In a scholarly examination of the Emancipation Proclamation, Masur (American Studies and History/Rutgers Univ.; The Civil War: A Concise History, 2011, etc.) reveals the intensive intellectual development and political debate behind President Lincoln’s resolve.
The Proclamation was actually heralded by a preliminary document floated cautiously on September 22, 1862, announcing that in 100 days—Jan. 1, 1863—the president would proclaim the freeing of any slaves within the states “in rebellion against the United States,” among other important assertions intended to test the waters. Masur revisits the president’s growing sense of solemn moral responsibility, in spite of being battered by criticism from all sides. Prior to this time, runaway slaves were already being declared by the Union military as “contraband of war,” codified into law by the Confiscation Act of 1861, while John Charles Frémont, as commander of the Department of the West, had declared his own bold emancipation proclamation for Missouri. Yet Lincoln hesitated for legal reasons, uncertain about a proclamation’s constitutionality; he feared the effects on the army, on the border (slave) states of Missouri, Kentucky, Delaware and Maryland, which might be pushed to join the Confederacy, and on the slaves themselves—would emancipation foment insurrection against whites? During these 100 days, Lincoln essentially took the country’s measure and found that many abolitionists felt relief and could finally express their views; soldiers often wrote how the war experience turned them against slavery; and if the U.S. didn’t pass emancipation, the South might have first, in order to curry England’s support. Moreover, the exigencies of winning the war demanded action. Masur carefully delineates the differences inherent in the final Proclamation, such as the elimination of mention of colonization of blacks and inclusion of blacks into the military.
A moving, accessible portrayal of Lincoln as a deeply humble, strangely physical presence who spoke in oracular parables.