- The Washington Times - Friday, January 1, 2010

This day in 1863.

This is the anniversary of the day that President Lincoln acknowledged “the gracious favor of Almighty God” when he signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

That New Year's Day began as usual in the White House. But in other parts of the capital and the nation, New Year's Eve was anything but.

Most blacks and whites were at once anxious and prayerful.


In fact, New Year's Eve 1862 was deemed Freedom’s Eve by free and enslaved blacks, and white and black abolitionists. Traditionally called Watch Night by religious communities the world over, New Year's Eve 1862 meant a night of prayer and vigilance as blacks around the country gathered in churches and private homes to anxiously await news that the Emancipation Proclamation actually had been signed. When news spread that Lincoln had, indeed, signed the proclamation, shouts of praise and joy thanked God and providence. Whites and blacks paraded to the White House and cheered the president, who acknowledged their presence from a White House window but would not give them an audience.

Lincoln said that he had made a covenant with God about the Civil War and slavery and that now was the time to deliver on his promise.

He did it without fanfare.

New Year's Day 1863 followed White House tradition. It was a day for the president to receive national, military and foreign dignitaries, who began arriving about 9 a.m. Doors were flung open to the public about noon. While Lincoln had awakened early to put the finishing touches on the proclamation, he did not deny his social obligations, which kept him longer than expected.

New Year's Day was fair and the walking dry, which made it an agreeable task to keep up the Knickerbocker practice of calling on officials and lady friends,” journalist Benjamin Perley Poore wrote in “Perley’s Reminiscences.” “At eleven o’clock all officers of the army in the city assembled at the War Department, and headed by Adjutant-General Thomas and General Halleck, proceeded to the White House, where they were severally introduced to the President. The officers of the navy assembled at the Navy Department at the same time, and headed, by Secretary Welles and Admiral Foote, also proceeded to the President’s. The display of general officers in brilliant uniforms was an imposing sight, and attracted large crowds. The foreign Ministers, in accordance with the usual custom, also called on the President, and at twelve o’clock the doors were opened to the public, who marched through the hall and shook hands with Mr. Lincoln, to the music of the Marine Band, for two or three hours. Mrs. Lincoln also received ladies in the same parlor with the President.”

Mrs. Lincoln grew concerned. “My mother and I went in to his study, my mother inquiring in her quick, sharp way, ‘Well what do you intend doing?’ ” son Robert Lincoln recalled. The president “simply looked heavenwards and replied, ‘I am under orders, I cannot do otherwise.’ ”

Later, Lincoln, who had been receiving callers and shaking guests’ hands for hours, returned to his office and made changes. One of the revisions was to the superscription that read, “In testimony whereof I have hereunto set my name and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.” Lincoln preferred “hand” to “name” and asked Secretary of State William Seward to prepare a new copy. Later, Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation with “a strong but slightly shaking hand,” one historian noted.

A letter from Gertrude Bloede, Katie Bloede and Victor G. Bloede of Brooklyn, N.Y., addressed to the president and dated Jan. 4 said: “Language has no words to express how much we thank you for your glorious Proclamation. You have added glory to the sky & splendor to the sun, & there are but few men who have ever done that before, either by words or acts. We enthusiastically ‘went in’ for you at the last Presidential campaign, but pardon us if we candidly tell you that on the day when your Proclamation was issued, we said for the first time since your Administration, from the bottom of our hearts, ‘God bless Abraham Lincoln!’ ”

Watch Night and Freedom’s Eve continue as worshippers give thanks for the blessings of the year on its way out and sing praise for the one on the way in - knowing they are free to acknowledge “the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God.”