Lincoln's Proclamation: Emancipation Reconsidered

By William A. Blair; Karen Fisher Younger | Go to book overview

Colonization and the Myth That Lincoln
Prepared the People for Emancipation

MARK E. NEELY JR.

The most mysterious period of Lincoln’s presidency is the two months that followed the first reading of the Emancipation Proclamation to the cabinet on July 22, 1862, and the public announcement of the policy in the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation of September 22, 1862. At the cabinet meeting on July 22, the president was already prepared to issue a proclamation freeing the slaves, but he asked for comments from the cabinet members. Postmaster General Montgomery Blair urged delay, on the ground that the announcement of emancipation would hurt the Republicans in the autumn elections. The secretary of state, William H. Seward, spoke at length on the risks to foreign policy, saying Europe might fear that the supply of American cotton would be lost to them for generations. Besides, he said, the announcement would look like a sign of weakness if offered now, in the wake of the defeat at the end of June of George B. McClellan’s army before Richmond in the Peninsula campaign, instead of after a military victory. Lincoln had not thought of the way the proclamation would look to the world after the recent disastrous Union defeat. He decided to wait for a victory.

Lincoln kept secret the document that he had already drafted, but in the meantime, he gave a series of public statements, all of which appeared to indicate that he was not likely to issue an emancipation proclamation. On August 14 he met with a delegation of African Americans, told them bluntly that their race was the cause of the civil war being fought by America’s white people against each other, and suggested that they lead their race out of the country for good. On August 22, he sent a carefully crafted letter to Horace Greeley, the editor of the most widely read antislavery newspaper in the nation, the New York Tribune, suggesting that any policy on slavery the president adopted in future would come for

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