Abraham Lincoln, Monday, May 19, 1862 (Proclamation revoking General David Hunter's General Order No. 11 on military emancipation of slaves


Abraham Lincoln, Monday, May 19, 1862 (Proclamation revoking General David Hunter's General Order No. 11 on military emancipation of slaves


The letter in which President Lincoln retracts General Hunter's Order No. 11.


Abraham Lincoln


Library of Congress


The Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress


May 19, 1862


Rights held by Library of Congress


Hand-written letter.



Local URL

Hilton Head, S.C., May 9, 1862.

General Orders No. 11 --The three States of Georgia, Florida and South Carolina, comprising the military department of the south, having deliberately declared themselves no longer under the protection of the United States of America, and having taken up arms against the said United States, it becomes a military necessity to declare them under martial law. This was accordingly done on the 25th day of April, 1862. Slavery and martial law in a free country are altogether incompatible; the persons in these three States -- Georgia, Florida and South Carolina -- heretofore held as slaves, are therefore declared forever free. ... DAVID HUNTER (Official)

Major General Commanding.

ED. W. SMITH, Acting Adjutant General4

And whereas the same is producing some excitement, and misunderstanding: therefore

I, Abraham Lincoln, president of the United States, proclaim and declare, that the government of the United States, had no knowledge, information, or belief, of an intention on the part of General Hunter to issue such a proclamation; nor has it yet, any authentic information that the document is genuine-- And further, that neither General Hunter, nor any other commander, or person, has been expressly, or implicitly authorized by the Government of the United States, to make proclamations declaring the slaves of any State free; and that the supposed proclamation, now in question, whethether whether genuine or false, is altogether void, so far as respects such declaration.

I further make known that whether it be competent for me, as Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy, to declare the Slaves of any state or states, free, and whether at any time, in any case, it shall have become a necessity indispensable to the maintainance of the government, to exercise such supposed power, are questions which, under my responsibility, I reserve to myself, and which I will permit to be decided for me by neither any, nor all of my military subordinates. can not feel justified in leaving to the decision of Commanders in the field. These are totally different questions from those of police regulations in armies and camps.

On the sixth day of March last, by a special message, I recommended to Congress the adoption of a joint resolution to be substantially as follows:5

[ Attached Clipping:]

Resolved, That the United States ought to co-operate with any State which may adopt a gradual abolishment of slavery, giving to such State pecuniary aid, to be used by such State in its discretion to compensate for the inconveniences, public and private, produced by such change of system.6

The resolution, in the language above quoted, was adopted by large majorities in both branches of Congress, and now stands an authentic, definite, and solemn proposal of the nation to the States and people most immediately interested in the subject matter. To the people of those states I now earnestly appeal-- I do not argue. I beseech you to make the arguments for yourselves-- The strong tendency to a total disruption of society in the South; is apparent-- You can stay it; without your aid, possibly I can not. You can stay it without harming a hair of white or black.7 You can not if you would, be blind to the signs of the times-- I beg of you on a calm and enlarged consideration of them, ranging, if it may be, far above personal and partizan politics-- This proposal makes common cause for a common object, casting no reproach upon any-- It plays acts not the pharisee. The change it contemplates would come gently as the dews of heaven, not rending or wrecking anything-- Will you not embrace it? So much good has not been done, by one effort, in all past time, as, in the providence of God, it is now your high previlege to do-- May the vast future not have to lament that you have neglected it.

Abraham Lincoln

May 19, 18628

In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

(Done at the City of Washington this nineteenth day of May, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-two, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty-sixth

Abraham Lincoln.

By the President:

William H. Seward,

Secretary of State

[Note 1 The proclamation that Lincoln is drafting here was prompted by another proclamation, that of General David Hunter, which purported to free the slaves of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. Lincoln felt that he had no choice but to publicly declare Hunter's proclamation void. Indeed he made this point clear in a note to Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase on May 17. Chase had urged that Lincoln not revoke Hunter's proclamation, but Lincoln responded that "No commanding general shall do such a thing, upon my responsibility, without consulting me." See Chase to Lincoln, May 16, 1862, Collected Works, V, 219.
At the same time, Lincoln makes it clear here that emancipation, as a presidential prerogative, is very much on his mind, as he reminds the citizens of loyal slaveholding border states, and further, that the progress of the war insures that the end of slavery is probably inevitable. And later he expressed some regret for having repudiated Hunter, a man he considered a friend. "I valued him none the less for his agreeing with me in the general wish that all men everywhere, could be free." See Abraham Lincoln, Address to Border State Representatives, July 12, 1862.]

[Note 2 This two-line heading is in an unknown secretarial hand; the remainder of the manuscript text before the deleted signature and date, is by Lincoln.]

[Note 3 The proclamation, which follows, is from a newspaper clipping that has been pasted on the sheet.]

[Note 4 Text of the newspaper clipping ends here.]

[Note 5 The text of the proposed resolution that follows is from a newspaper clipping that has been pasted onto the sheet.]

[Note 6 Text of newspaper clipping ends here.]

[Note 7 The next two sentences are on a separate slip, intended for insertion in lieu of the stricken material.]

[Note 8 The stricken signature and date are by Lincoln. What follows is in another hand.]