31 December 1862

<<… when enslaved Blacks held their informal services on plantations and in cabins on Dec. 31, 1862, they did so because they had heard rumors about Lincoln’s so-called Emancipation Proclamation, which had been publicized on Sept. 22, 1862 but was to go into effect on Jan. 1, 1863.>>

<<It’s the so-called Emancipation Proclamation because it proclaimed freedom only for those enslaved in ten confederate states but not in five other southern slave states or in northern slave states such as New Jersey and Delaware.

Moreover, it was not designed to actually emancipate anyone. Instead, it was simply a political tool designed to deplete the South of its most valuable resource, which just happened to be enslaved Blacks. In the words of noted Civil War expert Dr. Gary Gallagher, “Without enslaved labor, there was no way the Confederacy could mobilize its manpower and overcome the Union.” In other words, beat the carpenter by taking his tools. And Abe honestly didn’t give a damn about those human tools. He explained his views on Sept. 18, 1858 during a debate when he said “I am not in favor of bringing about… social and political equality of the Black and white races… (or) of making voters or jurors of negroes… (or) of qualifying them to hold office… (or) to (allow them to) intermarry with white people….”>>

<<Shortly after the brutal backbreaking plantation labor ended for the day, which was always around 7 p.m., enslaved Blacks across the South began gathering in shack-like cabins on Dec. 31, 1862 to await their freedom. Their descendants — meaning you and me — reaped the benefits of their waiting, but more important of their courage, their heroism, their struggles, their battles, and especially their victories in the form of the Civil War in May 1865 and the Thirteenth Amendment (slavery abolition) in December 1865 and also reaped the benefits of the groundwork they laid for later victories in the form of the Fourteenth Amendment (citizenship) in 1868, the Fifteenth Amendment (voting rights for Black men) in 1870, the Civil Rights Act (in 1964), and the Voting Rights Act (in 1965).>>


<<… President Abraham Lincoln issuing the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862.  This proclamation was issued as a war measure, to take effect January 1, 1863, and was supposed to free the slaves – in the southern states (or parts of those states) still in rebellion against the United States.  The slaves in those areas would be forever free, if those states did not freely return to the Union by December 31, 1862. 

So contrary to its perception, the Emancipation does not free all of the slaves in the country – slavery still exists in the border states of Kentucky, Missouri, Maryland, and Delaware.  It also exists in New Orleans, Louisiana, Alexandria, Virginia, and other sections of southern states that the Union army occupies.  President Lincoln did not think he had the authority to abolish slavery in areas under Federal control; slavery was regulated by the individual states at that time, based upon the Constitution.>>

<<Many people, black and white, doubted whether President Lincoln would execute his Emancipation Proclamation.  Frederick Douglass wondered why the President did not free all of the slaves, but looked at this as an optimistic first step toward freedom.  Republicans suffered in the 1862 fall congressional elections, so people opposed to the Emancipation thought that Lincoln should rescind it. Conservative politicians did not like the document and accused the President of wasting the lives of white soldiers in a costly war of abolition. General George McClellan opposed the Proclamation and thought the document would lead to a “servile insurrection.”>>

<<Reverend Henry McNeal Turner of Israel Bethel Church in Washington, DC, left the church to get an edition of the “Evening Star,” the first printed in DC with the Emancipation.  Then crowds of blacks and whites marched past the White House to thank President Lincoln.  Frederick Douglass was at the Tremont Temple in Boston, Massachusetts, he waited with the crowd there for more than twelve hours before receiving the Proclamation by telegraph.>>


<<In the sixteenth century … early Protestant Christians known as the Puritans found fault with many holiday celebrations, including those that took place on New Year’s Eve. In particular they objected to the heavy drinking, masking, gaming, gambling, dancing, and public carousing that characterized the celebration of the holiday.>>

<<John Wesley (1703-1791), the founder of the Methodist Church, first observed Watch Night services among MoravianChristians. These services inspired him to approve of similar observances for Methodists.>>

<<The first Watch Night services convened by British Methodists were held monthly on the night of the full moon and were often attended by those who sought an alternative to carousing at the local pub. The service emphasized renewal of one’s commitment to Christ. The light of the moon permitted worshipers to walk home safely after midnight when the service had concluded. Later the Methodist Church added New Year’s Eve Watch Night services, also presented as an alternative to the boisterous and alcohol-laden celebrations taking place on the streets and in the taverns.

English Methodists brought the Watch Night service with them to the American colonies. The first Watch Night services to be convened by American Methodists took place at Philadelphia’s St. George’s Methodist Church and at New York City’s Wesley Chapel in November of 1770.>>

<<African-American slaves who attended Watch Night services on December 31, 1862, may have felt their prayers were answered the following day. On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing over three million slaves. Some African-American communities still celebrate January 1 as Emancipation Day.>>


  • 31 December 1862 B
  • 31 December 1862 A
  • 31 December 1862 C

Book recommendations:

Writings by Frederick Douglass


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