Lincoln was not the first to invoke an emancipation of slaves in the South for the purpose of carrying off his enemy’s agricultural labor and inciting a bloody race war – Virginia’s Royal Governor Lord Dunmore did this in 1775 and Rear Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane the same in 1814. As enlistments for his war machine had virtually ceased after the carnage of 1862, Lincoln saw more blue-clad troops in slaves carried off from their Southern plantation homes.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org
Lincoln’s Instrument of Subjugation
“Lincoln had laid aside his [emancipation] proclamation waiting for a victory. He waited two months, meanwhile giving out public statements based on his previous noncommittal attitude [regarding African slavery]; then on September 22, after Lee’s invasion had been foiled at [Sharpsburg], he issued the preliminary proclamation.
That this proclamation was far from an abolition document is shown by a careful reading of its provisions. The President began by reiterating that the purpose of the war was the restoration of the Union and reaffirming his intention still to labor for compensated emancipation. He then declared that on January 1, 1863, slaves in rebellious States should be “then, thenceforward, and forever free” . . .
The proclamation was not expressive of any general antislavery policy. On January 1, 1863, the definitive proclamation was issued, its chief provision being that in regions then designated as “in rebellion,” (with certain notable exceptions) all slaves were declared free. [But] the stereotyped picture of the emancipator suddenly striking the shackles from millions of slaves by a stroke of the presidential pen is altogether inaccurate.
The whole State of Tennessee was omitted [from the proclamation]; none of the Union slave States was included; and there were important exceptions as to portions of Virginia and Louisiana, those being portions within Union military lines. In fact freedom was decreed only in regions then under Confederate control.
“The President has purposely made the proclamation inoperative [declared the New York World] in all places where we have gained a military footing which makes the slaves accessible. He has proclaimed emancipation only where he has notoriously no power to execute it. The exemption of the accessible parts of Louisiana, Tennessee and Virginia renders the proclamation not merely futile, but ridiculous.
The proclamation is issued as a war measure, as an instrument for the subjugation of the rebels. But that cannot be a means of military success which presupposes this same . . . success as the condition of its own existence . . . A war measure it clearly is not, inasmuch as the previous success of the war is the thing that can give it validity.”
“We show our sympathy with slavery, [Secretary of State William] Seward is reported to have said, “by emancipating slaves where we cannot reach them and holding them in bondage where we can set them free.”
The London Spectator declared (October 11, 1862): “The government liberates the enemy’s slaves as it would the enemy’s cattle, simply to weaken them in the . . . conflict . . . The principle is not that a human being cannot justify owning another, but that he cannot own him unless he is loyal to the United States.”
Earl Russell in England declared: “The Proclamation . . . appears to be of a very strange nature. It professes to emancipate all slaves in places where the United States authorities cannot exercise any jurisdiction . . . but it does not decree emancipation . . . in any States, or parts of States, occupied by federal troops . . . and where, therefore, emancipation . . . might have been carried into effect . . . There seems to be no declaration of a principle adverse to slavery in this proclamation.”
It will be noted that Lincoln justified his act as a measure of war. To uphold his view would be to maintain that the freeing of enemy slaves was a legitimate weapon of war to be wielded by the President . . . [and] in the new attitude toward slavery which the war produced [in the North] it was natural to find considerable support for the view that slavery was a legitimate target o the war power [of the President]; but it is a matter of plain history that prior to the Civil War the United States had emphatically denied the “belligerent right” of emancipation.
Indeed, John Quincy Adams, who has been credited by his grandson [Charles Francis Adams] with having originated the idea of the emancipation proclamation, declared officially while secretary of state in 1820 that “No such right [emancipation of slaves] is acknowledged as a Law of War by writers who admit any limitation.”
To Lincoln’s mind the war emergency justified things normally unconstitutional. “I felt that measures otherwise unconstitutional,” he said, “might become lawful by becoming indispensible to the preservation of the Constitution through the preservation of the nation.”
(The Civil War and Reconstruction, J.G. Randall, D.C. Heath and Company, 1937, pp. 489-493)