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A Juneteenth/Civil War era question I have

Elmer J Fudd
15 days ago

Lars' music thread triggered a thought that I was in the process of describing in that thread but that I've redirected here, so as not to sidetrack Friday music.

The Juneteeth holiday seems to commemorate what I understand to have been simply a recommunication of the earlier Emanicipation Proclamation's applicability in Texas. This was at the end of an especially dark time in American history and one sadly with strings that still reach out to too many people in this modern era so many years later.

The Emancipation Proclamation is something I've never fully understood, and I think many misunderstand it in a different way. In it, Lincoln proclaimed that all slaves in areas under Confederate control were free. It had no applicability to slaves in states still in the Union or to slaves in areas of the Confederate States under Union Army control.

My puzzlement has two parts. First, as the Confederate States of America was theoretically a different country, I don't understand what the point was. Lincoln and the Union had no jurisdiction in the Confederate States, unless it was based on asserting that their secession had no basis in law and was a nullity. If otherwise, what was the point? Maybe to overrule the effect of the Fugitive Slave Act still on the books?

Second, there were slaves in Union states but the Emancipation Proclamation didn't apply to them, Why not? How is it that slaves in areas where Lincoln DID have jurisdiction were not freed? The Civil War effectively ended in April, 1865, but slaves living in Union states and those in areas that were under Union Army control at the time of the effective date of the Emancipation Proclamation remained as slaves until the 13th amendment passed in December, 1865. Why didn't Lincoln or Congress do something for them sooner?


My confusion may be from misunderstandings. Can anyone shed some light? Thanks.

Comments (34)

  • Zalco/bring back Sophie!
    15 days ago

    Elmer, I have no answer for you, but thought you might consider the Reddit sub, Ask Historians. My eldest gets all sorts of questions answered by pretty qualified people. It may be worth a try. At the very least, it is a great sub to browse from time to time.

    https://www.reddit.com/r/AskHistorians/


    PS I DMed you, just checking you received it, nbd.

  • whistle_b
    15 days ago

    Elmer, if you find answers to your questions, please come back and share what you learned.

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  • beesneeds
    15 days ago

    While the confederate states declared intentions of secession, the U.S. didn't really recognize them as a seperate country, rather they were considered rebellious states. So the U.S, still felt it had jurisdiction over those states.

    The EP wasn't meant to apply as a legal measure- it was a military measure during war. Since it wasn't a legal measure, it didn't apply to the states in the Union, just to the states in rebellion. It didn't apply completely to the entirety of the confederate states, there were some exceptions.

    From the EP: "Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, (except the Parishes of St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Jefferson, St. John, St. Charles, St. James Ascension, Assumption, Terrebonne, Lafourche, St. Mary, St. Martin, and Orleans, including the City of New Orleans) Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia, (except the forty-eight counties designated as West Virginia, and also the counties of Berkley, Accomac, Northampton, Elizabeth City, York, Princess Ann, and Norfolk, including the cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth[)], and which excepted parts, are for the present, left precisely as if this proclamation were not issued."

    Though the EP was announced in '63, it took a while for the Feds to get out to the outlying areas Like Galvenston. They didn't get there to take over till June19 of '65. Juneteenth day.

    The 13th amendment was introduced to the floor in '63. It took over a year for the hill to sign off on it, then took a while longer before the states were done ratifying it. That caused a couple year gap between the EP, a military measure, being acted on, and the ratification of the 13, a leagal measure, bringing in the states not part of the EP. The rebellion states were amongst the last to ratify the amendment, and doing so became part of the Reclamation process.

    There is another lesser known Juneteenth. The 14th. In 1866, the Creek Tribe became the last of the "Civilized Tribes" to agree to abolish slavery in their territory.

  • cyn427 (z. 7, N. VA)
    15 days ago
    last modified: 15 days ago

    Can't answer all your questions, but the Union never recognized the Confederacy as a separate country. They were states in rebellion. The Emancipation had several purposes. By issuing it, Lincoln confirmed that the war had to be one about freedom, not just keeping the nation whole. From the start, he wanted to keep the union together, but the proclamation made the war a moral cause. It enabled Blacks to join the Union army and thus they could become liberators themselves. It also renewed the spirits of Northerners and gave them yet another reason to support the war.

    The lag time for the 13th Amendment would most likely not have occurred had Lincoln not been assassinated on April 14/15th.


    ETA: The proclamation also sent a strong message to those held in slavery in the rebelling states and to Great Britain which was anti-slavery.

  • Bookwoman
    15 days ago

    I've had a look in my copy of James McPherson's Battle Cry of Freedom, and here's some of what he says on the matter:

    [After the victory at Antietam]...Lincoln intended to warn the rebel states that unless they returned to the Union by January 1 their slaves "shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free."...The Proclamation would apply only to states in rebellion on January 1. This produced some confusion, because the edict thus appeared to liberate only those slaves beyond Union authority while retaining in bondage all those within the government's reach. A few disappointed radicals and abolitionists looked upon it this way....

    But such remarks missed the point and misunderstood the President's prerogatives under the Constitution. Lincoln acted under his war powers to seize enemy resources; he had no constitutional power to act against slavery in areas loyal to the United States. The Proclamation would turn Union forces into armies of liberation after January 1 - if they could win the war. And it also invited the slaves to help them win it....

    General-in-Chief Halleck explained his position to Grant: "The character of the war has very much changed within the last year. There is now no possible hope of reconciliation...We must conquer the rebels or be conquered by them...Every slave withdrawn from the enemy is the equivalent of a white man put hors de combat."

    So it doesn't seem to have been so much a humanitarian decision as it was a tactical, military one.

  • Lars
    15 days ago

    The 13th Amendment was not ratified until December 6, 1865, and this is the official end of slavery in the U.S. Proclamations do not have the same effect as amendments to the Constitution.

  • kevin9408
    15 days ago

    Slavery was abolished in the north by each individual state between sixty and 90 years before the civil war started. The Emancipation Proclamation ended slavery in the Confederate states in rebellion against the Union, so why didn't he do it earlier?

    If he'd done it before the war started and the 11 confederate states still had electoral votes in the presidential election he would of been a lame duck one term republican president, it would have reversed the balance of power in the house during the midterm election of 1862 to democrat control and Lincoln could of risked impeachment.

    Lincoln received 40% of the popular vote in 1860 and not all republicans supported him, and even fewer wanted a war with the south. The proclamation would of decimated republican control even without the 11 confederate states.

    I can tell you so much more about this war but do not want to start and heated debates.

  • Elmer J Fudd
    Original Author
    14 days ago
    last modified: 14 days ago

    Thank you for the comments and suggested directions too as references and for further thought. It's caused me to do a fair amount of light reading. I've read the Emancipation Proclamation many times and doing so again only deepens the confusion rather than resolve it. I also watched portions of a lecture by James Mc Pherson, which I will link to. Here's what I've found

    For some understanding of Lincoln's state of mind, before diving deeper into this, I looked for and found a letter from Lincoln to newspaperman Horace Greeley that I remember hearing of and discussing ages ago in college. In an 1862 letter, Lincoln said:

    "My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union. I shall do less whenever I shall believe what I am doing hurts the cause, and I shall do more whenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause. "

    With this in mind, my noodling around found that:

    1) Lincoln made proclamations, took a variety of steps and directed actions which he knew to be contrary to or violations of provisions of the Constitution. He freely admitted to having done so. Refer to the letter above to Greeley to understand why.

    2) At the time, Lincoln made decisions and prescribed conduct invoking what he described as acts pursuant to his war powers. Apparently that term is not mentioned in the Constitution nor in any enacted law existing at the time. He made it up, with the same motivation just mentioned.

    3) If the secession of states was not a legally permitted act, Lincoln as President would have executive power over all of them. The Emancipation Proclamation can't be said to be permissible for one region and not for another if they both were part of the same country.

    It seems to be as some said, that the Emancipation Proclamation was done as a military and political act. Even beyond this, it seems as if Lincoln's motivation was to provoke and antagonize the Confederates. As news spread in the Confederacy by word of mouth, it's not clear that when that message reached slave populations in various places that it made much of a difference.

    One last thing, that LIncoln is referred to as the "man who freed the slaves" or "The Great Emancipator". I think these are monikers that are undeserved. If slaves in Confederate controlled regions could be freed by a presidential proclamation, then slaves in Union controlled regions during and after the war could have been freed in the same manner,. They weren't. Lee surrendered one week before Lincoln was assassinated (meaning that much of the Confederacy was in Union control, and nothing was done, to my knowledge)

    He can be said to have ended the war and maintained the existence in total of the USA by being a clever, hands-on, and continually engaged leader. Beyond that, I'm not sure.


    Further thoughts?

    McPherson talking about Lincoln's "invention" of the concept of war powers

  • patriciae_gw
    14 days ago

    There is no provision in the constitution for leaving the Union. Each of the original 13 knew this and as new states were added it was made plain that when you joined you were joined because to do it any other way would mean a dangerous and untenable unite. All you have to do is be pissed off about not getting your way on some point, leave and off you go. Not supportable. I

    used to wonder why the better organized and more prosperous North would bother to keep the feckless south around. Why expend so much money and blood to keep the union together? Enforcing the constitution could only be one part of it. I suspect that the presence of aggressive French to the south in Mexico and English to the north in Canada must have been a factor. Emancipating slaves would certainly sow discord and the proof is Slaves leaving in droves having to be cared for by the North. Still depending on where they were the slave populations often had no knowledge of emancipation. Slaves in southern Alabama and Mississippi were not told and remember they couldn't read. Some slave didn't even know when the war was over. It is hard to understand how remote these areas were. I read war era diaries and it is always fascinating to read what people surmised at the time. Blacks mostly did memoires because they were not literate so you get their thoughts after the fact. The south never surrendered so for many people the war continues.

    Emancipated slaves were called contraband.

    Amazingly enough people who were investing everything into hanging onto slaves wrote dismissive stuff about how the north deserved to have to take care of all those worthless lazy woolie headed runaways.

  • bry911
    13 days ago

    Last month, I watched the Knowing Better video on Neoslavery. I was doing something else and it was an autoplay on my second monitor. It is a long watch (easier if it is playing on a second monitor while you are doing something else), but it is interesting.






  • Elmer J Fudd
    Original Author
    13 days ago

    This video is about a different topic, it's fine for what it is. It's been known for decades that for too long the approach in schools and in American society was to whitewash and ignore a long list of past unfortunate things. Intentional omissions and mischaracterizations of much of history. I hate to use a phrase popularized by Al Gore (a guy who I think is an unscrupulous, conniving, self-opportunistic piece of outflow) but many of the deliberate omissions from history are "unfortunate truths". They affect not only African Americans post-Civil War but so many other things that adversely affected American people and their lives were covered over too. For those still partially in the dark, there's a wealth of material available and has been for a long time.

    I'm not sure what this guy's background is but I found him and the presentation style needlessly melodramatic and more annoying than not. He speaks as if his content were new and previously unknown. It's not either.

  • patriciae_gw
    13 days ago

    I was wondering if you felt your questions were answered. I did think of the fact that a state can leave if congress will allow it. I forgot that when I wrote what I did.

    With Texas being the last part of the Confederacy to be dealt with is why Texas existed at all. They rebelled from Mexico because Mexico did not allow slavery. Mexico had solicited people to move to the area to develop that area but they had to agree to not bring slaves but people did it anyway until Mexico was clamping down on the practice. History is just so strange.

  • Elmer J Fudd
    Original Author
    12 days ago
    last modified: 12 days ago

    Yes and no, patricia. I think where it's settled in my thinking is that I believe the Emancipation Proclamation is mischaracterized in received history. It's hard to read the excerpt from his letter to Greeley that I quoted above without realizing that the party line about Lincoln and what people assume to be his main objectives (including abolishing slavery) are hard to cling to without factoring in the contradictory evidence that exists. I think many generalizations and simple broad assumptions about him are suspect. Maybe that's why so many books have been written about Lincoln and the Civil War. It was a complicated time and many differences of opinion exist and probably always will.

    There seems to be some aspect of Texas lore that leads some to insist that Texas is somehow different from other states, exceptional in some ways. Maybe, I haven't read or studied it in much detail because it doesn't interest me. Every state has a back story of some kind. Each is unique. That's a ho-hum for me.

    History is strange, you're right. Wherever you choose to look, you'll find unanswered questions that will remain unanswered.

  • patriciae_gw
    12 days ago

    There is plenty of evidence that Lincoln was anti-slavery. How he actually felt about the equality of blacks is another matter. Plenty of people were anti-slavery back in the day who did not believe blacks to be equal in any way to whites but of course most people didnt think women were equal to men and as it turned out even equal to black men. That he was willing to leave blacks in slavery if it would preserve the Union was always my take away from his statement. That is sort of insight. I have to wonder if he would have accepted slavery of whites for the same end. It is a pity you cant ask those questions.

  • Elmer J Fudd
    Original Author
    12 days ago
    last modified: 12 days ago

    Sometimes it's hard to get a straight story and adequate insights from people who are alive, so it's easy to understand it can be much harder and one is less likely to have done so as concerns those who are long gone. It's all nuanced.

    Your assessment of the letter seems reasonable but not the only possible one. I don't think I would turn from reading it and say that Lincoln was against slavery. More the opposite. Because his words suggest he had a singular goal and eliminating slavery wasn't it. And that if he could achieve his priority of maintaining the Union, whatever the effect of doing so would or wouldn't have on the continuation of slavery didn't matter to him. That's hardly an anti-slavery stance.

  • patriciae_gw
    12 days ago

    Elmer, Lincoln made many other statements about his feelings about slavery. He was however unsure as to the best way to go about eliminating it. Many other countries did it more easily because the slaves were held elsewhere from their home countries. Here just dealing with enormous numbers of people with no education, no money, many with few skills and no idea of how to make their own decisions and support themselves would be a serious task to take on. That is what was confounding Lincoln. The war made those concerns moot.

  • arcy_gw
    12 days ago

    One can glean all sorts of revisionist history from documents when reading with one's own insinuation, assumption, personal agenda, 2022 perspective. This is exactly how so much is muddled up right now. The first post has so much misunderstanding in it, it was unlikely clarity would prevail. It does great disservice to a great man and a greater outcome by spinning his words now.

  • Annie Deighnaugh
    12 days ago

    The reason I posted the link above, which you chose not to address is it discusses the impact the proclamation had from a moral and political standpoint even if it had no rule of law effect on the northern states:


    Although the Emancipation Proclamation did not end slavery in the nation, it captured the hearts and imagination of millions of Americans and fundamentally transformed the character of the war. After January 1, 1863, every advance of federal troops expanded the domain of freedom. Moreover, the Proclamation announced the acceptance of black men into the Union Army and Navy, enabling the liberated to become liberators. By the end of the war, almost 200,000 black soldiers and sailors had fought for the Union and freedom.


    From the first days of the Civil War, slaves had acted to secure their own liberty. The Emancipation Proclamation confirmed their insistence that the war for the Union must become a war for freedom. It added moral force to the Union cause and strengthened the Union both militarily and politically. As a milestone along the road to slavery's final destruction, the Emancipation Proclamation has assumed a place among the great documents of human freedom.


    Admittedly I know little about this, but IIRC, the proclamation may have had a foreign policy impact as well, Britian and France being reluctant to support the south after the proclamation as they were anti-slavery.

  • Elmer J Fudd
    Original Author
    12 days ago

    "The first post has so much misunderstanding in it, it was unlikely clarity would prevail. It does great disservice to a great man and a greater outcome by spinning his words now."


    The first post had mostly questions in it except for the third paragraph. I think the comments are uncontroversial and objective, taken from a reading of the words themselves with no interpretation involved. What misunderstandings are you referring to?


    I think I said clearly that I felt I don't fully understand. I welcome your thoughts and comments if you believe your views of the matters I mentioned would be useful for me and others to know.

  • chisue
    12 days ago

    Interesting letter to Greeley. I think we need to consider to whom this was written and the intention. Ever the politician, Lincoln needed support for his cause; needed to try to quell distractions from it.

  • Elmer J Fudd
    Original Author
    12 days ago
    last modified: 12 days ago

    "The reason I posted the link above, which you chose not to address is it discusses the impact the proclamation had from a moral and political standpoint even if it had no rule of law effect on the northern states:"

    I didn't address it because I didn't think it provided explanations to either of the two questions I posed to begin the thread.

    I think the McPherson quote bookwoman provided is enlightening. McPherson suggests that proclamation was a calculated act seemingly motivated to have a tactical military effect and also to provide.a measure of political provocation. Bookwoman's reminding me of McPherson as one of the eminent experts of the period led me to the search that dug up the wonderful 90 minute video I linked to above. I watched all of it, a measure of my interest (and available time on that particular day!).

    For me, McPherson's thoughts suggest that there are uncertainties surrounding the act and the motivations behind it. And that the party line assessment of it is perhaps wrong. That party line that is almost carved in stone -Lincoln is the Great Emancipator, he freed the slaves- is much too facile.

    The US History most of us were taught contains a superficial, black and white assessment of the proclamation. This discussion and the thoughts of others it has led me to read and hear make me realize that the common view is somewhat misleading because far more was involved. Its impact is different from the simple party line assessments.

  • Elmer J Fudd
    Original Author
    12 days ago

    "Ever the politician,..."


    I completely agree and I think this too in common culture is under-emphasized. I think these words and the same sentiment expressed at other times had an intended audience, the fringe minority in the Union who continued to support slavery. Not to the core abolitionist sentiment that prevailed.


    In the video I linked, in response to a question something to the effect of "What was the most notable thing Lincoln did", McPherson replied something like "He's the only President in history, before or since, who put his four fiercest political rivals on the Cabinet". This was the subject of the Pulitzer Prize and Lincoln Prize winning book by Doris Kearns Goodwin entitled Team of Rivals.

  • colleenoz
    11 days ago

    "...proclamation was a calculated act seemingly motivated to have a tactical military effect and also to provide.a measure of political provocation."

    This is essentially what I was taught in high school history in Oz nearly 50 years ago. The Civil War was seen as being fought in the first instance with the sole purpose of preventing the southern states hiving themselves off as a separate nation, and then as the tactic of the Emancipation Proclamation was used, for the additional purpose of freeing the enslaved. But reuniting the nation was always the main goal.

    I guess as Australians were not raised with the idea of Lincoln as the Great Emancipator they could look at the causes of the conflict more dispassionately. Lincoln was the Great Emancipator but his motivations were much more complex and Emancipation was more of a side effect than a goal. (Not that it didn't need to happen- it did.)

  • patriciae_gw
    11 days ago

    Well said Colleen.

  • Elmer J Fudd
    Original Author
    11 days ago

    It became clear to me in college that much of what passed for history curricula up through high school was as much cultural and political indoctrinating propaganda as not. You can see that in some of the comments above, whether pushing back because of discomfort that the party line was being questioned or by virture of being misinformed.


    You may or may not know, colleenoz, that there are still many Southerners who refer to the Civil War as "The War of Northern Aggression".

  • colleenoz
    11 days ago

    I am aware of that, Elmer.

  • patriciae_gw
    11 days ago

    I was way ahead of you Elmer. I came to pretty much the same conclusion when I was studying Alabama history in fourth grade. I was in school in Montgomery Alabama, original capitol of the Confederacy and had George Wallace jr sitting right across the isle from me. That the people of Montgomery were proud of that heritage struck me as bizarre. A town I lived in in North Mississippi had had a chapter of the KKK established by Nathan Bedford Forest. It was something they boasted of, not thinking through the whole thing. They met in a basement room of the court house. I concluded in the fourth grade that the best thing that could have happened for the south was to lose the war.

  • Elmer J Fudd
    Original Author
    11 days ago
    last modified: 11 days ago

    Everyone may be way ahead of me, I'm not concerned about that. If you glance above at my comment that began this thread, I said that I believe I don't completely understand some of the puzzle parts involved with this time in American history and how they may or may not fit together. Some of the earlier comments and the information I found while pursuing what was said I think have brought me more clarity.

    I have a light interest in history, more than none and less than a lot. But not an interest in light history. I think most of us have had too much fluff. This becomes apparent when more balanced insights regarding important matters and issues are encountered. Those that, as in this example, make it clear that something as simple as the Great Emancipator label put on Lincoln is historically misleading and probably incorrect. And that the common understanding of the Emancipation Proclamation is inaccurate. The label is something that Lincoln himself would likely reject (not out of modesty but integrity) and point out to be in error.

  • LoneJack Zn 6a, KC
    11 days ago
    last modified: 11 days ago

    I suggest watching Lincoln. It is based on Lincoln's biography and takes place during the time of both the proclamation and thirteenth amendment debates. It was very well directed by Spielberg and was well acted.

  • Elmer J Fudd
    Original Author
    11 days ago

    Thanks, lonejack. I don't tend to like historical dramatizations. Films and theatrical productions "based on" one thing or another take liberties for the sake of the entertainment value of the end product. I prefer sticking to more serious sources, written or oral.

  • patriciae_gw
    11 days ago

    In the past I became very interested in why Lincoln pursued the war with all its terrible costs. He was plain about preserving the Union but I could not learn why he felt that to be so important. With a Lincoln you couldn't just assume he tells you what he is thinking. He was a consummate politician who knew how to tell people what they would want to hear. He would say what it took to convince someone. As a result of my research I did understand that our position in the world at the time was much more tenuous than we are accustomed to understand. He did speak to the issue of foreign powers. Still I dont know if that was only one of the reasons. Maybe he believed like many people do these days that somehow this country is sacred in some way. It has to make you wonder what he would have done if he hadn't had a war to fight. He was a brilliant and thoughtful man with strongly held beliefs that he wrapped up in stories and yarns. He was anti slavery.

  • arcy_gw
    9 days ago

    I think everyone reads sources and comes to their own conclusions. What Lincoln felt or did not is never something anyone will have a handle on. It's just not to be known. So people will believe what they will. Our Supreme Court was invented just because of these sorts of wonderings. They are having a heck of a time reading what's there and not seeing it through today's PC WOKE view of the current society. As far as :"You may or may not know, colleenoz, that there are still many Southerners who refer to the Civil War as "The War of Northern Aggression". My DIL moved from Michigan to North Carolina in Jr. High and was taken a back to hear of the Civil War TAUGHT IN SCHOOL as 'the war of northern aggression'. I was led to believe education cured stupidity but clearly that is not true.

  • patriciae_gw
    9 days ago

    The other less aggressive southern name is "The War Between the States".

    And did I not say you couldn't assume what he actually believed. You had to go with what he did. He did take a huge political risk and emancipate slaves in rebellious states which threatened the northern alliance with the remaining slave states that had not seceded. He had already signed the act that emancipated slaves in DC. The people there who were slave owners were compensated. That is the tack that Britain used to ease the change.

    While looking up some background to refresh my memory on these points I ran across this article. Fascinating. Oddly enough it includes a reference to the war between the states which is what I was taught to call the war when I was in school in the south.

    Ending Slavery in the District of Columbia | emancipation (dc.gov)