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Early in the war President Lincoln was careful to stress he was fighting to preserve the Union, not for the abolition of slavery. On two occasions he overruled military commanders who had abolished slavery in areas they controlled. He treaded with great care on the matter because of the importance of preserving the loyalty of the slave-owning Border States.
In early 1862, Lincoln worked on the idea of emancipation secretly before broaching the subject with his cabinet. He was cautioned by Secretary of State William H. Seward to delay any announcement until the Unionís military fortunes improved, fearing that proclaiming freedom for the slaves might appear to be a move of desperation.
In September 1862, shortly after the Battle of Antietam, Lincoln issued a preliminary emancipation proclamation. As of January 1, 1863, all slaves were to be freed in those areas still in rebellion against the federal government. He repeated his oft-stated positions that he was dedicated to restoring the Union and not ending slavery entirely, and that he supported the concept of compensated emancipation.
Criticized by some for not abolishing slavery everywhere, Lincoln argued that he did not have the power to do so; only Congress and the Border States had that authority.
Reaction in the South was predictable. Many claimed that they had known all along that Lincoln was an abolitionist. Others feared that the Proclamation would touch off a series of slave rebellions.
By issuing the Proclamation, Lincoln addressed several issues:
Lincoln and the Radical Republicans feared that emancipation might not pass constitutional muster after the war. This pushed them toward a permanent fix which they found in the Thirteenth Amendment, which was passed by the Senate in April 1864. House approval did not come until January 1865 and ratification by the states in December 1865.
And by virtue of the power, and for the purpose aforesaid, I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States, and parts of States, are, and henceforward shall be free; and that the Executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons.
By the President: ABRAHAM LINCOLN WILLIAM H. SEWARD, Secretary of State.
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Quotes regarding Emancipation Proclamation.
By Abraham Lincoln
When, early in the war, Gen. Fremont attempted military emancipation, I forbade it, because I did not then think it an indispensable necessity. When a little later, Gen. Cameron, then Secretary of War, suggested the arming of the blacks, I objected, because I did not yet think it an indispensable necessity. When, still later, Gen. Hunter attempted military emancipation, I again forbade it, because I did not yet think the indispensable necessity had come. When, in March, and May, and July 1862 I made earnest, and successive appeals to the border states to favor compensated emancipation, I believed the indispensable necessity for military emancipation, and arming the blacks would come, unless averted by that measure. They declined the proposition; and I was, in my best judgment, driven to the alternative of either surrendering the Union, and with it, the Constitution, or of laying strong hand upon the colored element. I chose the latter. In choosing it, I hoped for greater gain than loss; but of this, I was not entirely confident. More than a year of trial now shows no loss by it in our foreign relations, none in our home popular sentiment, none in our white military force, ó no loss by it any how or any where. On the contrary, it shows a gain of quite a hundred and thirty thousand soldiers, seamen, and laborers. These are palpable facts, about which, as facts, there can be no cavilling. We have the men; and we could not have had them without the measure.