Friday, November 30, 2012

Just Finished Reading

With all of the focus on the recent Lincoln movie by director Steven Spielberg, and its coverage of the 13th amendment, one might forget that little document that came first; the Emancipation Proclamation. O.K., probably not, but just to make sure, another book about the important document is now out. Lincoln's Hundred Day: The Emancipation Proclamation and the War for the Union, by Rutgers University professor Louis P. Masur primarily examines the one hundred days between the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation (Sept. 22, 1862) and the signing of the final document on January 1, 1863.

A major strength of this well written book is the variety of primary source perspectives that it provides to set the context of Lincoln's first term. We get accounts from Confederate newspapers, border state legislators, Union soldiers, British critics and supporters, and Republicans and Democrats of all descriptions.

I appreciated that Masur makes a point to show the three main differences between the preliminary and final Emancipation Proclamations; something I had never really thought about much before. First, the final proclamation didn't make a mention of colonization, an important shift in Lincoln's thinking. Second, the preliminary proclamation didn't state that African Americans would be accepted into the armed service, another significant shift. And, finally, in the January 1, 1863 proclamation Lincoln basically requested the freed people not to resort to violence "unless in necessary self defence." This may have come from the many suggestions that president received that the document would set off major insurrections in the South.

Another interesting point the book made was that Lincoln initially thought he could combat slavery from the top down - geographically speaking. That is, if the border states (Upper South) would give up the institution, the Confederacy would be convinced it could not persuade them to secede and the war would soon be over. But, when the border states continued to reject Lincoln's emancipation offers, he determined he would end slavery from the bottom (Deep South) up.

Lincoln's use of "war powers" as justification for the Emancipation Proclamation comes in for a healthy dose of coverage in the book. One analogy or story Lincoln used to explain this to visiting Kentuckians was particularly entertaining. "By general law life and limb must be protected; yet often a limb must be amputated to save a life; but a life is never wisely given to save a limb. I felt that measures, otherwise unconstitutional, might become lawful, by becoming indispensable to the preservation of the constitutions  through the preservation of the nation. Right or wrong, I assumed this ground, and now avow it. I could not feel that, to the best of my ability, I had even tried to preserve the constitution, if, to save slavery, or any minor matter, I should permit the wreck of the government, country, and Constitution all together."

Nicely, Masur provides four editions of the Emancipation Proclamation in the book's appendix for us readers. He includes the first draft given to Lincoln's cabinet on July 22, 1862, the preliminary proclamation issued on September 22, 1862, a final draft (December 29-31, 1862), and the final and signed proclamation (January 1, 1863).

I highly recommend Lincoln's Hundred Days to anyone who wants to know more about Lincoln's thought process and numerous conflicts that went into the Emancipation Proclamation. It is well researched, very balanced, and easy to read. On a scale of 1 to 5, I give it a 4.75.    

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