Robert Kennedy's United States History Class
Learning Objective Four:
Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation was a purely military measure as he used his powers as commander-in-chief of the armed forces to free only the slaves in states that had seceded. The act said nothing about slavery in the states that remained loyal to the Union. Lincoln was confronted with the task of not alienating the border states and the northern Democrats while at the same time satisfying his radical Republican supporters and reaping the diplomatic rewards of an antislavery policy. Hence, the peculiar wording of the Emancipation Proclamation was his answer to this problem. The Proclamation declared that all persons held as slaves within the insurgent states--with the exception of Tennessee, southern Louisiana, and parts of Virginia, then within Union lines--"are and henceforth shall be free."
Hence, on the day it was issued, the Proclamation actually frees no slaves, since it applies only to areas not under Union control and exempts the four loyal slaves states and areas of the South under federal occupation. The Confederacy viewed the Proclamation as confirming its view of Lincoln as a hypocritical anti-Southern abolitionist. As Union forces captured more and more southern territory, it automatically extended freedom to the slaves in the newly conquered regions. The Proclamation may thus be regarded as a milestone ON THE ROAD to final freedom as expressed in the Thirteenth Amendment of December, 1865.
As mentioned, Lincoln was conscious of the necessity to retain the support of both the border states and the northern Democrats. He wisely refrained from pressing the antislavery issue prematurely, although he did sign several confiscation acts that were passed by Congress in 1861 and 1862. In the confiscation act of August 6, 1861, it was provided that, when slaves were engaged in hostile military service, all owners' claims to the labor of such slaves were forfeited. On April 16, 1862, slavery in the District of Columbia was abolished, with compensation to the owners. Emancipation in the territories, without compensation, was provided by another act of June 19 of the same year. This act challenged part of the Dred Scott decision of 1857.
On July 17, 1862 another confiscation act provided that, if anyone committed treason, his slaves were free; as to all persons
supporting the "rebellion" it proclaimed that their slaves should be · "forever free of their servitude, and not again held as slaves."
The issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation by Lincoln, and the manner in which it seized the popular imagination, caused these emancipatory acts of Congress to be almost overlooked; and it is seldom realized that before Lincoln's Proclamation was issued in September, 1862, Congress had done as much, at least on paper, as was done by the Proclamation. Because of the ineffectiveness of the legislation, and the lack of coordination between President and Congress, Lincoln, in issuing his edict, acted as if Congress had done nothing, and as if he were attacking the problem anew. The Proclamation did not meet with everyone's approval. "The only effect of it," wrote Orville H. Browning, one of Lincoln's closest friends and strongest supporters, "was to unite and exasperate the South and divide and distract us in the North." A mutiny broke out in the army as men who enlisted to save the Union swore that they wouldn't stand up and be shot down to free "niggers" and make them their social equals. Thousands of soldiers deserted, and recruiting fell off everywhere. But compared to their pre-war status, even in the free states the legal and constitutional position of Blacks improved as a result of the Proclamation. It initiated an irreversible revolution in race relationships leading to the Thirteenth, the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, plus additional civil right legislation from 1866 to the present.