The Emancipation Proclamation was issued by the President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. The Emancipation Proclamation was declared on January 1, 1863 and stated that unless the Confederate states agreed to join the Union, their slaves would be freed. In short, the Emancipation Proclamation was the beginning of a long battle to abolish slavery.
History of the Emancipation Proclamation
The history of the events that were unfolding in the nation is an important backdrop to the Emancipation Proclamation. In 1863 states were entering the third year of a bloody civil war.
Government leaders of the union were looking to find a way to weaken the forces of the rebellious states. Prior to the issue of the Emancipation Proclamation a warning was given to the rebellious states. In September of 1862, after the Union’s victory at Antietam, Lincoln issued a preliminary decree stating that unless the rebellious states returned to the Union by January 1, freedom would be granted to slaves within those states. These warnings basically said that unless they would cease rebellion and agree to join as a union, their slaves would be freed.
The warning was issued after the battle of Antietam because of the hard hit that the rebellious states took after sorely losing this battle. The Union leaders felt that the rebellious states were in a particularly vulnerable position at this time and that the moment was opportune to ask them to surrender and come back to the Union.
Of course history tells us that the rebellious states did not give in, and on January 1, 1863 it was declared through the Emancipation Proclamation “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free.”
Although the Emancipation Proclamation did not immediately free a single slave, it fundamentally transformed the character of the war. The war became more than just a fight to preserve the Union. For those who had been enslaved all of their lives, it became a battle for absolute freedom. After January 1, 1863, every advance of federal troops expanded the domain of freedom. Moreover, the Proclamation announced the acceptance of black men into the Union Army and Navy, enabling the liberated to become liberators. By the end of the war, almost 200,000 black soldiers and sailors had fought for the Union and freedom.
Historians say that the whole reason for issuing the Emancipation Proclamation was not necessarily to take a step towards freeing the slaves. Rather it was a strategic plan to weaken the forces of the rebellious states. The Union knew that if they could rob the states of their slaves and use them in the Union armies they would become a much stronger force. Remember, the Emancipation Proclamation applied only to those slaves that belonged to statesman who were not part of the Union.
Why is it important?
The Emancipation Proclamation was the document that tied the slavery issue to the civil war. After the Emancipation Proclamation the issue of slavery took on an entirely new light. You could say that it was the catalyst to the anti-slavery movement. Former slaves who fought in the Union armies for their country struggled with the issue of still being treated as inferiors even after proving their valiancy and devotion to the country that still did not even recognize the African American people as a whole person (remember that as far as voting right were concerned a slave only accounted for 1/3 of a person). The Emancipation Proclamation was the beginning of a slave free nation.
The original copy of the Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863, is in the National Archives in Washington, DC.
Learn more with these Civil War websites.