The Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation will be on public display in Albany, New York on Sunday, March 11, 2007. This document was issued on September 22, 1862 and says some interesting things that are seldom heard in our recollections of that era. Here it is:
By the President of the United States of America.
I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States of America, and Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy thereof, do hereby proclaim and declare that hereafter, as heretofore, the war will be prosecuted for the object of practically restoring the constitutional relation between the United States, and each of the States, and the people thereof, in which States that relation is, or may be, suspended or disturbed.
That it is my purpose, upon the next meeting of Congress to again recommend the adoption of a practical measure tendering pecuniary aid to the free acceptance or rejection of all slave States, so called, the people whereof may not then be in rebellion against the United States and which States may then have voluntarily adopted, or thereafter may voluntarily adopt, immediate or gradual abolishment of slavery within their respective limits; and that the effort to colonize persons of African descent, with their consent, upon this continent, or elsewhere, with the previously obtained consent of the Governments existing there, will be continued.
That on the first day of January in the year of our Lord, one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State, or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.
That the executive will, on the first day of January aforesaid, by proclamation, designate the States, and part of States, if any, in which the people thereof respectively, shall then be in rebellion against the United States; and the fact that any State, or the people thereof shall, on that day be, in good faith represented in the Congress of the United States, by members chosen thereto, at elections wherein a majority of the qualified voters of such State shall have participated, shall, in the absence of strong countervailing testimony, be deemed conclusive evidence that such State and the people thereof, are not then in rebellion against the United States.
That attention is hereby called to an Act of Congress entitled “An Act to make an additional Article of War” approved March 13, 1862, and which act is in the words and figure following:
“Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That hereafter the following shall be promulgated as an additional article of war for the government of the army of the United States, and shall be obeyed and observed as such:
“Article-All officers or persons in the military or naval service of the United States are prohibited from employing any of the forces under their respective commands for the purpose of returning fugitives from service or labor, who may have escaped from any persons to whom such service or labor is claimed to be due, and any officer who shall be found guilty by a court martial of violating this article shall be dismissed from the service.
“Sec.2. And be it further enacted, That this act shall take effect from and after its passage.”
Also to the ninth and tenth sections of an act entitled “An Act to suppress Insurrection, to punish Treason and Rebellion, to seize and confiscate property of rebels, and for other purposes,” approved July 17, 1862, and which sections are in the words and figures following:
“Sec.9. And be it further enacted, That all slaves of persons who shall hereafter be engaged in rebellion against the government of the United States, or who shall in any way give aid or comfort thereto, escaping from such persons and taking refuge within the lines of the army; and all slaves captured from such persons or deserted by them and coming under the control of the government of the United States; and all slaves of such persons found on (or) being within any place occupied by rebel forces and afterwards occupied by the forces of the United States, shall be deemed captives of war, and shall be forever free of their servitude and not again held as slaves.
“Sec.10. And be it further enacted, That no slave escaping into any State, Territory, or the District of Columbia, from any other State, shall be delivered up, or in any way impeded or hindered of his liberty, except for crime, or some offence against the laws, unless the person claiming said fugitive shall first make oath that the person to whom the labor or service of such fugitive is alleged to be due is his lawful owner, and has not borne arms against the United States in the present rebellion, nor in any way given aid and comfort thereto; and no person engaged in the military or naval service of the United States shall, under any pretence whatever, assume to decide on the validity of the claim of any person to the service or labor of any other person, or surrender up any such person to the claimant, on pain of being dismissed from the service.”
And I do hereby enjoin upon and order all persons engaged in the military and naval service of the United States to observe, obey, and enforce, within their respective spheres of service, the act, and sections above recited.
And the executive will in due time recommend that all citizens of the United States who shall have remained loyal thereto throughout the rebellion, shall (upon the restoration of the constitutional relation between the United States, and their respective States, and people, if that relation shall have been suspended or disturbed) be compensated for all losses by acts of the United States, including the loss of slaves.
In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the City of Washington this twenty-second day of September, in the year of our Lord, one thousand, eight hundred and sixty-two, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty seventh.
[Signed:] Abraham Lincoln
By the President
[Signed:] William H. Seward
Secretary of State
Now, no matter how you cut it, that’s one hell of a document. It should be clear, to even the most casual observer, that this is not the writing of a presidential zealot with an ardent opposition to the institution of slavery. Quite the contrary. Lincoln’s stated and actual aim was to store the constitutional relationship between the states and preserve the union. Perhaps what is most interesting for me is that Africans are deemed captives of war – and so, the humanity/citizenship question remained unsettled. Whites had not made much progress on this question since 1619. Of course the question was moot to those Africans living in bondage – and those free Africans living in the north and in Europe who advocated for an end to slavery.
The question of compensation has always been fundamental to the question of slavery. Lincoln is clear that those citizens who remained loyal are due some compensation. Lincoln was also clear about recognizing the legality of returning “fugitive” Africans to “lawful owners.”
The myth of Abraham Lincoln is much larger than the man. His real image emerges whiter, fairer, lighter and more aligned to the status quo. The Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation should be analyzed much more carefully because it should have some bearing on how questions of civil rights and reparations are addressed. Clearly, the aftermath of slavery was not significantly different for Africans. There is no point in using the term “African American” since it’s a fairly modern convention which has more to do with political phraseology than historical fact. It is clear from this document, for instance, that there were precious few African-Americans in 1862. There was no melting pot. The majority of European immigrants were yet to arrive on these shores. It was only in the 1880’s (after the codification of nouveau-slavery Black Codes in the South) that European whites were encouraged to immigrate in large numbers. The paradox of American labor in 1865 was that Africans were the most highly skilled segment of the population, owing to centuries of nation-building as slaves. This group would soon be dispossessed of land, labor, and the franchise until the emergence of an internationally-embarrassing TELEVISED civil rights movement in the 1950s.
There is much to consider about this document. It is time to do away with the myth that “Lincoln freed the slaves.” He did no such thing.