Emancipation and Black Massachusetts Regiment Authorized

January 4, 1863/2013
Volume 4, Issue 1 (117 Issues Since 15 October 2010)

Emancipation

January 1, 1863 was the date slaves and abolitionists had been waiting for. A hundred days earlier, Lincoln had issued a preliminary proclamation stating that he would order the emancipation of all slaves in any Confederate state that didn’t return to Union control by January 1. No states returned, and Lincoln issued the order.

Abraham Lincoln, November 8, 1863, by Alexander Gardner, Library of Congress

Abraham Lincoln, November 8, 1863, by Alexander Gardner, Library of Congress

In those days presidents traditionally hosted a public New Year’s Day reception at the White House; any citizen could attend and shake his hand. Lincoln shook hands for three hours. After the reception, when he picked up the pen to sign the proclamation, his hand shook.

Lincoln remarked, “I never in my life felt more certain that I was doing right, than I do in signing this paper,” adding in jest that in future years people would see his shaky signature and think he “has some compunctions.” But, he said, “If my name ever goes into history it will be for this act, and my whole soul is in it.”

Not everyone was supportive. Historian Carol Berkin tells us that the First Lady of the Confederacy, Varina Davis, considered the proclamation an outrageous attack on property, which, far from “disheartening Southerners . . . would produce a new, steely determination among Confederate troops.”

Vermonter George Perkins Marsh, Lincoln’s ambassador to Italy, didn’t like the means by which the slaves were to be emancipated. He had written his wife, “The proclamation is as foolish in form — not substance — as possible, and is technically speaking, unconstitutional. Common sense would have dictated an unobjectionable way of doing the same thing.”

In Vermont, just before New Years, the editors of the Burlington Sentinel, a Democratic newspaper, wrote that with the proclamation, “the abolition experiment will have been completed — its last card played out. With the utter failure of that measure to bring the rebellion any nearer its close . . . what will remain to Mr. Lincoln but to perceive and realize the mistakes of his Administration.”

But when news reached St. Johnsbury that Lincoln had issued the proclamation, bells rang for nearly an hour.

And abolitionist Frederick Douglass understood that the Proclamation was a revolutionary document that turned the war to preserve the Union into a war to abolish slavery. He knew it spelled the end of slavery everywhere in America. For him it was a “sacred text,” along with the Declaration of Independence.

In Boston’s Tremont Temple, a former theater converted into a church, Douglass led an enormous congregation in the hymn “Blow Ye the Trumpet Blow,” with its refrain, “The year of jubilee is come.” And nearby, in Music Hall, Ralph Waldo Emerson recited a poem he’d written for the occasion. In it, Randall Fuller points out, “Emerson turns on its head the debate about whether slaveholders should be compensated for their lost ‘property.'” The speaker in the poem, who is God himself, says:

Pay ransom to the owner
And fill the bag to the brim.
Who is the owner? The slave is owner,
And ever was. Pay him.

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

This article was first broadcast on Vermont Public Radio on January 1, 2013. Listen to the broadcast here. © VPR

INTERESTING LINKS

Emancipation Proclamation, National Archives

“Boston Hymn” by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Emancipation Proclamation, Civil War Trust, Cartoons, illustrations, and photographs — all created between 1862 and 1864 — that illustrate the reactions and views on the Emancipation Proclamation by both the North and South.

The Emancipation Proclamation Image Exhibit, Civil War Trust


Black Massachusetts Regiment Authorized

“In January 1863, with emancipation now Union policy, Governor John Andrew in Massachusetts got the authorization he had been seeking for months. He began seeking black regiments. Wartime

Carte-de-visite studio portrait of Governor John A. Andrew (1818-1867)

Carte-de-visite studio portrait of Governor John A. Andrew (1818-1867)

prosperity that gave blacks jobs, rumors that the army would pay them less and that only whites could be officers, slowed early recruiting efforts. But Andrew called in prominent black abolitionists to stir up patriotism and to point up the opportunity.” By the end of May, the black Fifty-fourth Massachusetts would be formed, and commanded by Colonel Robert Gould Shaw. (1)

“. . .[B]y the end of the war there would be 166 black regiments, eventually totaling three hundred thousand men. Most were led by white officers until late in the war, when blacks were commissioned. Black volunteers helped swing the balance of the war to the North’s favor.” (2)

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

"The 54th Massachusetts regiment, under the leadership of Colonel Shaw in the attack on Fort Wagner, Morris Island, South Carolina, in 1863," mural at the Recorder of Deeds building, built in 1943. 515 D St., NW, Washington, D.C.

“The 54th Massachusetts regiment, under the leadership of Colonel Shaw in the attack on Fort Wagner, Morris Island, South Carolina, in 1863,” mural at the Recorder of Deeds building, built in 1943. 515 D St., NW, Washington, D.C.

1 Comment

Filed under Civil War Book of Days: 1863

One response to “Emancipation and Black Massachusetts Regiment Authorized

  1. Pingback: Partisan Newspaper Accuses Lincoln’s Son of War Profiteering | Civil War Book of Days

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