Index

EMANCIPATION IN THE UNITED STATES

A.D. 1862

ABRAHAM LINCOLN

From the very beginning of the Civil War there were committees and individuals who went to Washington to urge the President to exercise his war powers Under the Constitution and proclaim the freedom of the slaves in the seceded States. Their argument was that the object of secession was to preserve and extend the system of bondage; and no peace, however obtained, could be permanent unless the cause of the war were destroyed. The most notable of these appeals was embodied in an open letter written by Horace Greeley, addressed to the President, and published in the New York Tribune August 19, 1862 Three days later Lincoln published an answer, in which he said: "As to the policy I 'seem to be pursuing,' as you say, I have not meant to leave anyone in doubt. I Would save the Union. I would save it in the shortest way under the Constitution. If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them. If there be those who would not Save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them. My paramount object is to save the Union, and not either to save or to destroy slavery. What I do about slavery and the colored race I do because I believe it helps to save this Union; and what I forbear I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union. I have here stated my purpose according to my views of official duty, and I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men everywhere could be free."

President Lincoln had several strong reasons for delaying emancipation. At the b

eginning of the war it would not have met with approval even by a considerable minority of the Northern people, and it would have hindered enlistments enormously. Later, as he himself pointed out, there were, in the National armies, fifty thousand bayonets from the border slave States, and he feared that a premature proclamation might send them over to the Confederacy, though this fear was probably not well founded. Finally, the Union arms met with a series of defeats early in the war, and, as he remarked, such a proclamation would appear impotent if it followed a Union defeat. The opportunity came, as he judged, after Antietam. The Army of Northern Virginia, commanded by General Robert F. Lee, Set out on its first invasion of the North immediately after its victory at the Second Bull Run, or Groveton (August 30, 1862), and got as far as the village of Sharpsburg, Maryland, when, closely followed by the Army of the Potomac, commanded by General George B. McClellan, it was obliged to stop and give battle. General Lee chose a strong position on the heights in the angle between the Potomac River and Antietam Creek, his left resting on the river, and his right on the creek. McClellan, coming through the passes of the South Mountain, from the east, crossed the creek and attacked in the morning of September 17th. The fight lasted almost till dark, and it was the bloodiest single day in the whole war, the losses on each side being more than twelve thousand. The Confederate army, leaving its dead unburied, retreated into Virginia; and as McClellan was left in possession of the field, and had not lost a gun or a color, the victory was fairly his, though he did not pursue the defeated enemy. Lincoln expressed a wish that the victory had been made more complete, but said it was sufficient to give character to a proclamation of emancipation. Five days later he issued the preliminary proclamation, and on January 1, 1863, the final proclamation, both of which are given herewith.

Next Page