WASHINGTON (WHTM) — In September 1862, Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Then in January of 1863, Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.
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One of the details that sometimes gets lost in discussions of the Emancipation Proclamation is that there were actually two of them. The Proclamation of January 1, 1863, gets most of the attention, but it was the Proclamation of September 22, 1862, that laid much of the legal foundation on which the later Proclamation stood.
The first two years of the Civil War did not go well for the North. Though the “anaconda strategy” of blockading and slowly strangling the South was starting to gather steam, it was…well, slow, and didn’t get much attention. In the Western theater the North was making some gains (there was this guy named Grant who was showing some promise) but most eyes, both in the United State and Europe, were on the Eastern Theater. There Confederate forces, particularly the Army of Northern Virginia under Robert E. Lee, were clobbering Union forces on an embarrassingly regular basis.
Lincoln and his cabinet not only had to worry about losing support in the North, but they also had concerns about the major powers of Europe, Britain, and France, coming in on the side of the Confederacy. (They needed cotton for their textile mills, and the South was a major supplier.)
Lincoln wanted to declare the slaves in the South to be free, not only because it would galvanize support in the North, and make the European powers reluctant to step in on the side of the south, but because he personally loathed the “peculiar institution.” He had preliminary drafts of the Emancipation Proclamation in his hand and was discussing it with his cabinet. But the timing was important; if he issued it without some sort of victory in the East to back it up, it would look to many like a desperation move.
Then on September 17, 1862, In the hills of western Maryland, Lincoln got what he needed. The Battle of Antietam, or Sharpsburg, was the single bloodiest day of the Civil War, with an estimated 23,000 casualties overall, and about 3,650 dead. While technically the whole affair was a bloody draw, in the end, the Confederates returned to Virginia, which was all the victory Lincoln needed.
On September 22, 1862, Lincoln signed the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, which hit the front pages of newspapers on the 23rd. It’s sort of a “one last chance before I lower the boom” document. He formally alerted the Confederacy that if they did not return to the Union he would declare all slaves within the rebellious states to be free.
The Confederacy, not surprisingly, continued in rebellion, and on January 1, 1863, Lincoln issued the final Emancipation Proclamation.
The two proclamations are both martial law documents; Lincoln issued them under his authority as “President of the United States of America, and Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy thereof“. The first proclamation lists a series of Congressional acts buttressing his authority to make this proclamation and the second quotes paragraphs from the first. (The September proclamation is actually longer than the January one. )
As martial law documents, they impose limits on Lincoln’s authority. The January proclamation declares the slaves free in the states in rebellion, except for various counties and parishes in those states. The reason? Those areas were already under Union authority, having either been occupied by Union troops or having voted not to leave the Union in the first place. Therefore, they would not have been under martial law. Any slaves there…stayed slaves. And of course, the South wasn’t going to free slaves for Mr. Lincoln. So if the proclamation was for all intents and purposes unenforceable, why issue it in the first place?
Well, the Proclamations worked where they were supposed to work. In the North, the war became not only a struggle to save the Union but to free slaves. (A cause which admittedly was embraced with varying degrees of enthusiasm.) More importantly, the Proclamation pretty much guaranteed Britain and France would stay out of things-politicians in neither country wanted to be seen as supporting slavery. (Besides, they had found alternate sources of cotton, and didn’t need the South to keep their textile factories running anymore.)
And so in the end, two proclamations that in the short term would seem to free none of the slaves, in the long term would help free all of them.