September 22, 1862
President Lincoln releases the text of the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, on which he had been laboring for more than two months: “I, Abraham Lincoln, the President of the United States of America, and Commander-in-chief of the Army and Navy thereof, do hereby proclaim and declare that hereafter, as heretofore, the war will be prossecuted for the object of practically restoring the constitutional relation between the United States, and each of the states, and the people thereof, in which states that relation is, or may be suspended, or disturbed.”
That is my purpose, upon the next meeting of Congress to again recommend the adoption of a practical measure tendering pecuniary aid to the free acceptance or rejection of all slave-states, so called, the people whereof may not then be in rebellion against the United States, and which states, may then have voluntarily adopted, or thereafter may voluntarily adopt, immediate, or gradual abolishment of slavery within their respective limits; and that the effort to colonize persons of African descent, with their consent, upon this continent, or elsewhere, with the previously obtained consent of the Governments existing there, will be continued.
“That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward and forever free; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.
That the executive will, on the first day of January aforesaid, by proclamation, designate the States and parts of States, if any, in which the people thereof, respectively, shall then be in rebellion against the United States; and the fact that any State, or the people thereof, shall on that day be, in good faith, represented in the Congress of the United States by members chosen thereto at elections wherein a majority of the qualified voters of such State shall have participated, shall, in the absence of strong countervailing testimony, be deemed conclusive evidence that such State, and the people thereof, are not then in rebellion against the United States.
Before introducing the proclamation to the Cabinet, the president reads the satirical “High Handed Outrage at Utica,” from book by “Artemus Ward.” Not all the Cabinet members appreciates Lincoln’s amusement. Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase writes in his diary: “To Department about nine. State Department messenger came, with notice to Heads of Departments to meet at 12.–Received sundry callers.–Went to White House.
All the member of the Cabinet were in attendance. There was some general talk; and the President mentioned that Artemus War had sent him his book. Proposed to read a chapter which he thought very funny. Read it, and seemed to enjoy it very much–the Heads also (except Stanton) of course. The Chapter was ‘Highhanded Outrage at Utica.’
The President then took a graver tone and said:–
‘Gentlemen: I have, as you are aware, thought a great deal about the relation of this war to Slavery; and you all remember that, several weeks ago, I read to you an Order I had prepared on this subject, which, on account of objections made by some of you, was not issued. Ever since then, my mind has been much occupied with this subject, and I have thought all along that the time for action on it might very probably come. I think the time has come now. I wish it were a better time. I wish that we were in a better condition. The action of the army against the rebels had not been quite what I should have best liked. But they have been driven out of Maryland, and Pennsylvania is no longer in danger of invasion. When the rebel army was at Frederick, I determined, as soon as it should be driven out of Maryland, and Pennsylvania is no longer in danger of invasion. When the rebel army was at Frederick, I determined, as soon as it should be driven out of Maryland, to issue a Proclamation of Emancipation such as I thought most likely to be useful. I said nothing to any one; but I made the promise to myself, and (hesitating a little)–to my Maker. The rebel army is now driven out, and I am going to fulfil that promise. I have got you together to hear what I have written down. I do not wish your advice about the main matter–for that I have determined for myself. This I say without intending any thing but respect for any one of you. But I already know the views of each on this question. They have been heretofore expressed, and I have considered them as thoroughly and carefully as I can. What I have written is that which my reflections have determined me to say. If there is anything in the expressions I use, or in any other minor matter, which anyone of you thinks had best be changed, I shall be glad to receive the suggestions. One other observation I will make. I know very well that many others might, in this matter, as in others, do better than I can; and if I were satisfied that the public confidence was more fully possessed by any one of them than by me, and knew of any Constitutional way in which he could be put in my place, he should have it. I would gladly yield it to him. But though I believe that I have not so much of the confidence of the people as I had some time since, I do not know that, all things considered, any other person has more; and, however this may be, there is no way in which I can have any other man put where I am. I am here. I must do the best I can, and bear the responsibility of taking the course which I feel I ought to take.
The President then proceeded to read his Emancipation Proclamation, making remarks on the several parts as he went on, and showing that he had fully considered the whole subject, in all lights under which it had been presented to him.
After he had closed, Gov. Seward said: ‘The general question having been decided, nothing can be said further about that. Would it not, however, make the Proclamation more clear and decided, to leave out all reference to the act being sustained during the incumbency of the present President; and not merely say that the Government ‘recognizes,’ but that it will maintain, the freedom it proclaims?’
I followed, saying: ‘What you have said: ‘What you have said, Mr. President, fully satisfies me that you have given to every proposition which has been made, a kind and candid consideration. And you have now expressed the conclusion to which you have arrived, clearly and distinctly. This it was your right, and under your oath of office your duty, to do. The Proclamation does not, indeed, mark out exactly the course I should myself prefer. But I am ready to take it just as it is written, and to stand by it with all my heart. I think, however, the suggestions of Gov. Seward very judicious, and shall be glad to have them adopted.’
The President then asked us severally our opinions as to modification proposed, saying that he did not care much about the phrases he had used. Everyone favored the modification and it was adopted. Gov. Seward then proposed that in the passage relating to colonization, some language should be introduced to show that the colonization proposed was to be only with the consent of the colonists, and the consent of the States in which colonies might be attempted. This, too, was agreed to; and no other modification was proposed. Mr. Blair then said that the question having been decided, he would make no objection to issuing the Proclamation; but he would ask to have his paper, presented some days since, against the policy, filed with the Proclamation. The President consented to his readily. And then Mr. Blair went on to say that he was afraid of the influence of the Proclamation on the Border States and the Army, and stated at some length the grounds of his apprehensions. He disclaimed most expressly, however, all objection to Emancipation per se, saying he had always been personally in favor it–always ready for immediate Emancipation in the midst of Slave States, rather than submit to the perpetuation of the system.”
Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles writes in his diary: “A special Cabinet-meeting. The subject was the Proclamation for emancipating the slaves after a certain date, in States that shall then be in rebellion. For several weeks the subject has been suspended, but the President says never lost sight of. When it was submitted, and now in taking up the Proclamation, the President stated the question was finally decided, the act and the consequences were his, but that he felt it due to us to make us acquainted with the fact and to invite criticism on the paper which he had prepared. There were, he had found, not unexpectedly, some difference in the Cabinet, but he h, after ascertaining in his own way the views of each and all, individually and collectively, formed his own conclusions and made his own decisions. In the course of the discussion on this paper, which was long, earnest, on the discussion on this paper, which was long, earnest, and on the general principle involved, harmonious, he remarked that he had made a vow, a covenant, that if God gave up the victory in the approaching battle, he would consider it an indication of Divine will, and that it was his duty to move forward in the cause of emancipation. It might be thought strange, he said, that he had in this way submitted the disposal of matters when the way was not clear to his mind what he should do. God had decided this question in favor of the slaves. He was satisfied it was right, was confirmed and strengthened in his action by the vow and the results. His mind was fixed, his decision made, but he wished his paper announcing his course as correct in terms as it could be made without any change in his determination. He read the comment. One or two unimportant amendments suggested by Seward were approved. It was then handed to the Secretary of State to publish to-morrow. After this, Blair remarked that he considered it proper to say he did not concur in the expediency of the measure at this time, though he approved of the principle, and should therefore wish to file his objections. He stated at some length his views, which substantially that we ought not to put in greater jeopardy the patriotic element in the Border States, that the results of the Proclamation would be to carry over those States en masse to the Secessionists as soon as it was read, and that there was also a class of partisans in the Free States endeavoring to revive old parties, who would have a club put into their hands of which they would avail themselves to beat the Administration.
The President said he had considered the danger to be apprehended from the first objection, which was undoubtedly serious, but the objection was certainly as great not to act; as regarded the last, it had not much weight with him.
The question of power, authority, in the Government to set free the slaves was not much discussed at this meeting, but had been canvassed by the President in a private conversation with the members individually. Some thought legislation advisable before the step was taken, but Congress was clothed with no authority on this subject, nor is the Executive, except under the war power,–military necessity, martial law, when there can be no legislation. This was the view which I took when the President first presented the subject to Seward and myself last summer as we were returning from the funeral of Stanton’s child,–a ride of two or three miles from beyond Georgetown. Seward was at that time not at all communicative, and, I think, not willing to advise, thought he did not dissent from, the movement. It is momentous both in its immediate and remote resolute, and an exercise of extraordinary power which cannot be justified on mere humanitarian principles, and would never have been attempted but to preserve the national existence. The slaves must be with us or against us in the War. Let us have them. These were my convictions and this the drift of the discussion.
The effect which the Proclamation will have on the public mind is a matter of some uncertainty. In some respects it would, I think, have been better to have issued it when formerly first considered.
There is an impression that Seward has opposed, and is opposed to, the measure. I have not been without that impression myself, chiefly from his hesitation to commit himself, and perhaps because action was suspended on his suggestion. But in the final discussion he has as cordially supported the measure as Chase.
Historian Allan Nevins observed: “Lincoln’s sagacity did not fail him in the form of the document. It was an exercise of war powers; its main intent was not the liberation of a race (though he was fully conscious of this aspect) but the furtherance of the war effort and the preservation of the Union; and he did well to couch it in cold legal phraseology, direct and deadly as a bullet.” Treasury Official Maunsell Field recalled: “Mr. Seward told me the story of the Emancipation Proclamation, and, as he related it, it was strikingly illustrative of this characteristic of Mr. Lincoln. Months before it was issued, it was the subject of constant discussion at the meetings of the Cabinet. Day after day the most earnest and acrimonious debates took place in relation to the propriety or impropriety of the President issuing such a proclamation. Although an attentive listener to these discussions of his Secretaries, Mr. Lincoln did not take an active part in them. So much was this the case that several, at least, of his advisers were very uncertain as to what his ultimate determination upon the subject would be. So bitter did the controversy grow, that it resulted, after a time, not only in a breach of personal, and to some extent even official relations between certain of the Cabinet officers, but eventually even in a prolonged discontinuance of Cabinet meetings. During the interregnum matters which had been usually discussed and disposed of at such meetings had to be settled by inter-departmental correspondence. One of the other Secretaries, with the obvious purpose of annoying — I use a mild word — Mr. Chase, addressed several very important official communications directly to me, ignoring the head of Department. This condition of things lasted until one day Mr. Seward received an autographic letter from the President requesting him to attend, without fail, a meeting of the Cabinet which he proposed to hold on the morrow. All the other Secretaries received similar letters, and not one of them knew or entertained any confident conjecture about the particular purpose for which they were called together. At the appointed time Mr. Lincoln waited until they were all assembled, having been unusually reticent to the first comers. He then addressed them somewhat as follows: ‘Gentlemen, I have asked you to come here that I have the opportunity of reading to you a proclamation which I am about to issue. Before proceeding to read it, however, I desire to say that not only do I not invite any discussion about the propriety or impropriety of its issue, but that I am unwilling to listen to any. My mind is made up. On the contrary, as to matters of form, I wish you all to make any suggestions that may occur to you.’ He then drew from his pocket a manuscript, and to the amazement of some, if not of all, there assembled, proceeded to read the Emancipation Proclamation. When he had finished, for a while nobody spoke. Mr. Seward was the first to break the silence, and to recommend a verbal alteration. Mr. Lincoln adopted it without a word of objection. Other gentlemen suggested further changes. Mr. Lincoln accepted them all without discussion. When nobody had any more suggestions to make, the meeting broke up, and the Ministers soon dispersed. The next day the emancipation from slavery of four millions of human beings in the United States was published to the world. Mr. Lincoln had waited until the people were ripe for it; and what he had at first looked upon as inopportune, he had at least regarded as expedient and necessary.”
General George B. McClellan writes his wife: “I rode out on the battle field yesterday — the burial of the dead is by this time completed & a terrible work it has been — for the slain counted by thousands on each side…
I look upon the campaign as substantially ended & my present intention is to seize Harper’s Ferry & hold it was with a strong force. Then go to work to reorganize the army ready for another campaign.
I shall not go to Washn if I can help it, but will try to reorganize the army somewhere near Harper’s Ferry or Frederic…
It may be that now that the Govt is pretty well over their scare they will begin again with their persecutions & throw me overboard again. I don’t care if they do. I have the satisfaction of knowing that God has in her mercy a second time made me the instrument for saving the nation & am content with the honor that has fallen to my lot. I feel that the short campaign just terminated will vindicate my professional honor & I have seen enough of public life. No motive of ambition can now retain me in the service — the only thing that can keep me there will be the conviction that my country needs my services & that circumstances make it necessary for me to render them. I am confident that the poison still rankles in the veins of my enemies at Washg & that so long as they live it will remain there..
I have received no papers containing the news of the last battle & do not know the effect it has produced on the Northern mind. I trust it has been a good one & that I am reestablished int he confidence of the best people of the nation…
Everything quiet today — not a short fired as yet — I am moving troops down to Harper’s Ferry & hope to occupy it tomorrow — then I will have the Potomac clear…