The Emancipation Proclamation – hitting the Confederacy in the wallet

In the Emancipation Proclamation, President Abraham Lincoln ordered that all slaves in Confederate controlled areas were set free. Some say Lincoln overstepped his presidential authority, arguing that slavery was allowed under the U.S. Constitution.

They’re wrong.

One of the oldest rules of war (although to say that war has rules is a bit counter-intuitive) is that armies and governments exercise dominion over captured enemy property, even private property. That is what Lincoln contemplated on September 22, 1862, when he issued this preliminary order:

That on the first day of January [1863], 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 … .

The delay from September to January was designed to allow States in rebellion, or portions of those States, to cease rebelling against the United States and take themselves out of the Proclamation’s scope. (Lincoln letter of August 26, 1863, to James C. Conkling.) The order only extended to property of those living in areas governed by the Confederacy.

A central tenet of the Confederacy and its slaveholders was that the people held in slavery were property. They objected to anyone interfering with their property rights. But just as armies appropriate property from conquered people, this order declared the necessity of terminating the property rights of those in Confederate held territory for the purpose of advancing the cause of the United States.

On January 1, 1863, President Lincoln “as Commander-in-Chief … and as a fit and necessary war measure for suppressing said rebellion” issued the Emancipation Proclamation enforcing the September order:

I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States, and parts of States, are, and henceforward shall be free; and that the Executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons.

The Emancipation Proclamation (Wikimedia)

The Emancipation Proclamation

The proclamation made the war effort explicit in several places, including this invitation to join the battle:

And I further declare and make known that such persons of suitable condition will be received into the armed forces of the United States to garrison forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service.

Sgt. William Carney, awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1863 (Wikipedia

Sgt. William Carney, awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1863

In 1864, Lincoln estimated the number of black soldiers and sailors exceeded 130,000 men, and said those who joined the Union’s cause in any way were owed what had been promised in preserving their freedom. (Lincoln letter of August 17, 1864, to Charles D. Robinson.) Lincoln’s sense of duty to the freed people was tested more than once.

Several politicians and civic leaders argued for peace with the Confederacy through compromise. Some sought reunification by reinstating the status quo on slavery before the war. Others were willing to recognize the Confederacy as a separate nation that could make its own decisions on slavery. Lincoln would have none of it, pointing out more than once that without slavery there would have been no war and with it there could be no real peace. He considered it his duty to preserve the nation, not preside over its fragmentation.

Keeping Promises

Lincoln felt his oath of office to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States required every lawful effort to preserve the union governed by that constitution. He also considered himself honor-bound to keep the promises of the Emancipation Proclamation.

This sense of duty to keep your promises reminds me of Jesus’ words:

“Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all … . All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:33-37.)

A paraphrase might be: “Say it if you mean it, don’t say it if you don’t mean it, and follow through on your promises.”

Jesus knew what he was talking about because it is his job to keep promises. In fact, the Bible tells us that when it comes to God’s promises Jesus is the one who keeps them all.

For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. (2 Corinthians 1:20.)

God promised to set people free, and did it in Jesus Christ. (Luke 4:18-21.) Just as Lincoln ordered the army and navy to take part in guaranteeing the freedom of the slaves, now we get to take part in Jesus’ ministry of freedom.

Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:35-36.)

Freedom indeed. There’s no going back.


*For those who insist the Civil War and Confederate Battle Flag were about something other than slavery, I have this response: The Civil War Was About Enslaving Black People.

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31 Responses to The Emancipation Proclamation – hitting the Confederacy in the wallet

  1. Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t Lincoln promise that every black man who fought would receive a donkey and an acre of land (or something like that)? And if I recall correctly, he didn’t fulfil that promise. Also, the only group who paid reparations in full to their former slaves (again, correct me if I’m wrong) were the Quakers, although that was much earlier.

    Did you know that the British slave traders, several decades before, had actually been granted compensation for their losses?! This was because the abolitionists were shrewd enough to realise that ‘compensation’ would enable an end to the slave trade. I doubt they wanted to do it but probably saw it as the lesser of two evils. It’s shocking, quite shocking.

    Additionally, not many people know that the Industrial Revolution was greatly facilitated by the money that came from British slave-owners and their sugar plantations in the Caribbean. It angers me when people try to say that all these things are in the past and should therefore be ignored when looking at the people of today and the difficulties they face. The transatlantic slave trade, and slavery within the Americas, were as great a wound as the holocaust – it was a holocaust in its own right. Anyone who tries to negate the horror of slavery is, in my view, akin to a holocaust denier.

    Given the racism still endemic in the US, the history of slavery should be a core part of school curriculum. On the other hand, it is easy to point out flaws from a distance. Thank God for forgiveness and renewal.

    • Tim says:

      Lincoln never broke a promise to provide 40 acres and a mule to each freed slave because he never made such a promise. It was an idea floated around by some abolitionists but never adopted. As for Lincoln not following through on everything he wanted to do, I think John Wilkes Booth is to be blamed for that.

    • Opa Bear says:

      One very good reason for not compensating the slave holders financially for emancipating their slaves is that it was not economically feasible. In 1860, the value of slaves in the United State exceeded the value of the railroads, which were the greatest industrial aggregation at that time (cf. the Disunion blog). What’s more, the value of slaves in the prior decade had increased enormously, which indicates the holders did not see slavery as a declining institution. In other words, absent direct action, it was not going to go away in the foreseeable future.

      • Tim says:

        Thanks, OB, that information on the economics is helpful.

      • Yes, and the value of slaves had increased as a direct result of the British abolitionists’ success in ending the transatlantic slave trade.
        I wasn’t trying to say that the slave owners should have been compensated – I meant the slaves themselves should have been recompensed, at the very least, for their years of labour.

        • Opa Bear says:

          Understood, Sandy, and I sure don’t want to sound as if the high cost of something is a justification for injustice.

  2. As a man born and raised in New Oleans with relatives who still hate people of color and speak of the Confederacy with nostalgia, I will say this again and again: The Civil War is over, people….deal with it and grow up.

    • Tim says:

      The Civil War was born of racism. It’s over but racism isn’t, unfortunately.

      • Pastor Bob says:

        From a historical perspective: There was more to the Civil War than slavery. At least one Union state was a slave state, and a Confederatate state or two were not slave states. Thre was a cultural midset that has changed some sonce then – the biggest issue.

        If you want to pass certain civics test (citizenship test as well) that is the only correct answer.

        Sadly, racism is alive and well, but the adherents are dying a slow death.

        • Tim says:

          I agree there were many motives people had to go to fight, but without slavery it just wouldn’t have gotten as far as a civil war.

        • Kelvin Smith says:

          Not entirely correct on the states. Four Union states were slave states, but no Confederate states banned slavery. Yes, there was more to the Civil War than slavery, but there would have been no Civil War without it.

    • keriwyattkent says:

      IF the Civil War is really over, then why is the flag of the Confederacy still flying? And why are black churches being burned to the ground in the past two weeks?

      • Tim says:

        The root cause of the Civil War, racism, is alive and well.

        • My Southern relatives still despise “Yankees” and “Abe” and still talk about States’ rights, etc. The mindset is more than racism, but believe me, racism is firmly entrenched in that mindset. It is a real and deeply-ingrained worldview and it is dangerous.

        • Pastor Bob says:

          “A root cause” is certainly alive and well. As is sin. The constitution grants us many rights, including the freedome to be worng. Big difference, we are not allowed to act on many of these. We are quired to pray for these sinnners, and show them Christ, and (AND) what He has said abou these flawed ideas.

          The most effective, longest lasting, most secure, best overall cure for racism is the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Salvation is not sufficient, He needs to be in full control of the ives of — ALL.

          Prayers need to continue.

  3. So the Emancipation Proclamation was legal jiggery-pokery from a Republican lawyer?

    • Tim says:

      I think I’m missing your point, Darrach. If it’s a joke about lawyers or about politics, I’m afraid it falls outside the bounds of the comment policy.

      • More contrasting Scalia’s dog in the manger grumbling with the brilliant legal shenanigans of another politically activist Republican lawyer, Lincoln treating slaves as the property the confederates claimed them to be and confiscating them.

        • Tim says:

          I don’t know anything about Justice Scalia’s take on dogs in mangers, but I get what you mean about Lincoln taking the slaveholders at their word.

        • Pastor Bob says:

          I fail to comprhend as well.

  4. Jeannie says:

    I always enjoy your posts on topics of American history, Tim, something I’m woefully ignorant about. The subject of slavery is also something I’m reading about right now in Eric Metaxas’ book Amazing Grace (about Wm. Wilberforce). It’s inspiring to read and hear about people like Wilberforce, and Lincoln, and others, who took to heart the words spoken to Esther in the Bible: “And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”

    • Tim says:

      And with Lincoln, he knew what he was getting into. The nation was seething with dissension and division; talk of secession had been going on for years. The south threatened to leave the Union if Lincoln was elected, and they did. He had promised to put down the rebellion and preserve the Union, and he did.

  5. keriwyattkent says:

    It’s amazing what we don’t learn in school. But this, from your post, is key: “pointing out more than once that without slavery there would have been no war and with it there could be no real peace.” Not sure why southerners want to deny this today and pretend the war was not about slavery. They’ll say it’s about states’ rights, but it was the right to own slaves that mattered most.

    • Tim says:

      I think so too, Keri. It was about a state’s right to have laws allowing one group of people to enslave another group of people.

  6. Don Johnson says:

    Lincoln wanted to preserve the Union. Before the South left, he argued that there be no expansion of slavery, but that it could remain where it was already and then the hope was it would eventually die out due to economic reasons. When the war started, he was faced with the question of contraband, which is what slaves were called when they gave themselves up to a Union army. The South at first asked that they be handed back, because of the fugitive slave law. The Union generals thought that they slaves were aiding the war effort and did not want to do that. One tried to free them, but Lincoln properly said that decision was above the general’s pay grade. Lincoln then said he would free all the slaves, none of the slaves, or some of the slaves in order to preserve the Union. Some of the states in the North were slave states, MO, KY, MD, and DE; the Emancipation Proclamation did not free slaves in those places or other places then under Union control, just in places that were still in rebellion and only once the Union troops got there in their advance. Net: The EP freed SOME of the slaves and he issued it trying to preserve the Union. It was only later with the new 14th constitutional amendment passed later that slavery was outlawed. None of these facts should be seen as saying Lincoln was not a great man, just that he was one who understood politics and the art of the possible.

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