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.
Continuing Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation,
with a selection from Abraham Lincoln, A History by John Hay and by John G. Nicolay published in 1890. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages. This selection is presented in 7 installments, each one 5 minutes long.
Previously in Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.
Time: 1862 – 1863
Place: The White House
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 Dec, 1862. 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 parts 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 act 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 that are considered in parts. The last paragraph of the draft I consider wholly useless, and probably injurious — being a needless pledge Bates, of future action, which may be quite as well done without as with the pledge.
In rewriting the proclamation for signature Mr. Lincoln in substance followed the suggestions made by the several members of the Cabinet as to mere verbal improvements; but, in regard to the two important changes which had been proposed, he adhered rigidly to his own draft. He could not consent to the view urged by Secretary Chase, that to omit the exemption of fractional parts of States would have no practical bearing. In his view this would touch the whole underlying theory and legal validity of his act and change its essential character. 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.
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.”
It is a custom in the Executive Mansion to hold on New Year’s Day an official and public reception, beginning at eleven o’clock in the morning, which keeps the President at his post in the Blue Room until two in the afternoon. The hour for this reception came before Mr. Lincoln had entirely finished revising the engrossed copy of the proclamation, and he was compelled to hurry away from his office to friendly handshaking and festal greeting with the rapidly arriving official and diplomatic guests. The rigid laws of etiquette held him to this duty for the space of three hours. Had actual necessity required it, he could of course have left such mere social occupation at any moment; but the President saw no occasion for precipitancy. On the other hand, he probably deemed it wise that the completion of this momentous executive act should be attended by every circumstance of deliberation.
Vast as were its consequences, the act itself was only the simplest and briefest formality. It could in no wise be made sensational or dramatic. Those characteristics attached, if at all, only to the long- past decisions and announcements of July 22 and September 22 of the previous year. Those dates had witnessed the mental conflict and the moral victory. No ceremony was made or attempted of this final official signing. The afternoon was well advanced when Mr. Lincoln went back from his New Year’s greetings, with his right hand so fatigued that it was an effort to hold the pen. There was no special convocation of the Cabinet or of prominent officials. Those who were in the house came to the executive office merely from the personal impulse of curiosity joined to momentary convenience. His signature was attached to one of the greatest and most beneficent military decrees of history in the presence of less than a dozen persons ; after which it was carried to the Department of State to be attested by the great seal and deposited among the archives of the Government.
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