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EDITOR'S NOTE: In the Sandy Valley Press-- a forerunner to the Press-News-- an article was published on Feb. 13. 1913, that told of President Abraham Lincoln's resolve to pass the Emancipation Proclamation, which would free the slaves. Although this article comes out after President's Day and his Feb. 12 birthday, it relates extremely well with Black History Month, which is now being observed.
The story was published, along with photos and drawings of the President alone and with his cabinet. Told through the eyes of Lincoln's cabinet members, it shows how Lincoln depended on prayer and his faith in God to make these crucial decisions for the country. It also shows his strength of character, as he told the cabinet members, that his mind was made up and he knew this is what God wanted him to do. However, the story also shows his deep humility, as he was open to minor changes in the document and he admitted that, if someone else could do a better job, he was willing to step aside and let that happen.
Lincoln told his cabinet that he had prayed that, if God helped the Union to be successful in driving the Confederates out of Maryland, that he would know he had to free the slaves. Although the North did not have a clear victory in Sharpsburg, Md., the Union army was able to drive the Confederates out of the state. Lincoln then felt comfortable issuing the Emancipation Proclamation.
The story also demonstrates how humor helped the President bear the burden he was carrying for the country and its people. He loved to tell jokes and read humorous literature, which he often shared with others. When he received incredulous looks from others and no laughter from his cabinet members during this important meeting, Lincoln reportedly said, "Gentlemen, why don't you laugh? With the fearful strain that is upon me night and day, if I did not laugh I should die, and you need this medicine as much as I do."
President Lincoln considered the Emancipation Proclamation to be the most important aspect of his legacy. "I never, in my life, felt more certain that I was doing right, than I do in signing this paper," he declared. "If my name ever goes into history it will be for this act, and my whole soul is in it."
In addition to the Sandy Valley Press, some of the above information for this article was obtained from web sites, which included mrlincolnandfriends.org and civilwar.org.
Abraham Lincoln called his cabinet together on Sept. 22, 1862, to read to them his first proclamation of emancipation. In the diaries of two of the members of that council are given vivid running accounts of that meeting, telling of Lincoln's solemn vow and its consummation. This is the story of that day as told by Salmon P. Chase, secretary of treasure.
State Department messengers came with notice to heads of departments to meet at 12. Went to the White House. All the members of the cabinet were in attendance. There was some general talk, and the president mentioned that Artemus Ward had sent his book. Proposed to read a chapter which he thought very funny. Read it, and seemed to enjoy it very much; the heads also (except Stanton), of course. The chapter was "High-handed Outrage at Utica."
The president then took a graver tone and said: "Gentleman: I have, as you are aware, thought a great deal about the relation of the war to slavery and you all remember that, several weeks ago, I read to you an order that I prepared on this subject, which, on account of objections made by some of you, was not issued. Ever since then my mind has been much occupied with this subject, and I have thought, all along, that the time for acting on it might probably come. I think the time has come now. I wish it was a better time. I wish that we were in a better condition. The action of the army against the rebels has not been quite what I should have best liked.
"When the rebel army was at Frederick, I determined, as soon as it should be driven out of Maryland to leave a proclamation of emancipation, such as I thought most likely to be used. I said nothing to anyone, but I made the promise to myself and (hesitating a little), to my Maker. The rebel army is now driven out, and I am going to fulfill that promise.
"I have got you together to hear what I have written down. I do not wish your advice about the main matter, for that I have determined for myself. This I say without intending anything but respect for any one of you. But I already know the views of each on this question. They have been heretofore expressed, and I have considered them as thoroughly and carefully as I can. What I have written is that which my reflections have determined me to say. If there is anything in the expressions I use, or in any minor matter, that any one of you think had best be changed, I shall be glad to receive the suggestions.
"One other observation I will make. I know very well that many others might, in this matter, as in others, do better than I can; and if I was satisfied that the public confidence was more fully possessed by any one of them, than by me, and knew of any constitutional way in which he could be put in my place, he should have it, I would gladly yield it to him. But, though I believe that I have not so much the confidence of the people as I had some time since, I do not know that, all things considered, any other person has more; and, however this may be, there is no way in which I can have any other man put where I am. I am here; I must do the best I can and bear the responsibility of taking the course which I feel I ought to take."
The president then proceeded to read his Emancipation Proclamation, making remarked on the several parts as he went on, and showing that he had fully considered the whole subject, in all the lights under which it had been presented to him.
After he had closed, Governor Seward said: "The general question having been decided nothing can be said farther about that. Would it not, however, make the proclamation more clear and decided to leave out all reference to the act being sustained during the incumbency of the present president, and to merely say that the government 'recognizes' but that it will maintain the freedom it proclaims?"
(A few minor modifications were then discussed and made on the way it was written.)
Gideon Welles secretary of the Navy said, "...He (the President) remarked that he had made a vow, a covenant, that if God gave us (the North) the victory in the approaching battle, he would consider it an indication of Divine Will, and that it was his duty to move forward in the cause of emancipation. It might be thought strange, he (Lincoln) said, that he had in this way submitted the disposal of matters when the way was not clear to his mind what he should do. God had decided this question in favor of the slaves."
He (Lincoln) was satisfied it was right, was confirmed and strengthened in his action by the vow and the results. His mind was fixed, his decision made...." concluded Chase.