Abraham Lincoln: From His Own Words and Contemporary Accounts

By Roy Edgar Appleman; Abraham Lincoln | Go to book overview

25. THE EMANCIPATION PROCLAMATION TAKES FORM

From the outset, the conduct of the war was based by Lincoln on the principle of saving the Union. Many elements in the North from the beginning, however, demanded the liberation of the slaves. This Lincoln resisted. A large part of the North would not have been willing to support the war if they had thought it was for the purpose of freeing the slaves; and the effect of emancipation on the delicate situation in the border States might have been disastrous. By the middle of 1862, the situation had changed. Lincoln decided on the Emancipation Proclamation. He now felt that it was necessary for the successful prosecution of the war. The artist, Carpenter, who spent several months in the White House in 1864 and had Lincoln's confidence, relates in Lincoln's own words the story of the events leading up to the issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation.

"It had got to be," said he, "midsummer, 1862. Things had gone on from bad to worse, until I felt that we had reached the end of our rope on the plan of operations we had been pursuing; that we had about played our last card, and must change our tactics, or lose the game! I now determined upon the adoption of the emancipation policy; and, without consultation with, or the knowledge of the Cabinet, I prepared the original draft of the proclamation, and, after much anxious thought, called a Cabinet meeting upon the subject. This was the last of July, or the first part of the month of August, 1862." (The exact date he did not remember.) "This Cabinet meeting took place, I think, upon a Saturday. All were present, excepting Mr. Blair, the Postmaster-General, who was absent at the opening of the discussion, but came in subsequently. I said to the Cabinet that I had resolved upon this step, and had not called them together to ask their advice, but to lay the subject-matter of a proclamation before them; suggestions as to which would be in order, after they had heard it read. Mr. Lovejoy," said he, "was in error when he informed you that it excited no comment, excepting on the part of Secretary Seward. Various suggestions were offered. Secretary Chase wished the language stronger in reference to the arming of the blacks. Mr. Blair, after he came in, deprecated the policy, on the ground that it would cost the Administration the fall elections. Nothing, however, was offered that I had not already fully anticipated and settled in my own mind, until Secretary Seward spoke. He said in substance: 'Mr. President, I approve of the proclamation, but I question the expediency of its issue at this juncture. The depression of the public mind, consequent upon our repeated reverses, is so great that I fear the effect of so important a step. It may be viewed as the last measure of an exhausted government, a cry for help; the government stretching forth its hands to Ethiopia, instead of Ethiopia stretching forth her hands to the government.' His idea," said the President, "was that it would be considered our last shriek, on the retreat." (This was his precise expression.) "'Now,' continued Mr.

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