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Emancipation Proclamation

Desire for Such a Proclamation

In the early part of the Civil War, President Lincoln refrained from issuing an edict freeing the slaves despite the insistent urgings of abolitionists. Believing that the war was being fought solely to preserve the Union, he sought to avoid alienating the slaveholding border states that had remained in the Union. "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 do it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that." He wrote these words to Horace Greeley on Aug. 22, 1862, in answer to criticism from that administration gadfly; he had, however, long since decided, after much reflection, to adopt the third course.

Lincoln kept the plan to himself until July 13, 1862, when, according to the cabinet diarist Gideon Welles, he first mentioned it to Welles and Secretary of State William H. Seward. On July 22 he read a preliminary draft to the cabinet and acquiesced in Seward's suggestion to wait until after a Union victory before issuing the proclamation. The Antietam campaign presented that opportunity, and on Sept. 22, 1862, after reading a second draft to the cabinet, he issued a preliminary proclamation that announced that emancipation would become effective on Jan. 1, 1863, in those states "in rebellion" that had not meanwhile laid down their arms.

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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