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Although it did not actually free a single slave, the Emancipation Proclamation did strengthen the North's war effort and weakened the South's by making slavery one of the principal issues of the Civil War.
In his First Inaugural Address, President Abraham Lincoln had stressed his Constitutional obligation to maintain and defend the Union, not to suppress slavery. And, throughout the first years of the Civil War, he had continued to emphasize the absolute necessity of preserving the Union. The key political issue was not so much slavery itself, but the question of extending slavery into the western territories.
Lincoln was firmly against slavery, but in his First Inaugural he had tried mightily to give the South no provocation. But as the war turned into a conflict of frightening proportions, and the cost in life and property mounted, the chief political reason for not proclaiming emancipation vanished. Lincoln had doubts about the power of the President to abolish slavery, but after Congress abolished slavery in the District of Columbia in the spring of 1862, he was encouraged to begin drafting his Emancipation Proclamation. Then, in July 1862, Congress passed a law freeing all Confederate slaves who came into Union lines. But Lincoln waited for a Union military victory before publicly changing his stand on slavery, so that his decision would not appear to be a desperate act.
On September 22, 1862, five days after Union forces won the Battle of Antietam, Lincoln issued a Prelimary Emancipation Proclamation. It stated that if the rebelling states did not return to the Union by January 1, 1863, he would declare their slaves to be "forever free."
Lincoln reading the Preliminary Emancipation
Proclamation to his Cabinet.
The South rejected Lincoln's declaration, so he officially issued the Emancipation Proclamation on the appointed day.
Text of the Emancipation Proclamation
Whereas, on the twenty-second day of September, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-two, a proclamation was issued by the President of the United States, containing, among other things, the following, to wit:
That on the first day of January, in 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; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.
That the Executive will, on the first day of January aforesaid, by proclamation, designate the States and parts of States, if any, in which the people thereof respectively shall then be in rebellion against the United States; and the fact that any State, or the people thereof, shall on that day be in good faith represented in the Congress of the United States by members chosen thereto at elections wherein a majority of the qualified voters of such State shall have participated, shall in the absence of strong countervailing testimony be deemed conclusive evidence that such State and the people thereof are not then in rebellion against the United States.
Now, therefore, I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, by virtue of the power in me vested as Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, in time of actual armed rebellion against the authority and government of the United States, and as a fit and necessary war measure for suppressing said rebellion, do on this first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and in accordance with my purpose so to do, publicly proclaimed for the full period of 100 days from the day first above mentioned, order and designate as the States and parts of States wherein the people thereof, respectively, are this day in rebellion against the United States, the following, to wit:
Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana (except the parishes of St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Jefferson, St. John, St. Charles, St. James, Ascension, Assumption, Terre Bonne, Lafourche, St. Mary, St. Martin, and Orleans, including the city of New Orleans), Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia (except the forty-eight counties designated as West Virginia, and also the counties of Berkeley, Accomac, Northampton, Elizabeth City, York, Princess Anne, and Norfolk, including the cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth), and which excepted parts are for the present left precisely as if this proclamation were not issued.
And by virtue of the power and for the purpose aforesaid, I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States and parts of States are, and henceforward shall be, free; and that the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, shall recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons.
And I hereby enjoin upon the people so declared to be free to abstain from all violence, unless in necessary self-defense; and I recommend to them that, in all cases where allowed, they labor faithfully for reasonable wages.
And I further delcare and make known that such persons of suitable condition will be received into the armed service of the United States to garrison forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service.
And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind and the gracious favor of Almighty God.
In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the city of Washington, the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the independence of the United States of America the eighty-seventh.
By the President: Abraham Lincoln
Effects of the Proclamation
The Emancipation Proclamation did not actually free a single slave, because it affected only areas under Confederate control at the time of its issuing. It excluded slaves in the border states and in such Southern areas under Union control as Tennessee and parts of Louisiana and Virginia. But it did lead to the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. This amendment, which became law of December 18, 1865, ended slavery in all parts of the United States.
The Emancipation Proclamation did, however, strengthen the North's war effort and weakened the South's. By the end of the war, more than 500,000 slaves had fled to freedom behind Northern lines. Many of them joined the Union Army or Navy or worked for the armed forces as laborers. By allowing former slaves to serve in the Army and Navy, the Emancipation Proclamation helped solve the North's problem of declining enlistments.
The proclamation also hurt the South by discouraging England and France from entering the war. Both those nations depended on the South for cotton, and the Confederacy hoped they would fight on its side. But the proclamation made the war a fight against slavery. And, since most English and French citizens opposed slavery, they supported the Union rather than the Confederacy.
Vincent Wilson, Jr. The Book of Great American Documents. Silver Spring, MD: American History Research Associates, 1967
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This page was last updated on September 22, 2018.