Thursday, September 22, 2011

Emancipation Proclamation

The Emancipation Proclamation was an executive order passed on January 1, 1863, freeing all slaves in Confederate states that had seceded from the Union and allowing them to join the Union army.
Copy of the Emancipation Proclamation

The proclamation was a military measure designed to weaken the Confederate army and raise morale in the Union. Abraham Lincoln hoped these freed slaves would abandon the plantations they worked on, which would further weaken the southern economy, and join the Union army.

Only about 50,000 slaves were immediately freed after passing the proclamation because it only applied to Union-occupied areas of the 10 states named in the document. These states included Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia. As the Union army advanced and conquered more territory in these states, more slaves were freed.

Lincoln's secretary of state, William Seward, declared that by passing the proclamation "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."

Lincoln was aware the freeing the slaves in some states while keeping slaves in other states in chains went against this general idea of freedom but he feared freeing slaves in Confederate states still loyal to the Union would anger these states and prompt them to secede as well.

First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation
Feeling that he needed a major military victory to win support for the proclamation, Lincoln waited to announce the proclamation until after the Union army won the Battle of Antietam in September of 1862. When Colonel Robert E. Lee and the Confederate army retreated from Antietam, Maryland after a devastating defeat, Lincoln decided it was time and announced the forthcoming proclamation a few days later.

The Emancipation Proclamation changed the reasoning behind the war. Although slavery was one of many causes of the Civil War, ending slavery was not the original objective of the war. Preserving the Union and preventing Confederate states from seceding was the main goal of the Civil War. When lawmakers passed the proclamation, it changed everything. Suddenly, the war became a fight for justice and winning it meant freedom for thousands of slaves. This not only raised morale in the Union and strengthened the army, but it also prevented England and France (two anti-slavery countries) from giving military aid to the south.

Ultimately, the Emancipation Proclamation paved the way for the 13th amendment which freed all slaves in the United States and abolished slavery forever.


Our Documents: Emancipation Proclamation

PBS: Emancipation Proclamation

National Archives: Emancipation Proclamation

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