(November 22, 2012) - On this date in 1862, President Abraham Lincoln was hoping a group of Kentucky citizens he saw in Washington was back home drumming up support for the Emancipation Proclamation.
Lincoln’s hopes would be dashed in his native state. After the president issued the historic proclamation on Sept. 22, 1862, “the administration’s favor expired with much of white Kentucky,” Aaron Astor wrote in Rebels on the Border: Civil War, Emancipation, and the Reconstruction of Kentucky and Missouri.
Elsewhere in his book the author explained, “At the heart of Kentuckian and Missourian values was white supremacy, or, more specifically, a belief that Western civilization was a product of characteristics unique to the white race and that all interracial relationships must protect the white race from subjugation or degradation by the black race.”
Lincoln’s executive order did not apply to Kentucky, Missouri or any other loyal border slave state or to parts of Confederate states under Union military control on Jan. 1, 1863, when it was to take effect. The president warned that on that date, slaves in Confederate-held territory would be free.
While the Emancipation Proclamation did not end all slavery, it changed the nature of the Civil War. Henceforth, it would be a war to preserve the Union and eradicate slavery.
The proclamation was based on Lincoln’s belief that the Union was indivisible and that the Confederacy was not really an independent nation.
Lincoln famously said that the 11 Confederate states were merely “out of their proper practical relation with the Union” and not out of the Union. Symbolic of the president’s attitude, the U.S. flag retained the stars of the seceded states throughout the war.
Lincoln was everlastingly grateful that Kentucky’s star stayed on the flag as a loyal state. Supposedly, he quipped, “I hope to have God on my side, but I must have Kentucky.”
He was anxious for Kentucky to accept emancipation. But nearly every white Kentuckian, even ardent Unionists, despised the proclamation and loathed Lincoln for issuing it.
Even so, on Nov. 22, 1861, he told the visiting Kentuckians "he would rather die than take back a word of the proclamation of freedom,” according to History of Kentucky by Lewis and Richard Collins.
Lincoln, the old book says, dwelt “upon the advantages to the border states of his scheme for the gradual abolishment of slavery, which he urged them to bring favorably before the people.”
Lincoln’s entreaty amounted to mission impossible in Kentucky. Slavery stayed legal in the Bluegrass State until December, 1865, when the 13th Amendment to the constitution was adopted. By then, the war had been over for months.
The 13th Amendment declared that “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
The Kentucky legislature rejected the 13th amendment.
-- Berry Craig is a professor of history at West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah and is the author of True Tales of Old-Time Kentucky Politics: Bombast, Bourbon and Burgoo, Hidden History of Kentucky in the Civil War, Hidden History of Kentucky Soldiers and Hidden History of Western Kentucky. The books are being sold to raise money for scholarships at WKCTC. They are available by contacting Craig by phone at (270) 534-3270 or by email at email@example.com.