No one can now say whether the Declaration of Independence, or the Constitution of the United States, or the Proclamation of Emancipation was the highest, best gift to the country and to mankind. Boutwell, American abolitionist and politician (1888) By virtue of the power, and for the purpose aforesaid, I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States, and parts of States, are, and henceforward shall be free -Abraham Lincoln, Emancipation Proclamation, January 1, 1863 Surely the Emancipation Proclamation is among the most misunderstood and unappreciated of the worlds great documents. In his magisterial recounting of the Civil War, Shelby Foote dismisses the Proclamation as empty politics, a gesture of impotence that attempted to free people where the Federal Government currently had no authority. In Lincolns Emancipation Proclamation, historian Allen C. Guelzo dives into Lincolns legal authority to issue such a proclamation, which also serves to explain the unadorned and legalistic style that Lincoln employed. Instead, Guelzo uses the Proclamation as a vehicle to explore Lincolns views on slavery. Rather, Guelzo argues that Lincoln knew from the outset that his administration was the beginning of the end of slavery and that he would not leave office without some form of legislative emancipation policy in place. Slavery caused the Civil War. The South seceded from the Union because of the fear that Lincoln would (as he promised) stop the spread of slavery to the western territories. In this letter, Lincoln announced that if he could restore the United States without freeing a single slave, he would do just that. He even gives a hint of that in the letter, writing if I could save the Union by freeing some slaves and leaving others alone I would also do that. That is exactly what the Emancipation Proclamation did, freeing the slaves in those states that were in open rebellion, and where federal courts were no longer in operation). Compensated emancipation was one of his work-arounds, a bottom-up scheme to end slavery at the state legislative level. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of Earth.") Obviously, the heart of Lincolns Emancipation Proclamation is the titular document itself. Allen Guelzo is one of my favorite Civil War historians.
Guelzo thoroughly describes all of Lincolns reservations and concerns on the issue: his uncertainty about the reaction of federal courts, the necessity of keeping the border states in the Union, and the divided opinion of the Northern public regarding the issues of emancipation and the place of blacks in society. Guelzo thoroughly describes the resistance of the border states and how US military commanders dealt with the issue of slaves escaping to their lines--some allowed the refugees to remain protected within their lines while others excluded them from camp. Guelzo explores what effect the proclamation had on the union, the Confederacy, free blacks, slaves, the international community, and the conduct of the war.
However, this book by Allen Guelzo provides a detailed discussion of the end of slavery and arguments about its constitutionality, moral aspects, legal aspects, and how Lincoln responded to all of the criticisms from all of these viewpoints.
Wading into the argument of Lincoln's Emancipation proclamation, noted Lincoln scholar Allen Guelzo 1 seeks to place this most notable and prosaic of Lincoln's pronouncements into a sound historical context and manages to do so. Throughout the book, the author shows Lincoln to have been motivated by a strong sense of prudence and pragmatism of an enlightened kind that was deeply concerned not with appealing to grand heroic gestures and soaring prose, but to making meaningful and lasting change, ultimately to end slavery in the United States in a way that would do the most good as possible and the least harm to society as for. First showing the four possible routes to freedom for enslaved blacks, the author makes a strong defense of Lincoln's approach given his fears of military coups and his well-placed mistrust in the courts. For those who want to understand how a prosaic and seemingly mundane piece of writing that dramatically and decisively increased the scope of Union war aims and brought blacks en masse into the United States military and made their civil rights a matter of national honor and moral debt, this book is an excellent volume.
Geulzos position that it was Lincolns prudence that guided the process for the eventual issuance and, most importantly acceptance, of the Proclamation, is a new interpretation of the presidents political philosophy in attempting to rid the United States of slavery. Guelzo provides insightful accounts of Lincolns revocations of martial law proclamations for emancipation by Fremont and Hunter, for his rebuff of the two legislative Confiscation Acts, and for his lack of endorsement for Butlers legal semantics of contraband theory. Lincoln understood providing freedom to Americas enslaved peoples needed to withstand legal challenges, anything less would do more harm than good, not only for slaves, but also for permanence in military and civilian positions on the end of slavery. Unfortunately Guelzo places Lincolns willingness to accept risk in the realm of Providence and the intervention of God. He comments that Lincoln had a vague religious profile (Loc 302) and as the last Enlightenment politician (Loc 243) approached his role as president with a distance from organized religion, a lack of the politics of passion, and a calculated reason. He makes reference to the Emancipation Proclamation as scripture and Lincoln as a saint (Loc 5056) being unnecessary for the document to regain an elevated status among historians, but he obviously does not believe what he writes. It is a disappointing turn to an otherwise well-crafted book as his thesis shifts from Prudence to Providence for Lincolns ultimate execution of his most politically skillful application of war powers. Yet when presented with the opportunity, through Prudence or through Providence Guelzo does not adequately resolve, Lincoln made good on his deep commitment, whether to himself or to God, to end slavery quickly with a single war power Proclamation. Guelzos interpretation of the creation of the Emancipation Proclamation is a solid although inconsistent revised history of the document and worth the read to truly understand Lincolns political genius in making it a reality.
In the book, he argues that President Abraham Lincoln, through the use of the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, was effective in freeing the slaves. His argument differs from others that have examined the argument pertaining to the Emancipation Proclamation and whether it did, or did not, effectively emancipate slaves during the Civil War. On the opposite side of his argument are those who do not see Lincoln as the Great Emancipator and argue that the executive order did not actually free the slaves in the broadest term but only those who lived in states that were declared in rebellion. Guelzo argues that without Lincolns Proclamation, those slaves who fled North would not have remained free but would have been sent back to their previous servitude rather quickly. The final, less related argument that Guelzo addresses is the thought that Lincoln issued the Proclamation to keep European countries from intervening in the war or to inflate the morale of the Union who took huge losses in the months prior to its inception. Also, on a positive note, the reviewers appreciate Guelzos format and approach to the topic and point out that he tells the story of the Proclamation in an understandable narrative that places it in the context of the Civil War and Lincolns struggles in grappling with the issue of slavery. Some reviewers who point out that Lincoln did not run for the presidency on the platform of abolition and shoot holes through Guelzos argument. There is something to be said of Guelzos argument in the fact that Lincoln, was probably progressive in thought and saw slavery as an issue that was holding back the republican ideals that the United States was founded on. He had to know that he was moving the country forward when he issued the Emancipation Proclamation and effectively took the first step toward the end of slavery in the United States. Even critics of Lincolns move should understand that the Proclamation may not have been the all to end all in regard to abolition, Guelzo points out that it was still a bold initial step toward that goal in a period when it was not well accepted by half of the United States population.
Carpenter spent six months in the White House beginning in February, 1864, created a historically important painting of the reading of the Emancipation Proclamation to the cabinet, got to know Lincoln, and wrote a book detailing his experiences. Carpenter wrote that Lincoln told him regarding the Emancipation Proclamation: "It is the central act of my administration, and the great event of the nineteenth century". Professor Guelzo takes issue with a historical interpretation of the Emancipation Proclamation beginning with Richard Hofstadter (1948) that argues that Lincoln had little concern with the status of black Americans and issued the Emancipation Proclamation only from reasons of prudence to protect the interests of white workers. Guelzo also approaches the Emancipation Proclamation to address recent arguments by African-American scholars skeptical of Lincoln's role and pessimistic about the future of race relations in the United States. Although some scholars have argued that the Proclamation had, in fact, no legal effect and freed no slaves, Professor Guelzo argues persuasively that it was and remains the pivotal event of the Civil War and the single most important factor in the destruction of slavery. 250) In Professor Guelzo's words, the Emancipation Proclamation was "an act of spectacular political daring" (p.249) This is a thorough, well-balanced, yet inspiring study, of what indeed has fair title to be the Great Event of the Nineteenth Century.
Those who choose to believe that the Emancipation Proclamation did not free anyone do not understand it or the law; those who choose to cast Lincoln as a lukewarm abolitionist who dragged his feet and failed to free all the enslaved people at once, do not understand the Constitution as he did and the constraints it put on him in this regard.