Lincoln on Race and Slavery

By Henry Louis Gates Jr.; Donald Yacovone et al. | Go to book overview

51

Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation:
CW, 5:433–436

On the day that Lincoln received the Chicago ministers' emancipation memorials, Union soldiers discovered General Robert E. Lee's plans for his campaign in Maryland—part of his drive north into Pennsylvania—wrapped around some cigars accidentally dropped by a rebel courier. In one of the bloodiest battles in American history, the Union Army under General George B. McClellan intercepted Lee, forcing him to fight at Antietam. The results proved enough of a “victory” for Lincoln to issue the proclamation from a position of strength and help avert European recognition of the Confederacy. How long Lincoln considered issuing a proclamation regarding slavery is uncertain, but he first announced his decision on July 13, 1862, to Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles. Lincoln issued the preliminary emancipation statement with the situation of the border states still central to his strategy. He allowed loyal slaveowners to keep their “property” and offered colonization as an inducement for slaveowners to give up their property without fear of creating a large free black population. For states in rebellion, Lincoln decreed that if they did not return to the Union, all their slaves would be “thenceforth, and forever free” as of January 1, 1863. The proclamation reaffirmed Congress's confiscation acts and pledged to compensate all loyal slaveowners for the loss of their property, “including the loss of slaves.” Lincoln's initial proclamation completely avoided any mention of the status of newly freed slaves and said nothing about possible recruitment for the army, although blacks had been serving successfully in the navy since the start of the war. For Lincoln's move toward emancipation, see: Allen C. Guelzo, Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004).

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