The Emancipation Proclamation Essay, Research Paper
Why did Lincoln issue the Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863 and what were its consequences?
When Abraham Lincoln declared the emancipation proclamation on 22nd September 1862, he was putting his neck on the line in a desperate attempt to clinch a swift victory in the civil war. The cons seemed to far outweigh the pros and consequently it was essential Lincoln got his timing right, he had to persuade people that emancipation was the way the war needed to go. It was important that he was not seen to go deliberately against his election promise not to abolish slavery and he did not want to repel the prosperous Border States who still supported the union but upheld slavery. He was worried he may add weight to the anti-war movement in the North, wanting to let the South secede but he thought that this extra boost would add strength to the Union war effort so he went ahead with it.
During his election campaign and throughout the early years of the Civil War, Lincoln vehemently denied the rumour that he would mount an attack on slavery. At the outbreak of war he pledged to restore the Union, but to accept slavery where it existed and was supported in this line by congress. However, during 1862 Lincoln was persuaded for a number of reasons that the emancipation of the slaves in the south as a war measure was both essential and sound. Public opinion seemed to be going that way, slaves were helping the Southern war effort, and a string of defeats had left Northern morale low. A new moral boost to the cause might give weary Union soldiers added impetus in the fight. Furthermore, if the Union fought against slavery, Britain and France could not possibly support the South, since the institution of slavery was now largely abhorred in both European nations. Having eased the American public into the idea, through speeches that hinted at emancipation, Lincoln finally signed the Proclamation on January 1st 1863, releasing all slaves behind rebel lines. It was argued b those disapproving of the Proclamation that Lincoln had been hypocritical in confining the law only to those slaves in the South and not those in the border states. Lincoln also faced calls for him to be impeached, due to the Proclamation being unconstitutional.
Despite public opinion in the North mainly being with Lincoln s Proclamation, the feelings of front-line troops were often somewhat different, with horrific reports of violence against Negroes, and a general reluctance to further the cause of emancipation. Even those regiments who welcomed black contrabands set them to menial work such as cooking and washing clothes. The circumstances generated by the war forced generals to make decisions about what to do with escaped slaves who sought refuge in their lines. Some, like Butler in May 1861, put Negroes to work, while others went much further. In August 1861, John C Fremont declared all slaves belonging to rebels free, while Hunter declared all slaves in the states of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida to be free. Neither general had consulted Lincoln; both earned a severe reprimand. However, their actions made Lincoln acutely aware of both the need for a policy decision, and the independence with which his generals might interpret one.
Lincoln was not an abolitionist. He would have preferred to persuade slaveholders into freeing their slaves through persuasion, compensation and possibly slight intimidation. However, during 1862, his position gradually shifted towards emancipation. In March, he offered federal compensation to slaveholders in the Border States who released their slaves. This was defeated in Congress through border state opposition. In April, Lincoln successfully abolished slavery in the District of Columbia, with compensation for those affected. In June he outlawed slavery in the territories, and in July he went further still, passing the Second Confiscation Act, which freed the slaves of all those aiding rebellion.
Lincoln had no desire for said blacks to be allies of the rebels. The conflict had moved towards a total war, not simply to conquer, but to destroy the Old South. Thus, the seizure of rebel property could be justified as a war aim, and brought an emancipation proclamation within Lincoln s control.
Emancipation would potentially yield several benefits to the Union, not least in that it would deprive the Confederacy of a significant proportion of their workforce. Public opinion, which threatened to seriously weaken Lincoln s party in Congress in the forthcoming elections, seemed to be moving towards emancipation. However, the wait for military success proved a long and tense one, with pressure mounting from abolitionists and radicals who grew impatient, and from Democrats who were united in their opposition to emancipation. Antietam, albeit a somewhat dubious Union victory, finally provided the opportunity for Lincoln to issue his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. On September 22nd 1862, Lincoln repeated his earlier aims of saving the Union, but added that on January 1st 1863, all persons held as slaves within any state. The people whereof shall be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.
Public reaction to the proclamation can be gauged to an extent by the Congressional elections of 1862. The Democrats of course fought on a fierce anti-emancipation platform, and rarely had an issue split the two parties so decidedly, with Republicans unanimously behind Lincoln and the Proclamation, and Democrats wholly opposed to it. The results seemed to support Democratic opposition to emancipation, with a net gain for them of 36 Congressional seats, and other victories including the governorship of New York and New Jersey.
Along with the Proclamation, Lincoln introduced another important change that he deemed necessary and allowed Northern blacks to join the army for the first time. However, the reaction to these coloured recruits was not always favourable, and black soldiers suffered attacks from Confederate and Union troops alike. Their contribution to the Union war effort was considerable: at the end of the war, 10% of the army was black, and 38,000 black soldiers gave their life for the cause.
Unsurprisingly, the Confederacy viewed the Emancipation Proclamation with disgust, threatening to execute prisoners of war in retaliation. Although this was rarely carried out, Confederate forces routinely butchered captured black troops, and their refusal to accept blacks as soldiers led to the eventual breakdown of prisoner of war exchanges, with tragic consequences. It also widely changed the face of the war completely; the Emancipation Proclamation marked the transition from a war to preserve the Union, where fighting was restricted to the battlefield, to a total war, seeking to destroy the South and using any means possible to achieve it. It enraged the Confederacy and emphasised the divided nature of the Union. Racial integration was a concept that seemed unpleasant to the majority of American people. However, Lincoln was keen to speed up the Confederate demise, and depriving them of around 3.5M workers would certainly help this aim. Black soldiers fought bravely in the Union army, and in some cases won the respect of their colleagues. It also meant that if Lincoln was to implement this policy, he had to win the war. The growing abolitionist movement was pleased, and the Proclamation ended the threat of British or French aid for the Confederacy. Unpopular and divisive it may have been, but Lincoln s Emancipation Proclamation was a bold and courageous step towards the demise of the south, and hence, Union victory.