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American History Series: Lincoln Needs a Victory

The president was looking for a chance to make what would come to be called the Emancipation Proclamation. But he was losing political and popular support. Transcript of radio broadcast:

Welcome to THE MAKING OF A NATION – American history in VOA Special English

By the summer of eighteen sixty-two, the American Civil War had been going on for more than a year. The Union had won some battles. The Confederacy had won others. But neither side was in a position to win the war.

President Abraham Lincoln needed a major victory. He was losing the support of both politicians and the public. A major victory would not only help him that way. It also would make it easier for him to make an important announcement.

For a number of months, he had been planning an announcement about the black people held as slaves in the South. It would come to be known as the Emancipation Proclamation.

Today, Kay Gallant and Harry Monroe tell about Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation.


At the end of August, eighteen sixty-two, Confederate troops under the command of Robert E. Lee defeated the main Union army at Manassas, Virginia.

The battlefield was less than fifty kilometers from Washington.

The year before, Confederate troops had sent the Union army fleeing from that same battlefield. Now they had done it again.

With this latest victory, General Lee decided on a major move. He would carry the war into the northern states.

Lee took his army of sixty thousand men across the Potomac River into Maryland. He ordered some of his men to capture the Union position at Harpers Ferry. He moved the others to Sharpsburg, a town on the Potomac River.

He put his men into position along Antietam Creek, just outside of town. His lines extended almost three kilometers. There, at Antietam, he would make his stand.

He was still close enough to Virginia to withdraw, if the Union force following him proved too strong.


The Union force arrived in the middle of September. It did not attack immediately. It spent one full day getting into position along Antietam Creek across from the Confederate army. It attacked the following day at sunrise.

The Union general, George McClellan, planned to attack all along the Confederate line at the same time. But this did not happen.

First, Union troops attacked one end of the line, which extended into a field full of tall corn plants. Then they attacked the center of the line, which was in an old, deeply sunken road that gave it good protection. Finally, they attacked at the other end of the line.

For each northern attack, General Lee was able to move men to where they were needed. The northern troops got within twenty-five meters of the Confederate line. But they could not break through anywhere.


On the first day of battle at Antietam, Lee lost twenty-five percent of his men. On the second day, the two armies faced each other without firing. They were too tired to fight.

As they rested, however, fresh Union soldiers moved into position. Lee knew they would attack with full force the next day. He knew he could not win. Sadly, he ordered his men back to Virginia.

It was now clear: Antietam was a northern victory.

It was not a complete victory. The Union army could have chased the Confederate army and destroyed it. But General McClellan did not do this. He was satisfied that he had stopped the invasion.


In Washington, President Lincoln welcomed the news. He had waited a long time for a northern victory.

A few days after the battle, Lincoln held a special meeting with his cabinet. He talked about the declaration on slavery which he had prepared. It would free Negro slaves in the rebel states of the South.

"As you remember," he said, "I put the declaration aside several weeks ago, until I could issue it supported by a military victory. The action of the army against the rebels has not been exactly what I should have liked. But the rebels have been driven out of Maryland. And Pennsylvania is no longer in danger of invasion."

President Lincoln said he thought the time was right to announce the Emancipation Proclamation. The cabinet made some minor changes in the document, and Lincoln signed it.


Newspapers printed the proclamation. This is what it said:


"I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States and Commander-in-Chief of the army and navy, do hereby declare that on the first day of January, eighteen-sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any state then in rebellion against the United States, shall then become and be forever free.

"The government of the United States, including the military and naval forces, will recognize and protect the freedom of such persons, and will interfere in no way with any efforts they may make for their actual freedom."


President Lincoln had tried to keep the question of slavery out of the Civil War. To him, there was just one reason for fighting: to save the Union. Nothing meant more to him than preventing the nation from splitting up.

Lincoln feared that the issue of slavery would weaken the northern war effort. Many men throughout the north would fight to save the Union. They would not fight to free the slaves.

Lincoln also needed the support of the four slave states that did not leave the Union: Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, and Missouri. He could not be sure of their support if he declared that the purpose of the war was to free the slaves.

As Lincoln waited for a Union victory to announce his Emancipation Proclamation, he wrote a letter to the New York Tribune newspaper. The letter was to prepare the public for what was to come. This is what Lincoln said:


"My chief object in this struggle is to save the Union. It is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it. And if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it. And if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that.

"What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union. This is how I see my official duty. It does not change my wish -- as a person -- that all men everywhere could be free."


President Lincoln failed to keep the question of slavery out of the Civil War. As the war went on, month after long month, people in the North began to see it as more than a struggle for national unity. They began to see it as a struggle for human freedom.

Abolitionists were active. In speeches and writings, they said over and over again that slavery was evil.

As public opinion began to change, anti-slavery members of Congress gained more power.

By the summer of eighteen sixty-two, they had enough support to pass laws ending slavery in Washington, D.C. and United States territories. They also pushed through Congress a bill that would do much to end slavery in the states.


The bill was called the Confiscation Act. It gave the federal government the power to confiscate, or seize, the property of all persons who supported the southern rebellion. Slaves were considered property. So any slaves seized under the act would become free immediately. Slaves who escaped from rebel slave owners also would be free. The bill would not affect slaves owned by persons who supported the Union.

President Lincoln did not like the Confiscation Act. He thought it interfered with his wartime powers as Commander-in-Chief.


However, Lincoln was under great pressure from Abolitionists. So he signed the new law. But he did not plan to enforce it. He still hoped for a plan that would free the slaves slowly, over time.

He proposed such a plan, but only for the border states between north and south. Under his plan, the federal government would buy slaves in the border states and free them.

Lawmakers from the border states rejected Lincoln's plan. And that is when he decided to issue the Emancipation Proclamation.

We will tell about the effects of that decision next week.



Our program was written by Frank Beardsley. The narrators were Kay Gallant and Harry Monroe.

THE MAKING OF A NATION is a radio series written with English learners in mind. Each weekly program is fifteen minutes long. The series began in May of nineteen sixty-nine. People who grew up listening to it are now old enough to listen with their own children, or even their grandchildren.

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Join us again next week for THE MAKING OF A NATION -- an American history series in VOA Special English.


This is program #104 of THE MAKING OF A NATION