Cabinet Discusses Emancipation Proclamation

December 31, 1862

Navy Secretary Gideon Welles write: “We had an early and special Cabinet-meeting, convened at 10 A.M.  The subject was the Proclamation of to-morrow to emancipate the salves in Rebel States.  Seward proposed two amendments,–one including mine, and one enjoining upon, instead of appealing to, those emancipated, to forbear from tumult.  Blair had, like Seward and myself, proposed the omission of a part of sentence and made other suggestions which I thought improvements.  Chase made some good criticisms and proposed a felicitous closing sentence.  The President took the suggestions, written in order, and said he would complete the document.”

Historian James G. Randall wrote: “It was almost the last minute that the final touches had been placed on the document.  On December 31, 1862, the proclamation had been discussed in special Cabinet meeting.  There had been a few suggestions of emendations — e.g., Seward’s suggestion that freedmen be enjoined, not merely appealed to, to avoid tumult.  The ‘felicitous closing sentence’ with its invocation of Divine favor, was the product of Chase’s prompting and Lincoln’s revision.  To Chase’s words ‘an act of justice, warranted by the constitution,’ Lincoln significantly added ‘upon military necessity.’  It was Sumner’s recollection, however, that the first suggestion for this passage had come from himself.”

Historian John Hope Franklin noted that Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase submitted a lengthy communication, making suggestions of changes and offering his own draft of the Proclamation.  He repeated his objection to exemption of ‘parts of States rom the operation of the Proclamation..’  He also thought the Proclamation should omit the statement that the government would not act to repress those newly emancipated in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom. He reminded the President that this statement in the September Proclamation was widely quoted as an incitement to servile insurrection.   Likewise he objected to any reference to the military employment of former slaves, ‘leaving it to the natural course of things already well begun.”

“Chase then submitted his own draft embodying the views he had expressed and containing the following felicitous closing, most of which Lincoln incorporated in his own draft:

And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the constitution, [and an act of duty demanded by the circumstances of the country,] I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind and the gracious favor of almighty God.

At long last Chase seemed to be having some influence.  The President took the suggestions, ‘Written in order, and said he would complete the document.’

After a week of Cabinet discussion President Lincoln signed the legislation West Virginia statehood legislation signed.

President Lincoln also meets with General Ambrose Burnside, commander of the Army of the Potomac.  Historian Stephen Sears wrote that Burnside “was astonished to learn that two of his generals — Lincoln would not tell him their names — had been in that office the day before and predicted defeat and disaster if the army should go to battle.  Lincoln went on to say, as Burnside remembered it, ‘that he had understood that no prominent officer of command had any faith in my proposed movement.’… Burnside defended his battle plan, but the president said it must wait until he had discussed it with his advisers.  Considerably distraught by this time, Burnside said that if his general officers had so lost confidence in him, it was best that he resign his command.”   Burnside argued for his own replacement based on the lack of confidence among his senior officers.

Published in: on December 31, 2012 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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