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Limitations Of The Emancipation Proclamation Essay, Research Paper

Limitations of the Emancipation Proclamation

President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1,

1863 declaring that all persons held as slaves within the rebellious states

shall be free. However, despite this expansive wording, the Proclamation was

limited in many ways. It applied only to states that withdrew from the Union,

leaving slavery untouched in the loyal border states. It also specifically

excluded parts of the Confederacy that had already come under Northern control.

Most importantly, the freedom it promised depended upon Union military victory.

In the early life of Lincoln, he formed a strong opinion on the issue of

slavery. Slavery, for Lincoln, violated everything for which he stood. Lincoln

was born into a poor pioneer family, and worked hard on the farm. He knew what

it was like to till soil and raise crops. Through his hard work and

determination, Lincoln was able to become a successful lawyer. "Lincoln

believed that all Americans should have the opportunity to enhance their lives

as he had enhanced his own" (Tackach 30). Lincoln felt slavery violated the

principle in the Declaration of Independence that stated "all men are

created equal"(Tackach 31).

The Emancipation of January 1, 1863, contained no indictment of slavery, but

simply based emancipation on "military necessity". However, the

Federal Constitution still held the slaves as property, except in Missouri and

Maryland, two states which had legalized emancipation (Sandburg 643). Lincoln is

often known as the "Great Emancipator", and was loved for

"freeing the slaves".(Donald 154) The purpose for issuing the

proclamation is not always fully understood. "Although Lincoln’s judgement

as well as timing were in the long run fully vindicated, it is perhaps easier to

understand the Proclamation in the terms in which Lincoln himself presented

it-as a war measure, issued on the narrow grounds of military necessity, and

designed to hurt the enemy both at home and abroad" (Canby 291).

In the beginning, the Civil War was not being fought over the issue of

slavery, but it war was being fought primarily to save the Union (Tackach 43).

Lincoln accurately hypothesized that any freeing of slaves elsewhere would hurt

the border states, and the Union could not afford to lose any more states than

it had already lost. Lincoln once said

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 save it by

freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do

that(Canby 292).

As he wrote these words to Horace Greeley, Lincoln had already knew he was

going to issue the Emancipation Proclamation at the first favorable opportunity.

Part of the "military necessity" justification for the proclamation

was the opinion that freed blacks could not be used in the armed forces. In

aiding to restore the Confederate states and their citizens to the Union,

Lincoln was explicit and took his authority in action (Phillips 92). As the war

entered its second year, the abolitionists in Congress began pressing the

president to free the slaves. Freeing the slaves would cause problems because it

would cripple the South’s ability to wage war. This would occur because the

labor by slaves would have to be performed by men who might otherwise enlist in

the Confederate army (Tackach 43).

As predicted, the South condemned Lincoln for the Emancipation Proclamation.

"To pro-slavery Southerners, Lincoln was no better than John Brown, who

had, in 1859, attempted to ignite a bloody war to free the South’s

slaves—Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation steeled the South’s resolve to win

the Civil War. To lose the war would mean an end to Southern slavery and the

ruination of the South’s economy." (Tackach 46).

In some ways, Lincoln had changed the purpose of the Civil War. It went from

a war to restore the Union to a war to end American slavery (Sandburg 331).

The Emancipation Proclamation itself was no ringing call for an all-out

attack on slavery. It did not lay hands on slaves in the Confederacy and set any

of them free immediately. But it did, slowly but surely, take hold of the minds

of men and inspire them to fight for the freedom of millions of men, women, and

children in bondage. The proclamation was a promise for the future?a promise

that changed the war for the Union into a fight for freedom.(Latham 5)

The many limitations and fine points in the proclamation provided fuel for

Lincoln?s critics during the war and right into present day, but while he

lived, those critics were mostly conservatives that were not going to admire any

policy that led to freeing black people. Likewise, in Lincoln?s own day most

political liberals?and, perhaps more important, most black people themselves?praised

the proclamation. They noticed that despite the legalistic language, the

document carried ?historic content.? And the proclamation was nothing if not

politically courageous. Lincoln remarked about the non-existent effects of the

proclamation, ?The North responds to the proclamation sufficiently in breath,

but breath alone kills no rebels.?(Cuomo 241)

The cut-and-dried language of the proclamation has, however, caused some

people, to this day, to doubt Lincoln?s right to the title: ?the Great

Emancipator.? They say that the pressure of the war forced Lincoln to make a

half-hearted gesture toward freeing slaves. They point out that he delayed

freeing the slaves while he vigorously pushed plans to colonize freed slaves as

well as free Negroes in Africa, the Caribbean, and South America.

The Emancipation Proclamation applied only to states in rebellion, exempting

border slave states and even areas of the Confederacy returned to the Union

control by January 1, 1863. Lincoln defends these restrictions arguing that to

have gone further would have clearly exceeded his constitutional authority. Not

until the following summer was Lincoln prepared publicly to support a

constitutional amendment abolishing slavery everywhere.(Cuomo 292)

More troubling to the President was the disaffection the proclamation caused

his moderate supporters. Some border-state Unionists believed that his action

would undermine the loyalty of Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri. Conservative

Republicans thought the proclamation unconstitutional and unwise. Orville H.

Browning, one of the Presidents oldest and dearest friends, was so offended by

it, that he avoided discussing public issues with the President. Even some of

his cabinet members regretted his proclamation.(Donald 379)

Even in the North, once the initial euphoria had abated, the Emancipation

Proclamation came under skeptical scrutiny. Abolitionists noted that Lincoln had

only made a promise of freedom and that, apart from being conditional, his

promise could be withdrawn before January 1. A few even claimed that the

proclamation postponed emancipation as required by the Second Confiscation

Act.(Donald 379)

?The North responds to the proclamation sufficiently in breath, but breath

alone kills no rebels.?(Thomas 66) In the South, so far as the president could

determine, the reaction to the Emancipation Proclamation was altogether

negative. Jefferson Davis denounced it as an attempt to stir up servile

insurrection and called it a further reason why the Confederacy must fight for

its independence. On Southern Unionism the proclamation had a chilling effect.

In Tennessee, Emerson Etheridge discovered in Lincoln?s proclamation ?treachery

to the Union men of the South,? and Thomas A. R. Nelson, one of the most

vigorous opponents of secession in eastern Tennessee, attacked ?the atrocity

and barbarianism of Mr. Lincoln?s proclamation.?(Miller 357)

In Lincoln’s second term as President, he had several goals. First to end the

war as quickly as possible, and once it was over, he wanted to reconstruct the

United States. In order for this goal to be accomplished, he would have to rid

the country of slavery forever. In doing this, Lincoln knew that the abolition

of slavery would have to be guaranteed in the Constitution (Tackach 65).

The great civil war to restore the union and put an end to slavery was

primarily over when Lee surrendered at Appomattox. With this goal now behind

him, Lincoln had to work on reconstructing the nation. "For Lincoln,

permanently resolving the issue of slavery was the key to reconstructing the

United States" (Tackach 68). As a resolution, on February 1, 1865, Lincoln

approved and signed the Thirteenth Amendment to the states for ratification

(Phillips 92).

Although the Emancipation of Proclamation often earns credit for freeing

slaves, Abraham Lincoln’s executive order was actually only one of a series of

emancipatory acts passed during the Civil War.(Latham 45)

The Emancipation Proclamation was the document that turned the Civil War into

a fight for freedom.(Latham 55) Thus Lincoln?s signing of the Emancipation

Proclamation and the decisive support he lent to the passing of the Thirteenth

Amendment to the Constitution justly won for him the title of ?the Great

Emancipator.? Today, in our own time of racial struggles, he is ever more

inspiring as the symbol of human freedom?the man who taught his countrymen

that all men are brothers, whatever color their skin may be. Though the

Emancipation Proclamation was limited, it proved to be an incentive for winning

the war. Even though it proclaimed that all slaves would be "henceforth and

forever free", many of them were not accepted or recognized as equal for a

very long time due to the set-backs of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Canby, Courtlandt. Lincoln and the Civil War. New York:

George Braziller, Inc., 1960.

Cuomo, Mario M. Lincoln on Democracy. New York: Harper

Collins, 1990.

Donald, David Herbert. Lincoln. New York: Simon &

Schuster, 1990.

Latham, Frank B. Lincoln and the Emancipation

Proclamation. New York: Franklin Watts, Inc., 1969.

Miller, William Lee. Arguing About Slavery. New York:

Random House, 1996.

Phillips, Donald. Lincoln on Leadership; Executive

Strategies For Rough Times. New York: Warner Books, Inc., 1992.

Randall, J.G. Midstream: Lincoln the President. New

York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1953.

Sandburg, Carl. Abraham Linclon: The Prairie Years and The

War Years. New York: Galahad Books, 1993.

Tackach, James. The Emancipation Proclamation, Abolishing

Slavery in the South. San Diego, California: Lucent

Books Inc., 1999.

Thomas, Benjamin P. Abraham Lincoln. New York: The

Modern Library, 1968.

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