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Illinois Civil War website remembers Illinois’ reaction to Emancipation Proclamation

This article originally appeared in the Canton Daily Ledger

Slave states weren’t the only places echoing with howls of outrage when Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation 150 years ago this month. Many people in his home state of Illinois exploded with anger.

A new article at explores the sharp divisions within Illinois after Lincoln freed, at least on paper, all slaves living in states that were battling to secede from the United States. The article can be found by clicking the “Monthly Highlights” tab at the top of the homepage.

Crowds swarmed separate public meetings organized by Democratic and Republican leaders to discuss the proclamation.

A Democratic meeting at the Illinois Statehouse (now the Old State Capitol) quickly approved a resolution condemning Lincoln’s action. It said the Emancipation Proclamation “cannot be contemplated without the most dismal forebodings of horror and dismay.” Lincoln’s move invited insurrection by the nation’s slaves, the resolution warned.

Meanwhile, Lincoln’s fellow Republicans held their own meetings and produced their own resolutions supporting the president. Major General Richard Oglesby, a future Illinois governor, called the Emancipation Proclamation “a great thing, perhaps the greatest thing that has occurred in this century. It is too big for us to realize.”

Reaction among the state’s African-American residents was ignored by the white press, so few details are available today. But it appears they were celebrating even before Lincoln signed the proclamation just after noon on Jan. 1, 1863. Frederick Douglass’ Monthly reported that people “celebrated the gladsome New Year’s Day with appropriate public festivities – feeling sure of the coming of the Proclamation, before it was issued.”

In addition to the monthly feature stories, includes a comprehensive calendar of events related to the Civil War from across Illinois; a time line of Illinois and the Civil War with illustrations, images and documents; downloadable PDFs of articles related to the Civil War; curriculum materials for teachers; and suggestions for further reading.

The website represents the work of Save Illinois History and the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and is supported in part by a grant from the Illinois Humanities Council.

The Illinois Historic Preservation Agency operates all state-owned historic sites and memorials, as well as the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. The agency’s list of Civil War-related sites includes the Presidential Library and Museum; Ulysses S. Grant Home and Elihu Washburne House in Galena; the Stephen A. Douglas Tomb in Chicago; the David Davis Mansion in Bloomington; the Old State Capitol and Lincoln Tomb in Springfield; and Metamora Courthouse.

For more information, visit