Did you know that there were two Emancipation Proclamations? Okay, technically one was called the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. It’s the proclamation that most of our textbooks leave out of our history lessons. It is the proclamation that is least understood. It is the proclamation that, had things gone differently could have led to the continued enslavement of people of African descent in this country. In fact, the backstory of President Abraham Lincoln’s historic emancipation proposition, to use today’s vernacular, was a hot mess!
Afterall, this year marks the 400th anniversary of the first ship arriving in Point Comfort, Virginia, carrying 20 enslaved Africans in August 1619. Historians and lay people alike, are revisiting or learning for the first time, different aspects of the depraved treatment of people of African ancestry in what would become America. The following excerpt from the 1619 Project, that was led by journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones for The New York Times captures this nation’s convoluted history with the trafficking of black people.
“Out of slavery — and the anti-black racism it required — grew nearly everything that has truly made America exceptional: its economic might, its industrial power, its electoral system, diet and popular music, the inequities of its public health and education, its astonishing penchant for violence, its income inequality, the example it sets for the world as a land of freedom and equality, its slang, its legal system and the endemic racial fears and hatreds that continue to plague it to this day. The seeds of all that were planted long before our official birth date, in 1776, when the men known as our founders formally declared independence from Britain.
The product of those early seeds included a union that was divided about money, tariffs, and tax revenue. Southern states were upset that paid the majority of the tariffs, while Northern states benefited the most from them. Facing an increase in tariffs that would have tripled the Southern states’ payments, these states talked early about seceding from the union. This struggle for fair taxation and laws impacting Southern slavery such as the Dred Scott Supreme Court decision proved to be the breaking point. As states turned against each other, Lincoln was desperate to hold the union together. Ironically, the Civil War was the vehicle to do that.
Yet, history has often mischaracterized this war as a primary moral struggle to address slavery. However, history frequently sidesteps the fact that during his presidential campaign, candidate Abraham Lincoln said “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.” Lincoln repeated those words after his first inauguration. Understanding that helps us better understand what Lincoln intended for the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.
Lincoln announced, on September 22, 1862, that if the rebels did not end the fighting and rejoin the Union by January 1, 1863, all slaves in the rebellious states would be freed as punishment.
The Confederacy did not rejoin the Union and that is how we got the second Emancipation Proclamation.