Sesquicentennial: Reactions and Celebrations for the Emancipation Proclamation, January 1, 1863

December 31, 2012

Reactions and Celebrations from Mount Auburn Abolitionists to the Emancipation Proclamation, January 1, 1863.

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation which officially freed the slaves in the confederate states on January 1, 1863. Many abolitionists now buried at Mount Auburn fought hard for this cause and were overjoyed when the news reached Boston. U.S. Senator for Massachusetts, Charles Sumner, who was assaulted in the Senate for his views on slavery, rejoiced, “At last the proclamation has come. The skies are brighter and the air is purer, now that slavery has been handed over to judgment.” Runaway slave and author of the memoir Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Harriet Jacobs wrote to her friend Lydia Maria Child, “I have lived to hear the Proclamation of Freedom for my suffering people. All my wrongs are forgiven. I am more than repaid for all I have endured.”

There were two big celebrations in Boston; one was at the Music Hall. Among those present at the Music Hall on New Year’s Eve were a number of Mount Auburn residents, including poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, poet and physician Oliver Wendell Holmes, historian Francis Parkman, and former Boston Mayor and Harvard President Josiah Quincy. Also in attendance was Frederick Douglass, who spoke at the event. Chaos broke out at midnight at the announcement over the wire to the group awaiting the news.

The following day on January 1st a private party was held at George L. Stearn’s mansion in Medford. This event was both a celebration for the proclamation and a memorial gathering for John Brown. Stearns referred to it as “the John Brown Party.” It included an unveiling of a bust of the anti-slavery martyr to whom Stearns had contributed funds and arms.  He had once stated, “I consider it the proudest act of my life that I gave good old John Brown every pike and rifle he carried to Harper’s Ferry.”  Julia Ward Howe, another active abolitionist, and author of the “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” was also at the party to celebrate both the man who sparked the war and the historic proclamation from Lincoln. Her husband Samuel Gridley Howe had also provided funds and support to Brown.

To commemorate the occasion, a number of poems were written including these two by Mount Auburn poets:

Emancipation Proclamation
by James Russell Lowell

And, as the finder of some unknown realm,
Mounting a summit whence he thinks to see
On either side of him the imprisoning sea,
Beholds, above the clouds that overwhelm
The valley-land, peak after snowy peak
Stretch out of sight, each like a silver helm
Beneath its plume of smoke, sublime and bleak,
And what he thought an island finds to be
A continent to him first oped, — so we
Can from our height of Freedom look along
A boundless future, ours if we be strong.

Hymn After The Emancipation Proclamation
by Oliver Wendell Holmes

GIVER of all that crowns our days,
With grateful hearts we sing thy praise;
Through deep and desert led by Thee,
Our promised land at last we see.

Ruler of Nations, judge our cause!
If we have kept thy holy laws,
The sons of Belial curse in vain
The day that rends the captive’s chain.

Thou God of vengeance! Israel’s Lord!
Break in their grasp the shield and sword,
And make thy righteous judgments known
Till all thy foes are overthrown!

Then, Father, lay thy healing hand
In mercy on our stricken land;
Lead all its wanderers to the fold,
And be their Shepherd as of old.

So shall one Nation’s song ascend
To Thee, our Ruler, Father, Friend,
While Heaven’s wide arch resounds again
With Peace on earth, good-will to men!



Franklin, John Hope. “The Emancipation Proclamation: An Act of Justice.” Prologue Magazine [National Archives and Records Administration] Summer 1993, Vol. 25, No. 2.

Guelzo, Allen.  Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America.  New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004.

Reynolds, David S. John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights.  New York: Vintage, 2006.

African American Registry.  “Author of Freedom, Harriet Jacobs”


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