Go to the homepage...

Gradualism, Compensation, and Colonization // Emancipation Proclamation
Wartime Reconstruction

On August 19, 1862, New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley, a leading abolitionist, published “The Prayer of Twenty Millions,” a public letter to President Lincoln.  The editor complained that the populace of the loyal states (the “Twenty Millions”) was “sorely disappointed and deeply pained by the policy you [Lincoln] seem to be pursuing with regard to the slaves of the Rebels.”  In particular, Greeley chastized the president for inadequate execution of the Second Confiscation Act of July 17, 1862, which freed all slaves coming under Union military jurisdiction who were owned by rebel masters. 

On August 22, the president responded to Greeley in a public letter, which appeared in the September 6 issue of Harper’s Weekly (published August 27).  Lincoln asserted that his goal was to save the Union, disagreeing with those who placed either preserving or abolishing slavery above it.  “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save the Union by freeing all the slaves I would do it.  And if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that.”  He ended by repeating his “oft-expressed personal wish that all men every where could be free.” 

In the same September 6, 1862 issue, Harper’s Weekly published a cartoon by Henry Louis Stephens spoofing Greeley’s “The Prayer of Twenty Millions” letter.  In the foreground, Greeley gestures grandly as he dramatically dictates the correspondence to his assistant.  In the left background, a group of men sing, “We Ain’t Coming, Father Abraham.”  Their chorus refers to President Lincoln’s request on July 1, 1862, that loyal state governors recruit 300,000 volunteers for the Union military.  In order to support the president’s plea for more troops, James Sloan Gibbons wrote “We Are Coming, Father Abraham,” a patriotic poem first published in the New York Evening Post on July 16 and soon set to music.  In the cartoon, Greeley’s singers reject the call to arms.  Inclusion of a black man among them reflects the policy of the Second Confiscation Act and Militia Act of 1862, both of which authorized the president to use black Americans in the Union military.  The group on the right includes a black boy, a Quaker (note the dark, wide-brimmed hat), and an old man.  In cartoons of the day, an umbrella held by a man was often a symbol of weakness or effeminacy.   

Unknown to Greeley and other critics of the president, Lincoln had informed his cabinet on July 22, 1862, that he would issue an emancipation order based on his authority as commander-in-chief.  With the Union military suffering setbacks in early 1862, Secretary of State William Henry Seward feared that its prompt announcement could be interpreted as an act of desperation.  Therefore, Seward convinced the president to wait until after a major Union victory before declaring the policy, so that it would be based on a position of military strength.  Accordingly, when Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s invasion of the North was repelled at the battle of Antietam on September 17, Lincoln issued his Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation five days later on September 22, 1862.

Harper’s Weekly printed the document in its issue dated October 4, 1862 (published September 24).  The Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation declared that if the Confederacy did not cease its rebellion by the first of the year, then all the slaves in Confederate-held territory would be freed.  It excluded slaves in the loyal Border States of Maryland, Delaware, Kentucky, and Missouri, and in Southern areas controlled by the Union military on that date (Tennessee and parts of Louisiana and Virginia).  Therefore, it would affect only slaveowners in disloyal areas.  The policy was aimed at inducing the Confederacy to surrender rather than lose its slaves, and it was based on what Lincoln considered to be a president’s war power:  increased constitutional authority as commander-in-chief during a national emergency. 

The Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation begins with Lincoln’s promise to encourage Congress again to allocate funds for states enacting compensated emancipation plans (whether gradual or immediate) and for the voluntary colonization abroad of all black Americans (free blacks as well as freed slaves).  The document drew attention to a congressional act of March 13, 1862, forbidding the return of fugitive slaves by Union military personnel, and of sections 9 and 10 of the Second Confiscation Act of July 17, 1862, which freed all slaves coming into Union military jurisdiction and also forbid their return to slavery.  By calling for the full enforcement of the Second Confiscation Act, Lincoln authorized the use of black troops in the Union military.

The next issue of Harper’s Weekly, dated October 11, 1862 (published October 1), ran a cartoon by Frank Bellew about the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, “Lincoln’s Last Warning.”  In it, an ax-wielding Lincoln threatens to chop down the tree of slavery unless Confederate President Jefferson Davis agrees to come down from it.

In the annual presidential message to Congress of December 1, 1862, a month before the Emancipation Proclamation took effect, Lincoln proposed three constitutional amendments related to slavery:  1) federal compensation to states voluntarily abolishing slavery by 1900; 2) federal compensation to slave-owners; and, 3) federal funds for the voluntary colonization of American blacks abroad.  The proposals were largely ignored or criticized, and none were introduced into Congress.   

The lead editorial in the December 13, 1862 issue of Harper’s Weekly (published December 3) commented on the presidential message.  In the “Emancipation” section, the editorialist (probably managing editor John Bonner) pointed out that the Border States appeared no closer to adopting compensated emancipation than they were eight months before when Congress passed the president’s resolution offering federal funds for the policy.  The editorial noted that Lincoln did not intend the proposed amendments to undercut the authority of the soon-to-be promulgated Emancipation Proclamation.  The writer ended by again arguing that colonization was impractical and, with sarcastic wit aimed at colonization advocates, that most blacks do not want to leave the United States because it was their native land of which they were patriotically fond.   

A cartoon in the December 20, 1862 issue of Harper’s Weekly poked fun at Lincoln’s proposed constitutional amendment for gradual emancipation by 1900.  In it, black Americans who had been preparing to celebrate the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, react to a banner declaring that emancipation has been postponed for 37 years.  

As largely expected, none of the Confederate states accepted Lincoln’s offer to put down their arms in return for securing slavery within the Union.  Therefore, the president signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, and it was printed in the Harper’s Weekly issue dated January 17 (published January 7).  In it, Lincoln emphasized his authority as commander-in-chief and that the emancipation order was a “fit and necessary war measure.”  The loyal Border States—Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri—and the former Confederate state of Tennessee (then under Union control) did not fall under the jurisdiction of the Emancipation Proclamation.  He also excluded the counties that would soon become the state of West Virginia and, by name, certain other counties in Virginia and Louisiana, then under Union control.  Because of the common fear in the South of race warfare, Lincoln admonished the freed slaves not to resort to violence.  He then affirmed that former slaves would be accepted into Union military service.   

The lead editorial in the previous week’s Harper’s Weekly, published on the eve of the proclamation (December 31), emphasized the importance of the presidential order to the recruitment of black troops.  The editorialist (probably John Bonner) judged that the Emancipation Proclamation “merely affirms and consolidates the policy which as hitherto been pursued by individual commanders from military considerations.”  Nevertheless, the writer predicted, “the number of runaways will increase as our armies advance and the [naval] blockade is tightened,” some perhaps emboldened by the Emancipation Proclamation. 

A double-page cartoon by Thomas Nast from the January 24, 1863 issue of Harper’s Weekly celebrated the Emancipation Proclamation.  The centerpiece is a reunited family of former slaves living in middle-class comfort (note the portrait of Lincoln on the wall).  On the right, are depictions of other benefits of emancipation, such as public education and paid employment, which are contrasted on the left by the heartless slave auctions, which divided families, and the brutal punishment slaves suffered.  In the small circular in the center foreground, Father Time holds the Baby New Year, who unshackles a black man. 

The Emancipation Proclamation’s declaration of freedom for slaves in Confederate-held territory and its approval of using black men in the Union military meant that to the original federal war aim of restoring the Union was added the goal of liberating those still held as slaves.  As Union military forces advanced across the South, thousands of slaves were freed.  In the February 21, 1863 issue of Harper’s Weekly, an illustration by a Union soldier depicted slaves crossing into freedom behind Federal lines in Newbern, North Carolina.  In his letter to the newspaper, the soldier estimated that there were about 120 slaves in the group, and reported that they said, “it was known far and wide that the President had declared the slaves free.”  A news column, “Domestic Intelligence,” in the December 17, 1864 issue included an item estimating the number of slaves freed to that date by Union policies. 

An important consequence of the Emancipation Proclamation was the recruitment of black servicemen.  By the end of the war, almost 200,000 black men had served in the Union armed forces as soldiers, sailors, or laborers.  An illustration from the March 14, 1863 issue of Harper’s Weekly showed black troops engaged in battle at Island Mound, Missouri. 

Although criticized by some at the time and later for its limited nature, the Emancipation Proclamation quickly assumed the status of a revered symbol of American liberty.  An advertisement in the June 25, 1864 issue of Harper’s Weekly solicited for agents to sell copies of it to the public.

Harper's Weekly References
1)  August 19, 1862, New York Tribune, “Prayer of Twenty Millions”

2)  September 6, 1862, p. 563, c. 3-4
“Domestic Intelligence” column, “The President on the Negro Question”

3)  September 6, 1862, p. 576
cartoon, untitled, Greeley’s “The Prayer of Twenty Millions,” Henry Louis Stephens

4)  “We Are Coming, Father Abraham,” poem

5)  October 4, 1862, p. 627, c. 2-3
“Domestic Intelligence” column, “The Abolition of Slavery”

6)  October 11, 1862, p. 656
cartoon, “Lincoln’s Last Warning,” Frank Bellew

7)  December 13, 1862, p. 786, c. 1-2
editorial, “The Message,” section 2, “Emancipation”

8)  To the first paragraph of “Gradualism, Compensation, and Colonization” section of the commentary

9)  December 20, 1862, p. 816
cartoon, untitled, John McLenan

10)  January 17, 1863, p. 34, c. 1
announcement, text of the Emancipation Proclamation

11)  January 10, 1863, p. 18, c. 1-2
editorial, “Negro Emancipation”

12)  January 24, 1863, pp. 56-67
cartoon, “Emancipation Proclamation,” Thomas Nast

13)  February 21, 1863, p. 116
illustration, “The Effects of the Proclamation”

14)  February 21, 1863, p. 119
article, “The Effects of the Proclamation”

15)  December 17, 1864, p. 811, c. 3
“Interesting Items” column

16)  March 14, 1863, pp. 168-169
illustration, “A Negro Regiment in Action”

17)  June 25, 1864, p. 414, c. 2
advertisement, “Emancipation Proclamation”

Go to the homepage...

Gradualism, Compensation, and Colonization // Emancipation Proclamation
Wartime Reconstruction




Website design © 2001-2008 HarpWeek, LLC
All Content © 1998-2008 HarpWeek, LLC
Please submit questions to