Emancipation Proclamation Issued by President Lincoln

January 1, 1863

New Year’s Day is a festive day in official Washington despite the ongoing Civil War.  It also promises to be a momentous day for freedom.    Black abolitionist Frederick Douglass later writes: “The first of January 1863 was a memorable day in the progress of American liberty and civilization.  It was the turning point in the conflict between freedom and slavery.  A death blow was then given to the slaveholding rebellion.  Until then the federal arm had been more than tolerant to that relict of barbarism.”  Historian Allen Guelzo wrote: “For Lincoln, any second thoughts or reconsiderations were understood to be out of his hands.  On New Year’s Day, Robert Lincoln remembered, ‘my mother and I went in to his study, my mother inquiring in her quick, sharp way, ‘Well what do you intend doing?’  Lincoln simply looked heavenwards and replied, ‘I am under orders, I cannot do otherwise.’”

“The New Year opens with a bright and brilliant day,” writes Navy Secretary Gideon Welles.  The parade of dignitaries at the White House starts at 11 A.M. “Exchanged and congratulations at the Executive Mansion with the President and colleagues, at eleven this morning.  The usual formalities.  Officers of the Army and Navy came in at half-past eleven.  I left before twelve.”   Welles himself had little reason to celebrate, noted biographer John Niven.  “His youngest child, Hubert, a cheerful little boy of three, had died suddenly of diphtheria six weeks before.  The crepe on his front door was a somber warning to the multitude that the Welleses were not receiving.  At half past eleven, senior Army and Navy officers in full dress arrived at the East Room of the White House to pay their compliments.  Welles introduced each naval officer to Lincoln, exchanged a final handshake, and left before noon.  He returned directly home, where he remained the rest of the day, making no calls on friends or colleagues.”

Boston journalist Benjamin Perley Poore writes: “New Year’s Day was fair and the walking dry, which made it an agreeable task to keep up the Knickerbocker practice of calling on officials and lady friends.  The President, members of the Cabinet, and other Government functionaries received a large number of visitors during the day.   At eleven o’clock all officers of the army in the city assembled at the War Department, and, headed by Adjutant-General Thomas and General Halleck, proceeded to the White House, where they were severally introduced to the President.   The officers of the navy assembled at the Navy department at the same time, and, headed by Secretary Welles and Admiral Foote, also proceeded to the President’s.  The display of general officers in brilliant uniforms was an imposing sight, and attracted large crowds. The foreign Ministers, in accordance with the usual custom, also called on the President, and at twelve o’clock the doors were opened to the public, who marched through the hall and shook hands with Mr. Lincoln, to the music of the Marine band, for two or three hours.  Mrs. Lincoln also received ladies in the same parlor with the President.”

“The Emancipation Proclamation had been duly prepared at the State Department, and was ready for President Lincoln’s signature,” remembered Assistant Secretary of State Frederick Seward.

At noon, accompanying my father, I carried the broad parchment in a large portfolio under my arm.  We, threading our way through the throng in the vicinity of the White House, went upstairs to the President’s room, where Mr. Lincoln speedily joined us.  The broad sheet was spread open before him on the Cabinet table.  Mr. Lincoln dipped his pen in the ink, and then, holding it a moment above the sheet, seemed to hesitate.  Looking around, he said:

‘I never in my life felt more certain that I was doing right, than I do in signing this paper.  But I have been receiving calls and shaking hands since nine o’clock this morning, till my arm is stiff and numb.  Now this signature is one that will be closely examined, and if they find my hand trembled they will say ‘he had some compunctions.’  But anyway, it is going to be done.’

So saying, he slowly and carefully wrote his name at the bottom of the proclamation.  The signature proved to be unusually clear, bold and firm, even for him, and a laugh followed at his apprehension.  My father, after appending his own name, and causing the great seal to be affixed, had the important document placed among the archives.  Copies were at once give to the press.”

President Lincoln was concerned about the media coverage of the proclamation, writing a note: “It is important to humor the [New York] Herald– Is there any objection to [Simon] Hanscoms telegraphing the proclamation?”

William O. Stoddard, one of President’s three principal aides recalled being told by his boss to copy the Emancipation Proclamation: “The President wants you to make two copies of this right away.  I must go back to him.”  He recalled: “I took the paper and some fresh sheets and went at it mechanically in the ordinary course of business.  As I went on, however, from sentence to sentence, word to word, I wrote more slowly and with a queer tremor shaking my nerves. Then I looked up from my work and listened, for far away, nearer, nearer, I could hear the sound of clanking iron, as of breaking and falling chains, and after that the shouts of a great multitude, the laughter and songs of the newly free, and the anger of the fierce opposition, wrath, fury, dismay.  For I was writing the first copies from Abraham Lincoln’s own draft of the January 1, 1863, Emancipation Proclamation.  These went back to his office in care of John Hay, and the original remained in my drawer with the secret purpose on my part to keep it, until one day John came for it to send to Chicago for uses at the great patriotic fair there – and for subsequent burning in the great fire.”

Not all the impact of the Emancipation Proclamation was expected to be positive.  Particularly problematical was the reaction in the Union army and the Border States.   Illinois Senator Orville H. Browning writes in his diary: “In the morning Mrs Lincoln requested me to return there at 2 ½ P.M. and go with her and the President riding.  I did so.   The President was engaged with Genl Burnsides, and could not go.  We drove to a house opposite the Post office for Mrs Majr Wright of Chicago, and took her with us.  On our way down there Mrs. Lincoln told he she had been, the night before, with old Isaac Newton, out to Georgetown, to see a Mrs Laury, a spiritualist and she had made wonderful revelations to her about her little son Willy who died last winter, and also about things on the earth.   Among other things [the spiritualist] revealed that the cabinet were all enemies of the President, working for themselves, and that they they would have to be dismissed, and others called to his aid before he had success.

We rode out to Soldiers Home and back.   Drove back to Mrs Carters and I left them.   In conversation with Mr Ewing in regard to the proclamation of to day he said he thought it not improbable many of our officers would resign, and a 100,000 of our men lay down their arms.”

The Emancipation Proclamation is not President Lincoln’s only problem.   Before the festivities at noonday, President receives a visit from General Ambrose Burnside, commander of the Army of the Potomac, in the morning.  Historian William Marvel wrote: “Burnside gave the letter [outlining his strategy]  to the president, who read it silently but returned it without a word.  Lincoln asked Halleck to comment on Burnside’s strategy.  Halleck characteristically hesitated, asserting finally that field operations were the prerogative of the field commander — deftly skirting his responsibility to give Lincoln ‘definite and honest opinions.’  The two tangled briefly over it, but finally the president let it go.  Burnside thus returned to the army without Lincoln’s approval of his proposed course, and with Halleck’s very indefinite approval.”  Burnside subsequently sends the president a letter summarizing the problems he faces and offering to resign.

Since leaving you this morning, I have determined that it is my duty to place on paper the remarks which I made to you, in order that you may use them or not, as you see proper.

I am in command, as you know, of nearly 200,000 men of whom are in the immediate presence of the enemy, and I cannot conscientiously retain the command without making an unreserved statement of my views.   The Secretary of War has not the confidence of the officers and soldiers, and I feel sure that he has not the confidence of the country.  In regard to the latter statement, you are probably better informed than I am.  The same opinion applies with equal force in regard to General Halleck.  It seems to be the universal opinion that the movements of the army have not been planned with a view to cooperation and mutual assistance.

I have attempted a movement upon the enemy, in which I have been repulsed, and I am convinced, after deliberation, that the army ought to make another movement in the same direction, not necessarily at the same points on the river; but I am not sustained in this by a single grand division commander in my command.   My reasons for having issued the order for making this second movement I have already given you in full, and I can see no reasons for changing my views.

Doubtless this difference of opinion between my general officers and myself results from a lack of confidence in me.  In this case it is highly necessary that this army should be commanded by some other officer, to whom I will most cheerfully give way.

Will you allow me, Mr. President, to say that it is of the utmost importance that you be surrounded and supported by men who have the confidence of the people and of the army, and who will at all times give you definite and honest opinions in relation to their separate departments, and at the same time give you positive and unswerving support in your public policy, taking at all times their full share of the responsibility for that policy?

In no positions held by gentlemen near you are these conditions more requisite than those of the Secretary of War and General-in-Chief and the commanders of your armies.   In the struggle now going on, in which the very existence of our Government is at stake, the interests of no one man are worth the value of a grain of sand, and no one should be allowed to stand in the way of accomplishing the greatest amount of public good.

“It is my belief that I ought to retire to private life.   I hope you will not understand this to savor of anything like dictation.  My only desire is to promote the public good.   No man is an accurate judge of the confidence in which he is held by the public and the people around him, and the confidence in which he is held by the public and the people around him, and the confidence in my management may be entirely destroyed, in which case it would be a great wrong for me to retain this command for a single day; and, as I before said, I will most cheerfully give place to any other officer.

Meanwhile, President Lincoln virtually begs General in Chief Henry W. Halleck for advice: “Gen. Burnside wishes to cross the Rappahannock with his army, but his Grand Division commanders all oppose the movement.  If in such a difficulty as this you do not help, you fail me precisely in the point for which I sought your assistance.  You know what Gen. Burnside’s plan is; and it is my wish that you go with him to the ground, examine it as far as practicable, confer with the officers, getting their judgment, and ascertaining their temper, in a word, gather all the elements for forming a judgment of your own; and then tell Gen. Burnside that you do approve, or that you do not approve his plan.  Your military skills is useless to me, if you will not do this.”

Halleck takes offense and he adds his resignation to that of Burnside, writing to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton: “From my recent interview with the President and yourself, and from the President’s letter of this morning, which you delivered to me at your reception.  I am led to believe that there is a very important difference of opinion in regard to my relations toward general commanding armies in the field, and that I cannot perform the duties of my present office satisfactorily at the same time to the President and to myself.  I therefore respectfully request that I may be relieved from further duties at General-in-Chief.”   As a result, President Lincoln withdraws his letter to Halleck in an attempt to mollify the prickly general.

President Lincoln finds time to write Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton: “Yesterday a piteous appeal was made to me by an old lady of genteel appearances, saying she had, with what she thought sufficient assurance that she would not be disturbed by the government, fitted up the two South Divisions of the old ‘Duff Green’ Row building in order to take boarders, and has boarders already in it, & others, including M. C.s. engaged, and that now she is ordered to be out of it by Saturday the 3rd Inst; and that, independently of the ruin it brings on her, by her lost out-lay, she neither has, nor can find another shelter for her own head– I know nothing about it myself, but promised to bring it to your notice.”

Published in: on January 1, 2013 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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