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Abraham Lincoln and the road to emancipation, 1861-1865 /
William K. Klingaman.
New York : Viking, 2001.
344 p.
0670867543 (alk. paper)
More Details
New York : Viking, 2001.
0670867543 (alk. paper)
catalogue key
Includes bibliographical references and index.
A Look Inside
First Chapter

Chapter One


MARCH 4, 1861

Shortly after dawn, Abraham Lincoln awoke in his second-floor suite at Willard's Hotel, two blocks from the White House. Outside, the city was stirring earlier than usual. Through his window above Pennsylvania Avenue, Lincoln could hear delivery wagons driven by Negro laborers rattling over the rutted, unpaved streets, bringing fresh oysters, shad, and eggs to the hotel's kitchens for breakfast. Young boys were already circulating through the gathering crowds, hawking American flags, sheets with the lyrics of patriotic songs, and newspapers featuring lithograph portraits of the incoming president. On the street corners, the long cast-iron handles of wooden water pumps creaked as visitors unable to find hotel rooms washed their faces after spending a chilly evening in the city's parks. From a distance came the less familiar sound of troops marching through the streets to take up their stations along the inaugural parade route.

    Lincoln was not yet aware of what was happening on Capitol Hill, at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. Thirty-six weary senators were wrapping up an all-night session with a vote on a final compromise to save the Union by allowing slavery into the New Mexico territory. With every senator of Lincoln's Republican Party voting against it, the measure failed by a narrow margin. Visitors leaving the galleries wondered aloud if the nation would survive until April.

    There were men in Washington who hoped this would be the last day of Lincoln's life, and Lincoln knew it. Threats had been made against him even before he arrived in the capital nine days earlier. After several reliable sources reported evidence of a conspiracy to assassinate Lincoln as his train passed through Baltimore, the president-elect had altered his original itinerary and entered Washington secretly, ahead of schedule, disguised in an overcoat, muffler, and plaid cap--almost, noted one observer, like a fugitive slave, "seeking concealment ... arriving not during the sunlight, but crawling and dodging under the sable wing of night."

    Although many of the most outspoken advocates of slavery and states' rights had left the city in disgust following Lincoln's victory the previous November, Washington was still predominantly southern in its culture and sympathies. When Lincoln checked into Parlor Number 6, an elegant suite at Willard's, he found an anonymous letter calling him "nothing but a god-damn Black nigger" and warning that his enemies would "play the Devil" with him if he did not resign at once. A local secessionist paper, the Constitution , was urging its readers to employ whatever force might be necessary to prevent Lincoln's inauguration. Government: officials heard rumors that a band of southern sympathizers planned to ride into the city from neighboring Virginia, kill or kidnap Lincoln before he could be sworn in, replace him with the outgoing vice president--the Kentuckian John C. Breckenridge--and make Washington the capital of a Confederate nation.

    To protect Lincoln during the inaugural parade and ceremony, General Winfield Scott, the seventy-five-year-old general in chief of the United States Army, had mobilized the scanty forces at his command in the District of Columbia: 653 regular army troops, a squadron of cavalry, a handful of marines from the Navy Yard, an assortment of state militiamen, and three artillery batteries. Scott was deploying sharpshooters on rooftops along Pennsylvania Avenue, cannons outside the Treasury building and the north entrance to the Capitol, cavalry on all the side streets, and fifty riflemen to stand guard beneath the temporary, platform at the east portico of the Capitol, where Lincoln would take the oath of office. Then Scott called for reinforcements to handle unforeseen dangers.

A Nation Falling Apart

Washington seemed a city under siege. The capital had never witnessed anything like this grim military display on such a festive occasion, but then the nation was closer to dissolution than ever before. Special conventions in seven states of the Deep South, from South Carolina to Texas, had already voted for secession. Less than a month before Lincoln reached Washington, delegates from those states met in Montgomery, Alabama, to establish the Confederate States of America. Southerners were leaving the Union because they knew that Lincoln, as the candidate of the Republican Party, adamantly opposed the spread of slavery past its present boundaries; after all, that was the fundamental principle upon which the party had been founded in 1854. They suspected that a Republican administration would also threaten slavery where it already existed, despite Lincoln's repeated assurances to the contrary.

    Most of all, southerners saw that the political balance of power in the United States had shifted, depriving the South of the self-protective dominance it had enjoyed in Washington for three-quarters of a century. At times their anxiety verged on sectional paranoia, as when southerners accused Lincoln and the Republicans of seeking to turn the racial structure of society upside down--"to free the negroes and force amalgamation between them and the children of the poor men of the South." "If you are tame enough to submit," warned the prominent Baptist preacher James Furman, "Abolition preachers will be at hand to consummate the marriage of your daughters to black husbands."

    To justify secession, Confederate officials argued that the Union was merely a compact between states that could be broken whenever a state felt its vital interests threatened by an oppressive majority. Now that "the evil days, so dreaded by our forefathers and the early defenders of the Constitution, are upon us," as the Dallas Morning Herald put it, leaders of the seven Confederate states wished to depart in peace.

    No one really knew how Lincoln would respond to secession. For that matter, most Americans knew little at all about the man, even after they elected him president. At age fifty-two, Lincoln was the third-youngest man ever to win the presidency. To official Washington, he seemed the quintessential outsider, an undistinguished western politician with only two years of experience in Congress in the late 1840s, who had never moved among the political or business elite of the East either in or out of office.

    Only a small minority of northerners, and virtually no southerners (except Washingtonians who remembered him from his days as a congressman), had ever seen or heard Lincoln in person. His campaign literature extolled his log-cabin origins in Kentucky, although Lincoln was always embarrassed by his lack of education and his family's poverty. He had grown up near Pigeon Creek, Indiana, and had learned enough law to make a living as an attorney in Illinois, riding circuit to drum up cases. Lincoln began his political career in his midtwenties as a member of the Whig Party; at the time, he was more concerned with economic issues than slavery, which he considered a "minor question."

    Although Lincoln's family never owned slaves, he was less eager than most northern politicians to condemn slaveholders. He described slavery as "the disease of the entire nation," and insisted that "the people of the North were as responsible for slavery as the people of the South." Lincoln pitied southerners because they had become so dependent upon the institution--and so corrupted by it--that they could not uproot slavery without wrenching consequences.

    At the same time, Lincoln condemned slavery on humanitarian grounds as "a great crying injustice" and "an enormous national crime." He sought to contain it within its existing boundaries, trusting that it would atrophy and eventually die, although he never developed a plan to eradicate it without violating slaveowners' property rights and tearing the Union apart. Nor did Lincoln know how free Negroes could be assimilated into American society. "If all earthly power were given to me," he once admitted, "I should not know what to do, as to the existing institution."

    Congressional approval of the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which threatened to introduce slavery into free western territories, finally persuaded Lincoln to join the antislavery crusade. He cast his lot with the fledgling Republican Party, but he remained a moderate by Republican standards. In 1858, in his race for the Senate seat held by Stephen Douglas, Lincoln never strayed from the mainstream of Republican ideology, denouncing slavery as a threat to American ideals of liberty, and calling on the national government to reserve the western territories for white settlers.

    Lincoln's debates with Douglas and his subsequent speaking tours through the North brought him to the attention of Republican Party leaders, but he remained far down on the list of choices for the 1860 presidential nomination. Lincoln won the nomination as a dark horse because the four leading candidates were each burdened with critical weaknesses, while Lincoln--who had made few enemies in his brief political career--could unite Republicans and attract northern Democrats who opposed the spread of slavery. Still, his antislavery credentials were sufficiently suspect that the abolitionist Wendell Phillips referred publicly to Lincoln as the "Slave-Hound of Illinois."

    During the fall 1860 campaign, Lincoln followed the accepted practice of his day (and the unanimous recommendation of his advisers) and made no speeches of his own, relying instead on the party's printed pamphlets and on local orators to drum up enthusiasm for the Republican ticket. The strategy worked; Lincoln managed to win all but one state north of the Mason-Dixon line, though none below it. Between his election and inauguration, Lincoln remained silent, anxious to avoid alienating either residents of the upper South--Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Missouri, and Maryland--who had not yet decided to join the Confederacy, or his own supporters in the North, who would view any substantive concession to the South as a betrayal of Republican principles. No one knew whether Lincoln intended to coerce the Confederate states back into the Union, or to employ a patient, conciliatory policy, hoping that the seceding states would return of their own free will.

    Nor had the sphinxlike Lincoln provided any clues about his intentions during the triumphal train ride from his home in Springfield, Illinois, to Washington in February. He had left Springfield on February 11--"not knowing," he said, "when, or whether ever, I may return"--in a richly appointed railroad car, accompanied by an entourage of family, friends, and political cronies from Illinois. Self-appointed bodyguard Ward Hill Lamon, Lincoln's former law partner, armed himself with pistols and knives and came along for protection. To attend to the presidential party, Lincoln hired a young Negro servant named William Johnson.

    For nearly two weeks the three-car private train wound eastward, zigzagging through Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York State to allow as many people as possible to see Lincoln. Then it headed southward through New Jersey and Pennsylvania again, crossing the Mason-Dixon line into the more dangerous border slave state of Maryland, before finally arriving at Washington's Union Station, two blocks from the Capitol. The long journey exhausted everyone. Not even the luxurious fittings of the presidential coach could compensate for overheated cars filled with stale air, jouncing over rough roadbeds and crooked track, and switching onto eighteen different railroad lines. At most stops along the route, Lincoln appeared briefly to wave to the waiting crowds and tell a few stories, but nothing more. "He keeps all people, his friends included, in the dark," complained one reporter. "Mr. Lincoln promises nothing, but only listens."

    Whenever he had to deliver a formal speech, Lincoln limited himself to optimistic generalities, depreciating the seriousness of the secession crisis and claiming that it had been "gotten up ... by designing politicians." "Why all this excitement?" he asked his audience in Cleveland. "Why all these complaints? ... The crisis is artificial."

    Lincoln did insist that he would preserve the Union, but he also pretended that all Americans, both northerners and southerners, shared that goal. "While some of us may differ in political opinions, still we are all united in one feeling for the Union," Lincoln argued. "We all believe in the maintenance of the Union, of every star and every stripe of the glorious flag." He said nothing that could be interpreted as menacing toward the southern states. "There will be no bloodshed unless it is forced upon the government," the president-elect promised. "The government will not use force unless force is used against us."

    In Columbus, Ohio, Lincoln assured a crowd that there was "nothing going wrong," but thoughtful Americans found it hard to see anything that was going right. They began to wonder whether Lincoln was indifferent to the danger the Union faced or was simply failing to comprehend the severity of the situation. Perhaps "Uncle Abe," as he was already known, really had no specific plan to deal with the secession crisis. Perhaps this naive, inexperienced Illinois lawyer would not be able to handle the job after all.

    Lincoln was, in fact, buying time, hoping the Union would not deteriorate further before he took office. Then, with the power of the presidency, he intended to confront the Confederate challenge directly, using his inaugural address to outline a forceful policy toward the seceding states. He would assert that the Union was indissoluble, and that--even at the risk of war--he planned to reclaim the federal forts and arsenals in the South that the Confederate states had recently seized.

    Back in Springfield, in a second-story room in his brother-in-law's store, Lincoln had written the original draft of this tough-minded inaugural message, keeping in front of him copies of the Constitution and Andrew Jackson's no-nonsense proclamation of 1833 against South Carolina's attempt to nullify federal law. Lincoln asked the publishers of the Illinois Central Journal to print four copies of the inaugural address for him, and then swore them to secrecy. He brought all the copies with him in a plain black satchel that he first entrusted to his seventeen-year-old son, Robert, without informing him of its contents. When the young man casually deposited the bag for safekeeping in a pile of nearly identical black satchels behind the desk in a hotel lobby in Indianapolis, Lincoln decided to keep it by his side for the rest of the trip.

    In Washington, Lincoln showed the draft to a handful of experienced Republican Party leaders, several of whom recommended that he delete all references to the use of force and insert more conciliatory phrases. Reluctantly, he deferred to their judgment. Now, sitting in his suite at Willard's on the morning of his inauguration, Lincoln asked Robert to read him the speech aloud so he could hear it one last time. Always meticulous in his choice of words on public occasions, Lincoln--a notoriously poor extemporaneous speaker--wanted to make sure the address conveyed precisely the message he intended. It was printed in type slightly larger than normal to keep him from stumbling over any passage. Lincoln had even asked the printers to mark the draft for emphasis, with the typographical symbol of a fist and pointing finger in the margin of every paragraph that he felt might draw a reaction from the audience.

Washington: A Work in Progress

Downstairs, in Willard's renowned dining room and bar, regulars and guests had begun to gather for breakfast and gossip. Dozens of plain tables and chairs were wedged close together. There was no carpet, so conversation was constantly hindered by the screeching sound of chairs being shoved back and forth by the hotel's Negro servants, who served nearly 2,500 meals a day. Already the air inside the room was muggy and oppressive; the fact that many tourists from the Midwest seldom bathed did not improve the atmosphere. Spittoons abounded in strategic locations, but stains on the floor and walls testified to the poor aim of numerous guests. Still, only the most fastidious visitors complained. Besides the usual heavy meat and fish dishes, such as steak and onions and fried oysters, early morning diners at Willard's could feast on wild pigeon, pigs' feet, pâté de foie gras, robins on toast, and a variety of cakes and breads, all washed down by copious supplies of coffee or black tea.

    Willard's, located at the corner of Fourteenth Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, was the most famous hotel in the city. The Willard brothers of Vermont had purchased the original building in 1847, refurbishing and expanding it into a sprawling rectangular block of rooms, six stories high and a hundred yards square. Every room, the proprietors boasted, featured running water, still a relatively rare commodity in Washington. Willard's was the place for Washington officials to dine and transact government business; cabinet officers, congressmen, and businessmen looking for lucrative government contracts came and went, and smoked and laughed in the hotel's public rooms. Nathaniel Hawthorne reported that "it may much more justly be called the center of Washington and the Union than ... the Capitol, the White House, or the State Department."

    Two blocks west of Willard's stood the White House, also known as the Executive Mansion. At the east end of Pennsylvania Avenue sat the Capitol, which was undergoing a prolonged process of renovation and expansion. In between, along the deteriorating cobblestones of the avenue, visitors found a mélange of shops, mansions, rooming houses, brothels, and squalid sheds, conforming to no particular style, some made out of marble, some of brick, and many of the cheapest plank timber.

    Washington in 1861 was still a work in progress. At the turn of the century, the Virginia patrician John Randolph had described the capital as "a city of magnificent distances," but sixty years later few of the distances had been filled in. Washington remained, in the words of one British journalist, "all suburb and no city." Empty lots abounded. There were only a half dozen finished and functioning government buildings, including, on Fifteenth Street, the District's most impressive edifice, the Treasury building, in classic revival style. The State Department occupied a squat two-story redbrick structure hidden away a block behind the Executive Mansion.

    Nearly all the city streets were unpaved clay or sand, which meant that Washington became a slough of nearly impassable mud in the spring and autumn, and a choking cloud of dust in the summer, when farmers drove herds of cattle through the downtown district to the stock pens near the unfinished Washington Monument. The federal government was still seeking contributions to complete this memorial to the nation's first president; meanwhile, the monument remained nothing more than a stubby shaft of white marble blocks with all the dignity, someone noted, "of a distillery smokestack."

    Washington was also a pestilential city, particularly in the summertime, when the noxious combination of heat, humidity, and the occasional epidemic rendered the District nearly uninhabitable, and wealthy residents fled to vacation homes in the nearby countryside. The British government still considered Washington a hardship post and compensated its diplomatic representatives to the United States accordingly. In the absence of any sanitary services provided by the local government, garbage. often lay strewn in the gutters, and dead cats floated in the canals. Hogs. geese, and dogs roamed wherever they wished. Since Congress had not yet appropriated sufficient funds for an aqueduct to bring fresh water from the nearby Potomac River, the city's 75,000 residents--61,000 whites, 11,000 free blacks, and 3,000 slaves--subsisted on water from local wells or springs in the Maryland hills. Mosquitoes swarmed from the District's swamps and creeks, particularly in the west end of town, just beyond the president's home.

    Visitors agreed that Washington was a dreadful place. Ralph Waldo Emerson called it the "least attractive (to me) of cities," while Henry Adams, grandson of the nation's sixth president, dismissed it as a "rude colony" with "unfinished Greek temples for workrooms, and sloughs for roads." Frustrated with the lack of amenities in the still unfinished city, the British novelist Anthony Trollope complained about the distances between government offices, where "the country, is wild, trackless, unbridged, uninhabited, and desolate." Even a young man from the rough western states, Congressman John Sherman of Ohio, found the capital an uninspiring sight. "It was an overgrown village," wrote Sherman, "with wide unpaved streets, with 61,000 inhabitants badly housed, hotels and boarding houses badly kept, and all depending more or less on low salaries, and employment by the government."

    Lincoln's arrival on February 23 energized the city. Aside from a few carefully planned public appearances, the president-elect spent most of his waking hours greeting visitors who flocked to the parlor of his suite. Job-hunters clamoring for government positions, congressmen seeking control of federal patronage in their home states, reporters tracking down rumors, and curious bystanders merely desiring a closer look at the incoming president all clamored for his attention. Every room at Willard's was booked days before the inauguration; prospective Cabinet members who arrived in the city late had to find quarters in their friends' suites. Washington's other hotels were equally crowded; visitors who could not find rooms anywhere wandered the streets at night or slept in one of the city's parks.


Copyright © 2001 William K. Klingaman. All rights reserved.

Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 2001-01-29:
On January 1, 1863, Lincoln declared free all slaves found in states rebelling against the Union. This epochal event is popularly regarded as the definitive triumph of abolition and earned Lincoln the title "The Great Emancipator." Yet in the midst of the war, Lincoln wrote that his "paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy slavery." Klingaman (1929: The Year of the Great Crash; etc.) explains that Lincoln's bedrock principle on emancipation was to use it only if it would advance the cause of winning the war. Emancipation was not undertaken out of moral necessity, although Lincoln certainly disapproved of slavery, even despised it. Klingaman's study of emancipation demonstrates the complexity of the pressures brought to bear on Lincoln, not only from the virulently antagonistic forces in the nation as a whole, but also from within Lincoln's own mind. Klingaman fairly sets forth the evidence for his thesis (emancipation as a war measure), drawing on Lincoln's writings, including the Emancipation Proclamation itself. Perhaps the most convincing part of the book is the author's analysis of how Lincoln sifted the risks and benefits of emancipation in the early phases of the war. Freeing the slaves too soon could backfire by alienating the border states, such as Kentucky, and by stiffening the South's resolve. Klingaman shows how Lincoln agonized over these risks, finally choosing a militarily and psychologically apt moment for the proclamation. Lincoln emerges from this study not as a heroic advocate of racial equality, something he never was, but as an astute, troubled and effective defender of the Union. (Mar. 19) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Appeared in Library Journal on 2001-01-01:
This work examines the military, political, social, and economic events that mandated Lincoln's issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. Klingaman (Encyclopedia of the McCarthy Era) retraces the Great Emancipator's futile adherence to a program of gradual compensated emancipation and overseas colonization for the freedman, attributing these chimerical schemes to the President's passive nature and his penchant for allowing historical circumstances to overtake him and limit his executive options. Only the poor showing of Lincoln's armies, argues the author, compelled him to seize emancipation as a weapon of war. Klingaman ably demonstrates that the Proclamation, while driving away some elements from the commander-in-chief's original Civil War coalition, nevertheless undermined the rebel war effort, forestalled European recognition of the Confederacy, boosted Northern morale by offering a humanitarian ideal to undergird the preservation of the Union, assured the continued support of Radical Republicans, and allowed for the recruitment of African American troops. The conclusion emphasizes what this landmark document meant to both free and enslaved blacks and how its great legacy has been ill served by subsequent generations. Klingaman's story, although perhaps familiar to many readers, is nonetheless tightly focused and engagingly written. Recommended for all libraries.DJohn Carver Edwards, Univ. of Georgia Libs., Athens (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
This item was reviewed in:
Kirkus Reviews, December 2000
Library Journal, January 2001
Publishers Weekly, January 2001
Booklist, February 2001
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Publisher Fact Sheet
The Emancipation Proclamation forever changed the course of American history. In Abraham Lincoln & the Road to Emancipation. William Klingaman provides a much-needed popular history of the making of the Emancipation Proclamation & its subsequent impact on race relations in America. In the tradition of Garry Wills's award-winning Lincoln at Gettysburg, Klingaman reconstructs the events that led to Lincoln's momentous decision. He takes us from Lincoln's inauguration through the outbreak of the Civil War & the Confederates' carly military victories. Despite the Abolitionists' urging, Lincoln was reluctant to issue an edict freeing the slaves lest it alienate loyal border states. A succession of military reverses led Lincoln to try to obtain congressional approval of gradual, compensated emancipation. But when all his plans failed. Lincoln finally began drafting an emancipation proclamation as a military weapon--what he described as his "last card" against the rebellion. Finally issued on January 1. 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation did not end the war--or slavery--overnight, & Klingaman follows the story through two more years of bloody war before final Union victory & Lincoln's tragic assassination. The book concludes with a brief discussion of how the Emancipation Proclamation--its language & the circumstances in which it was issued--have shaped American history.
Unpaid Annotation
The Emancipation Proclamation forever changed the course of American history. In Abraham Lincoln and the Road to Emancipation, William Klingaman provides a much-needed popular history of the making of the Emancipation Proclamation and its subsequent impact on race relations in America.In the tradition of Garry Wills's award-winning Lincoln at Gettysburg, Klingaman reconstructs the events that led to Lincoln's momentous decision. He takes us from Lincoln's inauguration through the outbreak of the Civil War and the Confederates' early military victories. Despite the Abolitionists' urging, Lincoln was reluctant to issue an edict freeing the slaves lest it alienate loyal border states. A succession of military reverses led Lincoln to try to obtain congressional approval of gradual, compensated emancipation. But when all his plans failed, Lincoln finally began drafting an emancipation proclamation as a military weapon -- what he described as his "last card" against the rebellion.Finally issued on January I, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation did not end the war -- or slavery -- overnight, and Klingaman follows the story through two

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