From Antietam to Chancellorsville: September 1862 to May 1863

The Emancipation Proclamation

How was the Proclamation received by the African American community?

This is more difficult to gauge, both because of a lack of literacy and a lack of persons to record the reactions. We have to rely on the anecdotal record, which comes to us primarily through the diaries and letters of slaveholders in the Confederate states. They tell us that the slaveholders were very concerned that the black slaves were becoming uppity, believing that Father Abraham—the expression began around this time—had set them free.

Among the free persons of color in the Northern states, there was some dissension, with people saying that the president had not gone far enough, but the single most powerful voice was that of Frederick Douglass. He had been on the abolitionist trail for thirty years, and now, he finally saw the light. To Douglass, it did not matter that the Proclamation was conditional, or that the slaves had to wait until January 1, 1863. The great, overwhelming matter was that Lincoln had made the cause public, and that the power of the federal government was now behind the cause of abolition.


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