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Preparation for Final ProclamationPressure 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.
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.'
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.
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.
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
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.'
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
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.'
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.
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. 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 Ile a Vache. 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 Years 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!"30 Elsewhere in Washington, freed blacks had gathered and celebrated an earlier example of crisis leadership. One song in particular was sung:
Go down, Moses,
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.