A Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation had been held in Lincoln’s desk until the Union achieved a victory, which finally happened at Antietam. He gave 100 days for the seceded states to return in loyalty or their slaves would be freed in contested areas. This allowed Northerners time to adapt and placed responsibility on the South for their actions.
9/22/1862 …on the first day of January in the year of our Lord, one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, 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… FT 136-7
Lincoln Landmark - The Emancipation Proclamation, enacted January 1, 1863
With a sure hand, Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on New Year’s Day. He emphasized the reason for the Proclamation was his ability to better prosecute the war, and he included that Negroes would be eligible to fight for the Union in the war.
... I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, by virtue of the power vested as Commander-in-Chief, of the Army and Navy of the United States in time of actual armed rebellion against authority and government of the United States, and as a fit and necessary war measure for suppressing said rebellion...
I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States...are, and henceforward shall be free...
And I further declare and make known, that such persons of suitable condition, will be received into the armed service of the United States to garrison forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service.
And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution, upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God. FT 151-2
Lincoln defended the process of his Proclamation by letter to Major General McClernand.
1/8/1863 …to use a coarse, but an expressive figure, broken eggs cannot be mended. I have issued the emancipation proclamation, and I cannot retract it.
After the commencement of hostilities I struggled nearly a year and a half to get along with touching the ‘institution’; and when finally I conditionally determined to touch it, I gave a hundred days fair notice of my purpose, to all the States and people, within which time they could have turned it wholly aside, by simply again becoming good citizens of the United States. They chose to disregard it, and I made the peremptory proclamation on what appeared to me to be a military necessity. And being made, it must stand… FT 153
Lincoln was invited to an Illinois Republican rally in support of the war effort. His letter to J. Conkling regrets the invitation (because of Lincoln’s need to stay in DC) but addresses questions his own party had about the Proclamation and black soldiers.
8/26/1863 …But, to be plain, you are dissatisfied with me about the negro…I certainly wish that all men could be free, while I suppose you do not…
You dislike the emancipation proclamation; and, perhaps, would have it retracted. You say it is unconstitutional—I think differently. I think the constitution invests its commander-in-chief, with the law of war, in time of war. The most that can be said, if so much, is, that slaves are property. Is there—has there ever been—any question that by the law of war, property, both of enemies and friends, may be taken when needed?
You say you will not fight to free negroes. Some of them seem willing to fight for you; but, no matter. Fight you, then, exclusively to save the Union. I issued the proclamation on purpose to aid you in saving the Union.
I thought that in your struggle for the Union, to whatever extent the negroes should cease helping the enemy, to that extent it weakened the enemy in his resistance to you. Do you think differently? I thought that whatever negroes can be got to do as soldiers, leaves just so much less for white soldiers to do, in saving the Union. Does it appear otherwise to you? But negroes, like other people, act upon motives. Why should they do anything for us, if we do nothing for them? If they stake their lives for us, they must be prompted by the strongest motive—even the promise of freedom. And the promise being made, must be kept…
And then [after the war], there will be some black men who can remember that, with silent tongue, and clenched teeth, and steady eye, and well-poised bayonet, they have helped mankind on to this great consummation; while, I fear, there will be some white ones, unable to forget that, with malignant heart, and deceitful speech, they have strove to hinder it…Let us diligently apply the means, never doubting that a just God, in his own good time, will give us the rightful result… FT 175-9
In his annual Message to Congress, Lincoln recalled the progress made since the Emancipation Proclamation had been authorized at the beginning of that year.
12/8/1863 …the final proclamation came, including the announcement that colored men of suitable condition would be received into the war service. The policy of emancipation, and of employing black soldiers, gave to the future a new aspect, about which hope, and fear, and doubt contended in uncertain conflict…It came, and as was anticipated, it was followed by dark and doubtful days. Eleven months having now passed we are permitted to take another review…Maryland, and Missouri [border states], neither of three years ago would tolerate any restraint upon the extension of slavery into new territories, only dispute now as to the best mode of removing it within their own limits.
Of those who were slaves at the beginning of the rebellion, full one hundred thousand are in the United States military service, about one-half of which number actually bear arms in the ranks; thus giving the double advantage of taking so much labor from the insurgent cause, and supplying the places that must be filled with so may white men.
As far as tested, it is difficult to say they are not as good soldiers as any. No servile insurrection, or tendency to violence or cruelty, has marked the measures of emancipation and arming the blacks…At home the…measures have been fully discussed, supported, criticized, and denounced, and the annual elections following are highly encouraging to those whose official duty it is to bear the country through this great trial. Thus we have a new reckoning. The crisis which threatened to divide the friends of the Union is past……while I remain in my present position I shall not attempt to retract or modify the emancipation proclamation; nor shall I return to slavery any person who is free by the terms of that proclamation, or by any of the acts of Congress… FT 185-9