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Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation
as a War Measure


Lincoln's 1863 Emancipation Proclamation viewed as a

East Saginaw Courier. (East Saginaw, Mich.), 17 Feb. 1863. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Library of Congress.

The Proclamation - Resolved, That to deprive the rebel States and districts of 3,000,000 of black laborers must diminish the number of white soldiers they can hereafter marshal against us, lessen the supplies for those already in the field, cripple the enemy, diminish the hardships and dangers of the loyal soldiers, preserve useful lives, and render success certain, and, therefore, we endorse the proclamation of the President of the United States, issued on the first day of January, 1863, fit and proper in every point of view, as a war measure; (emphasis added) and in taking this ground the President has discharged a duty to our brave and patriotic soldiers, to free institutions, and to the Constitution itself, he could in no wise have omitted, and he is entitled to the thanks and support of all good citizens.

East Saginaw Courier Editor's Commentary

The above, which is one of the series of resolutions adopted by the Republican State Convention which met at Detroit last week, is worthy of attention as a fair sample of the argument made by the fuglemen of that party in support of the emancipation policy. Does the proclamation do the thing proposed, --i.e., "deprive the rebel States and districts of 3,000,000 black laborers?" by no means. It has been in practical operation since the issue of the first proclamation in September last, nearly five months, and only an insignificant number of the very poorest and most helpless class of negroes have been freed from the masters upon whom they were a burden, to become a burden upon the government or the charities of the people of the loyal States. The proclamation has not done, nor is it probable that it can do the thing proposed, therefore its endorsement in the resolution is as unsound in logic as its promulgation was unwise, illegal and injudicious in fact.

In this connection we reproduce a portion of an able article from the Providence Post, which lets in a ray of the light of history upon this emancipation business:

This experiment, so revolting to the civilization of the present age, has been twice tried, on a small scale, in our own country; that in both instances the sentiment of our country revolted at so barbarous a measure; and that in both the influence was favorable to the cause it was intended to injure. Both in the war of the Revolution, and in the war of 1812, proclamations were issued offering freedom to all slaves who might join the British cause or come within their lines, and were responded to by a very few of the most degraded of our colored population. Yet such was the effect of this proof of barbarism and madness upon our own people that the cause of our country was actually promoted by it.

We have referred to the controversy which grew out of this measure by officers of the British government in the war of 1812 15 and have quoted the language of John Quincy Adams, then Secretary of State, and speaking for the government, as follows: "They (the British) had no right to make any such (emancipation) promises to the negroes. The principle is, that the emancipation of an enemy's slaves is not among the acts of legitimate war; as relates to the owners, it is a destruction of private property nowhere warranted by the usages of war."

Again five years afterwards, Mr. Adams most emphatically denies the right of a belligerent to emancipate slaves. He says, "No such right is acknowledged as a law of war by writers who admit any limitation. -- The right of putting to death all persons in cold blood, and without special cause, might as well be pretended to be a law of war, or the right to use poisoned weapons, or to assassinate." This is John Quincy Adams in 1815 and 1820.

But we are not today, dealing with what transpired during or subsequent to the war of 1812. We wish to call the reader's attention to the war of the Revolution. In 1775, Lord Dunmore, the British Governor of Virginia, having been expelled from that colony by the people, after playing the part of spy and tyrant, undertook to regain his authority and promote the interest of the British government, by offering freedom to all slaves who would rise and assist him.

How well he succeeded, let history decide. We quote from that excellent authority, extolled by Jefferson and the elder Adams, Botta's "History of the war of the Independence of the united States of America." page 230: (folded corner of page obstructs view) due to the crown, as well as other taxes, until the reestablishment of peace.--Moreover, he declared free all slaves or servants, black or white, provided they should take arms and join the royal troops.

"This proclamation, and especially the clause concerning slaves, proved that Lord Dunmore was a man extremely deficient in prudence and moderation, but produced none of the effects he had expected. In the colonies, and even in all other countries, a universal cry arose against a measure which tended to disturb society in its very foundations,, to engender mortal suspicions, and to excite a race naturally ferocious to vengeance and to murder. In fact this step of the Governor was not merely useless--it was pernicious; it irritated the minds of the greater number, and gains over none."

Such is the testimony of history. It is undeniable. It stands unquestioned. It shows us that this experiment of emancipating slaves by proclamation, was tried, eighty-seven years ago, and proved a failure. The only negroes who fought bravely, with individual exceptions, were a regiment of slaves, organized in Rhode Island, who fought for and by the side of their masters.--Of the few who were enlisted by Lord Dunmore, and were pressed into a fight at Norfolk, Botta says, "they behaved very shabby, and saved themselves by flight."