Lincoln’s Hundred Days

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The sesquicentennial has released a flood-tide of books on emancipation. All are terrific. Or perhaps it is just the zeitgeist—our daily diet of play-by-play and color commentary about minute maneuverings over the debt-ceiling, the filibuster, and the sequester. The point is to create a space in which we can see as historical actors saw. On March 6, , for instance, Lincoln sent a message to Congress, the first ever emancipation proposal submitted by a sitting president. Effectively he was buying slaves, and George Cheever, among others, was incensed. And this is what Masur does particularly well: help us read the spaces as well as the lines.

If he quotes a Lincoln speech, he then spends time unpacking its staggeringly varied reception as editors, polls, and the public work to decipher what exactly he meant, and what exactly was next. This method not only returns much vaunted contingency to the era but makes things explicable that might not otherwise be.

How, honestly, did any of the Border Staters not see the writing on the wall in ? And when we see the Proclamation through their eyes, we appreciate it anew as nothing less than astounding. Even where Masur treads old ground, his quotations are fresh, and there is some real interpretive meat in the book, particularly his claim that the Republican drubbing in the fall of was, a not as bad as we think, and b more complicated than we think.

A dominant interpretation has always been that voters looked at the results of the Preliminary Proclamation, the Peninsula Campaign, and the return to Bull Run, and concluded that their government was now fighting a war for black rights and losing. Fredericksburg and the Mud March underlined the point. At the sesquicentennial of the Emancipation Proclamation, Louis Masur seeks to restore the document's reputation by exploring its evolution.

In those tumultuous hundred days, as battlefield deaths mounted, debate raged.


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  • Lincoln’s Hundred Days: The Emancipation Proclamation and the War for the Union.

Masur commands vast primary sources to portray the daily struggles and enormous consequences of the president's efforts as Lincoln led a nation through war and toward emancipation. With his deadline looming, Lincoln hesitated and calculated, frustrating friends and foes alike, as he reckoned with the anxieties and expectations of millions. We hear these concerns, from poets, cabinet members and foreign officials, from enlisted men on the front and free blacks as well as slaves.

Masur presents a fresh portrait of Lincoln as a complex figure who worried about, listened to, debated, prayed for, and even joked with his country, and then followed his conviction in directing America toward a terrifying and thrilling unknown. Get A Copy. Hardcover , pages.

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To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up. To ask other readers questions about Lincoln's Hundred Days , please sign up. Be the first to ask a question about Lincoln's Hundred Days. Lists with This Book. Community Reviews. Showing Rating details. More filters. Sort order. Jan 25, Robin Friedman rated it it was amazing. Emerson began his essay: "In so many arid forms which States incrust themselves with, once in a century, if so often, a poetic act and record occur.

Liberty is a slow fruit. It comes, like religion, for short periods, and in rare conditions, as if awaiting a culture of the race which shall make it organic and permanent. Masur used the title for his own essay on the Emancipation Proclamation which developed into this book; and Emerson's observation could well serve as the theme of the study. The title of Masur's book refers to the days between September 22, , when Lincoln issued the Preliminary Emancipation and January 1,, when he issued the final Emancipation Proclamation.

In the central chapter of his study, Masur examines closely the highly varied public response to the Preliminary Proclamation and describes how the response set the stage for the final version. Although the Emancipation Proclamation has been written about extensively, the " days" has not received the degree of focus that Masur offers. He examines critical and supportive views of the Proclamation and its legality from the legal and scholarly community of the day.

He discusses the differing responses from the news media, from those in military service, from the broad public and from politicians. Masur discusses the impact of the Proclamation on foreign relations and on what was feared as Britain's intervention on behalf of the Confederacy. Masur discusses the uncertain impact of the Proclamation on the mid-term Congressional elections. He discusses the military course of the Civil War during the days.

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Most importantly, he discusses how Lincoln's own thinking evolved and solidified during this time. There were those who thought that Lincoln would fail to follow through on January 1, , Masur examines Lincoln's slow, patient, but consistent course of action during this time and his determination to see the Proclamation through to its conclusion. The final Proclamation became perhaps the defining act of his presidency.

In the two surrounding chapters of the book, Masur covers more familiar ground in showing the slow generation of the proclamation from the early days of the Civil War to the impact of the Proclamation after it was issued. Masur emphasizes throughout the "slow fruit" of liberty as the Emancipation Proclamation expanded the aims of the Civil War from the original goal of preserving the Union to the additional and related goal of ending slavery. Masur shows how Lincoln's ideas grew slowly and as a response to the slow change in public perception of the war.

He pays strong attention to the pragmatic realism of Lincoln's approach in his attempt to keep the loyalty of the border states and to avoid getting too far ahead of public opinion. The Proclamation followed the fortunes of the War. Lincoln became convinced that he had the authority to issue the Proclamation as a matter of military necessity in his position as commander in chief.

Lincoln, in Masur's account, remained strongly committed to Constitutionalism.

Lincoln's Hundred Days

With the issuance of the final Proclamation, African Americans began to serve in the Union Army in great numbers. Masur devotes substantial attention to the African American contribution to the war effort and to the reaction both of free African Americans and of slaves to the Emancipation Proclamation. He examines the impact of the Proclamation on the soldiers in uniform and finds that, on the whole, the opposition that the Proclamation surely would have received in the early days of the war had been muted substantially by time and by events. Masur discusses the way in which Emancipation changed the ways in which the war was fought and how Lincoln implemented the goals of the Proclamation with an ever surer sense of purpose.

Lincoln's efforts culminated in the ratification of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution which bars slavery and involuntary servitude. The book offers a detailed exploration of the historical record using some little examined source material. Gurowski recorded his frequently acerbic and uncomplimentary thoughts on Lincoln and what Gurowski perceived as Lincoln's temporizing.

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Masur makes good use of Gurowski's diary in exploring changing perspectives on the Emancipation Proclamation. Masur also offers his own analysis and assessment of the historical record. For example, in an insightful passage he writes: "Union was a condition; liberty an idea. The Emancipation Proclamation remade the war into a new cause. It gave meaning to lives lost, and it gave purpose to a conflict that seemed fatally directionless -- a battle here, a battle there, but no vision beyond restoring the Union, which was no vision at all.


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This is not to say that Union was not an important ideal -- only that it was a restorative rather than a transformative idea. This "slow fruit" character of the development of liberty was of crucial importance at the time. It may have contemporary importance as well. The book includes detailed endnotes together with four different versions of the Emancipation Proclamation, but it lacks a bibliography. Readers interested in understanding American history and in reflecting on the American experience will benefit from Masur's book.

Robin Friedman View 2 comments. Jul 11, Jerome rated it it was amazing. A thorough scholarly study of the Emancipation Proclamation and its times. Masur provides a good amount of detail on the various calculations Lincoln made before releasing the Proclamation. Although many still deny that the Civil War was really about slavery, this was how America largely saw the issue in It was a subject of obsession by the President, Congress, and the medi A thorough scholarly study of the Emancipation Proclamation and its times.

It was a subject of obsession by the President, Congress, and the media. Masur thoroughly covers the public reaction to the preliminary proclamation and how that reaction set the stage for the final proclamation. He covers the responses from supporters and critics, the media, the army, the public, the politicians, and the international community.

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Masur describes the deliberative character of Lincoln himself and how it affected events. But, as Masur and historians before him have pointed out, this criticism ignores the fact that Lincoln issued the proclamation under his war powers as commander-in-chief and it was politically impossible for him to free slaves in Union-controlled areas without the consent of Congress, and, by implication, the public.

Nor would it have been wise for him to issue the proclamation at a time when Union armies were suffering defeats at the hands of the Confederates; this would make the Emancipation Proclamation seem like an act of desperation. The Proclamation was also accompanied by the enlistment of black soldiers in the Union army, and Masur describes their contribution to the Union war effort. He also shows how the public thinking on the issue evolved; many Union soldiers could not claim to be fighting to destroy slavery at the beginning of the war, but many, like Lincoln and the American public, came around to modifying their opinion on the issue for a variety of different reasons.