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Emancipation Proclamation

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  • Category: Lincoln

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“That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.” One hundred and forty-six years ago, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed freedom to 20,000 to 50,000 slaves who lived in Confederacy controlled areas of the United States.

Although President Lincoln originally entered into the Civil War to protect and reunite the Union, freeing the slaves living within areas under his control soon became an important war objective for the Commander in Chief. In December of 1861, President Lincoln proposed to Congress the freedom of slaves living in Union states the purchase of their own freedom through federal taxes. He also commended the free labor system and believed in the value of human rights over property rights. Lincoln’s opinions at the time were controversial. Many believed that banning forced labor would ruin the economy. However, Congress sided with President Lincoln, and on April 10th, 1862 Congress stated that any slave owner who freed their slaves would be compensated. This was a major step into the liberation of slaves living in the United States. The Union, led by Lincoln, continued to make progress when legislation passed outlawing slavery in United State controlled territories.

This legislation opposed the notion that Congress was unable to regulate slavery. After the groundwork for the freeing of slaves in U.S. territories had been put into place, Lincoln determined that the emancipation of slaves in Confederate controlled areas was necessary to put an end to the secession. He also felt it was constitutionally warranted by his powers as Commander in Chief. So on July 22nd, 1862, members of Lincoln’s cabinet met to hear the first draft of the President’s Emancipation Proclamation. It stated that all slaves living in areas beyond the border of the Union controlled states “shall be then, thenceforward, and forever, free” by January 1st of the following year. In September of 1862 Lincoln once again met with his cabinet to discuss and refine the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. This new Proclamation offered the Confederate states and ultimatum: return to the Union by New Year’s Day or have freedom extended to all slaves within their borders. No Confederate states took the offer, so as promised, on January 1st, 1863, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.

The Emancipation Proclamation that went into effect on the 1st of January 1863 stated that “all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.” It also stated that the Nation “will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons and will do not act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.” This declaration’s sole purpose was to grant freedom to all Confederate slaves, that is, slaves living in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia. While the Emancipation Proclamation freed hundreds of thousands of slaves in the first few months after it was put into effect, specific exemptions in Louisiana and Virginia left nearly 300,000 slaves unemancipated.

Also, the Proclamation did not include the Union controlled border-states, that is, Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, and Missouri, so an additional 500,000 slaves were also left unemancipated. Another important detail left out of the Emancipation Proclamation was that it did not make slavery illegal. Slavery remained legal in the United States until the Thirteenth Amendment went into effect in 1865. Although there were several defects in the Emancipation Proclamation, it was a critical first step in not only the freeing of slaves, but also the beginning of equality between whites and blacks in America. The Proclamation also stated that blacks could be received into the armed forces and had the right to reasonable wages. Without the Emancipation Proclamation, it is impossible to say the position African Americans would have in the United States.

On the day the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect, 20,000 slaves were freed. The freeing of slaves continued and by 1865, nearly 4 million slaves had been freed. Once the war had ended, many worried the Emancipation Proclamation would no longer apply because it had started off as a war tactic. Also fearing this, Abraham Lincoln pushed for amendment that would make slavery illegal in the United States. Although this was a risky move, Lincoln felt strongly about unifying slavery laws across the U.S. and it proved to be worthwhile when the Thirteenth Amendment was passed during his presidency in 1865. Without the Emancipation Proclamation, the Thirteenth Amendment would not have been possible. Although it did not solve many of the problems caused by slavery in the United States, the Emancipation Proclamation granted hundreds of thousands of slaves their freedom and also set the framework for unified slavery laws across the U.S.


Lincoln, Abraham, Pres. “The Emancipation Proclamation.” Featured Document: The Emancipation Proclamation. National Archives & Records Administration, 13 Feb. 2009.<http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/featured_documents/emancipation_proclamation/transcript.html>.

Cunningham, John M. “Emancipation Proclamation (United States [1863]).” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, 09 June 2009. Web. <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/185468/Emancipation-Proclamation>.

Emancipation Proclamation, January 1, 1863; Presidential Proclamations, 1791-1991; Record Group 11; General Records of the United States Government; National Archives.

“Primary Documents in American History.” Emancipation Proclamation: Primary Documents of American History (Virtual Programs & Services, Library of Congress). Library of Congress, <http://www.loc.gov/rr/program/bib/ourdocs/EmanProc.html>.

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