Sunday, June 27, 2021

Rufus Dawes on the Emancipation Proclamation

When the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect on January 1, 1863, it was received with a mixture of emotion among the soldiers of the United States Army. Many, especially those men from the border states and southern parts of the free states, found the proclamation distasteful socially and an unneeded additional war measure militarily.

However, others saw it less thorough an emotional lens and more from a logical perspective as a way of ending the war. One such soldier was then Maj. Rufus Dawes, 6th Wisconsin Infantry. Granted, Dawes was probably more progressive at this time than his comrades, but his shared thoughts show a gradual change toward accepting emancipation as a war aim. In a speech in Marietta, Ohio, while on a brief furlough in March 1863, Dawes expressed his thoughts and observations on a number of issues, including the Emancipation Proclamation. 

He said, "If there remains any one in the army, who does not like the Proclamation, he is careful to keep quiet about it. We are hailed everywhere by the negroes as their deliverers. They all know that 'Massa Linkum' has set them free, and I never saw one not disposed to take advantage of the fact. The negroes will run away if they get the chance, whenever they are assured of their freedom, and that the the Proclamation places it beyond the power of any military commander, however disposed, to prevent. Slavery is the chief source of wealth in the South, and the basis of their aristocracy, and my observation is that a blow at slavery hurts more than battalion volleys. It strikes at the vitals. It is foolish to talk about embittering the rebels any more than they are already embittered. We like the Proclamation because it lets the world know what the real issue is. We like the Proclamation because it gives a test of loyalty. As governor Andrew Johnson, of Tennessee, says: 'If you want to find a traitor North, shake the Emancipation Proclamation or the writ of habeas corpus at him and he will dodge.' We like the Emancipation Proclamation because it is right, and because it is the edict of our Commander in Chief, the President of the United States."

Dawes mustered out of service in the summer of 1864 and went on to father a vice president of the United States. He died 1899 and is buried in Marietta, Ohio. 

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