Lincoln Made Nation Wait for Slave Edict: Lewis Lapham

The cover jacket of "Emancipating Lincoln" by Harold Holzer. Source: Harvard University Press via Bloomberg

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.

(To listen to the podcast, click here.)

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 buy this book in North America, click here.

(Lewis Lapham is the founder of Lapham’s Quarterly and the former editor of Harper’s magazine. He hosts “The World in Time” interview series for Bloomberg News.)

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