First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation

Alexander Hay Ritchie, after Francis Bicknell Carpenter
Stipple engraving, 1866

National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; transfer from the National Gallery of Art, gift of Mrs. Chester E. King

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First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation

 

As the war went badly for the Union in 1862, northern public opinion supported the confiscation of slaves in captured territory in order to damage the war effort and strike at the southern home front. Lincoln took confiscation further: on July 22 he announced an “Emancipation Proclamation” to his cabinet that concluded by declaring that all “persons held as slaves” in areas of rebellion “shall then, thenceforward, and forever, be free.”

 

At a stroke, Lincoln coupled the preservation of the Union, his initial goal, with the abolition of slavery, an issue that he had approached warily and cautiously. His cabinet was divided, many feeling that it was a desperate measure “of an exhausted government, . . . our last shriek, on the retreat.” Lincoln was adamant, and he acceded only to the suggestion that implementing the proclamation wait for a Union victory.

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