The Emancipation Proclamation: a speech that was given in 1863 by Abraham Lincoln. We know the Emancipation Proclamation as a major point in Lincoln’s presidency. We also think it gave freedom to all African-American slaves, and it abolished slavery in the future. But perhaps we lose sight of the truth because the Official Style is so prominent in the Emancipation Proclamation. In the 1800s, people spoke more officially than people speak now in the 2000s. However, this document is especially Official, compared to informal letters in the later 1800s that I researched. There is plenty of important historical context surrounding the Emancipation Proclamation that helps us to understand why Lincoln chose to sign this Official Style document into law. Regardless of Lincoln’s exact motives, I’m going to argue that Lincoln used Official Style characteristics, such as scesis onomaton, sentential adverbs, and lengthy, complex sentences to gain authority and trust from the newly freed slaves and also the constituents of Lincoln’s side in the Civil War, the North.
First of all, it’s important to explain the historical context behind the Emancipation Proclamation. With a little research, you can find this document was created in the midst of the Civil War, and Lincoln was under a lot of pressure. The nation was divided, and southern states were seceding. Interestingly enough, it is often believed by historians that Lincoln was actually a racist. Why would Lincoln free slaves if he was in fact a racist? And even if he was not a racist, why would he make such a controversial decision? As USA Today describes, “It was the product of a most difficult decision by a most complex president during a most crucial conflict. It ordered the largest single confiscation of private property in U.S. history.” They go on to suggest, “[The Emancipation Proclamation] ensured Lincoln his spot in the American pantheon.” Did Lincoln do it for the recognition? Did he do it because it was the morally right choice? We will never truly know the answer to why Lincoln decided to sign this into law to end slavery.
It is important to acknowledge two not very well-known details about the Emancipation Proclamation. First of all, this proclamation did not free all slaves. It only freed slaves in states that had seceded from the Union. Directly from the Proclamation, Abraham announces all states in which slaves are emancipated and he mentions, “ Louisiana, (except the Parishes of St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Jefferson, St. John, St. Charles, St. James Ascension, Assumption, Terrebonne, Lafourche, St. Mary, St. Martin, and Orleans, including the City of New Orleans).” Those exceptions prove that not all slaves were given freedom. A second detail is that the Emancipation Proclamation did not exactly give freedom to African-Americans. As history shows, African-Americans were still oppressed and not given full freedom until the later half of the 19th century. If people had been able to know these two facts when Lincoln issued this proclamation, many might have viewed it as a pointless law. Therefore, Lincoln had to cover up these details without lying in a legal document, while also creating a trustworthy, authoritative image of himself for the newly “freed slaves”, who were probably not that educated, and for his previous constituents. This is where the Official Style comes into play.
The Official Style characteristic I see the most in this document is scesis onomaton, emphasis through constant repetition of words. After the narrative introduction, the first paragraph starts, “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,” The second paragraph then starts, “That the Executive will, on the first day of January aforesaid, by proclamation, designate the States and parts of States, if any, in which the people thereof, respectively, shall then be in rebellion against the United States; and the fact that any State, or the people thereof, shall on that day be, in good faith, represented in the Congress of the United States” These two sentences are practically identical. They express almost the exact same idea, except at the end of sentence one, Lincoln issues freedom, and at the end of sentence two, Lincoln issues legal protection.
The third paragraph, also goes on to state nearly the same thing, “On this first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and in accordance with my purpose so to do publicly proclaimed for the full period of one hundred days, from the day first above mentioned, order and designate as the States and parts of States wherein the people thereof respectively, are this day in rebellion against the United States, the following…” The exception here is at the end of this sentence; Lincoln announces all the specific states where slaves will be freed. In all three of these examples, the same long phrases are used as emphasis. With emphasis on the day, month year, Lincoln’s duty, etc., the newly proclaimed information gets hidden at the end of the sentence. I argue that people get lost in the time it takes him to introduce each new law, legal protection, freedom, and freedom in certain states for former slaves.
A second trait of the Emancipation Proclamation that screams Official Style is the sentential adverbs. This document is loaded with words used just for fillers. The first word of the document is “Whereas”, and this sets the tone for the rest of it. Throughout Lincoln’s speech we hear all of the following sentential adverbs: therefore, aforeword, henceworth, thereof, hereby, whereof, hereunto, wherein, thereto, and thenceforward. I’m not sure I understand some of these words… Henceworth? Thenceforward? If I can’t understand these long, combined words, how might the average slave or even average citizen member be able to thoroughly understand this proclamation with every few words being a sentential adverb. These adverbs are definitely filler words… words Lincoln used to distract his audience-the likely uneducated, newly freed slaves and people of the North- and also create an image that would make Lincoln seem smart, and therefore trustworthy, especially to the majorly uneducated former slaves.
A third Official Style aspect found in this document is the sheer length and complexity of sentences. There are only 9 sentences in the Emancipation Proclamation, and there are 697 words. That averages out to 77 words per sentence! These sentences are too loaded and wordy for common citizens to follow without losing focus. Each sentence is fully clad with semi colons, colons, comma, dashes, and everything of the like that could possibly extend a sentence. This is the longest sentence throughout the whole document:
“Now, therefore I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, by virtue of the power in me vested as Commander-in-Chief, of the Army and Navy of the United States in time of actual armed rebellion against the authority and government of the United States, and as a fit and necessary war measure for suppressing said rebellion, do, on this first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and in accordance with my purpose so to do publicly proclaimed for the full period of one hundred days, from the day first above mentioned, order and designate as the States and parts of States wherein the people thereof respectively, are this day in rebellion against the United States, the following, to wit:
Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, (except the Parishes of St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Jefferson, St. John, St. Charles, St. James Ascension, Assumption, Terrebonne, Lafourche, St. Mary, St. Martin, and Orleans, including the City of New Orleans) Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia, (except the forty-eight counties designated as West Virginia, and also the counties of Berkley, Accomac, Northampton, Elizabeth City, York, Princess Ann, and Norfolk, including the cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth[)], and which excepted parts, are for the present, left precisely as if this proclamation were not issued.”
That sentence is 218 words long. How is anyone supposed to follow a sentence this long without becoming distracted? Not only do these long sentences make Lincoln sound extremely smart to the average person, but the length and complexity of these sentences hide the fact that in this one sentence, Lincoln admits that not all slaves will be freed. Only slaves in those listed states were freed. However, Lincoln’s supporters and the freed slaves in this time period would likely think Lincoln is smart and he abolished slavery, so he is kind- therefore, trustworthy.
Through the long, complex sentences, sentential adverbs, and scesis onomaton it is evident to me that Lincoln was using the Official Style to gain authority, trust, and recognition. He persuade his constituents, including the newly freed slaves, to support him enough to re-elect him in the next, and we all know the Emancipation Proclamation exists as major point in U.S. history. I believe this was Lincoln’s goal and he succeeded well.
A copy of the Emancipation Proclamation can be accessed here: http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/featured_documents/emancipation_proclamation/transcript.html
Information cited from the USA Today article can be accessed here: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2012/12/25/lincolns-emancipation-move-still-sparks-debate/1791025/
By: Cody Fortney