Emancipation Proclamation

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Editor: Rebecca Parks
Date: 2013
American Eras: Primary Sources
From: American Eras: Primary Sources(Vol. 2: Civil War and Reconstruction, 1860-1877. )
Publisher: Gale, a Cengage Company
Document Type: Excerpt; Law overview; Government document
Pages: 4
Content Level: (Level 5)
Lexile Measure: 1560L

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Emancipation Proclamation

Political document

By: Abraham Lincoln

Date: January 1, 1863

Source: Lincoln, Abraham. “Emancipation Proclamation.” January 1, 1863. Available online at avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/emancipa.asp ; website home page: http://www.avalon.law.yale.edu (accessed on July 31, 2012).

About the Author: Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865) was born in a log cabin in Kentucky. He grew up on the frontier, and was always trying to learn, even as he worked splitting rails, tending store, and doing other jobs. He served in the Black Hawk War but saw no combat. Lincoln was a lawyer, a member of the Illinois State Legislature, and a one-term member of the federal House of Representatives. In 1858, he ran for the U.S. Senate against Stephen A. Douglas but lost. However, the race catapulted Lincoln into the national spotlight. In 1860, he won the presidential nomination of the Republican Party, and that November was elected the sixteenth president of the United States. He was reelected in 1864. His presidential tenure was dominated by the Civil War. On April 14, 1865, with the war winding down and the Union victorious, Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth.


Abraham Lincoln had long had an aversion to the institution of slavery, and had been elected as the first avowed antislavery president. Contrary to Southern fears, however, Lincoln did not feel that the federal government had constitutional standing to abolish slavery outright, although he opposed the expansion of slavery into the western territories. In fact, Lincoln had taken a conciliatory stance with slaveholding states after his election by promising to enforce the controversial Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which had expanded the rights of slaveholders to pursue slaves who had escaped to the North.

Lincoln hoped, instead, to eliminate slavery by offering federal bonds to slave state legislatures as a way of prompting them to voluntarily emancipate their slaves. The complexion of emancipation changed, however, with the secession of seven Southern states in the spring of 1861. Antislavery advocates urged the president to use his war powers to emancipate the Confederacy's slaves, but he feared alienating the four Page 193  |  Top of Articleslave states still loyal to the Union (Delaware, Missouri, Kentucky, and Maryland).

By the summer of 1862, the Civil War that many thought would be over quickly had settled into a protracted struggle between North and South, in which military success continued to elude Union Army forces. In the biggest failure, Union general George McClellan's large Army of the Potomac, which was targeting the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia, had ground to a halt. There were rumors that European nations such as France and Great Britain were about to recognize the Confederacy.

As he juggled these concerns, President Abraham Lincoln was also realizing that the Union's conduct of the war had to change. The South had to feel the pain of war. One way to do this was to seize Southern property, especially slaves, who enabled Southerners to go off and fight while they continued to work at home. Lincoln issued the Confiscation Acts of 1861 and 1862, declaring that any property, including slaves, used in the Confederate war effort would be the property of the federal government upon seizure. The acts were mostly for political effect, and very few slaves were freed as a result.

In July 1862, Lincoln told his cabinet members of his intention to issue what became known as the Emancipation Proclamation. The proclamation was not all that radical since it did not abolish slavery as an institution. Instead, the Emancipation Proclamation freed only the slaves being held in the rebellious slave states. Those slaves still toiling in the loyal slave states would remain slaves, as would those slaves held in federally-controlled areas of the South. Lincoln shied away from full emancipation out of concern that the proclamation would face legal challenges if he attempted a more radical approach.

Lincoln was advised to wait until a military victory so that the proclamation would not seem desperate. The Union's win at Antietam in Maryland on September 17, 1862, gave him that victory. On September 22, he issued a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. It stated that on January 1, 1863, slaves in all states that were not part of the United States of America by that date would be free. As Lincoln had promised, the Emancipation Proclamation became law on January 1.


Although initially the value of the Emancipation Proclamation was unclear and even considered a mistake by some, it ultimately turned out to be extremely important. Before the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln had been heavily criticized, especially by those in his own Republican Party, for moving too slowly on the slavery issue. The document silenced those critics and unified the party. It officially sanctioned the enlistment of black soldiers and sailors, a large pool of manpower heretofore unused that could conceivably tip the war in favor of the North.

In addition, the proclamation destroyed the great Confederate hope of recognition by European nations such as Great Britain and France, and possible entry into the war by those countries on behalf of the South. Antislavery sentiment swelled in both countries, ending any possibility that the governments there would recognize the Confederacy. The proclamation galvanized people throughout the world to the Northern cause because they considered the proclamation a great humanitarian document and the Union as fighting for the rights of the enslaved against their oppressors.

In the United States, the document had the effect as a wartime measure that Lincoln had hoped. Slaves began leaving farm fields, factories, and anywhere else they toiled, and headed for Northern states and armies. Many of the slaves who remained working reduced their efforts or became difficult, causing alarm and confusion throughout the South. The document invited slaves to help the Union win the war, and they began doing just that. The war had become not only a struggle to preserve the Union, but a revolution to destroy the old order and replace it with a new one.

In 1864, Lincoln urged Congress to complete the work of the Emancipation Proclamation by passing an amendment to the Constitution that would abolish slavery. Though Lincoln himself would not live to see its passing, the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified on December 18, 1865.



SYNOPSIS: A fairly brief document, the proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln frees all slaves in states not part of the United States of America, and it enjoins slaves to help fight for the North.

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 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; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and

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Thomas Nasts illustration is a celebration of the emancipation of Southern slaves with the end of the Civil War. Nast envisions a somewhat optimistic future for free blacks in the United States. Thomas Nast's illustration is a celebration of the emancipation of Southern slaves with the end of the Civil War. Nast envisions a somewhat optimistic future for free blacks in the United States. LIBRARY OF CONGRESS PRINTS AND PHOTOGRAPHS DIVISION, WASHINGTON, D.C. [LC-DIG-PGA-03898]

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 one hundred 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, Terrebonne, 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 Berkley, Accomac, Northampton, Elizabeth City, York, Princess Ann, 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.

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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, will 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-defence; and I recommend to them that, in all cases when allowed, they labor faithfully for reasonable wages.

And I further declare 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, this 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.



Donald, David Herbert. Lincoln. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995.

Foote, Shelby. The Civil War: A Narrative, Fort Sumter to Perryville. New York: Vintage Books, 1986.

Franklin, John Hope, and Alfred A. Moss, Jr. From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994.

Kaplan, Fred. Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer. New York: HarperCollins, 2008.

McPherson, James M. Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.


“Abraham Lincoln: Biography.” Biography.com . http://www.biography.com/people/abraham-lincoln-9382540 (accessed on July 27, 2012).

“Emancipation Proclamation.” Mr. Lincoln and Freedom. http://www.mrlincolnandfreedom.org/inside.asp?ID=39&subjectID=3 (accessed on July 27, 2012).

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX2737100073