Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation is still, to date, one of the most debated, revolutionary acts of the any of the Presidents of the United States. Through this document Lincoln took responsibility upon himself for the freedom of four million slaves throughout the divided country he presided over and forever changed the scene of what could be a very different American culture than that of which we live in presently today. After reading Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America, written by Allen C. Guelzo, I am fully convinced that Lincoln’s accomplishment through that document is very under credited not only by African Americans today, but also by their white counterparts in regards to the lasting impact it made for the future of the races in this country.
Allen C. Guezlo opens his book on the defensive for Abraham Lincoln. Guezlo explains that when the topic of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation comes to mind, basically, either you appreciate it at face value for what it accomplished and stands for, or you are a skeptic. Today more than ever, the Proclamation’s skeptics focus on what the document did not accomplish rather than what it did. In his book, Guezlo works at answering the four main questions that critics will raise regarding the Proclamation. Why is the language of the Proclamation so bland and Legalistic? Did the Proclamation actually do anything? Did the slaves free themselves? Did Lincoln issue the Proclamation to ward off European influence or boost Union morale? In defense of Lincoln, Guezlo takes us through a detailed chronology of the events leading up to the weighted decision made by Lincoln in September 1862, including incredible evidence in the form of documented conversations and eye witness accounts.
Abraham Lincoln was a product of the end of the Enlightenment Era, an era that emphasized the age of reason and logic. Being a lawyer by profession, Lincoln exhibited an incredible display of prudence in making his decisions and showed an exceptional respect for the law. When considering the term “prudence”, Guezlo makes it a point to examine the word in the fashion of what it would have meant to the classical philosophers that Lincoln came to admire. In this sense, prudence isn’t defined as what it is known as today. By today’s definition, a person who is “prude” is thought to display exaggerated caution, hesitation, lack of will, and fearfulness. According to Guezlo, the prudence that Lincoln displayed while in office would be better compared to the virtues of the classical philosophers who influenced the Enlightenment period which attributed prudence to shrewdness and sound judgment. Considering all the different obstacles that were thrown at Lincoln during his presidency, he needed to ensure that his actions were deliberate and would achieve a long term lasting effect as he was very cautious and untrusting when considering the judiciary branch of the government. Lincoln understood that any decision he made would be readily tested against the powers afforded to him by the constitution sooner or later. He did not want to take any chances in going about the emancipation process loosely, especially considering the amount of opponents he was going to face regarding the topic of emancipation both in the North and the South.
Of the many ways to go about the emancipation process, Lincoln’s preference was that which consisted of three main features, “gradualism, compensation, and the vote of the people”. He rebuked ideas of using either the Confiscation Acts and Benjamin Butler’s contraband theory as well as the idea of martial law in order to achieve long term emancipation. As far as the contraband theory was concerned, at best Lincoln new that it would make slaves wards of the government until the end of the war. After compromise was reached, the fate of these men was out of his hands and into the hands of the ruling courts...