“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.
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About the Author
Louis P. Masur is Professor of American Studies and History at Rutgers University.
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.
Table of Contents
Prologue September 22, 1862: Lincoln Tells a Story 1
The Path to the Preliminary Proclamation
1 Toward Emancipation 13
2 Messages and Measures 39
3 A New Departure 65
4 Movement 79
One Hundred Days
5 Judgments 101
6 The Reactions of Scholars and Soldiers 117
7 Intervention and Election Fever 139
8 "We Cannot Escape History" 169
9 Standing Firm 185
The Proclamation and Beyond
10 Jubilee 205
11 "Men of Color, To Arms!" 219
12 "It Can Not Be Retracted" 239
13 Emancipation Triumphant 264
Epilogue April 4, 1865: Lincoln Visits Richmond 275
Appendix Texts of the Emancipation Proclamation 289