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February 1861

Confederate States of America Formed:
From January 9 through February 1, 1861, six Southern slave states—Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas—joined South Carolina in seceding from the Union.  Meeting on February 4, 1861, a convention in Montgomery, Alabama, established the Confederate States of America, adopted a constitution (February 8), and elected (February 9) and inaugurated (February 18) Jefferson Davis of Mississippi as president. 

March 1861

Corwin Amendment:
Congressman Charles Francis Adams of Massachusetts introduced a version of a constitutional amendment first drafted by Secretary of State-designate William Henry Seward that would have prohibited future amendments from interfering with slavery where it already existed (i.e., in the South).  Congressman Thomas Corwin of Ohio headed the committee that reported the measure to the full House and the proposed amendment thereafter bore his name.  The House passed the proposed Corwin Amendment on February 28 by a vote of 133-65 and the Senate approved it on March 2, 24-12.  In an unusual move, President James Buchanan signed the measure on March 3, his last day in office (the Constitution does not require presidential approval for proposed amendments). It was ratified by Ohio on May 13, 1861 and by Maryland on January 10, 1862, falling far short of the necessary three-quarters majority.  The Corwin Amendment was the originally proposed Thirteenth Amendment and would have protected slavery had it been ratified. 

Presidential Inauguration:
Republican Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated as the sixteenth president of the United States on March 4, 1861.

April 1861 Beginning of the Civil War:
In February 1861, Confederates began seizing federal forts in their states.  Major Robert Anderson refused to surrender Fort Sumter, located on a small island off Charleston, to the Confederate state of South Carolina.  In early April, President Abraham Lincoln announced he was shipping nonmilitary provisions to Fort Sumter.  When Anderson refused to evacuate, the Confederates fired on the fort in the early morning of April 12, marking the beginning of the Civil War.  Major Anderson surrendered the next day, and the Confederates assumed control of the fort on April 14.  By June 8, four more slave states—Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee—had left the Union and joined the Confederacy, making 11 in all.
May 1861

On May 24, Union General Benjamin Butler refused to comply with the Fugitive Slave Law, which required the return of escaped slaves to their masters.  Instead, he labeled runaway slaves arriving at Fort Monroe in southeast Virginia to be “contraband of war” (i.e., seized property) if their masters refused to pledge loyalty to the Union.  The contrabands became laborers for the Union military. 

August 1861

First Confiscation Act:
On August 6, Congress enacted the First Confiscation Act, which forbid runaway or captured slaves who had been used in the Confederate war effort from being returned to their masters. 

Fremont’s Emancipation Order:
On August 30, Union General John C. Fremont declared free all slaves in the Border State of Missouri whose owners who did not swear loyalty to the Union.  President Lincoln requested that Fremont modify the order to comply with federal law.  When Fremont refused, Lincoln rescinded the emancipation order on September 11.

December 1861

Annual Presidential Message to Congress:
On December 3, President Lincoln suggested that Congress set aside money for states voluntarily freeing their slaves and allocate funds to colonize to Liberia, Haiti, or other foreign lands those ex-slaves, contrabands, and possibly free blacks, as well. 

March 1862 Fugitive Slave Legislation:
On March 13, Congress prohibited, under threat of court-martial, Union military personnel from using forces under their command to return escaped slaves to their masters.  The “Additional Article of War,” as it was called, thereby expanded the provisions of the First Confiscation Act, which only forbid the return of slaves used in the Confederate military effort.
April 1862 Compensated, Gradual Emancipation:
At the request of President Lincoln, Congress passed a joint resolution on April 10 promising federal funds to any state that passed a gradual emancipation law.  No state accepted the offer. 

District of Columbia Emancipation Act:
On April 6, the Senate passed (29-14) a bill abolishing slavery in the nation’s capital of Washington, D.C.  The House approved the measure (93-39) on April 11, and President Lincoln signed it into law on April 16.  It emancipated over 3000 slaves, compensated owners, and set aside funds for voluntary colonization abroad.  It was the only time the federal government compensated former slaveowners for the loss of their slaves.



May 1862

Hunter’s Emancipation Order:
On May 9, Union General David Hunter issued an order freeing all the slaves in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina.  On May 19, President Lincoln nullified Hunter’s order, reserving the “war power” of emancipation for himself as commander-in-chief.  Lincoln also encouraged slave states to accept the congressional offer of compensation in return for enacting state laws for gradual emancipation.



June 1862

Territorial Emancipation Act:
On June 19, Congress banned slavery in the federal territories (current or future), without compensation to former slaveowners.

July 1862

Second Confiscation Act:
Passed by Congress on July 17, the law included a section freeing all slaves coming under Union military jurisdiction who were owned by rebel masters.  The act also authorized the president to use “persons of African descent” in any capacity in the war effort. 

Militia Act:
Also passed by Congress on July 17, the law specifically authorized the president to recruit and use “persons of African descent” as laborers, soldiers, or sailors in the Union military. 

Cabinet Discussion on Emancipation:
On July 22, President Lincoln informed his cabinet that he planned to issue an emancipation proclamation.  Since the Union was suffering through a series of military defeats, Secretary of State William Henry Seward convinced Lincoln to wait until after a major Union victory to announce the policy publicly.  In that way, it would be based on military strength rather than political desperation in a time of military weakness.  Lincoln agreed, and announced the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation after the Union victory at Antietam in mid-September.

August 1862 The Prayer of Twenty Millions:
On August 19, New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley published a public letter to Lincoln, complaining about the president’s alleged failure to enforce emancipation under the Second Confiscation Act.  On August 22, Lincoln responded to Greeley in a public letter.  The president stated that his goal was to preserve the Union, not to save or abolish slavery.  He would choose to free all, some, or none of the slaves, if the selected method would help save the Union.
September 1862


Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation:
On September 22, following the Union victory at Antietam on September 17, President Lincoln issued the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.  It warned that if the Confederacy did not surrender by January 1, 1863, he would free all the slaves in Confederate-held territory.  The document included a promise to seek federal funds for states enacting compensated emancipation plans (whether gradual or immediate) and for the voluntary colonization abroad of all black Americans.  It also indirectly authorized the use of black troops in the Union military.

December 1862 Annual Presidential Message to Congress:
On December 1, President Lincoln proposed three constitutional amendments:  one for federal compensation to states voluntarily abolishing slavery by 1900; another for federal compensation to slave-owners; and a third authorizing Congress to allocate money for the colonization of American blacks to foreign nations.  None of the proposed amendments were introduced into Congress.

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