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Lincoln's Hundred Days: The Emancipation Proclamation and the War for the Union

Lincoln's Hundred Days: The Emancipation Proclamation and the War for the Union

by Louis P. Masur

"The time has come now," Abraham Lincoln told his cabinet as he presented the preliminary draft of a "Proclamation of Emancipation." Lincoln's effort to end slavery has been controversial from its inception-when it was denounced by some as an unconstitutional usurpation and by others as an inadequate half-measure-up to the present, as historians have discounted its


"The time has come now," Abraham Lincoln told his cabinet as he presented the preliminary draft of a "Proclamation of Emancipation." Lincoln's effort to end slavery has been controversial from its inception-when it was denounced by some as an unconstitutional usurpation and by others as an inadequate half-measure-up to the present, as historians have discounted its import and impact. At the sesquicentennial of the Emancipation Proclamation, Louis Masur seeks to restore the document's reputation by exploring its evolution.

Lincoln's Hundred Days is the first book to tell the full story of the critical period between September 22, 1862, when Lincoln issued his preliminary Proclamation, and January 1, 1863, when he signed the final, significantly altered, decree. In those tumultuous hundred days, as battlefield deaths mounted, debate raged. Masur commands vast primary sources to portray the daily struggles and enormous consequences of the president's efforts as Lincoln led a nation through war and toward emancipation. With his deadline looming, Lincoln hesitated and calculated, frustrating friends and foes alike, as he reckoned with the anxieties and expectations of millions. We hear these concerns, from poets, cabinet members and foreign officials, from enlisted men on the front and free blacks as well as slaves.

Masur presents a fresh portrait of Lincoln as a complex figure who worried about, listened to, debated, prayed for, and even joked with his country, and then followed his conviction in directing America toward a terrifying and thrilling unknown.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Though historians today debate the underlying causes of the Civil War, no one in 1861 doubted that it was fought over slavery, says Rutgers history professor Masur. The subject obsessed the media, Congress, and the president. Masur delivers an intelligent account of how Lincoln balanced politics with the goal of ending slavery. Focused on conciliating border slave states that did not secede, Lincoln at first squelched antislavery enthusiasts, but events and his own inclinations made this a losing battle. A seething Congress ended slavery in the District of Columbia in April 1862. Lincoln discussed a proclamation with his cabinet in July and awaited a victory, which came at Antietam, to announce it publicly on September 22 and signed the final decree 100 days later on January 1, 1863. Generations of critics have asserted that the Emancipation Proclamation freed no one because it applied only to rebel-controlled areas. Countering that, Masur makes a convincing case that, if the proclamation didn’t immediately free all slaves, it did guarantee the end of slavery. Readers will enjoy his rich, perceptive history of the passionate maneuvering that produced it. (Sept.)
Harold Holzer
Masur has written a compelling, convincing page-turner about a dramatic period in history that too many Americans take for granted--the fraught hundred days between Lincoln's preliminary and final proclamations of freedom, when the fate of liberty itself hung in the balance. Here is superb scholarship and high drama combined into a rich and rewarding narrative.
New York Review of Books - James M. McPherson
A stirring and penetrating account of those tense days between Lincoln's preliminary edict and the final Emancipation Proclamation. The story will keep the reader on the edge of his seat until the final pages.
Adam Goodheart
Masur takes a pivotal moment in time and opens it up like a master watchmaker, revealing the intricate, hidden mechanisms, the tensions and balances, concealed within the most momentous decision that an American president has ever made. A finely wrought and important book.
John Stauffer
A vital book about the meaning of the Civil War, and of America, brilliantly conceptualized, deeply researched, and elegantly written by one of the foremost scholars of the Civil War era. With fresh insights throughout, coupled with subtle and judicious syntheses, it should be read by anyone interested in America's past.
California Literary Review - Ed Voves
[A] splendid book.
New Republic - Andrew Delbanco
Among the strengths of Masur's book is its account of how the war changed minds--from enlisted and conscripted men to those directing the war--by introducing 'slavery to soldiers as a reality, not as an abstraction.'
Library Journal
Masur describes the personal, political, military, and moral interests pushing Lincoln toward "the new birth of freedom" promised in the Emancipation Proclamation and shows that he never wavered from that commitment, even in the face of military and political reverses. (LJ 8/12)
Kirkus Reviews
In a scholarly examination of the Emancipation Proclamation, Masur (American Studies and History/Rutgers Univ.; The Civil War: A Concise History, 2011, etc.) reveals the intensive intellectual development and political debate behind President Lincoln's resolve. The Proclamation was actually heralded by a preliminary document floated cautiously on September 22, 1862, announcing that in 100 days--Jan. 1, 1863--the president would proclaim the freeing of any slaves within the states "in rebellion against the United States," among other important assertions intended to test the waters. Masur revisits the president's growing sense of solemn moral responsibility, in spite of being battered by criticism from all sides. Prior to this time, runaway slaves were already being declared by the Union military as "contraband of war," codified into law by the Confiscation Act of 1861, while John Charles Frémont, as commander of the Department of the West, had declared his own bold emancipation proclamation for Missouri. Yet Lincoln hesitated for legal reasons, uncertain about a proclamation's constitutionality; he feared the effects on the army, on the border (slave) states of Missouri, Kentucky, Delaware and Maryland, which might be pushed to join the Confederacy, and on the slaves themselves--would emancipation foment insurrection against whites? During these 100 days, Lincoln essentially took the country's measure and found that many abolitionists felt relief and could finally express their views; soldiers often wrote how the war experience turned them against slavery; and if the U.S. didn't pass emancipation, the South might have first, in order to curry England's support. Moreover, the exigencies of winning the war demanded action. Masur carefully delineates the differences inherent in the final Proclamation, such as the elimination of mention of colonization of blacks and inclusion of blacks into the military. A moving, accessible portrayal of Lincoln as a deeply humble, strangely physical presence who spoke in oracular parables.

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Read an Excerpt

From Chapter Three: Before September 22, 1862, A New Departure

In early July, Lincoln still had deep reservations about issuing an emancipation proclamation. His friend Orville Browning kept hammering away both publicly in Congress and privately with the president about its inadvisability, and he had the president’s ear. After Browning visited on July 1, and recorded in his diary that he “had a talk with him in regard to the Confiscation bills before us.” Lincoln shared with Browning “a paper embodying his views of the objects of the war, and the proper mode of conducting it in its relations to slavery. This, he told me, he had sketched hastily with the intention of laying it before the Cabinet. His views coincided entirely with my own. No negroes necessarily taken and escaping during the war are ever to be returned to slavery—No inducements are to be held out to them to come into our lines for they come now faster than we can provide for them and are becoming an embarrassment to the government. At present none are to be armed. It would produce dangerous & fatal dissatisfaction in our army, and do more injury than good.”

But Browning was not the only politician calling on the president. On July 4, Sumner went to the White House not once but twice to implore the president “to make the day more sacred & historic than ever” by issuing a decree of emancipation. He came away from the first visit thinking Lincoln might at least declare the slaves in Virginia free, but by the second visit later in the day the president had again shifted course fearing that if he issued such a decree “half the officers would fling down their arms & three more States would rise.” Sumner believed the president “plainly mistaken.” For the moment, Sumner’s optimism flagged. It had reached a high point on May 28 when he breathlessly reported to John Andrew “Stanton told me this morning that a decree of Emancipation would be issued in two months... The cause of Emancipation cannot be stopped.”

Perhaps emancipation could not be stopped, but McClellan’s army could, and the fortunes of the former gained with the failures of the latter. In March, McClellan had finally launched his Peninsula Campaign directed to take Richmond. In late March, tens of thousands of men journeyed from Alexandria to Fortress Monroe. McClellan had superior forces to the Confederate army (the Army of the Potomac had 105,000 men; Richmond was defended by 60,000), but he balked at attacking under the mistaken impression that the southern army was at least equally strong. On April 9, Lincoln wrote to McClellan: “it is indispensable to you that you strike a blow. I am powerless to help this...you must act.”

Although Union forces gained access to the James River, McClellan made only halting progress toward Richmond, or in subduing Confederate forces. Two days of fighting from May 31 to June 1 yielded heavy casualties (a total of more than 11,000) but little change in position. The Peninsula Campaign concluded with a series of savage engagements known collectively as the Seven Days Battles, fought between June 25 and July 1.The sixth and final battle took place at Malvern Hill where Robert E.Lee attacked an entrenched Union position and paid for it with heavy casualties. “It was not war—it was murder,” agonized one Confederate general. McClellan was lucky to get away; the Army of the Potomac pulled back and Richmond was no longer threatened.

Meet the Author

Louis P. Masur is Distinguished Professor of American Studies and History at Rutgers University.

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