A NEW YEAR
January 1, 1863
A Proclamation: Whereas, on the twenty-second day of September, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-two, a proclamation was issued by the President of the United States, containing, among other things, the following, to wit:
“That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.”
Most people in the Low Country could recite the opening lines of the Emancipation Proclamation by heart, long before it went into effect. For the Army, it meant a rich new source of manpower. For the Gideonites, it was the culmination of all their years of campaigning for abolition. And for the former slaves, it was a guarantee that Uncle Sam himself had declared them forever free.
The provisions of the proclamation reassured the whites that the former slaves would abstain from violence except in self-defense. Even long-time abolitionists found that something of a relief. It urged the freedmen to work hard in exchange for reasonable wages. The field hands saw a guarantee that wages would be paid on time; the superintendents put their faith in the blacks’ instruction to keep working at jobs where they were needed. Permission for former slaves to enter the armed services meant that the newly formed black regiments would have a steady supply of enlistees. Everyone was happy, with the possible exception of the die-hard former plantation owners, but, for everyone concerned, there was a need to hear the proclamation read out in official terms.