No doubt most of you are aware that yesterday, September 22, marked the 150th anniversary of President Lincoln’s preliminary announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation. There have been several articles and blogposts regarding this momentous occasion in American history. See here, here, here, and here. Of course then, as now, the Proclamation had its critics and its champions. I want to share a letter sent to the President from St. Louis on September 27th, 1862:
My Dear Sir,
I cannot forego the pleasure of writing my congratulations with those of every loyal man in St. Louis who has any love of freedom in his heart, and sending you personal thanks for the good and brave Proclamation of Sept 22. It is the noblest act of the age on this continent and I trust that God may uphold you, and keep you in his safekeeping, and that a great free nation reaching from the Lakes to the Gulf may in the hereafter give you all honor as the first President of this Republic who dared to plant himself and his nation upon the principle of freedom. You need have no foreboding of reaction against such a message of liberty; for it is the generic spirit of our people taking shape and will maintain itself against every assault both from within and without. It will need only notification from you that they who serve the government will not be permitted to thwart its policies – for the only base of the reactionary combination at the north is a demoralization ceni (illegible) of love of spirits.
Permit me to enclose a copy of some remarks made by me in this city on the 17th inst., and when I could not have anticipated how near this so much wished for consummation was at hand. That will explain a feeling of disappointment which found expression there, but which I do not now regret because it will be only another evidence how sincere is my present congratulations.
Yours very truly and with a devoted regard
B. Gratz Brown
Brown had been agitating for emancipation in Missouri since at least 1857, when he had stood up in the Missouri statehouse and delivered a major anti-slavery speech. This was considered a stunning act in a slave state. In April 1862 Brown had been a primary force in establishing the Missouri General Emancipation Society, which was tasked with swaying public opinion in favor of the abolition of slavery. He had called for a state Emancipation Convention which met in June 1862. He had urged Missourians to vote only for representatives to state offices who would support President Lincoln’s offer of compensated emancipation in Missouri. On September 17, 1862, the very day thousands were dying at Antietam, Brown had addressed a meeting of the Missouri General Emancipation Society. This is the address (the “remarks”) which he enclosed in the above letter sent to the President. In the speech Brown had been highly critical of what he considered Lincoln’s dilatory actions regarding slavery.
When Brown sat down to write his laudatory letter to President Lincoln, he apparently was under the mistaken impression that the Emancipation Proclamation covered slaves in Missouri. One can only imagine his disappointment when he learned otherwise. He would thenceforth become critical of the President again and, in 1864, promote the candidacy of John C. Frémont to replace Lincoln in the White House.