Lincoln's Proclamation: Emancipation Reconsidered

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

Whatever Shall Appear to Be God’s Will, I Will Do
The Chicago Initiative and Lincoln’s Proclamation

RICHARD CARWARDINE

Shortly after the Union’s military disaster at the second battle of Bull Run in late summer 1862, Confederate troops crossed the Potomac just twenty-five miles northwest of Washington. Commanding some forty thousand men, Robert E. Lee euphorically urged Maryland slaveholders to throw off their “foreign yoke.”1 If hindsight reveals that the Union capital faced no real threat of capture and that Marylanders were not going to rise en masse, it remains the case that Lee’s invasion acted as a hammer blow to northern morale after a summer of desperate military failure. On the day Lee invaded Maryland—September 4—several hundred Chicago Christians gathered in the city’s largest meeting place, Bryan Hall. A Methodist reporter emphasized the gathering’s social and political mix: “men from the bench,… from the counter,… from hard daily toil,… from the pulpit”; Democrats “who had stood beside [Stephen] Douglas…, men of old whig associations, men of the old freesoil party, men who voted the republican ticket.” But, he purred, “party was out of sight” as all united to declare “that in this struggle God had been too much forgotten[,]… that a great sin stood up against us, and that we must put it away or God’s anger must burn against us.”2

Although the military reversal at Bull Run cast its shadow over the Bryan Hall meeting, it was the cumulative setbacks of the summer that had prompted an appeal to “Christians of all denominations, who believe that the country is now suffering under divine judgments…, and who favor the adoption of a memorial to the President of the United States urging him to issue a decree of Emancipation as a sign of national repentance, as well as military necessity.”3 The appeal’s hundred or so signatories included laymen from Protestant churches across Chicago, together with all the Congregational clergy and almost all the Baptist and Method

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