Friday, November 7, 2008

Emancipation Proclamation

As I mentioned on Wednesday the Rocky Mountain News is rolling out a series of the top 150 front pages in their 150 years of publishing. Yesterday the article was on Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. In it the modern author said that "Regular readers of the Rocky weren't surprised by the proclamation. Nine months earlier, on April 8, 1862, the newspaper printed the president's announcement of his intention to seek adoption of the proclamation by Congress. The paper made its position clear on the matter in an accompanying note:
'The last mail ... brought scores of Eastern and Western papers with similar recommendations. The voice of the press is almost unanimous in its approval. That is a pretty correct index of popular opinion, and we may therefore set down that almost the entire loyal States endorse the action of the President. It must be expected that the ultra Abolitionists will kick against it, as too conservative for their radical views. Let them squirm! 'Honest Abe' has shown that he will be no tool of theirs.' "

This struck me as odd because up until the time Lincoln issued his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation he did everything possible to distance him from emancipation. When a variety of generals declared emancipation in their districts he forced them to rescind those orders. So I emailed the author.

He wrote back:
"I'm a little puzzled by your view of Lincoln's "preliminary proclamation," though. I have a photocopy (that I made) of the actual April 8, 1862, page from the Rocky. It fully lays out Lincoln's apparent intentions, and the date is clearly printed. It goes on at quite some length, in fact. And as you no doubt read, the paper even went on to comment regarding the preliminary news."

I've since asked him to send a copy of the April 8th issue so that I might be able to find out more of what the paper was reporting. Does anyone out there have ideas of what could be in the paper?

I wrote back to the author my knowledge of the Emancipation Proclamation. Basically that the first reference to it is in Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles' diary. He mentions being told about the proclamation by Lincoln on July 13th 1862 in the company of Secretary of State William Seward. At a cabinet meeting on July 22 Lincoln revealed the proclamation to his entire cabinet and sought their advice as far as implementation went. He had already made up his mind to go forward with the proclamation. Seward convinces Lincoln to wait, saying that, “It may be viewed as the last measure of an exhausted government, a cry for help.” And “that it would be considered our last shriek, on the retreat."

While the proclamation sat in his desk Lincoln did his best to project a public appearance of moderation. There is a famous letter he wrote to Horace Greeley on August 22, 1862 in which he states,
“I would save the Union. I would save it the shortest way under the Constitution. The sooner the national authority can be restored; the nearer the Union will be "the Union as it was." If there be those who would not save the Union, unless they could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them. If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them. My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union.”

I told the author that I doubted that there would be proclamation news in April that was directly tied to Lincoln when in August he didn't let out a bit info to Greeley. If Greeley knew something the world would have known it as his paper had one of the widest circulations in the country. Yet somehow the Denver paper reports on an emancipation proclamation four months before Greeley urges Lincoln to adopt the same route. I'm guessing that the April 8th issue was just reporting rumors of emancipation, which the Radical Republicans wanted from the start of the war, and somehow Lincoln's name was associated with these rumors. I'll be interested to see if the author can send me a copy of the April 8th issue and see exactly what it says.

I do regret having to contact the author through the corrections department. I truly do not think this deserves to be listed as a correction in the paper so I hope that I didn't get him into any trouble by contacting him that way. It sounds like the error was made in 1862 when the paper directly linked Lincoln with this emancipation rumor. Although it would be funny to see in the corrections section: "Correction: A story on page 1 of the April 8, 1862 issue incorrectly said that Lincoln was issuing an emancipation proclamation. Instead it was other politicians who were urging Lincoln to adopt such a proclamation."

Just got an email from the author. Apparently what the April 8th issue talked about was Lincoln's plan to buy all the slaves from the South. A message from Lincoln to Congress that says, in part, "Resolved, That the United States ought to co-operate with any State which may adopt a gradual abolishment of Slavery, giving to such State pecuniary aid, to be used by such State in its discretion, to compensate for the inconveniences, public and private, produced by such change of system." So the newspaper in 1862 called it an emancipation proclamation when it was a bit less. Since this was the first emancipation proclamation of any kind I think they can be allowed to exaggerate a bit.

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