Eyewitness Reports in History Emancipation Proclamation Part 1

An eyewitness account of the Emancipation Proclamation which freed the slaves in the south during the Civil War made by Abraham Lincoln.

Emancipation Proclamation

When: Jan. 1, 1863

How: Since his days as a child, when he witnessed the selling of human beings on the market stump, Pres. Abraham Lincoln had been opposed to slavery. However, as a politician he was practical. After Fort Sumter was fired upon, Lincoln's first wish was to preserve the Union. But by the spring of 1862, when the war was going badly for the North, Lincoln decided that he must take a stand against slavery. He weighed the issue, mulled over the effects a statement might have, and pondered the correct timing of his announcement.

By midsummer he had told several members of the Cabinet that he was contemplating a proclamation. On July 22, 1862, he read the Cabinet a draft. Several applauded his stand. Others feared repercussions in the upcoming congressional elections. Secretary of State William H. Seward spoke in favor of such a proclamation but said he thought it would be ill advised at a time when Union troops were being defeated by the Confederates. He said it would sound too much like a desperate cry from a defeated army, and Lincoln agreed.

Lincoln put the document aside and waited for a victory. While he waited, other elements came into play. The most influential newspaper editor in the country, Horace Greeley of the New York Tribune, took Lincoln to task for his failure to act against the immoral institution of slavery. Also, abolitionist Sen. Charles Sumner of Massachusetts waged a one-man campaign against Lincoln's silence on the issue.

Finally, on Sept. 22, after the Union soldiers held their own at Antietam and the Confederate troops withdrew into Virginia, Lincoln met with his Cabinet. Although this had not been a significant military victory, Lincoln used it as such. At the Cabinet meeting, the President read his preliminary proclamation. Two days later it was published, as Lincoln stated, "for the country and the world to pass judgment on it."

He was immediately praised on one hand and criticized on the other. Editor Greeley wrote, "God bless Abraham Lincoln!" However, Union Army Gen. John McClellan wrote his wife that the proclamation and military troubles alike "render it almost impossible for me to retain my commission and self-respect at the same time." Of course, outrage swept the South's leaders, newspapers, and slaveholders. Asked the Richmond Enquirer, "What shall we call him? Coward, assassin, savage, murderer of women and babies? Or shall we consider them all as embodied in the word fiend, and call him Lincoln the Fiend?"

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