Emancipation Proclamation Background Information
The Antietam "victory," if it could be called that, provided Lincoln with the occasion to announce the Proclamation of Emancipation. Five days after the battle, on September 22, the President issued his preliminary proclamation, declaring that if the South persisted in its rebellion, all the slaves of the rebels would be free on January 1, 1863. The effect was electrifying. Frederick Douglass wrote: "We shout for joy that we live to recall this righteous moment. . . . 'Free forever oh! long enslaved millions, whose cries have so vexed the air and sky, suffer on a few days in sorrow, the hour of your deliverance draws nigh! Oh! Ye millions of free and loyal men who have earnestly sought to free your bleeding country from the dreadful ravages of revolution and anarchy, lift up your voices with joy and thanksgiving for with freedom to the slave will come peace and safety to your country."
William Lloyd Garrison, who had been unsparing in his denunciation of Lincoln, had an immediate change of heart and hailed the proclamation as "a great historic event, sublime, in its magnitude, momentous and beneficent in its far-reaching consequences.
In New Orleans a bilingual newspaper, L'Union, started by the free blacks of the city in 1862, spread the word of the Emancipation Proclamation. "Brothers!" it announced. "The hour strikes for us; a new sun, similar to that of 1789, should surely appear on our horizon. May the cry which sounded through France at the seizure of the Bastille resonate today in our ears. . . . Let us all be imbued with these noble sentiments which characterize all civilized people. . . . Let us be resolute. Let us rise up in all the majesty and with the charity befitting Christians, let us preach by example to all men, so that they will follow the road which leads to liberty. . . . Compatriots! May this new era fortify us, and be for us a rampart against persecution; and in sweet accord with our brothers, let us fill the air with these joyous cries: 'vive la libert~ vive lunion! viva la justice pour tous les hommes!.... Down with the craven behavior of bondage! Stand up under the noble flag of the Union and declare yourselves hardy champions of the right."
At Salmon Chases house in Washington, after the Emancipation Proclamation had been issued, there was a festive air. Everyone "seemed to feel a sort of new and exhilarated life," John Hay wrote; "they breathed freer; the Presidents proclamation had freed them as well as the slaves. They gleefully and merrily called each other and themselves abolitionists, and seemed to enjoy the novel accusation of appropriating that horrible name."
Austa French was being driven about Beaufort, South Carolina, by her black coachman when she heard the news, and she began exclaiming and praising the Lord. Then she turned to the coachman and asked how the news affected him. "Most beautiful, Missus; onspeakable," he replied. "But why don't you say Hallelujah as I do?" she asked. "I am burning inward, madam," he said.
The proclamation was not without its advocates in the South. Mary Chesnut at least was exultant. "if anything can reconcile me to the idea of a horrid failure after all efforts to make good our independence of Yankees, it is Lincolns proclamation freeing the negroes.. . . Three hundred of Mr. Walter Blake's negroes have gone to the Yankees." Like Mary Chesnut, Kate Stone welcomed the freeing of the slaves. "The great load of accountability was lifted," she wrote, "and we could save our souls alive. God would not require the souls of the Negroes at our hands."
The reaction of Lieutenant Charles Colcock Jones was undoubtedly more typical. To him Lincolns proclamation was "the crowning act of the series of black and diabolical transactions which have marked the entire course of his administration . . . a most infamous attempt to incite flight, murder, and rapine on the part of our slave population."
Nor was every Northerner, by any means, enthusiastic. Edward Ingersoll, brother-in-law of Sidney George Fisher, declared at a Democratic rally: "In the history of the world, what governmental atrocity has equalled this? . . . Do I exaggerate, fellow citizens, or mislead you when I say before the atrocities of this governmental decree, St. Bartholomew and King Herod pale and dwindle?" Fisher found it was wiser in the name of family peace to say nothing about the proclamation to his wife's relatives and connections.
John Hay quoted one of his "C--s," perhaps Chase, as saying in the aftermath of the Emancipation Proclamation and in reference to the secession of the Southern states, "This was the most wonderful history of an insanity of a class that the world had ever seen. If the slaveholder had stayed in the Union, they might have kept the life in their institution for many years to come. That which no party and no public feeling in the North could ever have hoped to touch, they had madly placed in the very path of destruction."
The effect of the proclamation in Europe was all that Charles Francis Adams and Carl Schurz had hoped for. Henry Adams wrote his brother Charles: "The Emancipation Proclamation has done more for us here than all our former victories and all our diplomacy. It is creating an almost convulsive reaction in our favor all over this country. The London Times furious and scolds like a drunken drab. Certain it is that public opinion is deeply stirred here and finds expression in meetings, addresses to President Lincoln, deputations to us, and standing committees to agitate the subject and to affect opinion, and all the other symptoms of a great popular movement" which "rest altogether on the spontaneous action of the laboring classes. . . ." Henry had gone to "a democratic and socialist meeting, most threatening and dangerous to the established state of things; and assuming a tone and proportions that are quite novel and alarming in this capital. . . . They met to notify the Government that 'they would not tolerate interference against us. . . . I never quite appreciated the 'moral influence of American democracy, nor the cause that the privileged classes in Europe have to fear us, until I saw how directly it works. At this moment the American question is organizing a vast mass of the lower orders in direct contact with the wealthy. They go our whole platform and are full of the 'rights of man. The old revolutionary leaven is working steadily in England. You can find millions of people who look up to our institutions as their model and who talk with utter contempt of their own system of government."
A few days later, writing of a great meeting in the industrial city of Manchester, Adams called it "tremendous, unheard of since the days of reform. The cry was 'Emancipation and reunion and the spirit was dangerously in sympathy with republicanism. . . . Every allusion to the South was followed by groaning, hisses and howls, and the enthusiasm for Lincoln and for everything connected with the North was immense.
While the proclamation did not change the status of slaves in states not technically in rebellion -- i.e., Maryland, Missouri, Tennessee--it did change contrabands into free men and women and provided, as Mary Chesnuts comment indicates, a strong incentive for slaves to seek their freedom in Union lines.
Further, it was a proclamation in anticipation. Three months were allowed for states in rebellion to have a change of heart. The proclamation would not go into effect until January 1, 1863, and even then only on the Presidents confirmation of it. So the proclamation was, in a sense, double-barreled. The first barrel was its announcement; the second would be its confirmation. It was to this date, therefore, that blacks and abolitionists looked as one of the great days in all history.
In the tragicomedy of rotating generals, it fell to a reluctant Ambrose Everett Burnside to command the Army of the Potomac. Burnside, in Carl Schurzs words, was a man whose "sincerity, frankness and amiability of manner made everybody like him." But there was no hint of "greatness" about him, and he himself felt that the responsibility placed on him was too heavy for him to carry, hardly the attitude one looks for in a commanding general but a refreshing contrast with the pomposity of his predecessors. Rather unnervingly he told the general officers of his command that he "knew he was not fit for so big a command; but since it was imposed upon him, he would do his best, and he confidently hoped," Carl Schurz reported, "we would all faithfully stand by him. There was something very touching in that confession of unfitness which was evidently quite honest," Schurz added, "and one could not help feeling a certain tenderness for the man.
Since the principal complaint about his predecessor was that he had been excessively dilatory, Burnside decided that the very least he could do was act promptly. His strategy was simple enough. The combined armies of Virginia and the Potomac would cross the Rappahannock at Fredericksburg and march on Richmond. To carry out this straightforward scheme, Burnside had a splendid army of 120,000 men, most of them veterans of earlier campaigns. He divided this force into "three grand divisions": right, left, and center. The Right Grand Division under General Edwin Vose Sumner consisted of the II and IX Corps. Hooker commanded the center division, made up of the III and V Corps, and the left, under General Franklin, was comprised of the I and VI. The XI Corps, Sigels, in which Carl Schurz served as a divisional commander, constituted the reserve.
On November 17 Sumner's corps arrived at Falmouth across the river from Fredericksburg. For eight days the Right Grand Division waited for pontoons, during which time Lee disposed his troops in strongly fortified positions on the opposite bank. It was December 11 before the pontoons were laid and the troops began to cross. The night before the battle a member of Lees staff, William Blackford, dreamed that he heard the enemy cannon firing and the voices of his dead children calling him from heaven, "telling I would soon be with them." When he awoke, he could hear the distant sound of artillery. The battle had begun "under a grey wintry sky." Schurz, watching from high ground on the far bank of the Rappahannock, could see no consistent pattern in the Union attack. At eleven o'clock, Burnside, having occupied Fredericksburg without substantial resistance, ordered an attack on Lees strongpoint, the heavily fortified lines on Maryes Heights. The Union soldiers moved forward resolutely. "Through our glasses," Schurz wrote, "we saw them fall by the hundreds, and their bodies dot the ground. As they approached Lees entrenched position, sheet after sheet of flame shot forth from the heights, tearing fearful gaps in our lines. There was no running back of our men. They would sometimes stop or recoil only a little distance, but then doggedly resume the advance."
"Our whole Brigade formed in a line and advanced beautifully over the plain and up to the bank of the creek, under a most terrible fire of Rifle balls, Cannister, and Shell," George Whitman wrote his mother. "A column rushing forward with charged bayonets almost seemed to reach the enemys ramparts, but then to melt away. Here and there large numbers of our men, within easy range of the enemys musketry, would suddenly drop like tall grass swept with a scythe." They had dropped to the ground to avoid the storm of lead and were crawling forward. But it was all in vain; Lees lines were impregnable. The men and officers of the XI Corps watched in an agony of frustration. "Hot tears of rage and pitying sympathy ran down many a weather-beaten cheek," Schurz wrote. "No more horrible and torturing spectacle could have been imagined." When night fell, it was clear that there was no hope of taking the positions on Maryes Heights by direct assault. What was remarkable was that Burnside and his staff should ever have conceived that there might be.
On the eve of the battle Burnside had issued an order declaring that the enemy was "weakened" and that "by the help of providence we would be able to strike a death blow to the Rebellion." Alfred Bellard noted wryly: "But providence didn't help worth a cent." Rain fell relentlessly, turning the roads into quagmires, the mud so deep that Bellard's coattails dragged in it. "Horses, waggons, pontoons and guns were spread around in all directions, stuck so fast in the mud that roads had to be built to get them out," Bellard wrote. One artillery piece and caisson had ten horses attached to it, trying to pull it out of the mud. After a day and night of muddy misery Burnside gave the order to withdraw, a maneuver almost as difficult as the attempted advance, "so," Bellard wrote, "ended the stick in the mud march (so called by the men)." Many men took advantage of the "mud march" to desert or simply stopped struggling and devoted their attention to trying to find a dry spot in some convenient woods. Hundreds of horses and mules could not be extricated and died in their struggles.
Joseph Griner described the scene in a letter to his mother: "Imagine a hundred and seventy heavy guns opening their thunders at once, the screams of the dying and wounded, the incessant rattle of small arms, the cheers of the combatants, the shrill screech of the shells hurled through the air, and a hundred other awful things, and you have a small idea of the battle of Fredericksburg. . . . I have seen some hard fighting, but I never saw anything to compare with that yet...."
At Fredericksburg, as the battle began, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., was in the hospital near Falmouth, Virginia, suffering acutely from dysentery and filled with gloom at seeing his regiment going into battle without him. Gradually word filtered to Holmes's hospital cot of the casualties--Lieutenant Alley, Henry Ropes, close friend and classmate Charles Cabot, and others. Then word of the defeat and the retreat. "It was an infamous butchery in a ridiculous attempt in wh. I've no doubt our loss doubled or tripled that of the Rebs," Holmes wrote his father, and Charles Francis Adams, Jr., wrote his brother Henry that "the army of the Potomac is thoroughly demoralized. They will fight yet, but they fight for defeat, just as a brave, bad rider will face a fence, but yet rides for a fall. There is a great deal of croaking, no confidence, plenty of sickness, and desertion is the order of the day."
The splendid Union army had lost 12,700 killed and wounded to 5,300 Confederate soldiers. It was the greatest disparity in casualties of any engagement of the war and more eloquent testimony than words of Burnsides deficiencies as a commander-in-chief of a large army-- and of the basic futility of disputing the terrain of northern Virginia with Lee and Jackson. As immobilized as Burnside by the weather, Lee let the Union army slip away unmolested. Burnside remained considerate and courteous in defeat. He eschewed scapegoating and took full responsibility for the failure of the army to dislodge Lee. "He not only did not accuse the troops of any shortcomings," Schurz wrote, "but in the highest terms . . praised their manly courage and extreme gallantry." The public was impressed by his candor, "but the confidence of the army in his ability and judgment was fatally injured." Many regimental officers, dismayed by the series of reversals, resigned their commissions, and soldiers deserted by the thousands until the names of 85,000 men appeared on the rolls as absent from their units without leave.
Burnside made one more abortive attempt to attack Lee. He tried to cross the Rappahannock at a fording place farther up the river, but the chill winter rain soaked his already demoralized men and turned the countryside into a vast bog, so that it was "fairly covered with mired wagons, ambulances, pontoons, and cannons. The scene," Schurz wrote, "was indescribable. 'Burnside stuck in the mud was the cry ringing all over the land. It was literally true." Roads were obliterated, and both men and conveyances sank into unseen potholes. "One would see large stretches of country fairly covered with guns and army wagons and ambulances stalled in a sea of black or yellow mire, and infantry standing up to their knees in the mud, shivering and swearing very hard, as hard as a thoroughly disgusted soldier can swear.
Despite the disheartening defeats in Virginia and the failure of Lincoln to find a general, the balance of losses and gains was not as unfavorable to the Union cause as it seemed on the surface. As the year 1862 ended, England and France seemed less inclined to meddle in American affairs. Union forces held a number of forts and islands along the Atlantic coast, the most important of which was Port Royal. The border states had remained at least nominally in the Union. The Tennessee and Cumberland rivers were in Union hands, along with New Orleans and the Mississippi as far north as Fort Pillow. The Western armies had been almost uniformly successful--none had suffered a defeat. Stones River had been, at best, a standoff.
The South was already beginning to feel an extreme economic pinch. Only a trickle of supplies filtered through the Union blockade. The Merrimac had been neutralized and then sunk to prevent its falling in Union hands. The minuscule Confederate navy had lost a number of ships, especially on the Mississippi, that it could not replace. The manpower crisis in the South was so severe that ''old men and boys~~ were ordered out as a reserve corps, and "worst of all," Mary Chesnut wrote, "sacred property, that is, negroes, have been seized and sent out to work on the fortifications along the coast line."
The Confederate government was unwieldy and inefficient, and its efforts were seriously handicapped by touchiness over states rights. There were bitter feuds within Davis's Cabinet and between Davis and army commanders in the field.
But little of this was apparent in the North, where sentiment against the war seemed to grow with each passing month. Gideon Welles spoke for a number of his countrymen when he wrote in the closing hours of the year: "There is discontent in the public mind. The management of our public affairs is not satisfactory. Our army operations have been a series of disappointments. General Halleck has accomplished nothing, and has not the public confidence. General McClellan has intelligence but not decision; operated understandingly but was never prepared. . . . We have had some misfortunes, and a lurking malevolence exists towards us among nations, that could not have been anticipated. Worse than this, the envenomed, relentless, and unpatriotic spirit of party paralyzes and weakens the hand of the Government and country."
In this mood of deepening pessimism, there was, at least for the enemies of slavery, one bright spot--the eagerly awaited final announcement of emancipation. It was known that a powerful campaign had been mounted to persuade Lincoln to rescind or at least to delay giving effect to the proclamation. But word was that he was resolute.
At the Cabinet meeting on December 29, Lincoln read the final draft of the proclamation and invited criticism. A few small changes were made, and the document was prepared for public announcement. The proclamation declared that anyone in revolt against the United States would be subject to fine and imprisonment and his slaves declared free. Those in that category included all officers in the Confederate army and public officials of the Confederacy. Further, "all the slaves of persons who shall hereafter be engaged in rebellion against the Government of the United States . . . escaping from such persons and taking refuge within the lines of the army, and all slaves captured from such persons or deserted by them . . . shall be deemed captives of war, and shall be forever free of their servitude, and not again held as slaves." Lincoln enjoined "the people so declared to be free to abstain from all violence, unless in necessary self-defense," and recommended "that in all cases when allowed they labor faithfully for reasonable wages. . . . And I further declare and make known that such persons of suitable condition will be received into the armed service of the United States to garrison forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service."
In Boston, the capital of abolitionism, and in many other Northern cities, free blacks began a vigil at dusk on New Years Eve. Candles were placed in the windows of black homes, and every black church was filled, as midnight approached, with singing and praying congregations. In many churches, blacks were joined by white friends, who held hands and sang old spirituals calling on the Lord to deliver the slaves from their chains. Fanny and William Garrison, daughter and son of William Lloyd, were among the worshipers. It was a strange and moving moment--the blacks, with their expressiveness of voice and gesture, pouring out their hearts; their white friends, far more inhibited in their expressions of triumph, caught up in the exuberance of the moment. One minister declared: "Brethren and sisters, tomorrow will be de day for der oppressed. But we all know dat evil is 'round de President. While we set here dey is trying to make him break his word. But we have come to dis Watch Night ter see dat he does not break his word. Der ole serpant is abroad tonight wid all his emissaries, in great power. His wrat is great, 'cause he knows the hour is near. He will be in dis church dis evening! As midnight comes on we will hear his rage! But brethren and sisters, dont be skeered. Well pray. Hell go ragin back to hell, and God Almighty's New Year will make de United States der lan of freedom!" As the preacher spoke of the serpent, the congregation moaned and cried out, and then a great, prolonged sibilant hiss, the hiss of the serpent--the devil--rose with the cry "hes here--hes here!" The ministers prayer rose higher to drown out the devil. Then, at the moment when the whole body was swept by the ecstatic sound, the stroke of the clock could be heard sounding midnight. There was a moment of silence and then the first notes of a jubilee hymn.
At the Music Hall in Boston a great crowd of abolitionists gathered to celebrate the expected news of the proclamation. Mendelssohn's Hymn of Praise, Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, and Handel's Hallelujah Chorus were played, and favorite hymns were sung. All day and into the early evening the vigil was kept. At the Tremont Temple, Frederick Douglass, Anna Dickinson, William Wells Brown, Garrison himself, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and scores of other workers in the cause waited for the final word to come over the telegraph. Shortly before midnight the long-awaited telegram arrived. People wept and shouted, cried and embraced, and pounded each other on the back. There was a call for Garrison in the gallery. He stood up and was given three cheers. Then the crowd called for Harriet Beecher Stowe, who rose and smiled through her tears, acknowledging the deafening applause. The Reverend Charles Bennett Ray began to sing: "Sound the loud timbrel of Egypt's dark sea, Jehovah hath triumphed, his people are free!" Everyone joined in.
In Washington the Reverend Henry Turner, a leader in the fight for black rights and minister of the Israel Bethel Church, going to the offices of the Evening Star, in which the final proclamation would be printed, saw "such a multitude of people," black and white, waiting for the edition that he could only with difficulty obtain one, once the paper appeared. Seizing the portion containing the proclamation, Turner ran "for life and death" down Pennsylvania Avenue, waving the torn sheet over his head. When the crowd around the church saw their minister coming, "they raised a shouting cheer that was almost deafening," he recalled. "As many as could get around me lifted me to a great platform and I started to read the Proclamation." But Turner was too out of breath, having run the better part of a mile, and he handed it to a companion, who "read it with great force and clearness." While he was reading it, "every kind of demonstration and gesticulation was going on. Men squealed, women fainted, dogs barked, white and colored people shook hands, songs were sung, and by this time cannons began to fire at the navy-yard . . . great processions of colored and white men marched to and fro and passed in front of the White House and congratulated President Lincoln on his proclamation." Lincoln appeared at the window and bowed to ecstatic shouts and cheers. "It was indeed a time of times," Turner wrote; "nothing like it will ever be seen again in this life. . . . The first day of January,1863, is destined to form one of the most memorable epochs in the history of the world."
Another Washington meeting was held in a contraband camp, where ex-slaves who had fled from the South were given temporary quarters by the government. George Payne, a former slave, addressed his companions: "Friends, don't you see de han of God in dis? Havent we a right to rejoice? You all know you couldn't have such a meetin as dis down in Dixie! Dat you all knows. I have a right to rejoice; an so have you; for we shall be free injus about five minutes. Dats a fact. I shall rejoice that God has placed Mr. Lincum in de presidents chair, and dat he wouldn't let de rebels make peace until after dis new year Payne ended with an admonition: "De lazy man cant go to heaven. You must be honest, an work, an show dat you is fit to be free; and de Lord will bless you and Abrum Lincum. Amem!"
Another ex-slave also "testified," remembering the time that he cried all night because his daughter was to be sold. "Now, no more dat! No more dat! no more dat! When I tink what de Lords done for us, an brot us thro de trubbles, I feel dat I ought to go inter His service. Wese free now, bress de Lord! (Amens were vociferated all over the building.) Dey cant sell my wife and child any more, bress de Lord! (Glory, glory! from the audience.) No more dat! no more dat! no more dat, now! (Glory!) Preserdun Lincum have shot de gate!"
In Harrisburg the blacks of that town drew up a set of resolutions in which they declared that the "hand of God" was clearly recognizable in the proclamation, "and . . . we are constrained to say, roll forward the day when American soil shall no more be polluted with that crime against God, American slavery; but all will be able to say, 'Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace and good will to man."
On the Sea Islands there were also ecstatic celebrations of emancipation. Charlotte Forten wrote: "New-Years-Day-Emancipation Day-- was a glorious one to us. The morning was quite cold . . . but we were determined to go to the celebration at Camp Saxton [the camp of the 1st South Carolina Volunteers, the black regiment of ex-slaves organized and commanded by Thomas Wentworth Higginson] . . . on this, 'the greatest day in the nations history. " On board the ferry carrying the blacks under Fortens tutelage, "there was an eager, wondering crowd of the freed people in their holiday attire, with the gayest of head-handkerchiefs, the whitest of aprons, and the happiest of faces. The band was playing, the flags streaming, everybody talking merrily and feeling strangely happy. . . . Long before we reached Camp Saxton we could see the beautiful grove. Some companies of the First Regiment were already drawn up in parade formation--a fine soldierly-looking set of men; their brilliant dress against the trees (they were then wearing red pantaloons) invested them with a semi-barbaric splendor."
Colonel Higginson introduced the chaplain, who read the proclamation, which was cheered to the skies. Two "very elegant flags" were presented to the regiments and then, before Colonel Higginson could reply, some of the blacks "of their own accord, commenced singing, 'My Country, 'tis of thee. It was a touching beautiful incident," Charlotte Forten added, "and sent a thrill through all our hearts. . ."
Then there was a dress parade, black soldiers marching and maneuvering. "To us," Forten wrote, "it seemed strange as a miracle,-- this black regiment, the first mustered into the service of the United States, doing itself honor in the sight of the officers of other regiments, many of whom, doubtless, 'came to scoff. The men afterwards had a great feast, ten oxen having been roasted whole for their special benefit." After the feast Charlotte and her friends gathered on the wall of an old fort nearby while the army band played "Home, Sweet Home." "The moonlight on the water, the perfect stillness around, the wildness and solitude of the ruins, all seemed to give new pathos to that ever dear and beautiful old song. It came very near to all of us--strangers in that strange Southern land." When the Flora came to carry them back to their plantation~ they all "promenaded the deck of the steamer, sang patriotic songs, and agreed that moonlight and water had never looked so beautiful as on that night." At Beaufort the party took the rowboat for St. Helena, "and the boatmen, as they rowed, sang some of their sweetest, wildest hymns. Our hearts were filled with an exceeding great gladness," Charlotte Forten wrote, "for although the Government had left much undone, we knew that Freedom was surely born in our land that day."
Gideon Welles noted: "The Emancipation Proclamation is published in this evenings Star. This is a broad step, and will be a landmark in history. The immediate effect will not be all its friends anticipate or its opponents apprehend.... The character of the country is in many respects undergoing a transformation. This must be obvious to all and I am content to await the results of passing events, deep as they may plough their furrows in our once happy land. This great upheaval which is shaking our civil fabric was perhaps necessary to overthrow and subdue the mass of wrong and error which no trivial measure could eradicate. The seed which is being sown will germinate and bear fruit, and tares and weeds will also spring up under the new dispensation."
George Templeton Strong wrote in his diary: "Be it remembered, with gratitude to the Author of all Good, that on January 1st the Emancipation Proclamation was duly issued. The nation may be sick unto speedy death and past help from this and any other remedy, but if it is, its last great act is one of repentance and restitution . . . ."
Robert Purvis, the Philadelphia lawyer who had suffered so from discrimination, spoke eloquently of the promise of a new day. He had once denounced the United States "as the basest despotism the sun ever shone upon. . . . I hated it with a wrath which words could not express; and I denounced it with all the bitterness of my indignant soul. . . . I was a victim, stricken, degraded, injured, insulted in my person, in my family, in my friends, in my estate; I returned bitterness for bitterness, and scorn for scorn. . . ." Now he was ready to forget the past: "Joy fills my soul at the prospect of the future. . . . In spirit and in purpose, thanks to Almighty God! this is no longer a slaveholding republic."
The Emancipation Proclamation elevated Lincoln in the minds of many black Americans to a semidivine status. He was the instrument of the Lord sent to set them free from bondage. He came to them in dreams and visions. They declared fervently that he had come to their plantations, shaken their hands, and told them that they were free. If more sophisticated blacks failed to mythologize Lincoln in the same way, they also believed him an instrument of the Almighty. A black congregation in Baltimore raised some $580 to buy a Bible the cover of which depicted Lincoln striking the chains off a slave in a cotton field. The Reverend S. M. Chase presented the Bible to the President, declaring, "Since our incorporation into the American family we have been true and loyal, and we are now ready to aid in defending the country, to be armed and trained in military matters, in order to assist in defending the star spangled banner." The Bible was presented "as a token of respect for your active participation in furtherance of the cause of the emancipation of our race. This great event will be a matter of history. Hereafter when our children shall ask what mean these tokens, they will be told of your worthy deeds, and will rise up and call you blessed." They would, moreover, remember him "at the Throne of Divine Grace" and pray that when he passed "from this world to that of eternity," he would be "borne to the bosom of your Saviour and your God." Lincoln replied, "I can only say now, as I have often said before, it has always been a sentiment with me that all mankind should be free. . . . I have always acted as I believed was just and right, and done all I could for the good of mankind. . . . In regard to the great Book, I have only to say, it is the best gift which God has ever given to man. All the good of the Savior of the world is communicated to us through this Book . . . . All those things desirable to men are contained in it."
In Georgia, Mary Jones believed that the emancipated slaves were destined to suffer most from the war; "with their emancipation," she wrote in her journal, "must come their extermination. All history, from their first existence, proves them incapable of self-government; they perish when brought in conflict with the intellectual superiority of the Caucasian race. Northern philanthropy and cant may rave as much as they please; but facts prove that only in a state of slavery such as exists in the Southern states have the Negro race increased and thriven most." Peace would bring changes in the system of slavery, to be sure, but "when once delivered from the interference of Northern abolitionism, we shall be free to make and enforce such rules and reformations as are just and right. In all my life I never heard such expressions of hatred and contempt as the Yankees heap upon our poor servants. One of them told me he did not know what God Almighty made Negroes for; all he wished was the power to blow their brains out."
Source: "Trial by Fire, A People's History of the Civil War and Reconstruction" (Chapter 18) by Page Smith.
This Page last updated 02/16/02