Common sense, the necessities of the war, to say nothing of the dictation of justice and humanity have at last prevailed. We shout for joy that we live to record this righteous decree. Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, Commander-in-Chief of the army and navy, in his own peculiar, cautious, forbearing and hesitating way, slow, but we hope sure, has, while the loyal heart was near breaking with despair, proclaimed and declared: “That on the First of January in the Year of Our Lord One Thousand, Eight Hundred and Sixty-three, All Persons Held as Salves Within Any State or Any Designated Part of a State, The People Whereof Shall Then be in Rebellion Against the United States, Shall be Thenceforward and Forever Free.”
“Free forever” oh! long enslaved millions, whose cries have so vexed the air and sky, suffer on a few more days in sorrow, the hour of your deliverance draws nigh! Oh! ye millions of free and loyal men who have earnestly sought to free your bleeding country from the dreadful ravages of revolution and anarchy, lift up your voices with joy and thanksgiving for with freedom to the slave will come peace and safety to your country. President Lincoln has embraced in this proclamation the law of Congress passed more than six months ago, prohibiting the employment of any part of the army and naval forces of the United States, to return fugitive slaves to their masters… He has still further declared his intention to urge upon the Legislature of all the slave States not in rebellion the immediate or gradual abolishment of slavery. But read the proclamation for it is the most important of any to which the President of the United States has ever signed his name…
…No, Abraham Lincoln will take no step backward. His word has gone out over the country and the world, giving joy and gladness to the friends of freedom and progress wherever the words are read, and be will stand by them, and carry them out to the letter. If he has taught us to confide in nothing else, he has taught us to confide in his word.
Frederick Douglass, excerpt from his October 1862 editorial in his monthly newspaper.
He escaped from slavery in 1838 and dedicated his life to abolishing slavery and promoting social reform and justice. By the Civil War, Douglass was well-known and had published a couple of autobiographical books and ran an abolitionist newspaper. From the beginning of the conflict, he believed the war could be used to end slavery.
In 1862, Douglass had not yet met President Lincoln (that would happen in 1863), but he had been closely following the president’s actions and political moves. He also made his own opinions clear through his newspaper publications. In the coming years, Douglass’s beliefs, advocacy, and opinion would gain the attention and respect of the president.
Joy and Trust
These excerpts from Douglass’s newspaper reveal his approval of the announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation. Unlike others, Douglass seemed to have no doubt that the Southern states wouldn’t return and the proclamation would be signed into effect on January 1, 1863. That meant coming freedom for thousands in bondage. Years of Douglass’s work was about to come to fruition; he had escaped and created his freedom, working for decades to abolition slavery. Freedom for all was on the horizon.
Along with the joy at the coming liberty, Douglass also expressed an almost devotional trust in Lincoln. Encouraging his readers to believe the president’s proclamation and see that the national leader was upholding some earlier precedents.
The announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation was a historical moment in American history. And it was personally important to abolitionists, freedmen, and those still in bondage. For the first time in American history, a president had formally and publicly taken a step toward ending slavery.
While word spread quickly through the North about the announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation, it didn’t travel so quickly in the South. Communication networks were as swift in the South and in some communities the war had cut their communication ties. However, when the news did get into the South, many slave owners were careful to keep the proclamation new from their slaves. Thus, there wasn’t the wave of rejoicing and hope in the slave quarters that it would be nice to imagine.
For some slaves, the first time they heard (or believed) the news was when Union troops arrived in their region. Still, freedom would come!