Lincoln on Race and Slavery

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

62

Annual Message to Congress:
CW, 7:49–51

“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.” In his 1863 annual message to the Congress, Lincoln underscored his reluctance to adopt emancipation as a war aim and to recruit African Americans as soldiers. Both had been unwanted experiments forced upon Lincoln and a majority of the North by the war. The wisdom of the move, the president asserted, was nevertheless manifest in the results: success on the battlefield and the enemy's loss of the labor of a hundred thousand slaves. But Lincoln, despite ample proof of black heroism in battles at Port Hudson and Milliken's Bend, Louisiana, at Fort Wagner, and along the South Carolina coast, chose only to say, “So far as tested, it is difficult to say they are not as good soldiers as any.” Revealing his expectations, Lincoln expressed relief that “No servile insurrection, or tendency to violence or cruelty, has marked the measures of emancipation and arming the blacks.” For those black soldiers who gave their lives for the Union and for an end to slavery—and at half the pay of the lowest-ranking white private—such praise was even more insulting than was Lincoln's continued support for colonization.

December 8, 1863

The preliminary emancipation proclamation, issued
in September, was running its assigned period to the be-
ginning of the new year. A month later the final procla-
mation 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

-292-

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