Emancipation and the Press

by Erin Carlson Mast

When Lincoln issued his preliminary emancipation proclamation on September 22, 1862, there was, unsurprisingly, a mixed reaction. What might be surprising to some today however, is how many reactions from the media in the north were negative or ambivalent.

In the District, the Washington Evening Star wrote, “The Star is silent on the subject of the Proclamation, simply and plainly for the reason that whatever doubts we may have as to the wisdom of the policy…[it] is a foregone conclusion…” The preliminary proclamation certainly laid the path for the Emancipation Proclamation, but also followed in the footsteps of the First and Second Confiscation Acts. And while the National Republican asserted that the proclamation would, “restore to the President all his old friends, and unite the sound portion of our people in one…mass in support of the Union and the Constitution.” the New York World charged that it was entirely unsound and that Lincoln, “has been coerced by the insanity of the radicals…into a proclamation which on its face violates the Constitution.”

The majority of the negative press north and south rejected the emancipation proclamation on the grounds that it was unconstitutional but the Memphis Daily Appeal took this argument one step further by adding, “Neither can it be justified by military law.” Lincoln asserted his military authority as commander-in-chief to issue the proclamation and, as the Star predicted, emancipation soon became a foregone conclusion.


Ms. Erin Mast is the curator at President Lincoln’s Cottage.

Share this: