How different history would be today…
Today marks the anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s “shot heard ’round the world.” I’m referring, of course, to the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation he fired off from the White House on Sept. 22, 1862, five days after the real bullets had been fired 70 miles outside of Washington, D.C., at the Battle of Antietam (then and now the bloodiest day in American history, with close to 23,000 casualties).
What little Union victory there was in Gen. Robert E. Lee’s withdrawal from Maryland gave Lincoln the opening he needed to issue the Confederacy his ultimatum: If it remained in a state of rebellion come Jan. 1, 1863, he would sign an executive order rendering “all” of its “slaves … then, thenceforward, and forever free.”
For any student of American history, this is well-trod ground. But here’s what you may not know about those crowded days of late summer 1862. While weighing emancipation, Lincoln also had a very different kind of ultimatum on his mind—for African Americans. For much of his first years in office, Lincoln was obsessed with solving America’s seemingly intractable race problem by persuading free blacks to lead the way for an exodus that would wash the United States of the original sin of slavery—without having to live alongside those it had enslaved.
Image courtesy of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division