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Limitations of the Emancipation Proclamation

President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863 declaring that all persons held as slaves within the rebellious states shall be free. However, despite this expansive wording, the Proclamation was limited in many ways. It applied only to states that withdrew from the Union, leaving slavery untouched in the loyal border states. It also specifically excluded parts of the Confederacy that had already come under Northern control. Most importantly, the freedom it promised depended upon Union military victory.

In the early life of Lincoln, he formed a strong opinion on the issue of slavery. Slavery, for Lincoln, violated everything for which he stood. Lincoln was born into a poor pioneer family, and worked hard on the farm. He knew what it was like to till soil and raise crops. Through his hard work and determination, Lincoln was able to become a successful lawyer. “Lincoln believed that all Americans should have the opportunity to enhance their lives as he had enhanced his own” (Tackach 30).

Lincoln felt slavery violated the principle in the Declaration of Independence that stated “all men are created equal”(Tackach 31). The Emancipation of January 1, 1863, contained no indictment of slavery, but imply based emancipation on “military necessity”. However, the Federal Constitution still held the slaves as property, except in Missouri and Maryland, two states which had legalized emancipation (Sandburg 643). Lincoln is often known as the “Great Emancipator”, and was loved for “freeing the slaves”. Donald 154)

The purpose for issuing the proclamation is not always fully understood. “Although Lincoln’s judgement as well as timing were in the long run fully vindicated, it is perhaps easier to understand the Proclamation in the terms in which Lincoln himself presented t-as a war measure, issued on the narrow grounds of military necessity, and designed to hurt the enemy both at home and abroad” (Canby 291). In the beginning, the Civil War was not being fought over the issue of slavery, but it war was being fought primarily to save the Union (Tackach 43).

Lincoln accurately hypothesized that any freeing of slaves elsewhere would hurt the border states, and the Union could not afford to lose any more states than it had already lost. Lincoln once said If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the laves, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that(Canby 292). As he wrote these words to Horace Greeley, Lincoln had already knew he was going to issue the Emancipation Proclamation at the first favorable opportunity.

Part of the “military necessity” justification for the proclamation was the opinion that freed blacks could not be used in the armed forces. In aiding to restore the Confederate states and their citizens to the Union, Lincoln was explicit and took his authority in action (Phillips 92). As the war entered its second year, the abolitionists in Congress began pressing the president to free the slaves. Freeing the slaves would cause problems because it would cripple the South’s ability to wage war.

This would occur because the labor by slaves would have to be performed by men who might otherwise enlist in the Confederate army (Tackach 43). As predicted, the South condemned Lincoln for the Emancipation Proclamation. “To pro-slavery Southerners, Lincoln was no better than John Brown, who had, in 1859, attempted to ignite a bloody war to free the South’s laves—Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation steeled the South’s resolve to win the Civil War. To lose the war would mean an end to Southern slavery and the ruination of the South’s economy. ” (Tackach 46).

In some ways, Lincoln had changed the purpose of the Civil War. It went from a war to restore the Union to a war to end American slavery (Sandburg 331). The Emancipation Proclamation itself was no ringing call for an all-out attack on slavery. It did not lay hands on slaves in the Confederacy and set any of them free immediately. But it did, slowly but surely, take hold of the minds f men and inspire them to fight for the freedom of millions of men, women, and children in bondage.

The proclamation was a promise for the futurea promise that changed the war for the Union into a fight for freedom. Latham 5) The many limitations and fine points in the proclamation provided fuel for Lincolns critics during the war and right into present day, but while he lived, those critics were mostly conservatives that were not going to admire any policy that led to freeing black people. Likewise, in Lincolns own day most political liberalsand, perhaps more important, most black people themselvespraised he proclamation. They noticed that despite the legalistic language, the document carried historic content. And the proclamation was nothing if not politically courageous.

Lincoln remarked about the non-existent effects of the proclamation, The North responds to the proclamation sufficiently in breath, but breath alone kills no rebels. (Cuomo 241) The cut-and-dried language of the proclamation has, however, caused some people, to this day, to doubt Lincolns right to the title: the Great Emancipator. They say that the pressure of the war forced Lincoln to make a alf-hearted gesture toward freeing slaves. They point out that he delayed freeing the slaves while he vigorously pushed plans to colonize freed slaves as well as free Negroes in Africa, the Caribbean, and South America.

The Emancipation Proclamation applied only to states in rebellion, exempting border slave states and even areas of the Confederacy returned to the Union control by January 1, 1863. Lincoln defends these restrictions arguing that to have gone further would have clearly exceeded his constitutional authority. Not until the following summer was Lincoln prepared publicly to support a onstitutional amendment abolishing slavery everywhere. (Cuomo 292) More troubling to the President was the disaffection the proclamation caused his moderate supporters.

Some border-state Unionists believed that his action would undermine the loyalty of Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri. Conservative Republicans thought the proclamation unconstitutional and unwise. Orville H. Browning, one of the Presidents oldest and dearest friends, was so offended by it, that he avoided discussing public issues with the President. Even some of his cabinet members regretted his proclamation. (Donald 379) Even in the North, once the initial euphoria had abated, the Emancipation Proclamation came under skeptical scrutiny.

Abolitionists noted that Lincoln had only made a promise of freedom and that, apart from being conditional, his promise could be withdrawn before January 1. A few even claimed that the proclamation postponed emancipation as required by the Second Confiscation Act. (Donald 379) The North responds to the proclamation sufficiently in breath, but breath alone kills no rebels. (Thomas 66) In the South, so far as the president could determine, the reaction to the Emancipation Proclamation was altogether egative.

Jefferson Davis denounced it as an attempt to stir up servile insurrection and called it a further reason why the Confederacy must fight for its independence. On Southern Unionism the proclamation had a chilling effect. In Tennessee, Emerson Etheridge discovered in Lincolns proclamation treachery to the Union men of the South, and Thomas A. R. Nelson, one of the most vigorous opponents of secession in eastern Tennessee, attacked the atrocity and barbarianism of Mr. Lincolns proclamation. (Miller 357) In Lincoln’s second term as President, he had several goals.

First to end the ar as quickly as possible, and once it was over, he wanted to reconstruct the United States. In order for this goal to be accomplished, he would have to rid the country of slavery forever. In doing this, Lincoln knew that the abolition of slavery would have to be guaranteed in the Constitution (Tackach 65). The great civil war to restore the union and put an end to slavery was primarily over when Lee surrendered at Appomattox. With this goal now behind him, Lincoln had to work on reconstructing the nation.

“For Lincoln, permanently resolving the issue of slavery was the key to reconstructing the United States” (Tackach 68). As a resolution, on February 1, 1865, Lincoln approved and signed the Thirteenth Amendment to the states for ratification (Phillips 92). Although the Emancipation of Proclamation often earns credit for freeing slaves, Abraham Lincoln’s executive order was actually only one of a series of emancipatory acts passed during the Civil War. (Latham 45) The Emancipation Proclamation was the document that turned the Civil War into a fight for freedom. (Latham 55)

Thus Lincolns signing of the Emancipation Proclamation and the decisive support he lent to the passing of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution justly won for him the title of the Great Emancipator. Today, in our own time of racial struggles, he is ever more inspiring as the symbol of human freedomthe man who taught his countrymen that all men are brothers, whatever color their skin may be. Though the Emancipation Proclamation was limited, it proved to be an incentive for winning the war. Even though it proclaimed that all slaves would be “henceforth and forever free”, many of them were not accepted or recognized as equal for a very long time due to the set-backs of the Emancipation Proclamation.

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