Time for a fresh look at the Great Emancipator.
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August 22, 1862 — In a letter to Horace Greeley that was widely published, Lincoln wrote that if he could save the Union without freeing a slave, he would. But he also wrote that he wished that “all men every where could be free” and “If I could save [the Union] by freeing all the slaves I would do it.”
September 22, 1862 — Lincoln announced that he would issue the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, effective in all areas then in rebellion. Slaves so emancipated would remain forever free and those who escaped into Union territory would be emancipated as well.
January 1, 1863 — Despite criticism and losses in the 1862 congressional elections, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. From this point on, the Union Army served as an army of liberation. Moreover, the Emancipation Proclamation included a provision for receiving freedmen into the Union forces. By war’s end, some 200,000 — 10% of all the forces — would serve.
August 10, 1863 — Lincoln met with Frederick Douglass for the first time. In a eulogy, Douglass delivered at Cooper Union on June 1, 1865, Douglass said Lincoln was “emphatically the black man’s president.”
December 8, 1863 — Lincoln issued a Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction. But he exempted persons who treated blacks, or whites in charge of them, “otherwise than lawfully as prisoners of war.” He did this because Confederates were executing black Union soldiers and sailors and their white officers.
August 19, 1864 — In a second meeting with Frederick Douglass — one initiated by Lincoln – Lincoln waved off a (white) governor so he could have a long talk with his “friend Frederick Douglass.” In the context of the upcoming elections, Lincoln sought Douglass’s advice on an issue and, fearful that he would lose the 1864 election and that a Democratic President would end the war, Lincoln asked Douglass to work to bring slaves into the Union lines.
January 1, 1865 — The proposed 13th Amendment to ban slavery passed the Senate. (On March 4, 1861, the Senate had passed a proposed 13th Amendment to protect slavery.) Four million people, one-third of the population of the South, had been enslaved.
March 4, 1865 — Lincoln delivered his Second Inaugural, portions of which Frederick Douglass could recite from memory.
Of course, Lincoln did not act alone. Politically, while 1.3 million had voted for the first national Republican ticket headed by Frémont in 1856, an additional half million voted for Republican Lincoln in 1860. In 1864, despite the burden of a war that had lasted three and one-half years, the Lincoln/Johnson ticket for the National Union Party received the support of an additional 400,000 votes (2.2 million in total). Militarily, on the morning Lincoln delivered his First Inaugural, March 4, 1861, the U.S. armed forces consisted of 17,000 men. By the war’s conclusion, two million men had served on the Union side. Of these, 360,000 had died (110,000 were killed in action) and 275,200 had been wounded but survived their wounds.
While Lincoln did not act alone, he did act. Can we imagine our country’s history without him? Dr. Woodson rightly chose the week of Lincoln’s birth and that of his friend Frederick Douglass in which to celebrate Black History Week.
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