CHAPTER XII. THE EMANCIPATION PROCLAMATION

Pro-Southern Englishmen pictured the horrors of an "abolition war," and believed the picture true; strict neutrals, like Lyons, feared the same development; friends of the North pushed aside the thought of a "negro terror," yet even while hoping and declaring that the war would destroy slavery, could not escape from apprehensions of an event that appeared inevitable. Everywhere, to the British mind, it seemed that emancipation was necessarily a provocative to servile insurrection, and this belief largely affected the reception of the emancipation proclamation - a fact almost wholly lost sight of in historical writing.

Nor did the steps taken in America leading up to emancipation weaken this belief - rather they appeared to justify it. The great advocate of abolition as a weapon in the war and for its own sake was Charles Sumner, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. He early took the ground that a proclamation everywhere emancipating the slaves would give to the Northern cause a moral support hitherto denied it in Europe and would at the same time strike a blow at Southern resistance. This idea was presented in a public speech at Worcester, Massachusetts, in October, 1861, but even Sumner's free-soil friends thought him mistaken and his expressions "unfortunate." By December, however, he found at Washington a change in governmental temper and from that date Sumner was constant, through frequent private conversations with Lincoln, in pressing for action. These ideas and his personal activities for their realization were well known to English friends, as in his letters to Cobden and Bright, and to the English public in general through Sumner's speeches, for Sumner had long been a well-known figure in the British press[864].

Lincoln, never an "Abolitionist," in spite of his famous utterance in the 'fifties that the United States could not indefinitely continue to exist "half-slave and half-free," had, in 1861, disapproved and recalled the orders of some of the military leaders, like Fremont, who without authority had sought to extend emancipation to slaves within the lines of their command. But as early as anyone he had foreseen the gradual emergence of emancipation as a war problem, at first dangerous to that wise "border state policy" which had prevented the more northern of the slave states from seceding. His first duty was to restore the Union and to that he gave all his energy, yet that emancipation, when the time was ripe, was also in Lincoln's mind is evident from the gradual approach through legislation and administrative act. In February, 1862, a Bill was under discussion in Congress, called the "Confiscation Bill," which, among other clauses, provided that all slaves of persons engaged in rebellion against the United States, who should by escape, or capture, come into the possession of the military forces of the United States, should be for ever free; but that this provision should not be operative until the expiration of sixty days, thus giving slave-owners opportunity to cease their rebellion and retain their slaves[865]. This measure did not at first have Lincoln's approval for he feared its effect on the loyalists of the border states. Nevertheless he realized the growing strength of anti-slavery sentiment in the war and fully sympathized with it where actual realization did not conflict with the one great object of his administration. Hence in March, 1862, he heartily concurred in a measure passed rapidly to Presidential approval, April 16, freeing the slaves in the District of Columbia, a territory where there was no question of the constitutional power of the national Government.

From February, 1862, until the issue of the first emancipation proclamation in September, there was, in truth, a genuine conflict between Congress and President as to methods and extent of emancipation. Congress was in a mood to punish the South; Lincoln, looking steadily toward re-union, yet realizing the rising strength of anti-slavery in the North, advocated a gradual, voluntary, and compensated emancipation. Neither party spoke the word "servile insurrection," yet both realized its possibility, and Seward, in foreign affairs, was quick to see and use it as a threat. A brief summary of measures will indicate the contest. March 6, Lincoln sent a message to Congress recommending that a joint resolution be passed pledging the pecuniary aid of the national Government to any state voluntarily emancipating its slaves, his avowed purpose being to secure early action by the loyal border states in the hope that this might influence the Southern states[866]. Neither the House of Representatives nor the Senate were really favourable to this resolution and the border states bitterly opposed it in debate, but it passed by substantial majorities in both branches and was approved by Lincoln on April 10. In effect the extreme radical element in Congress had yielded, momentarily, to the President's insistence on an olive-branch offering of compensated emancipation. Both as regards the border states and looking to the restoration of the Union, Lincoln was determined to give this line of policy a trial. The prevailing sentiment of Congress, however, preferred the punitive Confiscation Bill.