Monday, June 2, 2008

Fremont's Emancipation Proclamation

Union Department commander General John C. Fremont issues an ‘emancipation proclamation on August 30, 1861 declaring rebel enslaved Missourians ‘forever free’. Bypassing Lincoln’s authority, Fremont obviously exceeds his - Lincoln demands Fremont rewrite the proclamation to conform to the 1st Confiscation Act of 1861 which removes slaves from Confederate hands and transfers ownership to the federal government. Fremont declines to admit an error and declines to rescind the order.

The general, ahead of his time by about a year, notes that "The time has come for decisive action; this is a war measure, and as such I make it. I have been given full power to crush the rebellion in this Department, and I will bring the penalties of rebellion home to every man found striving against the Union."

However, at this stage of the war, Lincoln cannot risk alienating border-state, slave-holding Unionists. Knowing he can better contend with the Fremont act’s abolitionist supporters, Lincoln removes him from command in Missouri and revokes the proclamation.

The war’s first act declaring total freedom for the slaves of Confederate masters, allows Lincoln to gauge the political landscape and prepare his arguments for 2nd Confiscation Act of 1862, the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th amendment to the Constitution.