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All were favorable to emancipation, so far as an expression was given, but not all were then agreed as to the policy of issuing the proclamation. Secretary Seward, without objecting now to the measure itself, the President having said he was not asking counsel on that point, thought the fit time for it had not yet arrived; and Postmaster-General Blair apprehended that its effect would be bad in the Border States and in the army, as well as upon the approaching elections. The last consideration did not have conclusive weight in the President's mind, but he thought Mr. Seward's suggestion a good one, and determined to wait for a more appropriate occasion.
How fully he had considered all objections, arguing the opposite side in his own mind, appears in his remarks to a delegation from several of the religious denominations in Chicago, who called upon him, on the 13th of September, to urge more positive and radical action against slavery. After their written memorial had been read to him, Lincoln said:
The subject is difficult, and good men do not agree. For instance, the other day four gentlemen of standing and intelligence from New York called as a delegation on business connected with the war; but before leaving two of them earnestly besought me to proclaim general emancipation; upon which the other two at once attacked them. You know also that the last session of Congress had a decided majority of anti-Slavery men, yet they could not unite on this policy. And the same is true of the religious people. Why, the rebel soldiers are praying with a great deal more earnestness, I fear, than our own troops, and expecting God to favor their side ; for one of our soldiers who had been taken prisoner told Senator Wilson, a few days since, that he met nothing so discouraging as the evident sincerity of those he was
among in their prayers. But we will talk over the merits of the case.
What good would a proclamation of emancipation from me do, especially as we are now situated ? I do not want to issue a document that the whole world will see must necessarily be inoperative, like the Pope's bull against the comet. Would my word free the slaves, when I can not even enforce the Constitution in the rebel States ? Is there a single court, or magistrate, or individual, that would be influenced by it there? And what reason is there to think it would have any greater effect upon the slaves than the late law of Congress (July 17, 1862) which I approved, and which offers protection and freedom to the slaves of rebel masters who come within our lines? Yet I can not learn that that law has caused a single slave to come over to us. And,
And, suppose they could be induced by a proclamation of freedom from me to throw themselves upon us, what should we do with them? How can we feed and care for such a multitude ? General Butler wrote me a few days since that he was issuing more rations to the slaves who have rushed to him han to all the white troops under his command. They eat, and that is all; though it is true General Butler is feeding the whites also by the thousand; for it nearly amounts to a famine there. If, now, the pressure of the war should call off our forces from New Orleans to defend some other point, what is to prevent the masters from reducing the blacks to slavery again? For I am told that whenever the rebels take any black prisoner, free or slave, they immediately auction them off! They did so with those they took from a boat that was aground in the Tennessee River a few days ago. And then I am very ungenerously attacked for it. For instance, when, after the late battles at and near Bull Run, an expedition went out from Washington, under a flag of truce, to bury the dead and bring in the wounded, and the rebels seized the blacks who went along to help, and sent them into slavery, Horace Greeley said in his paper that the Government would probably do nothing about it. What could I do?
Now, then, tell me if you please what possible result of good would follow the issuing of such a proclamation as you desire. Understand, I raise no objection against it on legal
or constitutional grounds; for, as Commander-in-chief of the Army and Navy in time of war, I suppose I have a right to take any measure which may best subdue the enemy; nor do I urge objections of a moral nature, in view of possible consequences of insurrection and massacre at the South. I view this matter as a practical war measure, to be decided on according to the advantages or disadvantages it may offer to the suppression of the rebellion.
Responding to the appeal thus made, a member of the delegation remarked that the policy of Emancipation would give us strength in Europe and justify us in calling upon God to bless our efforts to crush the rebellion. Lincoln resumed:
I admit that slavery is at the root of the rebellion, or at least its sine qua non. The ambition of politicians may have instigated them to act; but they would have been impotent without slavery as their instrument. I will also concede that Emancipation would help us in Europe, and convince them that we are incited by something more than ambition. I grant, further, that it would help somewhat at the North, though not so much, I fear, as you and those you represent imagine. Still, some additional strength would be added in that way to the war; and, then, unquestionably, it would weaken the rebels by drawing off their laborers, which is of great importance; but I am not so sure we could do much with the blacks. If we were to arm them, I fear that in a few weeks the arms would be in the hands of the rebels; and, indeed, thus far, we have not had arms enough to equip our white troops. I will mention another thing, though it meet only your scorn and contempt. There are fifty thousand bayonets in the Union army from the Border Slave States. It would be a serious matter if, in consequence of a proclamation such as you desire, they should go over to the rebels. I do not think they all would - not so many, indeed, as a year ago, or as six months ago - not so many to-day as yesterday. Every day increases their Union feeling. They are also getting their pride enlisted, and want to beat the rebels.
Let me say one thing more. I think you should admit that we already have an important principle to rally and unite the people, in the fact that constitutional government is at stake. This is a fundamental idea, going down about as deep as anything.
After some further urgent words from the visitors in support of their wishes, the President significantly said in conclusion:
Do not misunderstand me because I have mentioned these objections. They indicate the difficulties that have thus far prevented my action in some such way as you desire. I have not decided against a proclamation of liberty to the slaves, but hold the matter under advisement. And I can assure you that the subject is on my mind, by day and by night, more than any other. Whatever shall appear to be God's will, I will do. I trust that in the freedom with which I have canvassed your views, I have not in any respect injured your feelings.
The gentlemen thus addressed went their way, favorably impressed with the kindness and sincerity of their reception, though doubtful as to the early realization of their hopes. The President, nevertheless, had a settled purpose, and the opportunity he awaited was near. Hearing that a battle had begun on Antietam Creek, he formed the resolution (as he afterward expressed himself to the writer) that in case of a victory there, he would use the occasion to issue the Emancipation proclamation already prepared. This was done directly after the result of the battle was definitely ascertained. The body of the proclamation, issued on the 22d of September, was in these words:
I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, and Commander-in-chief of the Army and Navy thereof, do hereby proclaim and declare that hereafter, as heretofore, the war will be prosecuted for the object of practically restoring the constitutional relation between the United States and the people thereof in those States in which that relation is, or may be, suspended or disturbed ; that it is my purpose upon the next meeting of Congress to again recommend the adoption of a practical measure tendering pecuniary aid to the free acceptance or rejection of all the Slave States, so-called, the people whereof may not then be in rebellion against the United States, and which States may then have voluntarily adopted, or thereafter may voluntarily adopt, the immediate or gradual abolishment of slavery within their respective limits, and that the effort to colonize persons of African descent, with their consent, upon this continent or elsewhere, with the previously obtained consent of the government existing there, will be continued; that on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons hield as slaves within any State, or any designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward and forever, free; and the military and naval authority thereof will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for actual freedom; that the Executive will, on the first day of January aforesaid, by proclamation, designate the States and parts of States, if any, in which the people thereof respectively shall then be in rebellion against the United States; and the fact that any State, or the people thereof, shall on that day be in good faith represented in the Congress of the United States by members chosen thereto, at elections wherein a majority of the qualified voters of such States shall have participated, shall, in the absence of strong countervailing testimony, be deemed conclusive evidence that such State and the people thereof have not been in rebellion against the United States.