The Emancipation Proclamation is the most misunderstood and least appreciated of President Abraham Lincoln's documents, according to a historian whose book on the subject goes on sale this week.
Yet Lincoln never felt more confident in anything he did than when he signed the act Jan. 1, 1863, Allen Guelzo told about 80 people during a lecture Monday night at Kansas University's Dole Institute of Politics.
Lincoln had told his confidants that the proclamation was the central act of his administration and a great event of the 19th century, Guelzo said. But he called it an understatement, too.
"The Emancipation Proclamation, by freeing 4 million slaves, put slavery on the fast road to extinction," he said.
Guelzo was the second speaker during the 2004 Lincoln Week Lecture Series presented by the Dole Institute. The series continues through Thursday.
The proclamation was Lincoln's last resort to use financial incentives to buy border states away from slavery. Despite that financial bait, Delaware, Missouri, Kentucky and Maryland resented the move. So did the southern states.
The proclamation has been criticized by some historians for being bland, full of legalese and lacking the flair for words that was found in the Gettysburg Address and in Lincoln's second presidential inaugural address, Guelzo said.
But the proclamation was meant to be a legal document, Guelzo said.
"The next time a trooper pulls you over ... just try going to court with the Gettysburg Address," Guelzo said.
The Emancipation Proclamation changed the Civil War from one of just holding the nation together to one in which slavery became a central point, said Jonathan Earle, KU history professor and programming director at the Dole Institute, as he introduced Guelzo.
Guelzo was the winner of the 2000 Lincoln Prize for his research and writings about Lincoln. He is the author of "Abraham Lincoln: The Redeemer President" and his most recent book, officially released Thursday, "Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America."
David Gillham, 66, Topeka, was among those who enjoyed listening to Guelzo.
"He's a real student of that period," Gillham said. "He could talk all week as far as I'm concerned. It's a real pleasure to hear him."