About the Emancipation Proclamation

Any brave souls want to explain this one? I’ve heard conflicting issues about the Emancipation Proclamation. The general idea of that document most people believe is that Lincoln is freeing the slaves from the confederate states. However, I’ve heard from other people that technically Lincoln didn’t want to end slavery. It was by the battle of Gettysburg that Lincoln figured out that there was no way to keep slavery. It had to go or there wouldn’t be a United States. I also heard that because Britain and France(I think, but not too sure. wonderful proof of the American education system.) had misinterpreted Lincoln’s intention, they were willing to lend the North resources otherwise the war might have gone a different route.

What is the straight dope on this?

Lincoln was personally opposed to slavery, but he was not willing to destroy the Union over it. He said if it was possible to free all the slaves to save the Union, he would do it. If the Union could be saved by freeing no slaves, he would do that. If the Union could be saved by freeing some but not others, he would do it. In truth, Lincoln had no power to free any slave in the US. Presidents do not rule by decree. As Comander-in-Chief of the nation’s military forces he had considerable power for setting war policy against enemies. This is the route he took in issuing the Emancipation Proclamation. It freed only those slaves in areas in rebellion against the US. It was a handy propaganda tool. It redefined the war. It ended any notion that Britain or France might recognize the Confederacy & gave the Union soldiers a “moral” justification for pacifying the South.

The battle of Gettysburg enters into this because the Union had been losing battles before that, and Lincoln did not want to make this Proclamation at that time – it would look like a desperation move. So when the Union won the battle of Gettysburg, Lincoln felt that this was an appropriate time to issue the Proclamation.

It also made a lot of Diplomatic sense, in that now it’d be very hard for GB to help out the CSA, as wedgehed sez. Also, it gave hope to the Slaves in the South. Maybe they might rise up, who knows?

And, despite some book to the contrary - it did free slaves upon it’s Proclamation- just not many. The North did not control much of the CSA at the time of the Proclamation but there were a few areas they had won.

I believe you mean the Battle of Antietam, not Gettysburg.

I’ll also add that while before Antietam while the war was not going well for the North in the East, the West was a different matter. The North had captured New Orleans in April 1862 and won victories at Fort Donelson. The problem was many people on both sides thought the war would be ended with one battle and were unprepared for the huge amount of blood and money to be spent. I think the casualties in the Battle of Shiloh alone were higher than previous American wars (Independence, 1812 and Mexican) put together.

The Proclamation didn’t apply to those parts of the CSA which were firmly in Union control (i.e. no longer in rebellion). For example, it didn’t apply to Tennessee, West Virginia, and parts of Virginia and Lousiana (wiki map).

The reason for this was that Lincoln issued it under his war powers, as Commander-in-Chief - and therefore was careful not to apply it to parts of the CSA which were no longer in rebellion.

However, the Proclamation did have the immediate impact of freeing about 20,000 slaves in areas of the CSA that were in rebellion but under Union control: wiki article.

As well, as the Union troops captured more and more of the CSA territory, more and more slaves were freed by the military, acting under the authority of Proclamation. The wiki article gives an estimate of four million slaves freed as a result of the Proclamation by the end of the war.

Remember that Dred Scott was still the binding constitutional precedent, which held that the Congress did not have the power to free slaves in slave states, because slaves were a form of property, under state regulation. So even during the war, when Union troops initially regained control over CSA territory, they had to respect the property rights of the inhabitants of those states, including their property rights in their slaves.

The only federal authority at that time to free them was that set out by Lincoln in the Proclamation - declaring them free as a matter of military strategy - both to deprive the enemy of property, a well-known tenet of war, and also to enlist the freed slaves in the Union army to fight against the CSA - expanding the pool of troops available to the Union, another well-accepted war measure.

Lincoln expressed both these points in his famous letter to Conkling, to be read at a public meeting in Illinois:

Remember as well that at the time the Proclamation was issued, the 13th Amendment was in the future - and there was no guarantee that it would be passed. I think that the 13th Amendment is now seen as an inevitable outcome, but back then, that wasn’t the case. Although it had passed the Senate by a wide margin, the House of Representatives had declined to consider the amendment. It took a major political push by Lincoln and others to finally get the House of Representatives to pass it - and that was without the CSA state delegations being present.

So, at that time, the Proclamation was the first and most effective way of freeing slaves in the CSA - as a military measure, and enforced by the military bringing those states back to Union control. It certainly did have an impact.