Seeing the Round Corners

December 4, 2017


   Lost in all the political rhetoric of Lincoln being the “greatest President” ever, and the “great emancipator,” is what Lincoln’s true goals were when it came to the country. Perhaps the most definitive statement comes from Lincoln’s letter to Horace Greeley:  “. . . my paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and it is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.”

Today, slavery has been made into a far greater issue than it was when Lincoln wrote the Emancipation Proclamation, and has been credited as the sole purpose of the Civil War which is far, far from the truth, and reality existing in those days. 

Demonstrative of Lincoln’s position is what most readers fail to understand or recognize about slavery and the Emancipation Proclamation. The Emancipation Proclamation applied to the “States and parts of States wherein the people thereof respectively, are this day, in rebellion against the United States, the following, to wit:”

  • Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana (except the Parishes of St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Jefferson, St. John, St. Charles, St. James, Ascension, Assumption, Terrebonne, Lafourche, St. Mary, St. Martin, and Orleans, (including the City of New Orleans, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and Virginia, (except the forty-eight counties designated as West Virginia, and also the counties of Berkley, Accomac, Northhampton, Elizabeth City, York, Princess Ann, and Norfolk, including the cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth), and which excepted parts, are for the present, left precisely as if this proclamation were not issued.
  • “ . . . that all persons held as slaves within said designated States, and parts of States, are and henceforth shall be free . . .  .”

   Yes, the Emancipation Proclamation applied to those States and parts of States – NOT to all the United States.

In looking close from present-day perspective, the question arises, “Was the Emancipation Proclamation even legal.” The Southern states seceded from the Union, and thus, technically, legally, were no longer in the “lines” (borders) over which Lincoln had authority as President of the United States.

On September 22, 1862, Lincoln issued his Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation which applied to the above-listed states – those in rebellion against the United States – freeing all slaves in those states and creating “An Act to make an additional Article of War,” (approved on March 13, 1862). The Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation also gave the rebellious states the opportunity to rejoin the Union. There were no takers.

Among other provisions, the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation also provided for freeing of slaves owned by those persons in rebellion against the United States. Those slaves were deemed captives of war, and “shall be free of their servitude and not again held as slaves.”

Two consequences of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation receive little recognition. First, from an international perspective  was the impact that locked up the world’s source of cotton supply, looked on then as a “general calamity.”

Second, unanticipated by the Confederate government and people was the position taken by the English and French governments – not to intervene in the war. When Lincoln turned the “struggle into a crusade against slavery,” the French and English governments took the position that it made European intervention impossible.

What also dimmed was Lincoln’s zeal to save the Union at all costs. One has to ask, had the French and English governments went for Lincoln’s goal of saving the Union, would the outcome have been different – would the two countries have joined the south if for no other reason than economics – free up the cotton supply to Europe?

Although the Emancipation Proclamation prevented French and English intervention on the basis of human freedom (a crusade against slavery), Lincoln took advantage because it “allowed the Union to recruit black soldiers,” to which the response was nearly 180,000 recruits enlisting by the end of the war. Lincoln wrote to James D. Conklin that “the Emancipation Proclamation policy, and the use of colored troupes constitute the heaviest blow yet dealt to the rebellion.”

This was quite a turnaround from Lincoln’s position stated at the beginning of this column. It is also further demonstration of Lincoln’s ability at political opportunism.

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