Eyewitness 1862: Lincoln's proclamation gives war new meaning
Share with others:
Pittsburgh greeted with gunshots the announcement that President Abraham Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863.
The volleys were not fired in anger but in celebration, according to the Pittsburgh Gazette.
"The numerous friends of the Emancipation message in this city, expressed their joy upon the reception of the President's proclamation of freedom, by firing one hundred guns in honor of the event," the newspaper reported, using some odd punctuation, on Jan. 3. "The firing commenced in a late hour in the evening above the Monongahela bridge, and was continued at intervals up to the hour of writing."
"The blow is struck this day which, under the blessing of God, will restore this nation to unity and peace," the Gazette opined on its editorial page. The newspaper, a strong supporter of Lincoln, the Republican Party and abolition, sought to tamp down fears that freed blacks either would massacre their former owners in the South or would flood the Northern states, driving down pay for white workers.
"A gentleman with whom we talked yesterday, who has just escaped as a refugee from Georgia, told us that the negroes there all know that they are to be made free on the first of January," the editorial said. "[They] expect to remain free where they are and work for wages ... This gentleman says the transition from slavery to freedom will not be attended with the smallest danger of disturbance, provided the change be acquiesced in by the masters."
While a majority of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County voters had backed Lincoln and the Republicans in the 1860 election, the city had its share of anti-abolition Democrats. Their newspaper was The Pittsburgh Post.
Post editor James Barr imagined a war of proclamations starting between President Lincoln and Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Both men, he wrote on Jan. 3, were chief executives of their countries and commanders-in-chief of armies.
Lincoln's proclamation, citing a wartime emergency and his power as commander-in-chief, freed all slaves in territory in rebellion against the federal government.
Barr speculated, tongue in cheek, on the Confederate response. "Seven days afterwards, Generalissimo Davis puts forth a vermilion edict," Barr wrote. "I, Jeff. Davis ... do hereby declare that all negro slaves emancipated by the proclamation of Abraham Lincoln are hearby returned to slavery."
Lincoln then would "rejoin with another ukase, again emancipating the unfortunate victims of Mr. Davis' proclamation." This issuance of rival proclamations could continue until the terms of office ended for each man, Barr wrote.
"Well, now the radicals have got their great panacea; their last desperate move has been made," the Post said on Jan. 5. The war began to restore the union. "Abolitionists have succeeded in diverting the war from its original purpose, to suit themselves, and 'the unalterable rule of right' and 'eternal fitness of things.'"
The Gazette agreed that the nature of the conflict had been fundamentally altered by Lincoln's proclamation. "Slaveholders will struggle for a while against the tide that is turned against them," the newspaper concluded. "But they cannot maintain it long; and thus the relation of master to slave will quietly change to that of employer and employee; and those people will prosper best who shall soonest acquiesce in the change."
First Published January 20, 2013 12:00 am