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One Hundred Days

One Hundred Days

On September 22, 1862, Lincoln initiated a debate when he issued what is often termed the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. Contemplating how slavery’s abolition would undermine the Confederacy, the President aimed to use the threat of emancipation to force Southern states to rejoin the Union.  Lincoln proposed that 100 days hence, on January 1, 1863, slavery would be abolished in all rebellious territories, with two conditions: efforts to colonize or remove former slaves to a separate territory would continue, and loyal slaveholders would be compensated for the loss of their property.  Although the Southern states refused Lincoln’s offer, the preliminary Proclamation fueled a spirited debate about the prospect of widespread abolition.  On the floor of Congress, on the front lines, and in home parlors, the nation confronted Lincoln’s proposal.  Some opposed it as going “too far.”  Some questioned the constitutional limits of the President’s war powers. And others expressed concern that the President’s proposed measure didn’t go far enough.

[Quincy, Alice Eugenia, and Abbie Shirley]
Ca. 1853
Eaton-Shirley Family Papers

Alice E. Shirley (1844-?)
[Diary entry, October 5, 1862]
Eaton-Shirley Family Papers

Alice Shirley was the daughter of a Unionist family living in Vicksburg, Mississippi. After some reflection, Lincoln’s preliminary Proclamation left 18-year-old Alice with doubts: “Lincoln has issued a proclamation saying that if the southern states do not quietly return to the union before the first of January 1863, he will on that day proclaim freedom to all slaves in America. I cannot say that I altogether approve it, his going too far. I can see nothing but ruin and misery for the South.”

Jacob van Zwaluwenburg (b. 1843)
[Manuscript Autobiographical Journal]
James S. Schoff Civil War Collection

Jacob van Zwaluwenburg, Private in the 16th U.S. Infantry, based his view more so on the prospect of a military victory than the fates of slaves. He quotes General William Rosecrans: “Tomorrow is the first of Jan. 63, the emancipation proclamation takes effect and God will give us victory.”

George Starbird
[Manuscript letter to Marianne Starbird]
Camp Dodge, Virginia, Oct. 14, 1862
Starbird Family Papers
James S. Schoff Civil War Collection

George Starbird served in Virginia with the 1st New York Mounted Rifles. His letters to his sister Marianne Starbird in New York City evidence a cynical perspective on the Proclamation. He describes using news of Lincoln’s proposal to barter with slaves for home cooked meals. His language is callous, but we glimpse the importance that the Proclamation held for those slaves Starbird encountered: “I went to darkeys nearby got warm by his fire,–told him of the Presidents proc. After hearing which he exlamed [sic] “bress de lor’ massa I hopes it may be so” Told him we were going to make it so. About the night time asked Mr. Nig. if he could give me something to Eat. Said he could take me some potatoes, hoecake and warm some biscuits… Mrs. Nig. Seemed down on me. Talked round on [illegible] right side and told her of the proclamation. Seemed over joyed. Asked for Eat, said she was just getting dinner. . . .So much for the proclamation.”

G. Foster
“Emancipation! Emancipation! Emancipation!”
Ca. 1862
Manuscript séance document
Forgeries Collection

This séance artifact tells us that Lincoln’s preliminary Proclamation was a topic for deliberations in spiritualist circles. This document was produced by an experienced hand. Was the creator a mere “crank” or one of the spiritualists who claimed to have access to the President throughout the war? In either case, he endorsed the Proclamation through the signatures of founding figures.

“Fred’ Douglass.”
Ca. 1859
Scrapbook page with albumen photograph

Frederick Douglass had long argued that the war’s aim should be emancipation. But Lincoln’s preliminary Proclamation elicited caution from the abolitionist activist. Douglass remained concerned that the anti-slavery movement might declare premature victory and fold. Writing in Douglass’ Monthly in October 1862 he warned: “The Proclamation of President Lincoln is the first chapter of a new history. But the end is not yet. We are at best only at the beginning of the end. It may yet require long years of labor, trials, hardships and dangers to bring us to that long prayed for consummation, and the promise is alone to those who shall remain faithful to the end.”

Aaron H. Ingraham (1840-1864)
[Manuscript letter, Fort Pulaski Sunday Dec 21, 1862]
Aaron H. Ingraham Papers

Aaron Ingraham served in the 48th New York Infantry, and campaigned in South Carolina and Georgia. He writes home to Dutchess County, New York: “Sunday December 21, 1862. Dear Sister . . . “Old Uncle Abe” is about right I think, his message just suited me – probably you abolitionists don’t exactly like it – his putting things off too long etc but it is the best way – let slavery gradually die out – as far as I personally am concerned . . .”

Anna Ella Carroll (1815-1894)
The Relation of the National Government to the Revolted Citizens Defined. No Power to Emancipate their Slaves or Confiscate their Property Proved. The Constitution as it is, the Only Hope for The Country.
[Washington, H. Polkinhorn, 1862]

Anna Ella Carroll was a former slaveholder from the border state of Maryland. Carroll spoke for many when she questioned whether the President could properly act against slavery. This 1862 pamphlet suggests that opinions on Lincoln’s proposal did not turn only on the question of abolition.