What is the Emancipation Proclamation?

The Emancipation Proclamation is one of the most important documents in the history of the United States and was a step in freeing slaves during the Civil War. The following is a more in-depth look at the Emancipation Proclamation and the background of it.

What is the Emancipation Proclamation?

The Emancipation Proclamation was comprised of two executive orders issued by Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. The first one was issued on September 22, 1862. This order declared that all slaves in any state in the Confederacy would be granted freedom if that state did not join the Union. Because no state took Lincoln up on this offer, a second order was issued. This one stated that all slaves, regardless of whether or not they were in the Confederate states, would be issued freedom. At the time, the Emancipation Proclamation came under attack as it freed slaves in the states that the Union had no power over yet.

The Emancipation Proclamation did not immediately free very many of the slaves. In fact, it did not free any of the slaves in the border states, which consisted of Kentucky, Missouri, Maryland, Delaware, and West Virginia, nor did it free any slaves in Southern States that were already under the control in the Union. Initially, it freed slaves who had already escaped to free states. Slavery as a whole, however, was not completely eradicated until the Thirteenth Amendment of the Constitution went into effect in 1865.

The Emancipation Proclamation did, however, allow freed slaves to join the Union Army. About 200,000 slaves enlisted, and their added man power helped the Union cause greatly in fighting against the Confederacy. In addition, the Emancipation Proclamation helped to establish the Union’s position on slavery, as the freeing of slaves was not a main goal of the war initially.

Background of the Emancipation Proclamation

The idea of gradually freeing slaves was introduced by Abraham Lincoln as early as 1849. He proposed the idea to legislators early in his presidency. He did not receive much support for it, however, even though he offered to compensate slave owners in return for giving up their slaves.

About six months before the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect, Lincoln had also forbade all Union officers from returning escaped slaves to their masters or to the southern states, allowing them freedom and sanctuary in the North.

Abolitionists had also been pressuring President Lincoln for a long time to call an order to free slaves. Lincoln discussed passing the Emancipation Proclamation with his cabinet. This was a risky political move for a number of reasons. First of all, the public as a whole was opposed to freeing slaves. It also risked the relationship the Union had with its loyal border states, who would not be pleased with the decision. The President and his Cabinet in turn decided that the Union Army needed a major victory in battle first before passing the proclamation. Otherwise, they decided, it would look like an act of desperation on their part. The Battle of Antietam, which occurred when the Union successfully pushed back a Confederate invasion of Maryland, gave them the victory needed. The final Emancipation Proclamation was issued about 100 days later, in January.

The issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation was an important step in the history of our country.


Cite This Page

Feldman, Barbara. "What is the Emancipation Proclamation?." Surfnetkids. Feldman Publishing. 2 Jan. 2009. Web. 26 Oct. 2014. <http://www.surfnetkids.com/go/84/what-is-the-emancipation-proclamation/ >.

Learn more with these Abraham Lincoln websites.



Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln
by James Russell Lowell
(Kindle Edition)
A. Lincoln: A Biography
A. Lincoln: A Biography
by Ronald C. White Jr.
(Paperback)
- Usually ships in 24 hours
Price: $10.01

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln
Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln
by Doris Kearns Goodwin
(Paperback)
- Usually ships in 24 hours
Price: $6.45