Compensated Emancipation

Our enjoyment of a one-day tax filing extension this year was triggered by an obscure District holiday celebrating the Compensated Emancipation Act of April 1862.

This little event is one of those speed bumps that annoy popular storytellers racing down Talespinner Lane. It generally takes the form of this thread:

* Lincoln sends message to Congress urging compensated emancipation in border states.

* DC slaves are freed with compensation; nothing else gets done.

* Lincoln moves on to begin formulating the Emancipation Proclamation.

I abstracted this from Donald's Lincoln. It sets the stage for the bigger topic, the Proclamation.

But is the Proclamation the bigger topic? Is it the end point of great thought and planning? Or did compensated emancipation far outweigh it in Lincoln's calculations?

We see in William Hesseltine's Lincoln and the War Governors the outlines of a very large topic indeed. Hesseltine characterizes compensated emancipation as Lincoln's "program" "to counter the abolitionists." Look at Hesseltine's thread:

* In March of '62, Lincoln sends a message to Congress urging appropriations be made for to purchase slaves in border states. He also proposes freedmen colonize Latin America or the U.S. Southwest.

* Again, "the only result of the proposal was the bill for compensated emancipation for the District of Columbia."

* Lincoln then renewed his appeal before Congress adjourned. He tells people "The war would now be substantially ended" if Congress had supported compensated emancipation in March.

* Lincoln then sends "a bill to compensate any state that might abolish slavery, but neither Congress nor the border states" take action, Hesseltine writes.

* In Missouri, Lincoln's ally Gov. Gamble introduces a compensated emancipation bill that is "summarily rejected."

All this adds up to significant investment on Lincoln's part, to a vision of how the war will end and how the slavery question will be settled. The war would now be substantially ended is not a trivial remark and merits deep thought.

Compensated emancipation could be the larger, more substantive topic; the Emancipation Proclamation itself … is it an afterthought? A second best choice for Lincoln?

Perhaps there are book-long Emancipation tomes addressing these matters in just proportions but I haven't seen them.