Monday, February 28, 2011

A Kentucky Editor on the Emancipation Proclamation

Kentucky, being a slave state that remained in the Union, found itself in a unique position when the Emancipation Proclamation took effect on January 1, 1863. The Bluegrass State, like Maryland and Missouri, felt that its slave interest could best be protected in the Union rather than out, so when the non-border slave states seceded, Kentucky remained. And, although Kentucky was not subject to Lincoln's edict, it realized that it would probably only be a matter of time before emancipation would make its way to the commonwealth.

Recently I found an article in the January 5, 1863 edition of the Frankfort Tri-Weekly Commonwealth that vehemently expressed what was probably the majority of white Kentuckians' feelings about the Emancipation Proclamation.

The editor of the Tri-Weekly Commonwealth explained that, "We have expressed our condemnation of this highhanded assumption of power by President Lincoln, in almost every issue of our paper since the appearance of his Proclamation on the 22d of September last [1862]." The following published article originally ran in the Louisville Democrat on January 3, 1863, but as the Commonwealth's editor explained, the article "so fully expresses our own opinions upon this subject, that we adopt them as our own:"

"The President's proclamation has come to hand at last. We scarcely know how to express our indignation at this flagrant outrage of all Constitutional law, all human justice, all Christian feeling. Our very soul revolts at contemplating an atrocity so heinous, and the feeling is intensified at the indelible disgrace which it fixes upon our country. To think that we, who have been the foremost in the grand march of civilization, should be so disgraced by an imbecile President as to be made to appear before the world as the encourager of insurrection, lust, arson, and murder! The people have condemned this in advance, and the President has raised a storm that will overwhelm him. It is not in the rebellious States he has to fear most, but the true, loyal States will not suffer their fame to be stained by him. It is not enough that Kentucky is exempt from its force; not enough that it is ineffectual even in the States it has reference to. The people cannot, in any State, bear to be so slandered by one who usurps authority."

These sentiments should be no surprise when one realizes that Kentucky was third nationally in 1860 in number of slaveholders; only behind Virginia and Georgia. And, although Kentucky was ninth out of fifteen states in 1860 in number of slaves - which of course meant that the average Bluegrass owner only held a few slaves - the commonwealth did hold more slaves in bondage than all three of the other slaveholding Border States (Maryland, Missouri and Delaware) combined. Kentucky also voted their anti-emancipation sentiments in the 1864 election when they cast 64, 301 (69.8%) votes for McClellan, and only 27,787 (30.2%) for Lincoln.

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