Abraham Lincoln

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Abraham Lincoln : biography

February 12, 1809 – April 15, 1865

Emancipation Proclamation

Lincoln understood that the Federal government’s power to end slavery was limited by the Constitution, which before 1865, committed the issue to individual states. He argued before and during his election that the eventual extinction of slavery would result from preventing its expansion into new U.S. territory. At the beginning of the war, he also sought to persuade the states to accept compensated emancipation in return for their prohibition of slavery. Lincoln believed that curtailing slavery in these ways would economically expunge it, as envisioned by the Founding Fathers, under the constitution. President Lincoln rejected two geographically limited emancipation attempts by Major General John C. Frémont in August 1861 and by Major General David Hunter in May 1862, on the grounds that it was not within their power, and it would upset the border states loyal to the Union.Guelzo (1999), pp. 290–291.

On June 19, 1862, endorsed by Lincoln, Congress passed an act banning slavery on all federal territory. In July 1862, the Second Confiscation Act was passed, which set up court procedures that could free the slaves of anyone convicted of aiding the rebellion. Although Lincoln believed it was not within Congress’s power to free the slaves within the states, he approved the bill in deference to the legislature. He felt such action could only be taken by the Commander-in-Chief using war powers granted to the president by the Constitution, and Lincoln was planning to take that action. In that month, Lincoln discussed a draft of the Emancipation Proclamation with his cabinet. In it, he stated that "as a fit and necessary military measure, on January 1, 1863, all persons held as slaves in the Confederate states will thenceforward, and forever, be free."Donald (1996), pp. 364–365.

Privately, Lincoln concluded at this point that the slave base of the Confederacy had to be eliminated. However Copperheads argued that emancipation was a stumbling block to peace and reunification. Republican editor Horace Greeley of the highly influential New York Tribune fell for the ploy,McPherson (1992), p. 124. and Lincoln refuted it directly in a shrewd letter of August 22, 1862. The President said the primary goal of his actions as president (he used the first person pronoun and explicitly refers to his "official duty") was preserving the Union:Guelzo (2004), pp. 147–153.

The Emancipation Proclamation, issued on September 22, 1862, and put into effect on January 1, 1863, declared free the slaves in 10 states not then under Union control, with exemptions specified for areas already under Union control in two states.Donald (1996), pp. 364, 379. Lincoln spent the next 100 days preparing the army and the nation for emancipation, while Democrats rallied their voters in the 1862 off-year elections by warning of the threat freed slaves posed to northern whites.Louis P. Masur, Lincoln’s Hundred Days: The Emancipation Proclamation and the War for the Union (Harvard University Press; 2012)

Once the abolition of slavery in the rebel states became a military objective, as Union armies advanced south, more slaves were liberated until all three million of them in Confederate territory were freed. Lincoln’s comment on the signing of the Proclamation was: "I never, in my life, felt more certain that I was doing right, than I do in signing this paper."Donald (1996), p. 407. For some time, Lincoln continued earlier plans to set up colonies for the newly freed slaves. He commented favorably on colonization in the Emancipation Proclamation, but all attempts at such a massive undertaking failed.Donald (1996), p. 408. A few days after Emancipation was announced, 13 Republican governors met at the War Governors’ Conference; they supported the president’s Proclamation, but suggested the removal of General George B. McClellan as commander of the Union Army.Nevins (1960), pp. 2:239–240.

Enlisting former slaves in the military was official government policy after the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation. By the spring of 1863, Lincoln was ready to recruit black troops in more than token numbers. In a letter to Andrew Johnson, the military governor of Tennessee, encouraging him to lead the way in raising black troops, Lincoln wrote, "The bare sight of 50,000 armed and drilled black soldiers on the banks of the Mississippi would end the rebellion at once".Donald (1996), pp. 430–431. By the end of 1863, at Lincoln’s direction, General Lorenzo Thomas had recruited 20 regiments of blacks from the Mississippi Valley.Donald (1996), p. 431. Frederick Douglass once observed of Lincoln: "In his company, I was never reminded of my humble origin, or of my unpopular color".Douglass, pp. 259–260.