The Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation

Today marks the 149th anniversary of the issuance of the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.  The significance of this document (and its details) are sometimes overlooked (and it must be set in context alongside Lincoln’s December 1862 annual message, as well as the ebb and flow of the war and the political situation, including the midterm elections).

I’ll have more to say about this document soon (including my belief that it is best to see the document as one of reconstruction).  What do you make of it?

6 thoughts on “The Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation

  1. Jeff Davis September 22, 2011 / 10:27 am

    I look at the Preliminary document as Lincoln serving notice that he would issue the document in 100 days [1 January] unless the South stopped the fighting and rejoined the Union, or indicated its willingness to do so.

    Lincoln constructed the document on several levels, as he did with many of his speeches. I agree, it was a reconstruction document. I believe that Lincoln realized at that point in the war that the South could not win, and as soon as he found a general for the job [which would be two years later!] he would see the utter defeat of the CSA come to fruition, forcing it to reunification. As a result, you have the warning issuance here to the CSA government, and the reconstruction document as Lincoln so carefully crafted it so that there would be no recourse for the South after the fighting ended but to accept emancipation; you also have the war proclamation that essentially would lead to the formation of and use of USCT. It also provided a call to the Southern slaves to rise up and come north.

    Finally, this was, of a sort, Lincoln’s trump card.

    By playing it now, he changed the war aim of the Union to reunification AND emancipation. He put the one major issue of divisiveness between North and South right square in the crosshairs of the war, saying, in effect, “This is why you left. Come back now and you may still retain the instutution to some degree, but there will be no future expansion, and you may be required to agree to gradual emancipation so we can eliminate the issue that divides us. If you wait, there will be destruction, and ruin, and death, and emancipation will be forced upon you.”

    They had 100 days to respond with acceptance. They refused. This provided the justification for Grant’s bloody battles in Virginia, and Sherman’s path of destruction through the South. It marked the shift in policy to total war, though the actualy effective date was after Grant took command.

    I would note a personal thought here, that the government of the CSA, and Jefferson Davis in particular, seemed almost disconnected from reality at least from Antietam onward. They continually ignored or refused to read the signs of the growing strength and size of the Union effort against them and that Europe would not help them. The uselessness of just about anyone in Army command, except Lee became readily obvious, espeially Bragg and later Johnston and Hood. Lee’s limitations should have been realized from his record before succeeding Johnston, and after Antietam [Fredericksburg was an enormous military blunder as a campaign from delayed bridging to the Mud March. Old King Cole could have stopped Burnside. Chancellorsville and Brandy Station were near misses that Lee failed to evaluate properly. Gettysburg was a blunder on Lee’s part.] Finally, as part of this disconnect, the CSA missed an opportunity for a mulligan.

    • Noma September 22, 2011 / 6:18 pm

      “The uselessness of just about anyone in Army command, except Lee became readily obvious, especially Bragg and later Johnston and Hood.”

      As is probably apparent to others on this blog, I’m a newcomer to Civil War history. I just wonder about Johnston. Both Grant and Sherman praised him greatly. Grant called Johnston the most effective Confederate General.

      What is the general assessment of Johnston? Is he actually considered weak. Did Grant and Sherman actually consider him formidable? Or were they just chatting up the abilities of their (by then) friend?

      • Ray O'Hara September 23, 2011 / 9:51 am

        I always liked Jeff Davis’s opinion of Joe Johnston, that is if left to his own devices he would retreat to Key West and then demand transport to Cuba.

        Johnston was highly regarded in the pre-war Army and that carried over, he was great to serve under and would have his subordinates back but he was also difficult to command and very jealous of what he saw as his prerogatives , that led to many a clash with Davis.

        in Georgia he did a fine job of retreating and drawing Sherman down to the fortified Atlanta but then Davis relieved him before he could finish his strategy which is supposedly to let Sherman bash himself against those lines. we’ll never know if it would work but the more aggressive Hood was the one who beat up his army assaulting Sherman.

        Johnston was a throwbabk to the European Generals of the late 17th century when wars were like chess and battles to be avoided. he was out of his time in the ACW

      • Jeff Davis September 24, 2011 / 7:59 pm

        Joe Johnston never met a retreat he didn’t love.

        I suspect that like magnanimous boxing champs, the better and tougher your opponent, the better your performance must have been when you defeated him.

        Johnston, P. G. T. Beauregard, and A. S. Johnson were perhaps the top three Generals in the Confederate Army at the outbreak of war. A.S. Johnson was kiiled early on at Shiloh, and Beauregard seemed to be the guy who was always between commands…not in the field. That left Johnston who commanded the forces in Virginia until wounded and Davis replaced him with Lee. A.S. Johnson was eventually replaced by Braxton Bragg, who was capable [in my humble opinion] of developing a great pan for battle and then being unable to adapt to the changeing face of that battle, as well as failing to follow up on his successes. Bragg was unpopular with the generals under him. Some of them, like Polk, were pretty worthless.

        So Johnston was perhaps a cut above the rest, except Lee, but the subordinates may have had something to do with that, too.

        Lee had Jackson and Longstreet, and was fortunate to have them both as long as he did.

        The others were saddled with lesser Generals, some of which were better than others, like Patrick Cleburn. Forrest and Mosby were excellent at independent command.

        In my opinion, however, there were no equivilents to Grant or Sherman in the CS Army, except for Lee. I rank Lee tied for second with Sherman.

  2. Margaret Blough September 22, 2011 / 11:07 am

    I think one of the notable things about the Preliminary EP was its timing as the 1862-63 Congressional/gubernatorial elections were beginning. This was not a politically expedient move for Lincoln and the Republicans to be making.

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