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The Emancipation Proclamation consists of two executive order issued by United States President Abraham Lincoln during the American Civil War. The first one, issued September 22, 1862, declared the freedom of all slaves in any state of the Confederate States of America that did not return to Union control by January 1, 1863. The second order, issued January 1, 1863, named ten specific states where it would apply. Lincoln issued the Executive Order by his authority as "Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy" under Article II, section 2 of the United States Constitution.

The Emancipation Proclamation was criticized at the time for freeing only the slaves over which the Union had no power. Although most slaves were not freed immediately, the Proclamation brought freedom to thousands of slaves the day it went into effect in parts of nine of the ten states to which it applied (Texas being the exception).

Additionally, the Proclamation provided the legal framework for the emancipation of nearly all four million slaves as the Union armies advanced, and committed the Union to ending slavery, which was a controversial decision even in the North.The proclamation did not name the border states of Kentuckymarker, Missourimarker, Marylandmarker, or Delawaremarker, which had never declared a secession, and so it did not free any slaves there. The state of Tennesseemarker had already mostly returned to Union control, so it also was not named and was exempted. Virginiamarker was named, but exemptions were specified for the 48 counties that were in the process of forming West Virginiamarker, as well as seven other named counties and two cities. Also specifically exempted were New Orleansmarker and thirteen named parishes of Louisianamarker, all of which were also already mostly under Federal control at the time of the Proclamation.

However, in other Union-occupied areas of Confederate states besides Tennessee, the Proclamation went into immediate effect and at least 20,000 slaves were freed at once on January 1, 1863.Hearing of the Proclamation, more slaves quickly escaped to Union lines as the Army units moved South. As the Union armies conquered the Confederacy, thousands of slaves were freed each day until nearly all (approximately 4 million, according to the 1860 census) were freed by July 1865.

Near the end of the war, abolitionists were concerned that while the Proclamation had freed most slaves as a war measure, it had not made slavery illegal. Several former slave states had already passed legislation prohibiting slavery; however, in a few states, slavery continued to be legal, and to exist, until December 18, 1865, when the Thirteenth Amendment was enacted.


The Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 required individuals to return runaway slaves to their owners. During the war, Union generals such as Benjamin Butler, declared that slaves in occupied areas were contraband of war and accordingly refused to return them. This decision was controversial because it implied recognition of the Confederacy as a separate nation under international law, a notion that Lincoln steadfastly denied. As a result, he did not promote the contraband designation. Some generals also declared the slaves under their jurisdiction to be free and were replaced when they refused to rescind such declarations.

The Republicans moved gradually toward ending slavery. On March 13, 1862, Lincoln forbade 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. Slaves in the District of Columbia were freed on April 16, 1862 and their owners were compensated. On June 19, 1862, Congress prohibited slavery in United States territories. By this act, they opposed the 1857 ruling of the Supreme Court of the United Statesmarker in the Dred Scott Case that Congress was powerless to regulate slavery in U.S. territories.

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

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 William W. Patton met the President at the White Housemarker on September 13. Lincoln had declared in peacetime that he had no constitutional authority to free the slaves. Even used as a war power, 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. Delaware and Maryland already had a high percentage of free blacks: 91.2% and 49.7%, respectively, in 1860.

Lincoln first discussed the proclamation with his cabinet in July 1862. He believed he needed a Union victory on the battlefield so his decision would appear positive and strong. The Battle of Antietammarker, in which Union troops turned back a Confederate invasion of Maryland, gave him the opportunity to issue a preliminary proclamation on September 22, 1862. Lincoln had first shown an early draft of the proclamation to his Vice president Hannibal Hamlin, an ardent abolitionist, who was more often kept in the dark on presidential decisions. The final proclamation was issued January 1, 1863. 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.

Initially, the Emancipation Proclamation effectively freed only a small percentage of the slaves, those who were behind Union lines in areas not exempted. Most slaves were still behind Confederate lines or in exempted Union-occupied areas. Secretary of State William H. Seward commented, "We show our sympathy with slavery by emancipating slaves where we cannot reach them and holding them in bondage where we can set them free." Had any slave state ended its secession attempt before January 1, 1863, it could have kept slavery, at least temporarily. The Proclamation only gave Lincoln the legal basis to free the slaves in the areas of the South that were still in rebellion. However, it also took effect as the Union armies advanced into the Confederacy.

The Emancipation Proclamation also allowed for the enrollment of freed slaves into the United States military. During the war nearly 200,000 blacks, most of them ex-slaves, joined the Union Army. Their contributions gave the North additional manpower that was significant in winning the war. The Confederacy did not allow slaves in their army as soldiers until the final months before its defeat.

Though the counties of Virginia that were soon to form West Virginiamarker were specifically exempted from the Proclamation (Jefferson County being the only exception), a condition of the state's admittance to the Union was that its constitution provide for the gradual abolition of slavery. Slaves in the border states of Marylandmarker and Missourimarker were also emancipated by separate state action before the Civil War ended. In Maryland, a new state constitution abolishing slavery in the state went into effect on November 1, 1864. In early 1865, Tennessee adopted an amendment to its constitution prohibiting slavery. Slaves in Kentuckymarker and Delawaremarker were not emancipated until the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified.


Areas covered by the Emancipation Proclamation are in red.
Slave holding areas not covered are in blue.
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 in all areas of the Confederacy that had not already returned to federal control by January 1863. The ten affected states were individually named in the second part (South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina). Not included were the Union slave states of Marylandmarker, Delawaremarker, Missourimarker and Kentuckymarker. Also not named was the state of Tennesseemarker, which was at the time more or less evenly split between Union and Confederacy. Specific exemptions were stated for areas also under Union control on January 1, 1863, namely 48 counties that would soon become West Virginiamarker, seven other named counties of Virginiamarker including Berkeley and Hampshire counties which were soon added to West Virginia, New Orleansmarker and 13 named parishes nearby.

Union-occupied areas of the Confederate states where the proclamation was put into immediate effect by local commanders included Winchester, Virginia, Corinth, Mississippi , the Sea Islands along the coasts of the Carolinas and Georgia, Key West, Florida , and Port Royal, South Carolina.

Immediate impact

It is common to encounter the claim that the Emancipation Proclamation did not immediately free a single slave. This statement may be found at such government and media websites as a National Park Service page, and a user-generated wiki run by the BBC. However, the claim directly conflicts with multiple eyewitness accounts of celebrations where thousands of blacks were informed of their new legal status of freedom, for example at Hilton Head, South Carolina and Port Royal, South Carolina.

Estimates of the number of slaves freed immediately by the Emancipation Proclamation are uncertain. But "a contemporary estimate put the 'contraband' population of Union-occupied North Carolina at 10,000, and the Sea Islands of South Carolina also had a substantial population. It seems likely therefore that at least 20,000 slaves were freed immediately by the Emancipation Proclamation."This Union-occupied zone where freedom began at once included "areas in eastern North Carolina, the Mississippi Valley . . . the Tennessee Valley of northern Alabama, the Shenandoah Valley, a large region of Arkansas, and the Sea Islands of Georgia and South Carolina" Although some counties of Union-occupied Virginia were exempted from the Proclamation, "the lower Shenandoah Valley, and the area around Alexandria" were not.

Booker T. Washington, as a boy of 9 in Virginia, remembered the day in early 1865:

The Emancipation took place without violence by masters or ex-slaves. The proclamation represented a shift in the war objectives of the North‚ÄĒreuniting the nation was no longer the only goal. It represented a major step toward the ultimate abolition of slavery in the United States and a "new birth of freedom".

Runaway slaves who had escaped to Union lines had previously been held by the Union Army as "contraband of war" under the Confiscation Acts; when the proclamation took effect, they were told at midnight that they were free to leave. The Sea Islands off the coast of Georgiamarker were occupied by the Union Navy earlier in the war. The whites had fled to the mainland while the blacks stayed. An early program of Reconstruction was set up for the former slaves, including schools and training. Naval officers read the proclamation and told them they were free.

In the military, reaction to the proclamation varied widely, with some units nearly ready to mutiny in protest. Some desertions were attributed to it. Other units were inspired by the adoption of a cause that ennobled their efforts, such that at least one unit took up the motto "For Union and Liberty".

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 fortifications; 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 thousands to escape to Union lines.

Political impact

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 the governorship of New Yorkmarker. Many War Democrats who had supported Lincoln's goal of saving the Union, balked at supporting emancipation.Lincoln's Gettysburg Address in November 1863 made indirect reference to the Proclamation and the ending of slavery as a war goal with the phrase "new birth of freedom". The Proclamation solidified Lincoln's support among the rapidly growing abolitionist element of the Republican Party and ensured they would not block his re-nomination in 1864.

International impact

As Lincoln had hoped, the Proclamation turned foreign popular opinion in favor of the Union by adding the ending of slavery as a goal of the war. That shift ended the Confederacy's hopes of gaining official recognition, particularly from the United Kingdommarker, which had abolished slavery. Prior to Lincoln's decree, Britain's actions had favored the Confederacy, especially in its provision of British-built warships such as the CSS Alabamamarker and CSS Florida. Furthermore, the North's determination to win at all costs was creating problems diplomatically; the Trent Affair particularly had caused severe tensions between the Union and Great Britain. For the Confederacy to receive official recognition by foreign powers would have been a further blow to the North's diplomatic standing.

With the war now cast in terms of freedom against slavery, British or Frenchmarker support for the Confederacy would have been seen as tantamount to supporting slavery, which both of these nations had abolished. As Henry Adams noted, "The Emancipation Proclamation has done more for us than all our former victories and all our diplomacy." Giuseppe Garibaldi hailed Lincoln as "the heir of the aspirations of John Brown". Alan Van Dyke, a representative for workers from Manchestermarker, England, wrote to Lincoln saying, "We joyfully honor you for many decisive steps toward practically exemplifying your belief in the words of your great founders: 'All men are created free and equal.'" The Emancipation Proclamation served to ease tensions with Europe over the North's conduct of the war, and combined with the recent failed Southern offensive at Antietammarker to cut off any practical chance for the Confederacy to receive international support in the war.


Near the end of the war, abolitionists were concerned that the Emancipation Proclamation would be construed solely as a war act and no longer apply once fighting ended. They were also increasingly anxious to secure the freedom of all slaves, not just those freed by the Emancipation Proclamation. Thus 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 abolishing slavery took effect in November 1864. Slavery in Missouri was ended by executive proclamation of its governor, Thomas C. Fletcher, on January 11, 1865.

Winning re-election, Lincoln pressed the lame duck 38th Congress to pass the proposed amendment immediately rather than wait for the incoming 39th Congress to convene. In January 1865, Congress sent to the state legislatures for ratification what became the Thirteenth Amendment, banning slavery in all U.S. states and territories. The amendment was ratified by the legislatures of enough states by December 6, 1865 and proclaimed 12 days later. There were about 40,000 slaves in Kentucky and 1,000 in Delaware who were liberated then.

In the years after Lincoln's death, his action in the proclamation was lauded. The anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation was celebrated as a black holiday for more than 50 years; the holiday of Juneteenth was created in some states to honor it. In 1913, the fiftieth 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, described the proclamation as essentially worthless. Perhaps the strongest attack was Lerone Bennett's Forced into Glory: Abraham Lincoln's White Dream (2000), which claimed that Lincoln was a white supremacist who issued the Emancipation Proclamation in lieu of the real racial reforms for which radical abolitionists pushed.

In his Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, Allen C. Guelzo noted the professional historians' lack of substantial respect for the document, since it has been the subject of few major scholarly studies. He argued that Lincoln was America's "last Enlightenment politician" and as such was dedicated to removing slavery strictly within the bounds of law.

Other historians have given more credit to Lincoln for what he accomplished within the tensions of his cabinet and a society at war, for his own growth in political and moral stature, and for the promise he held out to the slaves. More might have been accomplished if he had not been assassinated. As Eric Foner wrote:
Lincoln was not an abolitionist or Radical Republican, a point Bennett reiterates innumerable times.
He did not favor immediate abolition before the war, and held racist views typical of his time.
But he was also a man of deep convictions when it came to slavery, and during the Civil War displayed a remarkable capacity for moral and political growth.

See also


  1. Crowther p. 651
  2. William C. Harris, "After the Emancipation Proclamation: Lincoln's Role in the Ending of Slavery", North & South vol. 5 no. 1 (December 2001), map on p. 49
  3. 1860 Census, Son of the South
  4. Original Text
  5. Guelzo, Allen C. Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, 2004, pg. 18
  6. Peter Kolchin, American Slavery: 1619-1877, New York: Hill and Wang, 1994, p.82
  7. Bangor In Focus: Hannibal Hamlin
  8. Freedmen and Southern Society Project: Chronology of Emancipation
  9. TSLA::This Honorable Body: African American Legislators in 19th Century Tennessee
  10. Richard Duncan, Beleaguered Winchester: A Virginia Community at War (Baton Rouge, LA: LSU Press, 2007), pp. 139-40
  11. Ira Berlin et al., eds, Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation 1861-1867, Vol. 1: The Destruction of Slavery (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1985), p. 260
  12. William Klingaman, Abraham Lincoln and the Road to Emancipation, 1861-1865 (NY: Viking Press, 2001), p. 234
  13. "Important From Key West", New York Times February 4, 1863, p. 1
  14. "Interesting from Port Royal", New York Times January 9, 1863, p. 2
  15. Freedom at Antietam - The Emancipation Proclamation
  16. The Life of Abraham Lincoln - 16th President of the United States
  17. "News from South Carolina: Negro Jubilee at Hilton Head", New York Herald, January 7, 1863, p.5
  18. Keith Poulter, "Slaves Immediately Freed by the Emancipation Proclamation" North & South vol. 5 no. 1 (December 2001), p. 48
  19. Harris, "After the Emancipation Proclamation", p. 45
  20. [Up from Slavery (1901) pp19-21]
  21. Allan Nevins, Ordeal of the Union: vol 6. War Becomes Revolution, 1862-1863 (1960)
  22. Guelzo, p. 244.
  23. Guelzo, p. 3.
  24. Doris Kearns Goodwin, A Team of Rivals, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005


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