Emancipation and Its Consequences

There might be no image more appropriate for understanding the revolutionary meaning of the Civil War than the one above.  The original is located at the Library of Congress, but the photograph (Men of Company E, 4th US Colored Infantry, at Fort Lincoln, Washington DC, circa 1865) is now ubiquitous. Students in History 117 should examine the image carefully, and try to find out more about it, beginning perhaps with the record in House Divided, but also after consulting a fascinating blog post by Andy Hall at Dead Confederates.  Try to imagine yourself as one of the soldiers depicted in this detail.  What was he thinking about? Then they should reflect on the meaning of this image in light of what they have read this week in James Oakes’s monograph on Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln.  How did these two men differ on the question of black soldiers?  Where did they agree?  The question of black troops, just like the issues of emancipation or civil rights, forced radicals and moderates to struggle mightily over tactics.  Students should explain how Lincoln and Douglass approached these issues at pivotal moments, such as in the summer of 1862 before Lincoln announced his plans for emancipation, or in the summer of 1864, when they met for the second time in the dismal period in August when it appeared that Lincoln might lose reelection.  Those who need additional background on the subject of black troops, should consult this web page from the National Archives.  Those seeking extra material on the war itself, should consult this page from the Digital History textbook, and this particular page for information on emancipation.

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9 Responses to Emancipation and Its Consequences

  1. Connor Sheehan says:

    As a newly enlisted African American soldier in the Union army photographed in my full uniform, I would be thoroughly confused. I can see the anger in their faces, some more dedicated to the professionalism a uniform and rifle can bestow, some more susceptible to the obvious flaws and injustices they would suffer despite their having joined the cause, so to speak. As an African American union soldier I would be in the midst of creating an identity for all soon-free African Americans: I would be suffering for the ultimate end of freedom but I would be doing so under miserable conditions, not unlike the ones I had just escaped from.

    The issue of difference in opinion between Lincoln and Douglass once again comes down to an issue of radicalism and moderation: Douglass repeatedly voiced his frustration at Lincoln’s unwillingness to maintain ideological purity in favor of easier, concessionary victories. Hardly one to compromise, Douglass’ political instability is more a product of his inability to find a political counterpart than a wavering of beliefs.

    Prior to his officially submitting the Emancipation Proclamation (1/1/1863), President Lincoln wanted to make sure that he had taken considerable efforts to prepare a nation consumed by prejudice for the liberation of millions of African Americans, with whom most white northerners shared no familiarity or compassion beyond a base understanding of the evils of slavery. With this contemporary social climate, it was evident to both Douglass and Lincoln that the issue of black emancipation weighed heavily on the shoulders of the Union army.

    Before the emancipation proclamation, Lincoln took measures to try and ground his feelings on slavery once and for all: The president used his executive powers to guarantee runaway slaves help from union soldiers, to outlaw slavery in any federal territories, and to abolish slavery in Washington, D.C.

    However, Douglass would not let President Lincoln’s commitment to preserve the union as directly as possible interfere with his favored end of emancipation: Lincoln would extend the olive branch of compensation for border states that voted within themselves to abolish slavery, and would also not risk isolating white constituents by supporting his officers’ attempts to liberate entire states’ African American populations. Douglass would attack Lincoln as someone who was inclined to protect slavery within the union or at least hesitant to attack it, ignorant to his motive for waiting to submit the official proclamation.

    Prior to his reelection in 1864, Lincoln and Douglass had a second meeting at the White House. This was a particularly bold move after the pamphlet that came as a result of their first interaction (Miscegenation Indorsed by the Republican Party), and Lincoln faced the “war-weariness” of the North as his biggest obstruction to reelection: the mental, physical, and economic exhaustion of a war most people thought was for African Americans had opened the door for a Democratic movement committed to reunification, but not to the abolition of slavery. Douglass feared this movement as a push towards a “slave-holding compromise”, and as opposed to his fringe-revolutionary position in 1860, Douglass found himself working within the Republican party to ensure Lincoln’s nomination.

    Douglass’ efforts proved to be well-worthy: although he would criticize Lincoln as being too slow to address the issues of slavery, the article of retaliation, and black troops and the subsequent injustices they suffered, Douglass would also remind African Americans that their greatest threats were compromising republicans and proslavery democrats.

  2. Liz Cassin says:

    Oakes does a good job in the chapter explaining the different views of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass on emancipation and blacks in the army. He discusses the build up to the proclamation throughout the year of 1862. Lincoln encouraged border states to institute their own emancipations not affiliated with the national government. He was hoping that the actions of the individual states would have more of an impact than a national order. This push began in the beginning of the year and continued to be discussed for months to come. Lincoln was more patient and was not willing to act impulsively. He reasoning behind the delay of a national emancipation was part of his military strategy. He wanted the announcement to come after a Union victory so it looked “like a demonstration of northern strength rather than an act of northern desperation” (178).

    Douglass was frustrated at first with Lincoln’s reasoning behind the stalling of an emancipation announcement. He criticized Lincoln for not being more up front about the announcement, but soon backed off as he realized that the emancipation would really only be successful if the Union military had a few victories to support it. Both of the men’s mindset about when to institute the emancipation was a display of their different personalities. Oakes states it perfectly when he says Lincoln was more “careful and deliberate, while Douglass was quick and impulsive” (183).

  3. Real O says:

    It is curious that Lincoln advented states’ rights by urging the border states to enact emancipation policies of their own, before the federal government. This shows how Lincoln viewed slavery, and not states’ right, to be the cause of the war. Lincoln, although definitely a radical by the second year of the war, seems to be the calming influence behind Frederick Douglass’s urge to act. Federal emancipation, according to Lincoln, will only work if it comes after a series of Union victories. While the whole country was not on board with Lincoln’s philosophies, the now-Republican dominated congress was. They were Lincoln’s greatest allies in forwarding anti-slavery beliefs and laws. Douglass was significantly more outspoken than congress, but he lacked law-making power and could not do more than rallying civilians to his cause. This chapter explores the developing relationship of Lincoln and Douglass- in 1862, Douglass seemed to be an opponent of Lincoln but after emancipation and their first meeting in the summer of 1863, the two became close, both personally and in ideology. It could be argued that no one lost more because of Lincoln’s assassination, politically speaking, than Frederick Douglass.

    • Unknown says:

      I agree with what Real O says about the curiousness of how Lincoln urged the boarder states to enact emancipation’s of their own. Furthermore I agree the statement to how this is seen as Lincoln seeing slavery to be the cause of the war as opposed to states rights. However I feel that, despite whether Lincoln believed if slavery was the cause of the war, was to show people like Fredrick Douglass that they agreed and overall gain support.

    • Andy Hall says:

      [Hope I'm not out-of-line commenting here.]

      It’s worth remembering that, as much as the fire-eaters viewed Lincoln as a radical abolitionist, the real abolitionists like Douglass were not at all impressed with the new president, or his party’s platform. (Some abolitionists went so far as to hold their own convention in the summer of 1860 to nominate their own candidate.) Douglass himself viewed the Republicans as the least-bad choice among the parties, and immediately after Lincoln’s election, worried that the new administration, far from advancing the idea of abolitionism, might actually kill the movement:

      Nevertheless, this very [electoral] victory threatens and may be the death of the modern Abolition movement, and finally bring back the country to the same, or a worse state, than Benj. Lundy and Wm. Lloyd Garrison found it thirty years ago. The Republican party does not propose to abolish slavery anywhere, and is decidedly opposed to Abolition agitation. It is not even, by the confession of its President elect, in favor of the repeal of that thrice-accursed and flagrantly unconstitutional Fugitive Slave Bill of 1850. It is plain to see, that once in power, the policy of the party will be only to seem a little less yielding to the demands of slavery than the Democratic or Fusion party, and thus render ineffective and pointless the whole Abolition movement of the North. The safety of our movement will be found only by a return to all the agencies and appliances, such as writing, publishing, organizing, lecturing, holding meetings, with the earnest aim not to prevent the extension of slavery, but to abolish the system altogether.

      Both men later grew to understand each other better, and to value each other. But it was a hard slog for both.

  4. Harley Moore says:

    Without a doubt Lincoln and Douglass disagreed on most before the summer of 1863. Douglass, a provocative and controversial supporter of immediate emancipation, pushed for Lincoln to institute emancipation in the border states and in the South. However, Lincoln understood the necessity for patience of the Union forces before establishing emancipation of slaves. The time came after a string of Union victories in the Kentucky and Missouri. Lincoln also desired the border states to adopt their own emancipation principles, rather than federal policies deciding the order of slave preservation. In Lincoln’s hopes, the emancipation in border states would gain popularity by the public, and possibly spew into Southern states. Even though Lincoln and Douglass strived to achieve the same goals during the Civil War, both went about achieving these in drastically different ways. This may be due to Douglass’ personal feelings toward the emancipation of slaves, based on his past experiences.

  5. Connor says:

    After reading this weeks chapter it is easy to say that Abraham Lincoln was always a step ahead from everyone else. He knew that the war was fought in order to end slavery and to save the Union, however, the people were not ready to hear that the Union fought for the slaves. This is why Lincoln says on page 189 that he “would save the Union. [He] would save it the shortest way possible.” This means that if he were able to defeat confederate forces without emanicpating the slaves, he would do that. He is playing with the public, making them believe that his primary goal of the war was to save the Union and that emancipating slaves was a conservative gesture. He knew though that the emancipation of slaves was a necessity for victory in the war. Another Example of Lincoln being a step ahead was when Lincoln urged some already free blacks to emigrate to the caribbean. Though this was extremely unlike by Douglas, Lincoln was never serious about emigration. It would be too impracticle to ship millions of emancipated slaves to another colony. Lincoln though, always being a steap ahead, used this in order to calm racial discrimination in the North. This was extremely important when he announced his Emancipation Praclamation. Lincoln always knew that the Emancipation Praclamation was inevitable however, he needed to wait until the Union had won a significant victory in the South, and needed to wait until public sentiments were right about the emanciaption of slaves before he could actually take action.

  6. Cory says:

    First off, the image depicted above displays the over-arching theme of the entire civil war, and that of course, according to Lincoln, was the emancipation of the slaves. Douglass was critical of Lincoln throughout the conflict. Douglass disapproved of Lincoln’s hesitation in the matter, as he would have rathered make more significant and hasty progressions toward the freedom of slaves. However, Lincoln was shrewd to act as he did. Lincoln knew that even in the North, there were those that supported the war effort, but didn’t necessarily approve of the end of slavery. Lincoln knew that he would eventually need this group of moderates to join his cause. So, he eased his way into the emancipation proclamation. Lincoln used the Emancipation Acts to slowly work the public towards accepting the ideas of emancipation. First, by declaring that all captured slaves belonging to rebels would be set free. Then Lincoln went one step further, by declaring that all captured slaves would be set free. Furthermore, in his letter to editor Horace Greeley, Lincoln’s language made it seem as if slavery wasn’t his primary focus in the war. The editorial sent to Greeley made it seem as if Lincoln’s sole focus was the salvation of the Union, which it was, but Lincoln was no fool. The President knew that without emancipation, no true peace could be achieved. Slavery was an issue that would continue to divide the country as long as it existed, and Lincoln knew that the only way to end this issue was to exterminate it completely.

  7. McKenzie says:

    Being apart as one of the first black solider in the Civil War would be in my mind crazy. I would have so many mix feelings to where I wouldn’t know how or what to feel. I believe the soldier second in from the left showed the most emotion in the picture. He showed the emotion of honor. He looks like he is proud to be apart of the Union wearing that dark blue uniform. His chin is titled up showing that he is proud to be apart of the Civil War. He also has very good posture. He is standing straight up once again meaning that he was proud.

    Frederick Douglass thought it was right that Black soldiers were apart of the Union army. He believed that the black men fighting in the army deserved their citizenship.

    He quoted, ” Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letters U.S. let him get am eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder, and bullets in his pocket, and there is no power on earth or under the earth which can deny that he has earned the right of citizenship in the United States.”

    During the chapter by Oakes, He explains how Lincoln took the idea of black men being apart of the Union army from the hands of Congress. Lincoln believed this is something that the Executive Branch should take care of. He also hid the idea that he made an emancipation, but didn’t share it until a victory was made. Douglass also pushed Lincoln into the idea of having Black Soldiers.

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