This painting by Laura Era shows Lincoln reading the Emancipation Proclamation with members of his cabinet and Anna Ella Carroll occupying one chair. Artist Era was commissioned to re-do the original painting by Francis B. Carpenter which showed one chair empty. There is evidence that Carroll aided Lincoln in war activities. It is thought that her chair was left empty, but with an identifying map and case used by Carroll. We can speculate it would have been impolitic to show Lincoln being advised by a woman. For more on this intriguing and vital story, see information online at the Maryland Women's Hall of Fame.
The 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation is Jan. 1, 2013


   As 2013 begins in Athens, Georgia, there are Watch Night church services where the Emancipation Proclamation is read and celebrated. African Americans don't forget what happened 150 years ago. Thousands commemorate the Emancipation Proclamation throughout the country.  Other African Americans, however, celebrate a traditional New Year's Eve Watch Night religious service without delving into the Civil War past, preferring to look toward the future of the New Year.

   As early as Fall, 1862, Athens residents black and white, knew Lincoln was moving toward an Emancipation Proclamation. The world's press carried stories about the proclamation freeing the slaves. Apparently, however, little direct mention was made about emancipation in the Athens area in white-controlled newspapers. A digitized search of the years of newspaper files immediately before and after the Emancipation Proclamation's Jan. 1, 1863, date found only a few articles discussing the Emancipation Proclamation in the Athens press. These articles seem selected to reflect disapproval of the Proclamation in various foreign and non-Georgia papers and didn't put in writing the Proclamation's contents.  

   A leading Athens citizen, Augustus Longstreet Hull, however, confirmed the town's knowledge about coming emancipation in his basic history, Annals of Athens, Georgia, 1801-1901. Hull treats the matter at some length and will be discussed later.

   Today is the day we note Abraham Lincoln's signing and release of his Emancipation Proclamation to free Confederate slaves. With the release of the proclamation, the Civil War became unabashedly the instrument to liberate the country's four million slaves, although this process wouldn't be completed until the 13th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution went into effect in December, 1865. More than two bloody years of fighting still remained before the South surrendered. The Emancipation Proclamation could not free millions of slaves until the Union Army wrested a victory and controlled the entire South.

   Lincoln, after much struggle with himself, finally realized that freeing the slaves was absolutely necessary as an action by the nation's commander-in-chief to win the war. He had delicately edged around the question of immediate and non-compensated freedom for slaves for several years, as he tried to woo the Border States and the Confederate South to give up on slavery. Finally he knew that no diplomatic or soft-handed effort was going to give him victory as commander-in-chief. He also needed African-American soldiers, and the Proclamation embraced this need. More than 200,000 black soldiers did join the ranks of the Union Army before the Civil War ended and aided greatly.

   Eric Foner, a highly noted Civil War, Reconstruction and Lincoln historian, discusses Lincoln's anguish wrestling with the questions of slavery and freedom in his noteworthy book, The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery.

   "One hundred and fifty years ago, on Jan. 1, 1863, Abraham Lincoln presided over the annual White House New Year's reception. Late that afternoon, he retired to his study to sign the Emancipation Proclamation," Foner wrote today in an op-ed piece in the New York Times.

   "When he took up his pen, his hand was shaking from exhaustion. Briefly, he paused—'I do not want it to appear as if I hesitated,' he remarked. Then Lincoln affixed a firm signature to the document," Foner writes.

   "In essence, Lincoln asked the nation to confront unblinkingly the legacy of slavery. What were the requirements of justice in the face of this reality? What would be necessary to enable former slaves and their descendants to enjoy fully the pursuit of happiness?  Lincoln did not live to provide an answer. A century and a half later, we have yet to do so," he writes.

   Obviously Athens residents knew that Lincoln had written a preliminary emancipation proclamation, but had not officially released it. For example, in its Oct. 29, 1862, issue,  the Athens Southern Watchman without any comment passed on a story from England, relayed from the London Times but obviously quoting the foreign item with approval:

   "The London Times says that the emancipation proclamation of Lincoln is a political concession of the Abolitionists, that when the Union existed the Constitution gave no right to the President or Congress to free the slaves. Emancipation was the bolt in the hands of the President to destroy the social organization of the South—a blow which Lincoln has assumed the right to launch, without the power to enforce his decrees. The North must conquer every square mile of the South before it can make the proclamation of more effect than merely a waste of paper."

   In the same issue of the Southern Watchman, another item running in the London Post, was repeated: "The London Post says: It is not easy to estimate how utterly contemtible [sic] a government must have become which could sanction, with its approval, such insensate trash."

   The Watchman ran a third article in its Nov. 26, 1862, issue, upholding the freedom of expression of a Missouri judge, who was arrested for questioning the wisdom of the preliminary emancipation proclamation. The Watchman showed its anger with the judge's arrest under a headline "More Specimens of Freedom under Lincoln Rule." Several articles published in the Athens papers after Jan. 1, 1863, followed the technique of quoting disapproval of the Proclamation abroad and in the North.

   Hull in his Annals wrote that the preliminary emancipation proclamation, which Lincoln composed in September, 1862, after the Battle of Antietam, was not kept secret.  We know that Lincoln was advised not to release the proclamation until a more opportune time. Several newspapers wrote articles about this preliminary document.

   "The emancipation proclamation of Mr. Lincoln had no effect on the [Athens] negroes at the time, although they were generally told of it," Hull wrote, discussing the Jan. 1, 1863, proclamation.

   As the Union Army conquered and occupied Georgia in 1864 and 1865, Georgia slaves began to exercise their freedom. They already knew that it existed on paper, but only armed might of the Union Army made possible the beginning of their emancipation. Many joined the Union army marching through Georgia.

   Hull recounted the breakdown in Athens society: "After the surrender of General [Joseph] Johnston there came a brigade of Federal cavalry in search of Mr. [Jefferson] Davis. It was the signal for the disruption of the old regime." By May, 1865, federal troops occupied Athens.

   Hull wrote that his father ". . . called up the hands on the plantation and told them they were now free and must take care of themselves; if they chose they might remain on the place until they should decide what to do. The effect was curious. The younger men left at once to enjoy their new-found freedom with a happy-go-lucky lack of forethought, not knowing where they were to get their suppers. The men with families remained."

   The Jan. 1, 1863, Emancipation Proclamation formally proclaimed "the freedom of all slaves held in areas still in revolt," the National Archives said in opening its special 150th anniversary of the proclamation on New Year's Eve. "The issuance of this Proclamation clarified and strengthened the position of the Union government, decreased the likelihood of European support of the Confederacy and, as the Union armies extended their occupation of the southern states, brought freedom to the slaves in those states."

This rather dramatic illustration shows a black Union soldier reading the Emancipation Proclamation to an African-American family in 1863.