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Emancipation Proclamation (31468 hits)





Emancipation Proclamation


The Emancipation Proclamation consists of two executive orders issued by President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. The first one, issued on September 22, 1862, declared the freedom of all slaves in such territory of the Confederate States of America (the South) and the Union (the North), which was already practicing abolition. The second executive order was issued on January 1, 1863, and it enumerated the specific territories where the abolition of slavery applied.

The Emancipation Proclamation was widely attacked at the time as freeing only the slaves over which the Union had no power, but in practice, it committed the Union to ending slavery, which was controversial. It was not a law passed by Congress, but a presidential order empowered by his position as Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy. However, the proclamation did not free any slaves in the border states of Kentucky, Missouri, Maryland, Delaware, and West Virginia, or any southern territory already under Union control. It only directly affected those slaves that had already escaped to the Union side at first, but as the Union armies conquered the Confederacy, thousands of slaves were freed each day until nearly all, an estimated 4 million, were freed by July of 1865.

After the war, there was concern that the proclamation because it was a war measure had not made the elimination of slavery permanent. Several states had prohibited slavery, but some slavery continued to exist in Kentucky and Delaware. The entire institution was finally wiped out when the 13th Amendment was ratified on December 18, 1865.

A strict application of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 could have required the return of fugitive slaves to their owners. Initially, this did not occur because some Union generals declared slaves in reoccupied areas as contraband of war. This was controversial because it implied some recognition of the Confederacy as being a separate nation under international law was necessary, a notion that Lincoln and the North refused to honor; as a result, Lincoln never promoted the contraband designation. On March 13, 1862, Lincoln forbade all Union Army officers from returning fugitive slaves. On April 10, 1862, Congress declared that the federal government would compensate slave owners who freed their slaves. All slaves in the District of Columbia were freed in this way on April 16, 1862. On June 19, 1862, Congress prohibited slavery in the United States territories thus overturned the 1857 decision in the Supreme Court case involving Dred Scott that Congress was powerless to regulate slavery in the territories.

In January of 1862, Thaddeus Stevens, the Republican leader in the House of Representatives, called for total war against the rebellion, arguing that emancipation would ruin the rebel economy. In July of 1862, Congress passed and Lincoln signed the "Second Confiscation Act." It liberated the slaves held by "rebels."

Making it Official

Abolitionists had long been urging Lincoln to free all slaves. A mass rally in Chicago on September 7, 1862, demanded an immediate and universal emancipation of slaves. A delegation headed by Gen. William W. Patton met the President at the White House on September 13. Lincoln had declared in peace time that he had no constitutional authority to free the slaves, but the war gave him war powers. Still, emancipation was a risky political act. Public opinion, as a whole, was against it. There would be strong opposition among “copperhead Democrats and an uncertain reaction from loyal border states.

Lincoln first discussed the proclamation with his cabinet in July of 1862, but he felt that he needed a Union victory on the battlefield so it would not look like an act of desperation. The Battle of Antietam, in which Union troops turned back a Confederate invasion of Maryland, gave him the opportunity to issue a preliminary proclamation on September 22, 1862. The final draft was then issued in January of the following year. Although implicitly granted authority by Congress, Lincoln used his powers as Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy, "as a necessary war measure" as the basis of the proclamation, rather than the equivalent of a statute enacted by Congress or a constitutional amendment.

But the Emancipation Proclamation did not free the slaves; the 13th Amendment did. The Proclamation only gave Lincoln the legal basis in order to free the slaves in the South. Thus, it took effect only as the Union armies advanced into Confederate territory. Slaves in the border states of Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri and West Virginia were emancipated by a separate state action. Had any seceding state rejoined the Union before January 1, 1863, it could have kept slavery, at least temporarily.

The Emancipation Proclamation also allowed for the enrollment of freed slaves into the Military. Nearly 200,000 Blacks did join the Union Army, most of them ex-slaves. This gave the North additional manpower that the Confederacy would not accumulate until the final months before its defeat.

The Proclamation was issued in two parts. The first part, issued on September 22, 1862, was a preliminary announcement outlining the intent of the second part, which officially went into effect 100 days later, on January 1, 1863, during the second year of the Civil War. It was Abraham Lincoln's declaration that all slaves would be permanently freed that had not already returned to federal control in all areas of the Confederacy by January of 1863. The 10 affected states were individually named in the second part. Not included were the Union-slave states of Maryland, Delaware, Missouri and Kentucky. Also not named was the state of Tennessee, which Union armies already controlled. Specific exemptions were stated for all 48 counties that would soon become West Virginia, seven other named counties of Virginia, and for New Orleans and 13 nearby named parishes already under Union control. The Emancipation took place without violence by masters or ex-slaves. The proclamation represented a shift in the war objectives of the North: reuniting the nation would no longer become the sole outcome. It represented a major step toward the ultimate abolition of slavery in the United States and the formation of a "more perfect Union."

Some slaves were freed immediately by the proclamation. Runaway slaves who had escaped to Union lines were being held by the Union Army as "contraband of war" in camps; when the proclamation took effect, they were told at midnight that they were free to leave. The Sea Islands off the coast of Georgia had been occupied by the Union Navy earlier in the war. Whites on the island had fled to the mainland while Blacks stayed and an early program of Reconstruction was set up for them. Naval officers read the proclamation and told them they were free.


In the military, the reaction to this proclamation varied widely with some units nearly in mutiny but others were inspired with the adoption of a cause that seemed to them to ennoble their efforts.

Slaves had been part of the "engine of war" for the Confederacy. They produced and prepared food, sewed uniforms, repaired railways, worked on farms and in factories, shipping yards, and mines, built forts; and served as hospital workers and common laborers. News of the Proclamation spread rapidly by word of mouth arousing hopes of freedom, creating general confusion and encouraging many to escape.

Lincoln's Gettysburg Address made indirect reference with the phrase "new birth of freedom” to the proclamation and the ending of slavery as the war goal.

The proclamation was immediately denounced by “copperhead” Democrats who opposed the war and tolerated both secession and slavery. It became a campaign issue in the 1862 elections in which the Democrats gained 28 seats in the House, as well as governorship of New York. Many “war” Democrats, who had supported Lincoln's goal of saving the Union, balked at supporting emancipation. The proclamation solidified Lincoln's support among the rapidly growing abolitionist element of the Republican Party, and it ensured his re-nomination in 1864.

Well Taken the World Over

Abroad, as Lincoln hoped, the proclamation turned foreign popular opinion in favor of the Union for its new commitment to end slavery. Many other countries such as, Great Britain and France has already ended slavery decades before. That shift ended any hope the Confederacy might gain official recognition, particularly from the United Kingdom. If Britain or France, continued to support the Confederacy, it would seem as though they were supporting slavery and that they did not want to do. Prior to Lincoln's decree, Britain's actions had favored the Confederacy, especially in its construction of ships for war such as, the CSS Alabama and CSS Florida. As Henry Adams noted, "The Emancipation Proclamation has done more for us than all our former victories and all our diplomacy."

Near the end of the war, abolitionists were concerned that the Emancipation Proclamation would be construed solely as a war act, and thus, would no longer apply once fighting ended. They were also increasingly anxious to secure the freedom of all slaves, not just those freed by the proclamation. Pressed, Lincoln staked a large part of his 1864 presidential campaign on a constitutional amendment to abolish slavery uniformly throughout the United States. Lincoln's campaign was bolstered by separate votes in both Maryland and Missouri to abolish slavery in those states. Maryland's new constitution that abolished slavery took effect in November of 1864.

After being re- elected, Lincoln pushed the lame duck 38th Congress to pass the proposed amendment immediately rather than wait for the incoming 39th Congress to convene. In January of 1865, Congress sent what became the 13th Amendment to the state legislatures for ratification; it banned slavery in all U.S. states and territories. The amendment was ratified by the legislatures of enough states by December 6, 1865. There were about 40,000 slaves in Kentucky and 1,000 in Delaware who were liberated.

The proclamation was lauded in the years after Lincoln's death. The anniversary of its issue has been celebrated as a holiday, called Juneteenth day, for more than 50 years.  In 1913 on the 50th anniversary of the proclamation, there were particularly large celebrations. As the years went on and American life continued to be deeply unfair towards Blacks, cynicism towards Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation increased.

Some 20th century Black intellectuals, including W.E.B. Du Bois, James Baldwin and Julius Lester; have described the proclamation as essentially worthless. Perhaps the strongest attack was Lerone Bennett's Forced into Glory: Abraham Lincoln's White Dream, which purports Lincoln was allegedly a White supremacist who only issued the Emancipation Proclamation to stave off the real racial reforms that radical abolitionists were pushing for.

The Emancipation Proclamation was on display at the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum in Little Rock, Arkansas, from September 22 to 25, 2007 as part of the Little Rock Central High School 50th anniversary of integration. The original document remains guarded at the Library of Congress in the nation’s capitol.

Sources:; Herman Belz, Emancipation and Equal Rights: Politics and Constitutionalism in the Civil War Era, 1978; Christopher Ewan, "The Emancipation Proclamation and British Public Opinion" The Historian, Vol. 67, 2005; John Hope Franklin, The Emancipation Proclamation, 1963; Guelzo, Allen C. Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America, 2004; Guelzo, Allen C. "How Abe Lincoln Lost the Black Vote: Lincoln and Emancipation in the African American Mind," Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association, 2004 25#1; Harold Holzer, Edna Greene Medford, and Frank J. Williams. The Emancipation Proclamation: Three Views, 2006; Howard Jones, Abraham Lincoln and a New Birth of Freedom: The Union and Slavery in the Diplomacy of the Civil War, 1999; Mitch Kachun, Festivals of Freedom: Memory and Meaning in African American Emancipation Celebrations, 1808-1915, 2003; McPherson, James M. Ordeal by Fire: the Civil War and Reconstruction, 2001, pp. 316-321; Nevins, Allan. Ordeal of the Union: vol 6. War Becomes Revolution, 1862-1863, 1960; C. Peter Ripley, Roy E. Finkenbine, Michael F. Hembree, Donald Yacovone, Witness for Freedom: African American Voices on Race, Slavery, and Emancipation, 1993; Silvana R. Siddali, From Property To Person: Slavery And The Confiscation Acts, 1861-1862, 2005; John Syrett. Civil War Confiscation Acts: Failing to Reconstruct the South, 2005; Michael Vorenberg, Final Freedom: The Civil War, the Abolition of Slavery, and the Thirteenth Amendment, 2001.


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Wednesday, December 19th 2007 at 5:56PM
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btw, lincoln was all for sending previously enslaved Afrikans "back where they came from". i gag thinking of all the classrooms with his picture up. he believed we were different, not even separate but equal. please PLEASE stop worshiping this character as some kind of emancipator.
Thursday, June 18th 2009 at 2:39PM
Grace Zaliki
That maybe be so but he was the one who had the courage to free our ancestors from that horrible, scary, demoralizing life as we all know it. Had he not introduced the" Emancipation Proclamation" who knows how more sinister this country could have become.
I really do thank Mr. President Lincoln for making that happen for our people. To me he is the greatest President we ever had in this country.
Sunday, August 26th 2012 at 3:00PM
Brenda Abdullah
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