Abraham Lincoln Papers



The first reading of the Emancipation Proclamation before the cabinet.
Painted by F.B. Carpenter ; engraved by A.H. Ritchie, c1866.
(Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-2070 DLC)
Almost from the beginning of his administration, Lincoln was pressured by abolitionists and radical Republicans to issue an Emancipation Proclamation. In principle, Lincoln approved, but he postponed action against slavery until he believed he had wider support from the American public. The passage of the Second Confiscation Act by Congress on July 17, 1862, which freed the slaves of everyone in rebellion against the government, provided the desired signal. Not only had Congress relieved the administration of considerable strain with its limited initiative on emancipation, it demonstrated an increasing public abhorrence toward slavery.

Lincoln had already drafted what he termed his "Preliminary Proclamation." He read his initial draft of the Emancipation Proclamation to Secretaries William H. Seward and Gideon Welles on July 13, 1862. For a moment, both Secretaries were speechless. Quickly collecting his thoughts, Seward said something about anarchy in the South and possible foreign intervention, but with Welles apparently too confused to respond, Lincoln let the matter drop.



Brett (A.) & Co. Abraham Lincoln.
N.Y. Jones & Clark [186?].
(Library of Congress, Stern Collection, Rare Book and Special Collections Division.)

Nine days later, on July 22, Lincoln raised the issue in a regularly-scheduled cabinet meeting. The reaction was mixed. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, correctly interpreting the Proclamation as a military measure designed both to deprive the Confederacy of slave labor and bring additional men into the Union Army, advocated its immediate release. Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase was equally supportive, but Montgomery Blair, the Postmaster General, foresaw defeat in the fall elections. Attorney General Edward Bates, a conservative, opposed civil and political equality for blacks but gave his qualified support. Fortunately, President Lincoln only wanted the advice of his Cabinet on the style of the Proclamation, not its substance. The course was set.

The Cabinet meeting of September 22, 1862, resulted in the political and literary refinement of the July draft, and on January 1, 1863, Lincoln composed the final Emancipation Proclamation. It was the crowning achievement of his administration.

The original autograph was lost in the Chicago fire of 1871. Surviving photographs of the document show it primarily in Lincoln's own hand. The superscription and ending are in the hand of a clerk, and the printed insertions are from the September draft.



Abraham Lincoln Papers