Niagara Gazette

Opinion

September 25, 2012

BRADBERRY: Free at last ... but when?

Niagara Gazette — So, it turns out that President Lincoln’s initial Emancipation Proclamation was actually issued 150 years ago this week, not on Jan. 1, 1863, as has been taught for so long that we all believed it along with the wide-held myth that the Civil War was fought to unify the nation and not to end slavery.

Well, truth is, Lincoln released the lesser-known initial Emancipation Proclamation on Sept. 22, 1862 — 100 days before the final version was unveiled. The first document is finally earning the attention it deserves as historians like Edward Ayers, President of the University of Richmond among others have been preaching and more historians begin to recognize that the disputes over the expansion of slavery and the cry for abolition were the principle causes for the war, not just the preservation of the union.

"All our thinking about this has undergone remarkable recasting over the last 50 years," Ayers said. "People begin now with slavery as the fundamental fact and less with union as being the sole focus of attention."

Last Monday, with a forum moderated by Ayers at the Smithsonian Institution, a panel of experts discussed the steps that eventually led to the proclamation.

The only known surviving original copy of the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation in Lincoln's handwriting is making an eight-city tour of New York State beginning last week at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York City while other exhibits will feature copies of the final version in the months leading up to the January anniversary.

The 6500 square-feet exhibition will be on display in Buffalo Oct. 5-6 at the Burchfield Penney Art Center.

Initially designed by Lincoln to convince the South to voluntarily abolish slavery, he eventually realized that he could not force the Confederacy to cease its "rebellion" against the United States and win the war without using his military power.

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