On New Year’s Eve 1862, black churches in the northern states were crammed with praying, singing congregations. At Boston’s Music Hall, abolitionists heard Beethoven’s Fifth while waiting for the expected news.
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In September, President Lincoln had warned the rebel states that all their slaves would be free on January 1 if they did not rejoin the Union. Now he was to issue the Emancipation Proclamation.
“Will Lincoln’s backbone carry him through?” asked diarist George Templeton Strong. And, in fact, by 2 p.m. on New Year’s Day there was still no word from Washington.
For one, Lincoln had found a small error in the copy brought for his signature and sent it back to be entirely redone. In addition, the First Lady insisted he host their annual East Room New Year’s reception.
A final delay came when Lincoln worried that his signature would look too weak on the page since his fingers were “almost paralyzed” from all the holiday handshaking.
After his circulation returned, Lincoln wrote out his full name, smiled, and said, “That will do.”
He knew this was to be the great event of the 19th century.
I spoke with Harold Holzer, author of “Emancipating Lincoln,” on the following topics:
1. Clouded Reputation
2. Saving the Union
3. Canny Politician
4. Vow with God
5. Day of Jubilee
To contact the writer on the story: Lewis Lapham in New York at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at email@example.com.