Eyewitness Reports in History Emancipation Proclamation Part 2

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

Emancipation Proclamation

Many close to Lincoln wondered as the days passed if the President would ever issue a final Emancipation Proclamation. Criticism heaped on top of criticism. To make matters worse, at the Battle of Fredericksburg, a disaster for the Union, one out of four men in the field was shot, killed, or taken prisoner.

On Dec. 30, copies of the edict were given out to the Cabinet. At the meeting the following morning, Seward suggested minor changes. Lincoln adopted the suggestion of an appropriate closing sentence: "And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind and the gracious favor of Almighty God." Also, several argued that 12 Louisiana parishes, 55 Virginia counties (including all of those which made up West Virginia), and entire border states should not be excepted from the provisions of the proclamation, but Lincoln held fast to his position: The proclamation would not apply to slave states loyal to the union nor to Union-occupied territories of the Confederacy. In fact, only 200,000 slaves were freed during the war as a result of the edict.

On the afternoon of Dec. 31, after he had re-written the document himself, Lincoln dipped his pen in an inkwell, hesitated, and 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." It was one of the few times he signed his entire name to a document.

Eyewitness Report: On Aug. 20, 1862, Horace Greeley published an open letter to President Lincoln in the New York Tribune. This editorial, entitled "The Prayer of Twenty Millions," became one of the most famous of the 19th century. After charging Lincoln with forgetting the problems of slaves in the South, Greeley told Lincoln, "What an immense majority of the loyal millions of your countrymen require of you is a frank, declared, unqualified, ungrudging execution of the laws of the land, more especially of the Confiscation Act [to confiscate slaves in conquered Southern states]. That act gives freedom to the slaves of rebels coming within our lines, or whom those lines may at any time enclose. We ask you to render it due obedience by publicly requiring all your subordinates to recognize and obey it."

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