Emancipation Proclamation: Indiana majority didn’t celebrate in 1862

As we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, it’s instructive to recall that President Lincoln’s order freeing the slaves wasn’t greeted with universal applause – even in the North. Stephen E. Towne, an associate archivist at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, makes that much clear in a recent post to the New York Times Civil War history blog DisUnion.

“The racism of the majority whites in Indiana of that era was profound,” he writes. “Both Republicans and Democrats shared a hatred and morbid fear of African-Americans.”

Caleb Blood Smith, Lincoln's secretary of the interior

Caleb Blood Smith, Lincoln’s secretary of the interior

Lincoln’s Republican Party controlled Indiana government at the start of the Civil War, and together with “War Democrats,” they rallied behind the Union cause. But few supported the abolition of slavery. And as the fighting dragged on and the North suffered setbacks, support for Lincoln waned.

“The war took a severe toll on everyone,” writes Towne, a published Civil War historian as well as a university archivist. “Families mourned the large toll of dead, maimed and grievously ill soldiers. The agricultural economy suffered as warfare blocked the shipment of Indiana’s farm products to Southern markets and drained the fields of able workers.”

Tariffs and taxes added to the discontent, and Indiana Democrats were appalled by Lincoln’s war-time expansion of government power. When Confederate troops moved into Kentucky in late summer of 1862, overrunning Hoosier troops who rushed to battle, the populace got downright nervous.

Then came the Emancipation Proclamation, which Lincoln signed Sept. 22, 1862. War was no longer just about preserving the Union; it was about freeing the slaves. An Indiana Democratic newspaper, Towne writes, warned that the proclamation “would prompt the South’s ‘servile population’ of ‘savage negros’ to rise up in ‘insurrection, rapine, murder, arson, and what not.’”

As if that weren’t enough, the military draft reached Indiana days later. Draft riots broke out in Hartford City, Ind., and 500 troops were sent from Indianapolis to restore order.

Lincoln’s secretary of the interior, the Hoosier politician Caleb Blood Smith, warned that the proclamation would cost the Republicans Indiana in the off-year elections. Indeed, Democrats won every state office on the ballot, took control of both houses of the Legislature and won seven of 11 congressional seats.

Republicans weren’t helped, Towne writes, by the fact that Indiana law at the time prohibited soldiers in the field from voting.

Imagine trying that today.

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