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The first day of January, 1863, arrived, and no event had occurred to delay the issue of the promised proclamation. It came accordingly. By virtue of his power as commander-in-chief, “in time of actual armed rebellion,... and as a fit and necessary war measure for suppressing said rebellion,” the President ordered that all persons held as slaves in certain States and parts of States, which he designated as being then in rebellion, should be thenceforward free, and declared that the Executive, with the army and navy, would “recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons.” The word “maintain” was inserted at Seward’s suggestion, and somewhat against Mr. Lincoln’s wish. He said that he had intentionally refrained from introducing it, because it was not his way to promise what he was not entirely sure that he could perform. The sentence invoking the favor of God was contributed by Secretary Chase. The paper was signed after the great public reception of New Year’s Day. Mr. Lincoln, as he took the pen, remarked to Mr. Seward that his much-shaken hand was almost paralyzed, so that people who, in time to come, should see that signature would be likely to say: “He hesitated,” whereas, in fact, his whole soul was in it. The publication took place late in the day, and the anti-slavery critics grumbled because it was not sent out in the morning.
The people at large received this important step with some variety of feeling and expression; but, upon the whole, approval seems to have far outrun the dubious prognostications of the timid and conservative class. For the three months which had given opportunity for thinking had produced the result which Mr. Lincoln had hoped for. It turned out that the mill of God had been grinding as exactly as always. Very many who would not have advised the measure now heartily ratified it. Later, after men’s minds had had time to settle and the balance could be fairly struck, it appeared undeniable that the final proclamation had been of good effect; so Mr. Lincoln himself said.
It is worth noting that while many Englishmen spoke out in generous praise, the rulers of England took the contrary position. Earl Russell said that the measure was “of a very strange nature,” “a very questionable kind,” an act of “vengeance on the slave-owner,” and that it did no more than “profess to emancipate slaves, where the United States authorities cannot make emancipation a reality.” But the English people were strongly and genuinely anti-slavery, and the danger of English recognition of the Confederacy was greatly diminished when the proclamation established the policy of the administration.