Fame is due Mr. Lincoln, not alone because he decreed emancipation, but because events so shaped themselves under his guidance as to render the conception practical and the decree successful.
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
If the rebellion should triumph, establishing a government founded on slavery as its corner-stone, manifestly his proclamation would be but waste paper, though every court in Christendom outside the Confederate States should assert its official authority. If, on the other hand, the Union arms were victorious, every step of that victory would become clothed with the mantle of law. But if, in addition, it should turn out that the Union arms had been rendered victorious through the help of the negro soldiers, called to the field by the promise of freedom contained in the proclamation, then the decree and its promise might rest secure in the certainty of legal execution and fulfillment. To restore the Union by the help of black soldiers under pledge of liberty, and then for the Union, under whatever legal doctrine or construction, to attempt to re-enslave them, would be a wrong at which morality would revolt. ” You cannot,” said Mr. Lincoln in one of his early speeches, “repeal human nature.”
The problem of statesmanship therefore was not one of theory, but of practice. Fame is due Mr. Lincoln, not alone because he decreed emancipation, but because events so shaped themselves under his guidance as to render the conception practical and the decree successful. Among the agencies he employed none proved more admirable or more powerful than this two-edged sword of the final proclamation, blending sentiment with force, leaguing liberty with Union, filling the voting armies at home and the fighting armies in the field. In the light of history we can see that by this edict Mr. Lincoln gave slavery its vital thrust, its mortal wound. It was the word of decision, the judgment without appeal, the sentence of doom.
But for the execution of the sentence, for the accomplishment of this result, he had yet many weary months to hope and to wait. Of its slow and tantalizing fruition, of the gradual dawning of that full day of promise, we cannot get a better description than that given in his own words in his annual message to Congress, nearly a year after the proclamation was signed:
When Congress assembled a year ago the war had already lasted nearly twenty months, and there had been many conflicts on both land and sea, with varying results. The rebellion had been pressed back into reduced limits; yet the tone of public feeling and opinion, at home and abroad, was not satisfactory. With other signs, the popular elections, then just past, indicated, uneasiness among ourselves ; while, amid much that was cold and menacing, the kindest words coming from Europe were uttered in accents of pity that we were too blind to surrender a hopeless cause.[*] Our commerce was suffering greatly by a few armed vessels built upon and furnished from foreign shores, and we were threatened with such additions from the same quarter as would sweep our trade from the sea and raise our blockade. We had failed to elicit from European governments anything hopeful upon this subject.
[* British unfriendliness, and incredulity especially, were only intensified by the President’s Edict of Freedom. On the 15th of January, 1863, the London Times” called the final Emancipation Proclamation the “execrable expedient of a servile insurrection”; and again on the 19th of March the “Times” said: “The attempt of the North to restore the Union is as hopeless ” as would be the attempt here to restore the Heptarchy.”]
The preliminary emancipation proclamation, issued in September, was running its assigned period to the beginning of the new year. A month later, the final proclamation came, including the announcement that colored men of suitable condition would be received into the war service. The policy of emancipation and of employing black soldiers gave to the future a new aspect, about which hope and fear and doubt contended in uncertain conflict. According to our political system, as a matter of civil administration, the General Government had no lawful power to effect emancipation in any State, and for a long time it had been hoped that the rebellion could be suppressed without resorting to it as a that the necessity for it might come, and that if it should the crisis of the contest would then be presented. It came, and, as was anticipated, it was followed by dark and doubtful days. Eleven months having now passed, we are permitted to take another review. The rebel borders are pressed still further back, and by the complete opening of the Mississippi the country dominated by the rebellion is divided into distinct parts, with no practical communication between them. Tennessee and Arkansas have been substantially cleared of insurgent control, and influential citizens in each, owners of slaves and advocates of slavery at the beginning of the rebellion, now declare openly for emancipation in their respective States. Of those States not included in the Emancipation Proclamation, Maryland and Missouri, neither of which three years ago would tolerate any restraint upon the extension of slavery into new Territories, only dispute now as to the best mode of removing it within their own limits.
Of those who were slaves at the beginning of the rebellion, full one hundred thousand are now in the United States military service, about one-half of which number actually bear arms in the ranks; thus giving the double advantage of taking so much labor from the insurgent cause and supplying the places which otherwise must be filled with so many white men. So far as tested it is difficult to say they are not as good soldiers as any. No servile insurrection or tendency to violence or cruelty has marked the measures of emancipation and arming the blacks. These measures have been much discussed in foreign countries, and contemporary with such discussion the tone of public sentiment there is much improved. At home the same measures have been fully discussed, supported, criticized, and denounced, and the annual elections following are highly encouraging to those whose official duty it is to bear the country through this great trial. Thus we have the new reckoning. The crisis Annual which threatened to divide the friends of the Union is past.
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