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Dressed for Emancipation

January 2nd, 2013 by Brendan Wolfe · 1 Comment

My vacation this year being a holy thing—interrupted only by a whinging puppy and a sleeve-tugging three-year-old and not, as this blog will attest, by the whispers of history—I failed to mark yesterday’s 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. I doubt I’m the only one.

Still, the historian Brooks Simpson did the occasion some justice. He notes that an official draft of the Proclamation, prepared by Secretary of State William H. Seward, contained a small error—a bit of phrasing more appropriate for a treaty than a presidential proclamation.

Indeed, it had been a sleepless night at the White House for the chief executive, who spent much of it reworking the draft to incorporate various suggestions before handing the (unsigned) draft over to a State Department clerk, allowing him to eat a simple breakfast. Whatever irritation he found with the error in the closing, he soon let it pass. For those awaiting the news that the president had actually signed the document, the wait was probably less pleasant.

There has always been some confusion over what areas were within the Proclamation’s jurisdiction.

Lincoln had spent a great deal of time deciding what areas of the Confederacy to include and exclude from the document. In truth, the claim that the Emancipation Proclamation declared free only those slaves in areas under Confederate control is not quite true. At Andrew Johnson‘s request, for example, the entire state of Tennessee was excluded, although the presence of opposing armies at Murfreesboro, Tennessee, suggested that much of the state was under Confederate control. Others had also contributed suggestions, including Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase, who nudged the president to say something about Almighty God and characterizing the document as an act of justice. At the suggestion of several cabinet members Lincoln added a clause enjoining the emancipated “to abstain from all violence, unless in necessary self-defence” and advised therm to “labor faithfully for reasonable wages.” Both Seward and Chase endorsed that sentiment, although the two cabinet ministers had been at odds just days before in a cabinet crisis that Lincoln resolved by refusing to accept their resignations.

Read the rest here.

IMAGES: Abraham Lincoln: Emancipation Proclamation by Trek Thunder Kelly (2009); the Emancipation Proclamation, page 1 (Record Group 11, General Records of the United States); a Union soldier reads the Emancipation Proclamation to a room of slaves and their children (George Eastman House)

Tags: Virginia History

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 An Occasional Observer // Jan 3, 2013 at 3:10 pm

    Only a self-important American hipster would accuse a puppy of whinging, Wolfe.

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