Arguably the most telling benefit to accrue to the North from the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation was the effect on Confederate efforts to secure foreign recognition.
Such recognition was a prize dearly sought – once obtained hopefully favorable financial arrangements could be made by a cash-strapped Confederacy, maybe even a military alliance to break that increasingly pesky Yankee blockade keeping all that Southern cotton from those hungry European mills – according to some excited editorialists, within a matter of months there would have been established on the North American continent a viable thing called the Confederate States of America [to parallel that other North American thing called the United-in-a-kind-of-a-way States of America].
To be sure, England and France had been toying for the first 18 months of the war with abandoning their neutrality and formally recognizing what Lincoln had consistently treated as a complete fiction: the Confederate States of America. The dazzling successess of Lee and his cohorts particularly in those first 18 months of the war coupled with the pent-up demand for Southern cotton from all those hungry European mills almost did the trick.
But then came this Proclamation and it became clear that recognizing the Confederacy would put these major European powers clearly on the wrong side of history. [It didn’t help the South that cotton from Egypt had already begun to fill a need – others had access to what was no longer a Southern monopoly: King Cotton.]
As Henry Adams, private Secretary of the US Minister to the UK, said, “The Emancipation Proclamation has done more for us here than all our former victories and all our diplomacy. It is creating an almost convulsive reaction in our favor all over this country.”
Expensive though it was in so many ways to the Northern war effort in general -and the Republican Party in particular - this proclamation not only doomed the Confederacy but challenged the nation to live out the meaning of “all men are created equal.”
In the words of Horace Greeley, the editor of the influential New York Tribune, who had excoriated Lincoln in the past for his ‘mistaken deference’ to slavery, the Emancipation Proclamation was ‘one of those facts in human history which marks not only an era in the progress of the nation, but an epoch in the history of the world.’