January 1, 1863
The most important act of Abraham Lincoln’s presidency was his issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation. It consists of two executive orders issued September 22, 1862 that 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 and one issued January 1, 1863, named the specific states where it applied. Historian Seth Kaller notes that:
"The text reveals the major themes of the Civil War: the importance of slavery to the war effort on both sides; the courting of border states; Lincoln’s hopes that the rebellious states could somehow be convinced to reenter the Union; the role of black soldiers; Constitutional and popular constraints on emancipation; the place of African Americans in the United States, and America’s place in a worldwide movement toward the abolition of slavery. In sounding the death knell for slavery and the “Slave Power,” the president took a decisive stand on the most contentious issue in American history."As historian John Hope Franklin wrote, Lincoln’s Proclamation “was a step toward the extension of the ideal of equality about which Jefferson had written” in the Declaration of Independence. And in time, “the greatness of the document dawned upon the nation and the world. Gradually, it took its place with the great documents of human freedom.”
In addition to the moral impact of this “sincerely believed…act of justice,” the Proclamation aided the Union cause tangibly and decisively. Because it focused on territory still held by the Confederacy, only small numbers of slaves (compared to the total slave population) were immediately freed. However, the Proclamation deprived the South of essential labor by giving all slaves a reason to escape to Union lines. Failing that, it freed slaves immediately on the Union Army’s occupation of Confederate territory. The Proclamation also encouraged the enlistment of black soldiers, who made a crucial contribution to the Union war effort. Moreover, England and France, which had already abolished slavery, were constrained from supporting the Confederacy, even though doing so would have been in their own economic interests. Lincoln summed up the Proclamation’s importance in 1864: “no human power can subdue this rebellion without using the Emancipation lever as I have done.”
It is important to note that the orders were directed only to the states that seceded from the Union. Slave states that remained with the Union were not affected and slavery remained legal. It would not be until 1865 that the ratified 13th Amendment to the Constitution freed all slaves with this language: Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
Emancipation Proclamation Broadside signed by Abraham Lincoln
and William H. Seward. -- Courtesy of Stan Klos
and William H. Seward. -- Courtesy of Stan Klos
By the President of the United States of America
A ProclamationWhereas, 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 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.
- 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
- And I hereby enjoin upon the people so declared
to be free to abstain from all violence, unless in necessary self-defense; and
I recommend to them that, in all cases when allowed, they labor faithfully for
- 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
- 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.
By the President: ABRAHAM LINCOLN
WILLIAM H. SEWARD, Secretary of State.
Emancipation Proclamation Original Manuscript
Scope & Content President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, as the nation approached its third year of bloody civil war. The Proclamation declared "that all persons held as slaves" within the rebellious states "are, and henceforward shall be free." Despite that expansive wording, the Emancipation Proclamation was limited in many ways. It applied only to states that had seceded from the Union, leaving slavery untouched in the loyal border states. It also expressly exempted parts of the Confederacy that had already come under Northern control. Most important, the freedom it promised depended upon Union military victory. Although the Emancipation Proclamation did not immediately free a single slave, it fundamentally transformed the character of the war. 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. From the first days of the Civil War, slaves had acted to secure their own liberty. The Emancipation Proclamation confirmed their insistence that the war for the Union must become a war for freedom. It added moral force to the Union cause and strengthened the Union both militarily and politically. As a milestone along the road to slavery's final destruction, the Emancipation Proclamation has assumed a place among the great documents of human freedom.
General Note Exhibit History: "The Emancipation Proclamation," National Archives Rotunda, September 15, 1997, January 31-February 6, 1997, January 11-January 18, 1996, January 12-January 19, 1995, January 13-January 20, 1994, December 31, 1992-January 4, 1993. Museum of Our National Heritage, Lexington, MA, September 1983-April 1984. Nelson Gallery of Art, Kansas City, MO, May 14-May19, 1980. "The Written Word Endures," National Archives Circular Gallery, May 1976-August 1979. Lyndon Baines Johnson Library, Austin, TX, December 1972-May 1973. "Centennial Exhibition," National Archives, Washington, DC, 1963. American Stamp Dealers Association, National Postage Stamp Show, New York, NY, November 19-November 21, 1954. "Freedom Train," National Archives, 1950. "Freedom Train," (traveling), September 1947-January 1950.
Variant Control# NWDT1-11-PRDOC-PI159E23-PROC95
Emancipation Proclamation Draft
Courtesy of the N.Y State Library
Courtesy of the N.Y State Library