Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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EMANCIPATION PROCLAMATION, The (IN U. S. HISTORY)The war against the rebellion of 1861 was for nearly eighteen months confined carefully to operations against the armed forces in the field, not against slavery. (See ABOLITION, III.; REBELLION.) During most of this time Pres. Lincoln listened apparently unmoved to importunate demands from extreme abolitionists in all parts of the north for a declaration against slavery. He declared that his paramount object was the maintenance of the Union; that if he could save the Union without freeing any slave, he would do it; that if he could save it by freeing all the slaves, he would do it; and that if he could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, he would do that. It was not until the summer of 1862 that he finally decided that the time had come for striking at slavery. Sept. 22, 1862, without any previous general intimation of his purpose, he issued a preliminary proclamation, warning the inhabitants of the revolted states that, unless they should return to their allegiance before the first day of January following, he would declare their slaves free men and maintain their freedom by means of the armed forces of the United States. This proclamation had no effect, and indeed was hardly expected to have any effect, in bringing back individuals or states to the control of the federal government. A retaliatory proclamation was issued by Pres. Davis, Dec. 23, 1862 ordering the hanging of General Benjamin F. Butler, if captured and the transfer of negro federal soldiers and their white officers to the authorities of the states for punishment.


—The emancipation proclamation proper was issued Jan. 1, 1863. It recited the substance of the preliminary proclamation, in which he had promised to "designate the states and parts of states, if any, in which the people thereof should be in rebellion against the United States," and in which alone emancipation was to take effect; they included all the states which had seceded (see SECESSION). with the exception of the forty-eight counties of Virginia now known as West Virginia, seven other counties of Virginia (including the cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth) and thirteen parishes of Louisiana including the city of New Orleans). The excepted parts were, "for the present, left precisely as if this proclamation were not issued"; as to the district still in rebellion, the proclamation ordered and declared "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." It enjoined upon the freedmen the duty of abstaining from all violence except in self-defense, and declared that those of their number who were of suitable condition would be received into the military and naval service of the United States. It concluded as follows: "and upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the constitution upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God."


—The validity of such a proclamation is hardly to be seriously questioned, and never would have been questioned but for the natural revulsion from so searching an application of the laws of war in a country which had hitherto enjoyed an almost entire exemption from actual warfare. Its authority is well expressed in its preamble; it was issued by Abraham Lincoln, president of the United States; not by virtue of any powers directly entrusted by the constitution to the presidential office, but "by virtue of the power in him vested as commander-in-chief of the army and navy of the United States in time of actual armed rebellion against the authority and government of the United States, and as a fit and necessary war measure for suppressing said rebellion." It must be remembered that the powers of the president as commander-in-chief, subject to the laws of war as recognized by all civilized nations, are distinctly recognized by the constitution; that these powers are brought to life and action by the existence of defensive war or by the exercise of congress of its power to declare war, and are controlled by congress through its action in furnishing or refusing troops and supplies to the commander-in-chief; and that the emancipation proclamation and other war measures are therefore as much the work of the representatives of the people in congress assembled as of their executive officer, the commander-in-chief. (See WAR POWERS.) Among the powers of a commander-in-chief, when governing conquered soil under military occupation, is that of freeing the slaves of the inhabitants. It may even be exercised, subject to the approval of the commander-in-chief, by subordinate commanders. (See ABOLITION, III.) So long, then, as the constitution vests the president in time of war with the powers of a "commander-in-chief," and permits congress to call those powers into life and activity by declaring war, it is hardly necessary to defend the validity of the emancipation proclamation.


—The effect of the proclamation, however, in the absolute abolition of slavery, is a different and more doubtful question; it has been warmly asserted that it had no effect whatever, and theoretically the case against it is very strong. The singular feature of the proclamation is that it purports to free the slaves, not of the soil which was then under military occupation, but of that which was not under occupation, and which, therefore, did not come under the jurisdiction of the president as commander-in-chief. Those portions of Virginia and Louisiana which had been conquered by the forces of the United States, and were under military occupation at the time, were expressly excepted from the operation of the proclamation; and in the states designated for the operation of the proclamation Mr. Lincoln had no constitutional power as president and no physical power as commander-in-chief, to free a single slave. It seems to be apparent, then, that the proclamation had, eo instante, no effect whatever, if we follow its own terms, and that the slaves in the designated states and parts of states were no more free Jan. 2, 1863, than Dec 31, 1862.


—The objection, however, may be obviated if we consider the proclamation as one whose accomplishment was to be effected progressively, not instantaneously, taking effect in future as rapidly as the federal lines advanced. It would then be, as its author doubtless designed it to be, a general rule of conduct for the guidance of subordinate officers in the armed forces of the United States, a conciliation of a large portion of the inhabitants of the hostile territory by interesting them in the success of the federal arms, and an announcement to the world that, without further formal notice, each fresh conquest by the federal armies would at once become free soil. The question whether slavery was abolished by the proclamation or by the 13th amendment has never been directly before the supreme court for decision, but instructive reference to it will be found in the cases in Wallace's Reports cited below. The only cases which hold that slavery was abolished by the proclamation, and instantly, are those in Louisiana and Alabama cited below. (See ABOLITION. III: SLAVERY.)


—The political results of the proclamation are almost beyond calculation and can only be summed up briefly. 1. Foreign mediation by armed force, which had been an important possible factor while the struggle was merely one between a federal union and its rebellious members, passed out of sight forever as soon as ultimate national success was authoritatively defined as necessarily involving the destruction of slavery: from that time any effort by the governments of France and Great Britain to force the government of the United States to recognize the confederate states as a separate slaveholding nation, would have excited the horror and active opposition of a very large and influential portion of their own subjects. 2. In the north it alienated all the weak or doubtful members of the republican party, and made it a compact, homogeneous organization, with well-defined objects, and with sinews toughened to meet the novel and important questions which followed final success. (See RECONSTRUCTION.) The defeats of the administration in the state elections of 1862-3 were the training school in which the party attained the extraordinary cohesiveness which carried it unbroken through the struggle between congress and Pres. Johnson. 3. In the south the fact that such a proclamation was possible, without exciting any greater opposition in the north, seems to have revealed to many thinking men the enormous extent of the political blunder of secession. But three years before, John Brown had been hanged by the state of Virginia, and the north had looked on with general indifference or approbation; now, the promulgation of this proclamation met either with the vehement approval of the dominant party in the north, or with such feeble symptoms of opposition as the resignations of a few subordinate army officers, or the falling off of a small percentage in the republican vote. From this time there was a steady increase in the number of those in the south who fought with the energy of despair, instead of the high self confidence with which they had entered the conflict, and who felt that the leaders, by prolonging the struggle, were only fanning to a hotter flame that most powerful, though sluggish, political force, the wrath of a republic. "See 2 Greeley's American Conflict, 249; Appleton's Annual Cyclopædia, 1863, 834; 2 A. H. Stephens' War between the States, 550; Harris' Political Conflict in America, 833; Pollard's Life of Davis, 477; Schucker's Life of S. P. Chase, 441. 453: McPherson's History of the Rebellion, 220, North American Review, February and August, 1880; authorities under ABOLITION, WAR POWERS, and REBELLION. The text of the two proclamations is in 12 Stat. at Large. 1267, 1268. See also 13 Wallace's Reports, 654; 16 Wallace's Reports, 68; 18 Wallace's Reports, 546; 92 U. S. Reports, 542; 20 La. Ann. Reports, 199; 43 Ala. Reports, 592.


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