Lincoln’s Promise to Himself and His Maker

September 21, 1862/2012
Volume 3, Issue 38 (102 Issues Since 15 October 2010)

Lincoln Tells Cabinet He’s Issuing the Emancipation Proclamation

Lincoln’s Promise to Himself and His Maker

September 22, 1862. Salmon P. Chase, Lincoln’s secretary of the Treasury, recorded in his diary how on September 22, the President told his cabinet that he had decided to issue an Emancipation Proclamation:

. . . All the members of the Cabinet were in attendance. There was some general talk; and the President mentioned that [humorist] Artemus Ward had sent him his book. Proposed to read a chapter which he thought very funny. Read it, and seemed to enjoy it very much — the Heads also (except Stanton) of course. The Chapter was ‘Highhanded Outrage at Utica.’

“The President then took a graver tone and said:–

President Lincoln, 1861, Mathew Brady, Library of Congress

President Lincoln, 1861, Mathew Brady, Library of Congress

“‘Gentlemen: I have, as you are aware, thought a great deal about the relation of this war to Slavery; and you all remember that, several weeks ago, I read to you an Order I had prepared on this subject, which, on account of objections made by some of you, was not issued. Ever since then, my mind has been much occupied with this subject, and I have thought all along that the time for action on it might very probably come. I think the time has come now. . . . The action of the army against the rebels had not been quite what I should have best liked. But they have been driven out of Maryland, and Pennsylvania is no longer in danger of invasion. When the rebel army was at Frederick, I determined, as soon as it should be driven out of Maryland, and Pennsylvania is no longer in danger of invasion, to issue a Proclamation of Emancipation such as I thought most likely to be useful. I said nothing to any one; but I made the promise to myself, and (hesitating a little) — to my Maker. The rebel army is now driven out, and I am going to fulfill that promise. I have got you together to hear what I have written down. I do not wish your advice about the main matter — for that I have determined for myself. This I say without intending any thing but respect for any one of you. But I already know the views of each on this question. They have been heretofore expressed, and I have considered them as thoroughly and carefully as I can. What I have written is that which my reflections have determined me to say. If there is anything in the expressions I use, or in any other minor matter, which anyone of you thinks had best be changed, I shall be glad to receive the suggestions. One other observation I will make. I know very well that many others might, in this matter, as in others, do better than I can; . . . however this may be, there is no way in which I can have any other man put where I am. I am here. I must do the best I can, and bear the responsibility of taking the course which I feel I ought to take.

“The President then proceeded to read his Emancipation Proclamation, making remarks on the several parts as he went on, and showing that he had fully considered the whole subject, in all lights under which it had been presented to him. . . . .”

– Submitted by Peter A. Gilbert, Executive Director, Vermont Humanities Council

Emancipation Proclamation Becomes a Political Issue in the November Election

Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which would go into effect January 1, gave political opponents an issue for the fall elections:

“Here was an issue that Eastern and Western Democrats could play to the hilt with their constituencies and with it even hope to reach nonparty conservatives in the North. Western Democrat William Allen of Ohio proclaimed that ‘every white laboring man in the North who does not want to be swapped off for a free nigger should vote the Democratic ticket.’ New York Democrats unfurled visions of revolutions in Santo Domingo, describing the proclamation as a measure ‘for the butchery of women and children, for scenes of lust and rapine, and of arson and murder.’ The proclamation, another Democratic source insisted, ‘draws the line between those who wished to see the Constitution preserved and those [who] wish to see it destroyed.” Another decried such ‘experimental legislation, ending no man can tell in what unforeseen disaster.’ Once again the broader Democratic theme of the destruction of the social order also echoed throughout protests against the proclamation. . . .

“Republicans answered the 1862 charges of their foes with charges of Democratic disloyalty. . . . Nominee for governor James Wadsworth in New York asked, ‘What can any honest patriot do but sustain and strengthen Abraham Lincoln?’

– Submitted by Peter A. Gilbert, Executive Director, Vermont Humanities Council


A People’s Contest: The Union and Civil War 1861-1865, Phillip Shaw Paludan, pp. 98-99.

Confederate: Without support from England, we cannot go on much longer

Joseph Waddell, a “reluctant Confederate” who ran the leading newspaper in Augusta County, Virginia with his cousin and who owned three slaves but found slavery repulsive, had been cheerful two short weeks before.

But on September 24, 1862, a week after the Confederacy’s defeat at Sharpsburg [which is what the Battle of Antietam was generally called in the South], he wrote in his diary, “News from Europe not favorable for intervention. Thos. Carlyle says of the American war that it is ‘the foulest chimney that’s been afire this century, and the best way is to let it burn out.'”

With Lincoln announcing the Emancipation Proclamation, the American Civil War was suddenly a war to end slavery, and that made it highly unlikely that European countries who opposed slavery would recognize the Confederacy. Waddell recognized that “unless European powers do interfere in some way, at least by acknowledging our independence, the war must go on interminally. We cannot go on as at present many months longer — exhaustion must soon come, and a state of guerrilla warfare will ensure.”

– Submitted by Peter A. Gilbert, Executive Director, Vermont Humanities Council


Edward Ayers’s In the Presence of Mine Enemies: The Civil War in the Heart of America, 1859-1863, pp. 317-18.

Leave a comment

Filed under Civil War Book of Days: 1862

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s