Other writers of what is claimed to be history, almost without number, speak of the President’s pronouncement as if it caused the bulwarks of slavery to fall down very much as the walls of Jericho are said to have done, at one blast, overwhelming the whole institution and setting every bondman free. Indeed, there are multitudes of fairly intelligent people who believe that slaveholding in this country ceased the very day and hour the proclamation appeared. In a recent magazine article, so intelligent a man as Booker Washington speaks of a Kentucky slave family as being emancipated by Mr. Lincoln’s proclamation, when, in fact, the proclamation never applied to Kentucky at all.
The emancipationists of Missouri were working hard to free their State from slavery, and they would have been only too glad to have Mr. Lincoln do the work for them. They appealed to him to extend his edict to their State, but got no satisfaction. The emancipationists of Maryland had much the same experience. Both Missouri and Maryland were left out of the proclamation, as were Tennessee and Kentucky and Delaware, and parts of Virginia and Louisiana and the Carolinas. (See Appendix.) The explanation is that the proclamation was not intended to cover all slaveholding territory. All of it that belonged to States that had not been in rebellion, or had been subdued, was excluded. The President’s idea was to reach only such sections as were then in revolt. If the proclamation had been immediately operative, and had liberated every bondman in the jurisdiction to which it applied, it would have left over a million slaves in actual thraldom. Indeed, Earl Russell, the British premier, was quite correct when, in speaking of the proclamation, he said: “It does not more than profess to emancipate slaves where the United States authorities cannot make emancipation a reality, and emancipates no one where the decree can be carried into effect.”
For the failure of the proclamation to cover all slaveholding territory there was a plausible reason. Freedom under it was not decreed as a boon, but as a penalty. It was not, in theory at least, intended to help the slave, but to chastise the master. It was to be in punishment of treason, and, of course, could not consistently be made to apply to loyal communities, or to such as were under government control. The proclamation, it will be recollected, was issued in two parts separated by one hundred days. The first part gave the Rebels warning that the second would follow if, in the meanwhile, they did not give up their rebellion. All they had to do to save slavery was to cease from their treasonable practices. Had the Rebels been shrewd enough, within the hundred days, to take the President at his word, he would have stood pledged to maintain their institution, and his proclamation, instead of being a charter of freedom, would have been a license for slaveholding.