It was on this date of September 22, 1862 that Lincoln issued publically a preliminary proclamation of emancipation of slaves in states in rebellion against the United States. The official order, signed on January 1st of 1863 took effect in areas where the Union forces had gained control. The Thirteenth Amendment – December 1865 – made slavery illegal everywhere in the United States.
On tours at Antietam, I make certain at the beginning orientation talk to speak about a Cabinet meeting on July 22, 1862 where Lincoln made it clear that he was intent upon this action. He did yield to what he construed as wise advice to wait for a battlefield victory to issue it. Of course, that victory is Antietam/Sharpsburg … and so, the bookends for my presentation involves ending with the facts surrounding the results of this proclamation, namely: the War had an additional moral purpose, that purpose made it untenable for European support of the Confederacy, and left on their own – outnumbered North to South by a ratio of 22 million to 9 million – it was ultimately impossible for the Confederacy to gain their goal of independence.
Several years ago I had a very, very prominent African-American person appear as a guest on a tour. I figured out who he was about 30 minutes into that time together. He is a well-known figure to millions of Americans … particularly of my own admitted conservative political persuasion. But when I came to the end of my talk – speaking of the items in the paragraph above , he very ungenerously (in my humble opinion) exclaimed that “it was a proclamation that didn’t free a single slave!”
Lincoln was a great man – one who had to wisely walk a delicate line between very divergent political factions. He could not dare lose the Border States loyal to the North where slavery still existed, yet felt compelled by conscience and practical political exigencies to do as he did. I think his leadership and decision process during this time was simply masterful.
The analyses of this period of our history never end, and I suppose that is what makes this time of our history so interesting and compelling. Yet I also often find contemporary passions surrounding it to be more that a bit overboard!