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Deed of Manumission
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Mary Lee Brady, Ph.D.

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Robert E. Lee's Deed of Manumission was dated and issued a day before President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation was to go into full effect on January 1, 1863.  Lincoln had advised his cabinet and the mass media in July 1862 that he would issue the emancipation order on January 1, 1863; giving the rebel states sufficient warning to cease and desist from rebellion made possible by slave labor.  If the rebellion had ended within that time frame, it is doubtful that Lincoln would have had the legal authority to issue his executive order as a military necessity.

The action by Lee is important to understand that he could have freed the Custis slaves at any time after 1857 when George W.P. Custis died and Lee became executor of the estate.  So, how do we count the weeks, months and years before the great man reasoned to execute his sworn duty to uphold the father-in-laws promise to men and women who knew him before his death. 

                                                        Emancipation Proclamation

Reasons for not freeing the slaves as promised by George Custis was that he, Lee, needed to keep them in free labor until the estate was financially healthy enough to free them, which in itself refutes the make-believe notion that slavery was a costly institution that most men like Lee and Wade Hampton of South Carolina (owned 1500 slaves) disliked and wanted to eliminate.  Another tale told by the general's latter day apologists is that he wanted to be accurate and correct about bestowing personal liberties.     

In reality, when the Lee family abandoned the Custis Estate in Arlington for their move to Richmond, the slaves freed themselves and by December 1862 many were employed by the Union government war effort against the rebellious state.  Lee and others hoped his gesture at emancipation would impress European nations that the rebellion was not for the purpose of maintaining slavery.

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Last modified: 12/29/16