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1 lostlakehiker  Sun, Sep 23, 2012 12:37:42pm

There's another, and far better reasoned, take on the Emancipation Proclamation and Lincoln's thinking.

Lincoln needed to avoid a constitutional struggle. He wasn't in a position to issue decrees and enforce them with the Army; it was busy. So---what could he say and do that would come squarely within his writ as commander in chief?

Frame it as a war measure, something analogous to proclaiming a blackout in coastal cities, or rationing of rubber.

Lincoln wrote to one of his generals:

"After the commencement of hostilities I struggled nearly a year and a half to get along without touching the "institution"; and when finally I conditionally determined to touch it, I gave a hundred days fair notice of my purpose, to all the States and people, within which time they could have turned it wholly aside, by simply again becoming good citizens of the United States. They chose to disregard it, and I made the peremptory proclamation on what appeared to me to be a military necessity.

As explained at this site, wayback link (due to Allen C. Guelzo, Historical Society of Pennsylvania), Lincoln discussed the July 1862 war situation with his cabinet---

We “must change our tactics or lose the game,” Lincoln announced, and on July 22, 1862, Lincoln read to his cabinet a draft of an emancipation proclamation, threatening to decree the freeing of the slaves as a “fit and necessary war measure for suppressing” the rebellion. When McClellan and his army finally defeated the Confederates at Antietam in September, Lincoln published the proclamation and gave the Confederates 100 days to end the rebellion or the emancipation would take effect. The 100 days came and went without any repenting on the part of the Confederates, and on January 1, 1863, Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation into law.

Into military law, that is. Lincoln had no more civil authority as president to emancipate slaves in 1863 than he had had at the beginning of the presidency, and every lawyer in the country knew it. This is why the proclamation did two very peculiar things: first, it based its emancipating authority strictly on Lincoln’s “power in me vested as Commander-in-Chief . . . in time of actual armed rebellion.” Second, it limited the reach of emancipation only to the slaves in “the States and parts of States . . . this day in rebellion against the United States.” The four slave states that had not joined the Confederacy (Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri) were not “in rebellion” and so Lincoln’s “war powers” had no reach over them.

In years to come, when time had softened people’s memories of how precarious the world had seemed on January 1, 1863, Lincoln’s critics would seize on the way he cast emancipation as a “military necessity” as proof that emancipation was only a trick in his strategic bag, and that emancipation was a cynical device for whipping up Northern morale and enlisting the sympathy of foreign governments. This is absurd. Appealing to “military necessity” was the only way, by 1862, that he could have gotten to emancipation without having emancipation struck down by the Taney Court.

The Emancipation Proclamation, it should be noted, was intended to have the effect, and did have the effect, of encouraging slaves to run away. As a war measure, in other words, it was effective. That cut the legs out from under critics who were looking for a way to recast the proclamation as not really a war measure.

Lincoln then pushed for an amendment that would finish the job, and got it. Sniping at him now for his tactics is Monday-morning quarterbacking at its worst.


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