What must it have been like in that room on September 22, 1862? After having stated with no uncertain terms that the war being fought was one of preserving the Union, President Lincoln announces his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. Though not freeing a single slave, this document changed the shape and scope of the Civil War.
Lincoln had been of two minds. Personally, he had no use for slavery. He knew that just as the Southerners were fighting to preserve their “peculiar institution“, Northerners would not really be too keen to fight a war to end it. At the same time a number of border states, who were still clinging to slavery, teetered on the edge between Union and Confederacy. For Lincoln, his proclamation was a calculated risk. And it paid off.
Through careful wording of his document Lincoln skillfully re-framed the war as one to not only save the Union but to secure the basic tenets of human freedom. At least that is what it seemed. The document stated that as of January 1, 1863, all slaves in the rebellious states “shall be then, thenceword, and forever free.” Think about for a second. He only freed the slaves in states that the government had no control over. Slaves still in the North, and those in the border states (Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, and Delaware) were not subject to the proclamation.
Lincoln heard from all sides. To some, it did not go far enough. To others, it seemed to go too far. What it did do for certain was stem the growing tide o support for the Confederacy in the courts of Europe. Most importantly though it allowed the United States to claim a moral high ground in a war that was tearing families apart.