Governor Robinson argued that Proclamation would make Confederates fight harder.
(Friday, January 11, 2013) - On this date in 1863, Kentucky’s relationship with the Lincoln administration had gone from bad to worse.
The Emancipation Proclamation took effect on Jan. 1, 1863, brewing a “storm of disapproval that…had never been equalled up to that time,” E. Merton Coulter wrote in The Civil War and Readjustment in Kentucky.
The proclamation did not affect Kentucky, a loyal state. It declared slaves free in Rebel-held territory.
Nonetheless, even the most ardently pro-Union newspapers in the Bluegrass State, including the powerful Louisville Journal, lambasted Lincoln. Like most white Kentuckians, Editor George D. Prentice was pro-Union, pro-slavery and anti-Lincoln.
The state legislature, with only three dissenting votes, denounced the proclamation as “unwise, unconstitutional and void,” Coulter also wrote. Unionist Gov. James F. Robinson condemned emancipation, arguing it would only make the Confederates fight harder. Additionally, several Kentucky officers in the Union army resigned their commissions when they learned the proclamation was in effect, he added.
Meanwhile, a Union sympathizer in Crittenden County wrote the Journal, denouncing Unionist First District U.S. Rep. Samuel Casey of Union County for supporting the Proclamation.
“I live in Sam Casey’s District, and voted for him, and I think he cannot find half a dozen men in his district who will endorse the President’s Emancipation Proclamation,” he complained.
The Journal accused Casey of cutting “as clean from his constituency as he has from the principles he once avowed.” The paper thundered, “except in bare constitutional form, he is no more the representative of the First District in Kentucky, and no more a representative of Kentucky at large than Owen Lovejoy or George W. Julian or John A. Bingham is.” Lovejoy, Julian and Bingham were abolitionist Republicans.
Despite the uproar over emancipation, few Kentuckians joined the Confederate army. Coulter explained that the people still drew a sharp distinction between disdain for Lincoln and emancipation on the one hand and devotion to the Union on the other. “Opposition to the latter did not constitute hostility to the former,” he wrote.
Even so, Kentucky’s secessionist minority doubtless cried, “We told you so.” They had argued that the only way to preserve slavery was to secede and accept South Carolina's invitation "to join us in forming a confederacy of Slaveholding States."
In any event, nowhere in the state was opposition to the proclamation stronger than in the Jackson Purchase, the state’s only Rebel region.
Pro-Confederate Paducah lawyer Quintus Q. Quigley judged Lincoln guilty of “the blackest act in my judgment ever done by Christian man.” Almost every white man and woman in the Purchase – dubbed “the South Carolina of Kentucky” -- shared Quigley’s views, which he penned in his diary. Quigley’s journal was published in 1999 as The Life and Times of Quintus Quincy Quigley, 1828-1910.
-- 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.