent, which was only partly relieved by the victory of Antietam. The canvass had been inaugurated by the Democratic party with violent protests against the antislavery legislation of Congress, and it now added the loud outcry that the Administration had changed the war for the Union to a war for abolition. The party conflict became active and bitter, and the Democrats, having all the advantage of an aggressive issue, made great popular gains, not only throughout the middle belt of States, but in New York, where they elected their Governor, thus gaining control of the executive machinery, which greatly embarrassed the Administration in its later measures to maintain the army. The number of Democrats in the House of Representatives was increased from forty-four to seventy-five, and the reaction threatened for a time to deprive Mr. Lincoln of the support of the House.”44

Historian Samuel W. McCall wrote “Democrats accepted the [emancipation] issue; indeed they were anxious to raise it. In the Pennsylvania convention, which had met nearly three months before the emancipation proclamation was issued, they resolved that ‘this is a government of white men, and was established exclusively for the white race’ and that the policy which would ‘turn loose the slaves of the Southern States to overrun the North, and to enter into competition with the white laboring masses, thus degrading their manhood by placing them on an equality with negroes, is insulting to our race, and meets our most emphatic and unqualified condemnation.”45 McCall wrote that “The early elections were disastrous. In Ohio the Democrats carried fourteen districts out of nineteen; in Indiana eight out of eleven, and in Pennsylvania after a desperate struggle they divided the delegation equally with the Republicans, and enjoyed the satisfaction of polling a formidable vote against [Thaddeus] Stevens, who at the preceding election had been practically unopposed.”46

In Illinois, the impact on the Republican Party was near disastrous. Lincoln chronicler Blaine Brooks Gernon wrote of the President’s home state: “The emancipation proclamation proved a further wedge, for while many in the state were abolitionists, there were others who feared that the war would become one to free slaves rather than to save the Union. All of this war reflected in the state elections, in which Lincoln’s old friend, William Butler, despite his Union banner, was defeated 136,257 to 119,819, for state treasurer, and Allen, known disunionist, defeater Ingersoll, carrying 66 out of 102 counties in the race for congressman-at-large.”47 Republicans won only 6 of the state’s 14 congressional districts. Abolitionist Owen Lovejoy won re-election by a 11,683-11,020 margin after winning in 1860 by nearly 11,000 votes. In the Springfield district, Republican friend Leonard Swett was defeated by Democrat John Todd Stuart. Democrats captured the State Legislature and Lincoln friend Orville H. Browning was ousted from the Senate.

James McPherson wrote: “Democrats scored significant gains in the 1862 elections: the governorship of New York, the governorship and a majority of the legislature in New Jersey, a legislative majority in Illinois and Indiana, and a net increase of thirty-four congressman.” The election of Democrat Horatio Seymour over abolitionist James Wadsworth in New York was particularly painful. McPherson added “Nearly all historians have agreed: the elections were ‘a near disaster for the Republicans’; ‘a great triumph for the Democrats’; ‘the verdict of the polls showed clearly that the people of the North were opposed to the Emancipation proclamation.”48 The last quote was from historian William B. Hesseltine.49 But, added McPherson, “a closer look at the results challenges this conclusion. Republicans retained control of seventeen of the nineteen free-state governorships and sixteen of the legislatures. They elected several congressmen in Missouri for the first time, made a net gain of five seats in the Senate, and retained a twenty-five-vote majority in the House after experiencing the smallest net loss of congressional seats in an off-year election in twenty years.”50

Historian Bruce Tap wrote: “McPherson is undoubtedly correct, but his analysis fails to capture contemporary perceptions of the election’s significance. Many Democrats were convinced that the election represented a solid repudiation of Republican policy. According to the New York Herald, the election results did not mean the war would cease ‘but that the war shall be prosecuted for the maintenance of the Union, and for nothing else.'”51 Historian McPherson wrote: “Although disappointed by the election, Lincoln and the Republicans did not allow it to influence their actions. Indeed the pace of radicalism increased during the next few months.52

But some Republican moderates did worry. Francis Brown, biographer of New York Times Editor Henry J. Raymond wrote: “After pondering the results of the election further, Raymond began to wonder if emancipation might have had more influence on the outcome than he had at first believed. Finally, he wrote Lincoln a long letter in which he outlined suggestions for removing what he feared would be harmful political consequences of the permanent Emancipation Proclamation that the President was scheduled to issue on New Year’s Day. ‘I think it clear,’ he wrote, ‘that any attempt to make this war subservient to the sweeping abolition of slavery, will revolt the Border States, divide the North and West, invigorate and make triumphant the opposition were used wholly as a military weapon, though Raymond, the whole North, including the border states, would support it. ‘I suggest, then, the Proclamation to be issued in January, take the form of a Military Order, – commanding the Generals of the Army, within every designated States and part of a State in rebellion, to deprive the rebel forces of the aid direct and indirect derived from their slaves, by setting them free and protecting them in their freedom.'”53

The election results did not deter President Lincoln. Historian Allan Nevins wrote: “His friend David Davis, visiting him two months after the proclamation, found his ideas unchanged. Wrote Davis: ‘Mr. Lincoln’s whole soul is absorbed in his plan of remunerative emancipation and he thinks if Congress don’t fail him, that the problem is solved. He believes that if Congress will pass a law authorizing the issuance of bonds for the payment of emancipated negroes in the border States that Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky and Mo. will accept the terms. He takes great encouragement from the vote in Mo.'” Davis’s words echoed a letter that Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner had written about compensated emancipation the previous summer: “His whole soul was occupied, especially by the first proposition, which was peculiarly his own. In familiar intercourse with him, I remember nothing more touching than the earnestness and completeness with which he embraces this idea. To his mind it was just and beneficent, while it promised the sure end of slavery.”54

But the time for compensated emancipation in Missouri and the other Border States had passed.


  1. Issac N. Arnold, The Life of Abraham Lincoln, p. 266.
  2. James G. Randall, Lincoln the President, Springfield to Gettysburg, Volume II, p. 230.
  3. James G. Randall, Lincoln the President, Springfield to Gettysburg, Volume II, p. 232.
  4. Allan Nevins, The War for the Union: War Becomes Revolution, 1862-1863, p. 239-240.
  5. Joseph G. Holland, Holland’s Life of Abraham Lincoln, p. 394-395.
  6. Michael Burlingame and John R. Turner Ettlinger, editor, Inside Lincoln’s White House: The Complete Civil War Diary of John Hay, p. 40-41 (September 24, 1862).
  7. Michael Burlingame, editor, Lincoln’s Journalist: John Hay’s Anonymous Writings for the Press, 1860-1864, p. 312.
  8. Roy P. Basler, editor, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume V, p. 438 (September 24, 1862).
  9. Michael Burlingame, editor, Lincoln’s Journalist: John Hay’s Anonymous Writings for the Press, 1860-1864, p. 312-313.
  10. Michael Burlingame and John R. Turner Ettlinger, editor, Inside Lincoln’s White House: The Complete Civil War Diary of John Hay, p. 40-41 (September 24, 1862).
  11. Oliver Carlson, The Man Who Made News: James Gordon Bennett, p. 352.
  12. Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois. (Letter from John M. Palmer to David Davis, November 26, 1862).
  13. Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois. (Letter from Montgomery Blair to Abraham Lincoln, September 23, 1862).
  14. Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois. (Letter from Henry Asbury to Abraham Lincoln, September 29, 1862).
  15. Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois. (Letter from John W. Forney to Abraham Lincoln, September 26, 1862).
  16. Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois. (From Charles A. Dana to William H. Seward, September 23, 1862).
  17. Lincoln and Emancipation,, .
  18. Robert S. Harper, Lincoln and the Press, p. 173.
  19. Herbert Mitgang, editor, Abraham Lincoln: A Press Portrait, p. 302-303 (National Intelligencer, September 23, 1862).
  20. Herbert Mitgang, editor, Abraham Lincoln: A Press Portrait, p. 306 (Illinois State Journal, September 24, 1862).
  21. Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois. (Letter from Hannibal Hamlin to Abraham Lincoln, September 25, 1862).
  22. Roy P. Basler, editor, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume V, p. 444 (Letter from Abraham Lincoln to Hannibal Hamlin, September 28, 1862).
  23. Allan Nevins, editor, Diary of the Civil War, 1860-1865: George Templeton Strong, p. 262 (September 27, 1862).
  24. James M. McPherson, Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam, p. 139.
  25. T. Harry Williams, Lincoln & His Generals, p. 170.
  26. Stephen Sears, editor, Civil War Papers of George B. McClellan, p. 481 (Letter from George B. McClellan to William H. Aspinwall).
  27. Allan Nevins, War for the Union, War Becomes Revolution, 1862-1863, p. 238-239.
  28. David E. Long, The Jewel of Liberty: Abraham Lincoln’s Re-election and the End of Slavery, p. 185.
  29. Allen Thorndike Rice, editor, Reminiscences of Abraham Lincoln, p. 533 (James C. Welling).
  30. George H. Mayer, The Republican Party, 1854-1964, p. 106-107.
  31. Carl Sandburg, Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years and the War Years, p. 320-321.
  32. Hans L. Trefousse, Benjamin Franklin Wade, p. 187.
  33. Martin H. Greenberg and Charles G. Waugh, editor, The Price of Freedom: Slavery and the Civil War, Volume II, p. 6-7 (Edna Greene Medford, “Beckoning Them to the Dreamed of Promise of Freedom: African Americans and Lincoln’s Proclamation of Emancipation”).
  34. The Letters of William Lloyd Garrison, Volume V, p. 258.
  35. Herbert Mitgang, editor, Abraham Lincoln: A Press Portrait, p. 324-325 (Atlantic Monthly, November 1862).
  36. LaWanda Cox, Lincoln and Black Freedom, p. 7.
  37. T. Harry Williams, Lincoln and the Radicals, p. 181-182.
  38. Russell F. Weigley, A Great Civil War: A Military and Political History, 1861-1865, p. 176.
  39. Benjamin P. Thomas, Abraham Lincoln, p. 360-361.
  40. David Herbert Donald, Liberty and Union: The Crisis of Popular Government, 1830-1890, p. 148.
  41. Alexander K. McCLure, Abraham Lincoln and Men of War-Times, p. 111-112.
  42. Russell F. Weigley, A Great Civil War: A Military and Political History, 1861-1865, p. 176.
  43. William O. Stoddard, Abraham Lincoln: The True Story of a Great Life, p. 338.
  44. John G. Nicolay and John Hay, Abraham Lincoln: A History, Volume VI, p. 169-170.
  45. Samuel W. McCall, Thaddeus Stevens, p. 219.
  46. Samuel W. McCall, Thaddeus Stevens, p. 220.
  47. Blaine Brooks Gernon, Lincoln in the Political Circus, p. 176.
  48. James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom, p. 561.
  49. William B. Hesseltine, Lincoln and the War Governors, p. 165.
  50. James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom, p. 561-562.
  51. Bruce Tap, Over Lincoln’s Shoulder: The Committee on the Conduct of the War, p. 139.
  52. James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom, p. 562.
  53. Francis Brown, Raymond of the Times, p. 238-239.
  54. William E. Barton, The Life of Abraham Lincoln, Volume II, p. 136.