East Room: Emancipation Proclamation

The President first began designing the Proclamation at the beginning of the summer in 1862. He discussed with his Cabinet who recommended that he delay its release until after a Union victory. Shortly after the Battle of Antietam, after which Confederates retreated from the Maryland battlefield, the President released a preliminary emancipation proclamation which warned that slavery would be abolished in areas of the country still under rebellion by the end of the year. He told a cabinet meeting that "the time for the annunciation of the emancipation policy could no longer be delayed." He told Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase: "I made a solemn vow before God, that if General Lee was driven back from Pennsylvania, I would crown the result by the declaration of freedom to the slaves." The President kept his promise and revised his Emancipation Proclamation. He later told artist Francis Carpenter that it was "the central act of my administration, and the great event of the nineteenth century." 1

The proclamation was to be signed after the usual open house at the White House on January 1, 1863. It was the first major White House social event since Willie Lincoln's death. Journalist Ben Perley Poore recalled: "New Year's Day was fair and the walking dry, which made it an agreeable task to keep up the Knickerbocker practice of calling on officials and lady friends. ...At eleven o'clock all officers of the army in the city assembled at the War Department, and headed by Adjutant-General Thomas and General Halleck, proceeded to the White House, where they were severally introduced to the President. The officers of the navy assembled at the Navy Department at the same time, and headed, by Secretary Welles and Admiral Foote, also proceeded to the President's. The display of general officers in brilliant uniforms was an imposing sight, and attracted large crowds. The foreign Ministers, in accordance with the usual custom, also called on the President, and at twelve o'clock the doors were opened to the public, who marched through the hall and shook hands with Mr. Lincoln, to the music of the Marine Band, for two or three hours. Mrs. Lincoln also received ladies in the same parlor with the President." 2

Mrs. Lincoln was attended by Benjamin French and told him, "O Mr. French, how much we have passed through since last we stood here." French said she "seemed much affected through the first part of the reception and was too much overcome by her feelings to remain until it ended." 3 Noah Brooks described the scene that preceded the signing:

The President "received the diplomatic corps at eleven o'clock in the forenoon, and when these shining officials had duly congratulated him and had been bowed out, the officers of the Army and Navy who happened to be in town were received in the order of their rank. At twelve, noon, the gates of the White House grounds were flung wide open, and the sovereign people were admitted to the mansion in installments. I had gone to the house earlier, and now enjoyed the privilege of contrasting the decorous quiet of the receptions at the residences of lesser functionaries with the wild, tumultuous rush into the White House. Sometimes the pressure and the disorder were almost appalling; and it required no little engineering to steer the throng, after it had met and engaged the President, out of the great window from which a temporary bridge had been constructed for an exit."

"In the midst of this turmoil the good President stood serene and even smiling. But as I watched his face, I could see that he often looked over the heads of the multitudinous strangers who shook his hand with fervor and affection. "his eyes were with his thoughts, and they were far away.' on the bloody and snowy field of Fredericksburg, or with the defeated and worn Burnside, with whom he had they very day had a long and most depressing interview. In the intervals of his ceremonial duties he had written a letter to General Halleck which that officer construed as an intimation that his resignation of the office of general-in-chief would be acceptable to the President. It was not an occasion for cheer." 4


    1. Francis Carpenter, Six Months at the White House, p. 90.
    2. Ben Perley Poore, Perley's Reminiscences, Volume II, p. 137
    3. Ruth Painter Randall, Mary Lincoln: Biography of a Marriage, p. 286.
    4. Noah Brooks, Washington, D.C., in Lincoln's Time, p. 48-49.