Masur lets Lincoln take all the criticism for the document’s unconstitutionality, its crudeness, its half-measuredness, its faults and deficiencies, and also the due credit for the fact that – despite its stylistic awkwardnesses and limited emancipatory claims – it worked. The Emancipation Proclamation, it turns out, was not a bolt of lightning but a big blunt lever that effectively tipped slavery off the map.
What it meant at the time was debated and argued over, misunderstood and misinterpreted, reacted to with disappointment, outrage, and joy – but the carefully flat-voiced, legalese document did its work. “The most redoubtable decrees – which will always remain remarkable historical documents – flung by him at the enemy all look like, and are intended to look like, routine summonses sent by a lawyer to the lawyer of the opposing party,” noted that decree-flinger Karl Marx in October 1862, foreseeing that Lincoln’s Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, “which is drafted in the same style... is the most important document in American history since the establishment of the Union, tantamount to the tearing up of the old American Constitution.”
Masur divides "Lincoln’s Hundred Days" into three: before, during, and after the period between September 22, 1862, when Lincoln published the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation and the “Jubilee,” January 1, 1863, when Lincoln signed the final version. Some doubted that at the end of those 100 days he would go through with it; Lincoln’s inner struggles before he issued the Preliminary Proclamation and after he had done so, the transformation of public opinion, especially among Union soldiers (who were seeing real slaves in the real South) and politicians, is the swift narrative Masur directs especially well, as he quotes the participants and assesses the turning points. Masur also neatly manages to convey the complete arc of the war, including a moving retelling of Lincoln’s visit to captured Richmond on April 4, 1865.