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Why did Lincoln issue the Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863 and what were its consequences?

Uploaded by sentiencenerd on Oct 19, 2001

During his election campaign and throughout the early years of the Civil War, Lincoln vehemently denied the rumour that he would mount an attack on slavery. At the outbreak of fighting, he pledged to ‘restore the Union, but accept slavery where it existed’, with Congress supporting his position via the Crittendon-Johnson Resolutions. However, during 1862 Lincoln was persuaded for a number of reasons that Negro emancipation as a war measure was both essential and sound. Public opinion seemed to be going that way, Negro slaves were helping the Southern war effort, and a string of defeats had left Northern morale low. A new moral boost to the cause might give weary Union soldiers added impetus in the fight. Furthermore, if the Union fought against slavery, Britain and France could not help the other side, since their ‘peculiar institution’ was largely abhorred in both European nations. Having eased the American public into the idea, through speeches that hinted at emancipation, Lincoln finally signed the Proclamation on January 1st 1863, releasing all slaves behind rebel lines. Critics argued that the proclamation went little further than the Second Confiscation Act and it conveniently failed to release prisoners behind Union lines. Nevertheless, Henry Adams summed up public reaction to the Proclamation as an ‘almost convulsive reaction in our favour’.


During 1862, the abolition movement enjoyed previously unparalleled levels of support and respectability. Wendell Phillips gave rousing speeches in towns where only a year previously, he would have feared for his life. Senator John Sherman wrote to his brother, the general: ‘You can form no conception of the change of opinion here as to the Nero question. I am prepared for one to meet the broad issue of emancipation.’ A New-England, and therefore radical-dominated Congress received a flood of anti-slavery bills, which they eagerly turned into law. However, feelings of front-line troops were somewhat different, with horrific reports of violence against Negroes, and a general reluctance to further the cause of emancipation. Most soldiers shared the view of a New York private, who wrote: ‘we must first conquer, and then it is time enough to talk about the dam’d niggers.’ Even those regiments who welcomed black contrabands set them to menial work such as cooking and washing clothes.

The circumstances generated by the war forced generals to make decisions about what to do with escaped slaves who sought refuge in their lines. Some, like Butler in May...

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Uploaded by:   sentiencenerd

Date:   10/19/2001

Category:   Slavery

Length:   7 pages (1,672 words)

Views:   2427

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