Preparation for Final Proclamation

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln Grants Freedom to Slaves

Lincoln Grants Freedom to Slaves

Pressure grew on President Lincoln during December 1862. Two Washingtonians, Dr. Byron Sunderland and Zenas. S. Robbins, visited Mr. Lincoln to lobby for emancipation on the Sunday before the final Emancipation Proclamation was issued. Historian Allen C. Clark wrote:

The day before the appearance of the Emancipation proclamation Zenas C. Robbins and the Rev. Byron Sunderland visited the president with the purpose of strengthening him that he might not waver. Mr. Robbins was an early acquaintance of Mr. Lincoln. It was he, as the patent attorney, secured for Mr. Lincoln the patent for a boat that might pass shallow waters.

Said Dr. Sunderland. ‘We are full of faith and prayer that you will make clean sweep for the Right.’

‘Mr. Lincoln’s face resolved into its half shrewd, half sad expression. He took a chair, and leaning toward the clergyman said:

‘Doctor, it’s very hard sometimes to know what is right! You pray often and honestly, but so do those across the lines. They pray and all their preachers pray honestly. You and I don’t think them justified in praying for their objects, but they pray earnestly, no doubt! If you and I had our own way, Doctor, we will settle this war without bloodshed, but Providence permits blood to be shed. It’s hard to tell what Providence wants of us. Sometimes, we, our selves, are more humane that the Divine Mercy seems to us to be.1

The version of the meeting reported by Lincoln biographer Ida Tarbell suggested that Robbins had requested Dr. Sunderland to visit the President after listening to the former Senate chaplain preach a sermon on emancipation:

“We were ushered into the cabinet room,” says Dr. Sunderland. ‘It was very dim, but one gas-jet burning. As we entered, Mr. Lincoln was standing at the farther end of the long table which filled the middle of the room. As I stood by the door, I am so very short, that I was obliged to look up to see the President. Mr. Robbins introduced me, and I began at once by saying: ‘I have come, Mr. President, to anticipate the New Year with my respects, and if I may, to say to you a word about the serious condition of this country.’

“‘Go ahead, Doctor,’ replied the President; ‘every little helps.’ But I was too much in earnest to laugh at his sally at my smallness. ‘Mr. President,’ I continued, ‘they say that you are not going to keep your promise to give us the Emancipation Proclamation; that it is your intention to withdraw it.’

“‘Well, Doctor,’ said Mr. Lincoln, ‘you know Peter was going to do it, but when the time came he didn’t.’

“‘Mr. President,’ I continued, ‘I have studying Peter. He did not deny his Master until after his Master rebuked him in the presence of the enemy. You have a master, too, Mr. Lincoln, the American people. Don’t deny your master until he has rebuked you before all the world.’

“We seated ourselves in the room, and for a moment the President was silent, his elbow resting on the table, his big, gnarled hands closed over his forehead. Then looking up gravely at me, he began to speak:

“‘Doctor, if it had been left to you and me, there would have been no war. If it had been left to you and me, there would have been no cause for this war; but it was not left to us. God has allowed men to make slaves of their fellows. He permits this war. He has before Him a strange spectacle. We, on our side, are praying Him to give us victory, because we believe we are right; but those on the other side pray to Him, too, for victory, believing they are right. What must He think of us? And what is coming from the struggle? What will be the effect of it all on the whites and on the negroes?’ And then suddenly a ripple of amusement broke the solemn tone of this voice. ‘As for the negroes, Doctor, and what is going to become of them: I told Ben Wade the other day, that it made me think of a story I read in one of my first books, ‘Aesop’s Fables.’ It was an old edition, and had curious rough wood-cuts, one of which showed four white men scrubbing a negro in a potash kettle filled with cold water. The text explained that the men thought that by scrubbing the negro they might make him white. Just about the time they thought they were succeeding, he took cold and died. Now, I am afraid that by the time we get through this war the negro will catch cold and die.’

“The laugh had hardly died away before he resumed his grave tone, and for half hour he discussed question of emancipation. He stated it in every light, putting his points so clearly that each statement was an argument. He showed the fullest appreciation of every side. It was like a talk of one of the old prophets. And though he did not tell me at the end whether the proclamation would be issued or not, I went home comforted and uplifted, and I believed in Abraham Lincoln from that day.”2

Lincoln aides John G. Nicolay and John Hay noted: “In his preliminary proclamation of September 22, President Lincoln had announced his intention to urge once more upon Congress the policy of compensated abolishment. Accordingly, his annual message of December 1, 1862, was in great part devoted to a discussion of this question. ‘Without slavery,’ he premised, ‘the rebellion could never have existed; without slavery it could not continue.’ His argument presented anew, with broad prophetic forecast, the folly of disunion, the brilliant destiny of the republic as a single nation, the safety of building with wise statesmanship upon its coming population and wealth. He stated that by the law of increase shown in the census tables, the country might expect to number over two hundred millions of people in less than a century. ‘And we will reach this, too,’ he continued, ‘if we do not ourselves relinquish the chance, by the folly and evils of disunion, or by long and exhausting war springing from the only great element of national discord among us. While it cannot be foreseen exactly how much one huge example of secession, breeding lesser ones indefinitely, would retard population, civilization, and prosperity, no one can doubt that the extent of it would be very great and injurious. The proposed emancipation would shorten the war, perpetuate peace, insure this increase of population and, proportionately, the wealth of the country. With these we should pay all the emancipation would cost, together with our other debt, easier than we should pay our other debt without it.'”3

Lincoln aides John G. Nicolay and John Hay wrote that “against this temporary adverse political current the leaders of the bulk of the Republican party followed Mr. Lincoln with loyal adhesion, accepting and defending his emancipation policy with earnestness and enthusiasm. In his annual message of December 1, 1862, the President did not discuss his Emancipation Proclamation, but renewed and made an elaborate argument to recommend his plan of compensated abolishment, ‘not in exclusion of, but additional to, all others for restoring and preserving the national authority throughout the Union.’ Meanwhile the Democratic minority in the House, joined by the pro-slavery conservatives from the border slave States, lost no opportunity to oppose emancipation in every form.”4 President Lincoln told Congress:

Our national strife springs not from our permanent part; not from the land we inhabit; not from our national homestead. There is no possible severing of this, but would multiply, and not mitigate, evils among us. In all its adaptations and aptitudes, it demands union, and abhors separation. In fact, it would, ere long, force reunion, however much of blood and treasure the separation might have cost.

Our strife pertains to ourselves-to the passing generations of men; and it can, without convulsion, be hushed forever with the passing of one generation.

In this view, I recommend the adoption of the following resolution and articles amendatory to the Constitution of the United States:

“Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, (two thirds of both houses concurring,) That the following articles be proposed to the legislatures (or conventions) of the several States as amendments to the Constitution of the United States, all or any of which articles when ratified by three-fourths of the said legislatures (or conventions) to be valid as part or parts of the said Constitution, viz:


“Every State, wherein slavery now exists, which shall abolish the same therein, at any time, or times, before the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand and nine hundred, shall receive compensation from the United States as follows, to wit:

“The President of the United States shall deliver to every such State, bonds of the United States, bearing interest at the rate of ___ per cent, per annum, to an amount equal to the aggregate sum of for each slave shown to have been therein, by the eig[h]th census of the United States, said bonds to be delivered to such State by installments, or in one parcel, at the completion of the abolishment, accordingly as the same shall have been gradual, or at one time, within such State; and interest shall begin to run upon any such bond, only from the proper time of its delivery as aforesaid. Any State having received bonds as aforesaid, and afterwards reintroducing or tolerating slavery therein, shall refund to the United States the bonds so received, or the value thereof, and all interest paid thereon.


“All slaves who shall have enjoyed actual freedom by the chances of the war, at any time before the end of the rebellion, shall be forever free; but all owners of such, who shall not have been disloyal, shall be compensated for them, at the same rates as is provided for States adopting abolishment of slavery, but in such way, that no slave shall be twice accounted for.


“Congress may appropriate money, and otherwise provide, for colonizing free colored persons, with their own consent, at any place or places without the United States.”

I beg indulgence to discuss these proposed articles at some length. Without slavery the rebellion could never have existed; without slavery it could not continue.

Among the friends of the Union there is great diversity, of sentiment, and of policy, in regard to slavery, and the African race amongst us. Some would perpetuate slavery; some would abolish it suddenly, and without compensation; some would remove the freed people from us, and some would retain them with us; and there are yet other minor diversities. Because of these diversities, we waste much strength in struggles among ourselves. By mutual concession we should harmonize, and act together. This would be compromise; but it would be compromise among the friends, and not with the enemies of the Union. These articles are intended to embody a plan of such mutual concessions. If the plan shall be adopted, it is assumed that emancipation will follow, at least, in several of the States.

As to the first article, the main points are: first, the emancipation; secondly, the length of time for consummating it-thirty-seven years, and thirdly, the compensation.

The emancipation will be unsatisfactory to the advocates of perpetual slavery; but the length of time should greatly mitigate their dissatisfaction. The time spares both races from the evils of sudden derangement – in fact, from the necessity of any derangement – while most of those who habitual course of thought will be disturbed by the measure will have passed away before its consummation. They will never see it. Another class will hail the prospect of emancipation, but will deprecate the length of time. They will feel that it gives too little to the now living slaves. But it really gives them much. It saves them from the vagrant destitution which must largely attend immediate emancipation in localities where their numbers are very great; and it gives the inspiring assurance that their posterity shall be free forever. The plan leaves to each State, choosing to act under it, to abolish slavery now, or at the end of the century, or at any intermediate time, or by degrees, extending over the whole or any part of the period; and it obliges no two states to proceed alike. It also provides for compensation, and generally the mode of making it. This, it would seem, must further mitigate the dissatisfaction of those who favor perpetual slavery, and especially of those who are to receive the compensation. Doubtless some of those who are to pay, and not to receive will object. Yet the measure is both just and economical. In a certain sense the liberation of slaves is the destruction of property – property acquired by descent, or by purchase, the same as any other property. It is no less true for having been often said; that the people of the south are not more responsible for the original introduction of this property, than are the people of the north; and when it is remembered how unhesitatingly we all use cotton and sugar, and share the profits of dealing in them, it may not be quite safe to say, that the south has been more responsible than the north for its continuance. If then, for a common object, this property is to be sacrificed is it not just that it be done at a common charge.

And if, with less money, or money more easily paid, we can preserve the benefits of the Union by this means, than we can by the war alone, is it not also economical to do it? Let us consider it then. Let us ascertain the sum we have expended in the war since compensated emancipation was proposed last March, and consider whether, if that measure had been promptly accepted, by even some of the slave States, the same sum would not have done more to close the war, than has been otherwise done. If so the measure would save money, and, in that view, would be a prudent and economical measure. Certainly it is not so easy to pay something as it is to pay nothing; but it is easier to pay a large sum than it is to pay a larger one. And it is easier to pay any sum when we are able than it is to pay it before we are able. The war requires large sums, and requires them at once. The aggregate sum necessary for compensated emancipation, of course, would be large. But it would require no ready cash; nor the bonds even, any faster than the emancipation progresses. This might not, and probably would not, close before the end of the thirty-seven years. At that time we shall probably have a hundred millions of people to share the burden, instead of thirty one millions, as now. And not only so, but the increase of our population may be expected to continue for a long time after that period, as rapidly as before; because our territory will not have become full. I do not state this inconsiderately. At the same ratio of increase which we have maintained, on an average, from our first national census, in 1790, until that of 1860, we should, in 1900, have a population of 103,208,415. And why may we not continue that ratio far beyond that period? Our abundant room – our broad national homestead – is our ample resource. Were our territory as limited as are the British Isles, very certainly our population could not expand as stated. Instead of receiving the foreign born, as now, we should be compelled to send part of the native born away. But such is not our condition. We have two million nine hundred and sixty-three thousand square miles. Europe has three millions and eight hundred thousand, with a population averaging seventy-three and one-third persons to the square mile. Why may not our country, at some time, average as many? Is it less fertile? Has it more waste surface, by mountains, rivers, lakes, deserts, or other causes? Is it inferior to Europe in any natural advantage? If, then, we are, at some time, to be as populous as Europe, how soon? As to when this may be, we can judge by the past and the present; as to when it will be, if ever, depends much on whether we maintain the Union. Several of our States are already above the average of Europe – seventy three and a third to the square mile. Massachusetts has 157; Rhode Island, 133; Connecticut, 99; New York and New Jersey, each, 80; also two other great States, Pennsylvania and Ohio, are not far below, the form having 63, and the latter 59. The States already above the European average, except New York, have increased in as rapid a ratio, since passing that point, as ever before; while no one of them is equal to some other parts of our country, in natural capacity for sustaining a dense population.5

Historian Benjamin P. Thomas wrote: “Lincoln’s merely casual reference to the Emancipation Proclamation in his December message, and his seeming preoccupation with compensated emancipation, induced some persons to believe he had experienced a change of heart. Friends of the Negro prayed that the president might prove steadfast to his purpose, and for the nation and the army to sustain him. John Murray Forbes, a Boston businessman and political leader, wrote to Senator Sumner: ‘The first of January is near at hand, and we see no signs of any measure for carrying into effect the Proclamation.’ But those closest to the President had learned that while he came to his decisions slowly, once made he seldom reversed them. On Christmas Day, Sumner replied to Forbes: ‘The President is occupied on the Proclamation. He will stand firm.”6 Nevertheless, Republicans like Forbes who had been presidential electors in 1860, sent a series of form letters to the President:

The undersigned, as Electors performed two years ago the pleasant duty of certifying to your appointment to the Chief Magistracy of this country by the choice of the People.

Believing that the approaching new year brings with it a crisis in the life of the Nation, they beg leave to congratulate you upon your having begun the greatest act in American history; the emancipation of three millions of blacks and of five millions of whites from the power of an aristocratic class.

It is admitted upon all sides that the transfer of three millions of Slaves, from the productive force of the Rebels to that of the loyal States would instantly end the Rebellion; it follows that each Slave so transferred will proportionately contribute to that end.

It is only a question of time when emancipation must take place, and it is believed, that no time can occur, so safe from violence as when the Slaves have the Strength of the Union to rally behind, and when a large army of the Rebels can & ought to be thus withdrawn, from opposing the laws to the more fitting work of keeping order around their own homes. For these & other reasons the undersigned believe that Emancipation is the weapon which, efficiently used can not only strike at the heart of the Rebellion but lay the foundation for a true & permanent republic; a consummation even more beneficent to the moral & material interests of the people of the South, than to those of the North.

They therefore earnestly pray you to complete now your great work, by taking every possible measure to carry into practical effect the promise of your proclamation of 22d September, and especially by demanding of every person in the Military Naval & civil service of your government to obey strictly the regulations by which you will enforce your now settled policy.

They believe that by so doing you will place yourself among the great benefactors of your country & of the human race, and that you will live in future ages by the side of the Father of his Country – George Washington.7

Elector Forbes wrote Senator Sumner: “I sincerely hope that you & others will have sufficient influence with the President to ensure his giving us on 1st January such a Proclamation as will only need the “General Orders” of his subordinates to carry into effect not only Emancipation but all the fruits thereof in the perfect right to use the Negro in every respect as a man – & consequently as a soldier sailor or laborer – wherever he can most effectually strike a blow against the enemy– To do this it seems to me, very important that the ground of “military necessity ” should be even more squarely taken than it was in 22 Sept[.] Many of our strongest Republicans some even of Mr Lincoln[‘s] Electors have constitutional scruples in regard to emancipation upon any other ground – & with these must be joined a large class of Democrats & self styled “Conservatives” whose support is highly desireable – and ought to be secured where it can be done without any sacrifice of principle.”8

Forbes was not alone in his worries. According to historian T. Harry Williams, Congressman Charles Sedgewick expressed his limited faith in Mr. Lincoln in a letter to Forbes: “some doubt his intention to issue the proclamation of 1st January; I do not. Many assert, more fear, that it will be essentially modified from what is promised. I do not fear this; but what I do fear is, that he will stop with the proclamation and take no active and vigorous measures to insure its efficacy.”9 Republican Radicals worried about if President Lincoln would follow through on emancipation or if conservative forces would manage to emasculate it.

There was considerable pressure against emancipation as well. On the 11th of December Representative George H. Yeaman of Kentucky offered resolutions declaring the President’s proclamation unwarranted by the Constitution and a useless and dangerous war measure. But these propositions were only supported by a vote of forty-five, while they were promptly laid on the table by a vote of ninety-four members. The Republicans were unwilling to remain in this attitude of giving emancipation a merely negative support. A few days later (December 15), Representative S.C. Fessenden of Maine put the identical phraseology in an affirmative form, and by a test vote of seventy-eight to fifty-one the House resolved:

That the proclamation of the President of the United States, of the date of 22d September, 1862, is warranted by the Constitution, and that the policy of emancipation, as indicated in that proclamation, is well adapted to hasten the restoration of peace, was well chosen as a war measure, and is an exercise of power with regard for the rights of the States and the perpetuity of free government.10

One of those who objected to the emancipation policy was Illinois Senator Orville Browning, a lame-duck, moderate Republican. Early in the war, Browning had favored emancipation. Now, the long-time friend of the President feared emancipation was “fraught with evil.” Nevertheless, Browning did not confront Mr. Lincoln, even though he thought he should. At the end of December, Browning wrote his diary: “Some days ago I said to Judge [Benjamin Franklin ] Thomas that I thought he ought to go to the President and have a full, frank conversation with him in regard to the threatened proclamation of emancipation – that in my opinion it was fraught with evil, and evil only and would do much injury; and that his opinion would have influence with the President – that he might possibly induce him to withhold, or at least to modify it, so as to make it applicable to the slaves of those in armed rebellion against the Government alone; and that even this would ease the administration down, and get in the way of regaining the lost confidence of the people. He informed me to night that he had taken my advice, and had the talk but that it would avail nothing.”11

Browning concluded: “The President was fatally bent upon his course, saying that if he should refuse to issue his proclamation there would be a rebellion in the north, and that a dictator would be placed over his head within a week. There is no hope. The proclamation will come – God grant it may [not] be productive of the mischief I fear.”12 Browning, however, did not get much support. Lincoln biographers John G. Nicolay and John Hay recalled: “With the proclamation thus heartily indorsed by nearly every free State governor and nearly two-thirds of the loyal Representatives, Mr. Lincoln, who had accurately foreseen the danger as well as the benefits of the critical step he had taken, could well afford to wait for the full tide of approval, for which he looked with confidence and which came to him from that time onward with steadiness and ever-growing volume, both from the armies in the field and the people in their homes throughout the loyal North.”13 President Lincoln didn’t need much convincing. Lincoln biographer Carl Sandburg wrote: “Congressman John Covode the last week of December found the President in his office walking back and forth with a troubled face. As to whether he would issue the proclamation, he said: ‘I have studied that matter well; my mind is made up…It must be done. I am driven to it. There is no other way out of our troubles. But although my duty is plain, it is in some respects painful, and I trust the people will understand that I act not in anger but in expectation of a great good.'”14

There was little to dissuade the President, according to erstwhile presidential aides Nicolay and Hay. “No indications of reviving unionism were manifested in the distinctively rebel States. No popular expression of a willingness to abandon slavery and accept compensation came from the loyal border slave States, except, perhaps, in a qualified way from Missouri, where the emancipation sentiment was steadily progressing, though with somewhat convulsive action, owing to the quarrel which divided the Unionists of that State. Thus the month of December wore away, and the day approached when it became necessary for the President to execute the announcement of emancipation made in his preliminary proclamation of September 22.”15

December 1862 had been a bad month for President Lincoln. There was serious dissension in Mr. Lincoln’s government, reported Supreme Court Justice David Davis, a long-time friend of Mr. Lincoln. He noted that Secretary of War Salmon P. Chase and Postmaster General Montgomery Blair were virtually at war: “The Cabinet are far from being a unit. Part of them really hate each other. Blair hates Chase and speaks openly on the street – and so it is with others. [Interior Secretary Caleb] Smith says Lincoln don’t treat a Cabinet as other Presidents – that he decides the most important questions without consulting his cabinet.”16

Mr. Lincoln had problems with military leaders as well. He had replaced George McClellan with Ambrose E. Burnside in early November with the expectation of a speedy attack on the Confederate army in Virginia. The Union Army had attacked entrenched Confederates at Fredericksburg on December 12 and 13 with disastrous results and horrific casualties. A few days later, Republican senators met in a caucus and decided to confront Mr. Lincoln about military and government problems. Secretary of State William H. Seward heard that his resignation would be demanded and turned it in before the Senators could meet with the President. When the Senators did meet with Mr. Lincoln, he rallied his Cabinet members to his defense and thereby provoked Secretary of the Treasury Salmon Chase to submit his resignation as well.

Having rejected both resignations, Mr. Lincoln faced another revolt – from Army officers unhappy with the leadership of Union commander Ambrose Burnside. Two generals signed a letter of complaint to the President shortly before Mr. Lincoln met with Burnside with the White House. When a presidential letter didn’t oust Burnside, two other generals were dispatched to the Washington to present their complaints to President Lincoln in person. Meanwhile, work proceeded on revising the Emancipation Proclamation. After the congressional crisis with Secretaries Seward and Chase, the President was careful to consult with the Cabinet. It reconvened on December 30 to discuss the final document in preparation for release on New Years Day.

Later that day, Mr. Lincoln met with General Burnside’s opponents in the Army of the Potomac. After this meeting the President ordered Burnside to desist from any planned movement without first getting his approval. Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles wrote: ‘At the meeting to-day [December 29, 1862], the President read the draft of his Emancipation Proclamation, invited criticism, and finally directed that copies should be furnished to each. It is a good and well prepared paper, but I suggested that a part of the sentence marked in pencil be omitted. Chase advised that fractional parts of States ought not be exempted. In this I think he is right, and so stated. Practically there would be difficulty in freeing parts of States and not freeing others – a clashing between central and local authorities.”17

The President’s own deadline was swiftly approaching when the President reviewed his Cabinet’s recommendations on December 31. At 10 A.M. on New Year’s Eve, a final cabinet meeting was held to discuss changes in Emancipation Proclamation. Secretaries Welles, Seward and Chase suggested important modifications. Mr. Lincoln himself made an important modification by inserting the words “upon military necessity” to a graceful closing sentence suggested by Secretary of the Treasury Chase. Lincoln biographers Nicolay and Hay wrote:

It will be seen that this draft presented for discussion, in addition to mere verbal criticism, the question of defining the fractional portions of Virginia and Louisiana under Federal control and the yet more important policy, now for the first time announced by the President, of his intention to incorporate a portion of the newly liberated slaves into the armies of the Union. Mr. Welles’s diary for Wednesday, December 31, 1862, thus continues: ‘We had an early and special Cabinet meeting – convened at 10 A.M. The subject was the proclamation of to-morrow to emancipate the slave sin the rebel States. Seward proposed two amendments. One included mine, and one enjoining upon, instead of appealing to, those emancipated to forbear from tumult. Blair had, like Seward and myself, proposed the omission of a part of a sentence and made other suggestions which I thought improvements. Chase made some good criticisms and proposed a felicitous closing sentence. The President took the suggestions, written in order, and said he would complete the document.’

From the manuscript letters and memoranda we glean more fully the modifications of the amendments proposed by the several members of the Cabinet. The changes suggested in Mr. Seward’s note were all verbal, and were three in number. Following the declaration that ‘the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons,’ he proposed to omit the further words which had been used in the September proclamation, ‘and will do no act, or acts, to repress said persons, or any of them, in any suitable efforts they may make for their actual freedom.’ Mr. Welles had suggested the same change. Second: The next sentence, which read, ‘And I hereby appeal to the people so declared to be free to abstain from all disorder,’ etc., Mr. Seward proposed should read, ‘And I hereby command and require the people so declared to be free to abstain from all disorder,’ etc. Third: The phrase, ‘and in all cases, when allowed, to labor faithfully for just and reasonable wages.'”18

Salmon P. Chase suggestions: Nicolay and Hay wrote: “The criticisms submitted by Mr. Chase were quite long and full, and since they suggested the most distinctive divergence from the President’s plan, namely, that of making no exceptions of fractional portions of States, except the forty-eight counties of West Virginia, his letter needs to be quoted in full:

In accordance with your verbal direction of yesterday I most respectfully submit the following observations in respect to the draft of a proclamation designating the States and parts of States within which the proclamation of September 22, 1862, is to take effect according to the terms thereof

I. It seems to me wisest to make no exception of parts of States from the operation of the proclamation save the forty-eight counties designated as West Virginia. My reasons are these

1. Such exceptions will impair, in public estimation, the moral effect of the proclamation, and invite censure which it would be well, if possible, to avoid.

2. Such exceptions must necessarily be confined to some few parishes and counties in Louisiana and Virginia, and can have no practically useful effect. Through the operation of various acts of Congress the slaves of disloyal masters in those parts are already enfranchised, and the slaves of loyal masters are practically so. Some of the latter have already commenced paying wages to their laborers, formerly slaves; and it is to be feared that if, by these exceptions, slavery is practically reestablished in favor of some masters, while abolished by laws and by the necessary effect of military occupation as to others, very serious inconveniences may arise.

3. No intimation of exceptions of this kind is given in the September proclamation, nor does it appear that any intimations otherwise given have been taken into account by those who have participated in recent elections, or that any exceptions of their particular localities are desired by them.

II. I think it would be expedient to omit from the proposed proclamation the declaration that the Executive Government of the United States will do no act to repress the enfranchised in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom. This clause in the September proclamation has been widely quoted as an incitement to servile insurrection. In lieu of it, and for the purpose of shaming these misrepresentations, I think it would be well to insert some such clause as this: ‘not encouraging or countenancing, however, any disorderly or licentious conduct.’ If this alteration is made, the appeal to the enslaved may, properly enough, be omitted. It does not appear to be necessary, and may furnish a topic to the evil-disposed for censure and ridicule.

III. I think it absolutely certain that the rebellion can in no way be so certainly, speedily, and economically suppressed as by the organized military force of the loyal population of the insurgent regions, of whatever complexion. In no way can irregular violence and servile insurrection be so surely prevented as by the regular organization and regular military employment of those who might otherwise probably resort to such courses. Such organization is now in successful progress, and the concurrent testimony of all connected with the colored regiments in Louisiana and South Carolina is that they are brave, orderly, and efficient. General [Benjamin] Butler declares that without his colored regiments he could not have attempted his recent important movements in the Lafourche region; and General [Rufus] Saxton bears equally explicit testimony to the good conduct and efficiency of the colored troops recently sent on an expedition along the coast of Georgia. Considering these facts, it seems to me that it would be best to omit from the proclamation all reference to the military employment of the enfranchised population, leaving it to the natural course of things already well begun; or to state distinctly that, in order to secure the suppression of the rebellion without servile insurrection or licentious marauding, such numbers of the population declared free as may be found convenient will be employed in the military and naval service of the United States.

Finally, I respectfully suggest, that on an occasion of such interest, there can be no just imputation of affectation against a solemn recognition of responsibility before men and before God; and that some such close as follows will be proper:

“And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice warranted by the Constitution, and of duty demanded by the circumstances of the country, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God.”19

In addition, Chase submitted his own, unique draft of the Emancipation Proclamation which appeared to have never been seriously considered. One of Chase’s suggestions which was seriously studied was that the Proclamation end with the following phrase: “And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the constitution, [and an act of duty demanded by the circumstances of the country,] I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind and the gracious favor of almighty God.” The President adopted most of Chase’s language but simplified it by substituting “military necessity” to justify the proclamation.

President Lincoln did not yield to Chase’s suggestion that the proclamation should apply to whole states, not parts of states. At the Cabinet meeting, Montgomery Blair objected to the exclusion of 13 parishes in Louisiana. Seward concurred. “Well, upon first view your objections are clearly good; but after I issued the proclamation of September 22, Mr. Bouligny, of Louisiana, then here, came to see me. He was a great invalid, and had scarcely the strength to walk up stairs. He wanted to know of me if thee parishes in Louisiana and New Orleans should hold an election, and elect Members of Congress, whether I would not except them from this proclamation. I told him I would.”20 Having promised to exempt a portion of Louisiana in exchange for elections to reincorporate sections of that state into the Union, President Lincoln declined to renege on that pledge. Postmaster General Blair said: “If you have a promise out, I will not ask you to break it.” Seward concurred. Chase objected, however, that the two congressional representatives had not been seated by Congress. “There it is, sir. I am to be bullied by Congress, am I? If I do I’ll be durned.”21

“The second proposition favored by several members of the Cabinet, to omit any declaration of intention to enlist the freedmen in military service, while it was not so vital, yet partook of the same general effect as tending to weaken and discredit his main central act of authority,” wrote Nicolay and Hay. “Mr. Lincoln took the various manuscript notes and memoranda which his Cabinet advisers brought him on the 31st of December, and during that afternoon and the following morning with his own hand carefully rewrote the entire body of the draft of the proclamation. The blanks left to designate fractional parts of States he filled according to latest official advices of military limits; and in the closing paragraph suggested by Chase he added, after the words ‘warranted by the Constitution,’ his own important qualifying correction, ‘upon military necessity.'”22

Attorney General Edwin Bates’ suggestions: According to Nicolay and Hay, “The memorandum of Attorney-General Bates is also quite full, and combats the recommendation of Secretary Chase concerning fractions of States.

I respectfully suggest that: 1. The President issues the proclamation ‘by virtue of the power in him vested as Commander-in Chief of the army and navy of the United States in time of actual armed rebellion,’ etc., ‘and as a proper and necessary war measure for suppressing said rebellion.’ – Date, January 1863. 2. It is done in accordance with the first proclamation of September 22, 1862. 3. It distinguishes between States and parts of States, and designates those States and part of States ‘in which the people thereof, respectively, are this day (January 1, 1863) in rebellion against the United States.’
These three propositions being true, I think they ought to be followed out, without excess or diminution, by action, not by the declaration of a principle nor the establishment of a law for the future guidance of others. It is a war measure by the President, – a matter of fact – not a law by the Legislature. And as to what is proposed to be done in the future the least said the better. Better leave yourself free to at in the emergencies as they arise, with as few embarrassing committals as possible. Whether a particular State or part of a State is or is not in actual rebellion on the 1st of January, 1863, is a simple matter of fact which the President in the first proclamation has promised to declare in the record. Of course it must be truly declared. It is no longer open to be determined as a matter of policy or prudence independently of the fact. And this applies with particular force to Virginia. The Eastern Shore of Virginia and the region round about Norfolk are now (December 31, 1862) more free from actual rebellion than are several of the forty-eight counties spoken of as West Virginia. If the latter be exempt from the proclamation, so also ought the former. And so in all the States are considered parts. The last paragraph of the draft I consider wholly useless, and probably injurious – being a needless pledge of future action, which may be quite as well done without as with the pledge.23

Postmaster General Montgomery Blair’s comments were brief and interesting since his family owned slaves:

I do order & declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated states & parts of states shall be free; and that the Executive Government of the United States, including the Military & Naval authorities will recognize & maintain the freedom of said persons; And in order that they may render all the aid they are willing to give to this object & to the support of the Government, authority will be given to receive them into the service of where ever they can be usefully employed & they may be armed to garrison forts, to defend positions & stations and to man vessels. And I appeal to them to show themselves worthy of freedom by fidelity & diligence in the employments which may be given to them by the observance of order & by abstaining from all violence not required by duty or & for self defence.

Blair’s memo was somewhat confusing. He apparently tried to rewrite the last sentence: “it is due to them to say that the conduct of large numbers since the [war began?] of these people since the war began justifies confidence in their fidelity & humanity generally.”24

Secretary of Stated William H. Seward’s comments were terse:

Pursuant to the permission which you have given me, I take the liberty to suggest the following changes in the paper which is hereunto annexed.

From page 2, line 18, to page 3, line 2, omit the words in brackets between ‘and’ and ‘freedom’.

Page 3, line 3, for ‘appeal’ to, substitute ‘command and require’.

Page 3, line 6, after ‘and,’ insert ‘I do recommend to them’.

Page 3, line 8, after ‘for’, insert ‘just and reasonable’.25

Nicolay and Hay wrote: “It is not remembered whether Mr. Stanton, Secretary of War, was present at the Cabinet meeting, but he appears to have left no written memorandum of his suggestions, if he offered any. Stanton was preeminently a man of action, and the probability is that he agreed to the President’s draft without amendment. The Cabinet also lacked one member of being complete. Caleb B. Smith, Secretary of the Interior, had lately been transferred to the vacant bench of the United States District Court of Indiana, and his successor, John P. Usher, was not appointed until about a week after the date of which we write.”26

According to Welles’ diary entry of December 31, “We had an early and special Cabinet-meeting, convened at 10 A.M. The subject was the Proclamation of to-morrow to emancipate the slaves in Rebel States. Seward proposed two amendments, – one including mine, and one enjoining upon, instead of appealing to, those emancipated, to forbear from tumult. Blair had, like Seward and myself, proposed the omission of a part of sentence and made other suggestions which I thought improvements. Chase made some good criticisms and proposed a felicitous closing sentence. The President took the suggestions, written in order, and said he would complete the document.”27

Historian John Franklin Hope wrote: “On Wednesday morning, December 31, at ten o’clock, the Cabinet held its final meeting of the year. When the Proclamation was taken up, Seward and Welles suggested an amendment ‘enjoining upon, instead of appealing to, those emancipated, to forbear from tumult.’ Chase submitted a lengthy communication, making suggestions of changes and offering his own draft of the Proclamation. He repeated his objection to exemption of ‘parts of States from the operation of the Proclamation..’ He also thought the Proclamation should omit the statement that the government would not act to repress those newly emancipated in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom. He reminded the President that this statement in the September Proclamation was widely quoted as an incitement to servile insurrection. Likewise he objected to any reference to the military employment of former slaves, ‘leaving it to the natural course of things already well begun.”

“Chase then submitted his own draft embodying the views he had expressed and containing the following felicitous closing, most of which Lincoln incorporated in his own draft:

And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the constitution, [and an act of duty demanded by the circumstances of the country,] I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind and the gracious favor of almighty God.

At long last Chase seemed to be having some influence. The President took the suggestions, ‘Written in order, and said he would complete the document.’

“For the President the day was not over,” wrote John Hope Franklin. “There was the final draft of the Proclamation to prepare. There was the act to sign admitting West Virginia into the Union. There was the agreement to sign providing for a colony of freedmen on v. There was the delegation of anti-slavery leaders to listen to, with their plea that he issue the Proclamation as a simple act of justice rather than as a military measure. His ‘day’ went far into the night.”28

President Lincoln had a pocketful of problems that day and night. General Ambrose Burnside had arrived in Washington to testify before Congress and meet with the President. He visited with Mr. Lincoln in the afternoon of December 31 and learned that two of his generals had preceded him to the capital with their complaints about his leadership. Burnside biographer William Marvel wrote: “On December 31 Burnside met with the President in his White house office and was astonished to learn that two of his generals – Lincoln would not tell him their names – had been in that office the day before and predicted defeat and disaster if the army should go to battle. Lincoln went on to say, as Burnside remembered it, ‘that he had understood that no prominent officer of command had any faith in my proposed movement.’ ([Generals] Newton and Cochrane on their own would not have had nerve enough to claim to know any such unanimous opinion by the army’s high command, further evidence that it was [Generals] Franklin and Smith who had fed them their lines.) Burnside defended his battle plan, but the president said it must wait until he had discussed it with his advisers. Considerably distraught by this time, Burnside said that if his general officers had so lost confidence in him, it was best that he resign his command.”29

On New Year’s Eve at a contraband camp on the outskirts of Washington, a meeting was help in anticipation of the Emancipation. One former slave gave an impassioned report of freedom: “Onst the time was, dat I cried all night. What’s de matter/ What’s de matter? Matter enough. De nex mornin my child was to be sold, an she was sold, and I neber spec to see her no more till de day ob judgment. Now, no more dat! No more dat! No work, when de overseer used to whip me along. Now, no more dat! No more dat! Nor more dat! When I tink what de Lord’s done for us, an brot us thro’ de trubbles, I feel dat I ought go inter His service. We’se free now, bress de Lord! (Amens! were vociferated all over the building.) Dey can’t sell my wife and child any more, bress de Lord! (Glory! Glory! From the audience.) No more dat! No more dat! Nor more dat, now! (Glory!) Preserdun Lincum have shot de gate!”30Elsewhere in Washington, freed blacks had gathered and celebrated an earlier example of crisis leadership. One song in particular was sung:

Go down, Moses,
Way down in Egypt land,
Tell old Pharaoh,
Let me people go.

But another set of lyrics was added for the occasion:
Go down, Abraham,
Away down in Dixie’s land
Tell Jeff Davis
To let my people go.

House Speaker Schuyler Colfax sent President Lincoln a message after returning from New York: “The New York Editors are anxious, if possible, that your Proclamation, if ready, may be telegraphed by to the Associated Press this afternoon or evening, so that they can have it in their New Year’s morning newspapers with Edl. articles on it. You are aware, of course, that, as no papers are printed throughout the land the morning after New Years, if this is not done, it will not be published till the in any morning paper till Jan 3rd, robbing it of its New Year’s character.”31 The editors of the New York Times and New York Tribune were destined to be disappointed. John G. Nicolay wired them that they would not receive the text until January 2.


  1. From Allen C. Clark, Abraham Lincoln in the National Capital, p. 41 (Source: George Alfred Townsend, Washington Outside and Inside).
  2. Ida M. Tarbell, The Life of Abraham Lincoln, Volume II, p. 123-125.
  3. John G. Nicolay and John Hay, Abraham Lincoln: A History, Volume VI, p. 399-400.
  4. John G. Nicolay and John Hay, Abraham Lincoln: A History, Volume VI, p. 170-172.
  5. Roy P. Basler, editor, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume V, p. 529-532 (December 2, 1862).
  6. Benjamin P. Thomas, Abraham Lincoln, p. 358.
  7. Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois. (Letter from Gerry W. Cochrane and John M. Forbes to Abraham Lincoln, December 24, 1862).
  8. Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois. (Letter from John M. Forbes to Charles Sumner, December 27, 1862).
  9. T. Harry Williams, Lincoln and the Radicals, p. 215 (Letter from Charles Sedgwick to John M. Frobes, December 22, 1862).
  10. John G. Nicolay and John Hay, Abraham Lincoln: A History, Volume VI, p. 170-172.
  11. Theodore Calvin Pease, editor, Orville Hickman Browning, Diary of Orville Hickman Browning, Volume I, p. 606-607 (December 31, 1862).
  12. Theodore Calvin Pease, editor, Orville Hickman Browning, Diary of Orville Hickman Browning, Volume I, p. 607 (December 31, 1862).
  13. John G. Nicolay and John Hay, Abraham Lincoln: A History, Volume VI, p. 170-172.
  14. Carl Sandburg, Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years and the War Years, p. 343.
  15. John G. Nicolay and John Hay, Abraham Lincoln: A History, Volume VI, p. 409-412.
  16. David Davis, .
  17. Gideon Welles, Diary of Gideon Welles, Volume I, p. 209 (December 29, 1862).
  18. John G. Nicolay and John Nay, Abraham Lincoln: A History, Volume VI, p. 413-414.
  19. John G. Nicolay and John Hay, Abraham Lincoln: A History, Volume VI, p. 414-418.
  20. Allen Thorndike Rice, editor, Reminiscences of Abraham Lincoln, p. 93 (John P. Usher).
  21. Allen Thorndike Rice, editor, Reminiscences of Abraham Lincoln, p. 94 (John P. Usher).
  22. John G. Nicolay and John Hay, Abraham Lincoln: A History, Volume VI, p. 420-421.
  23. John G. Nicolay and John Hay, Abraham Lincoln: A History, Volume VI, p. 419-420.
  24. John G. Nicolay and John Hay, Abraham Lincoln: A History, Volume VI, p. 418-419.
  25. Gideon Welles, Diary of Gideon Welles, Volume I, p. 210-211.
  26. Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois. (Montgomery Blair, Memorandum on Draft of Final Emancipation Proclamation1, December 31, 1862).
  27. Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois. (Letter from William H. Seward to Abraham Lincoln, December 30, 1862).
  28. John Franklin Hope, Emancipation Proclamation, p. 86-87.
  29. Stephen Sears, Controversies & Commanders, p. 146-147.
  30. James M. McPherson, The Negro’s Civil War, p. 63 (Liberator, January 16, 1863).
  31. Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois. (Letter from Schuyler Colfax to Abraham Lincoln, December 31, 1862).