The Emancipation Prodamation
On August 22, 1862, just one month before Abraham
Lincoln issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, he wrote a
letter to Horace Greeley, abolitionist editor of the New York Tribune.
The letter read in part:
I would save the Union. I would save it the
shortest way under the Constitution. The sooner the National authority
can be restored, the nearer the Union will be "the Union as it was." If
there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the
same time save Slavery, I do not agree with them. If there
be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time
destroy Slavery, I do not agree with them. My paramount object in
this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to
save or destroy Slavery. . . . I have here stated my purpose
according to my view of official duty, and I intend no modification of
my oft-expressed personal wish that all men everywhere could be free. . . .
For some months before the Battle of Antietam, as his
letter to Greeley indicates, Lincoln had been wrestling with the problem
of slavery and its connection with the war. He became convinced that a
new spiritual and moral forceemancipation of the
slavesmust be injected into the Union cause, else the
travail of war might dampen the fighting spirit of the North. If this
loss of vitality should come to pass, the paramount political objective
of restoring the Union might never be attained.
Another compelling factor in Lincoln's thinking was
the need to veer European opinion away from its sympathy for the South.
A war to free the slaves would enlist the support of Europe in a way
that a war for purely political objectives could not.
Thus, slowly and with much soul searching, Lincoln's
official view of his duty came to correspond with his personal wish for
human freedom. The outcome of these deliberations was the Emancipation
The Federal victory at Antietam gave Lincoln the
opportunity to issue the proclamationa dramatic step toward
eliminating slavery in the United States.
By this act, Lincoln stretched the Constitution to
the limit of its meaning. His interpretation of presidential war powers
was revolutionary. It would become a precedent for other Presidents who
would similarly find constitutional authority for emergency action in
time of war.
More important, the proclamation was to inaugurate a
revolution in human relationships. Although Congress had previously
enacted laws concerning the slaves that went substantially as far as the
Emancipation Proclamation, the laws had lacked the dramatic and symbolic
import of Lincoln's words. Dating from the proclamation the war became a
crusade and the vital force of abolition sentiment was captured for the
Union cause, both at home and abroadespecially in England.
The immediate practical effects of the Emancipation
Proclamation were negligible, applying as it did only to those
areas "in rebellion" where it could not be enforced. But its message
became a symbol and a goal which opened the way for universal
emancipation in the future. Thus the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and
Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution are direct progeny of
First page of Lincoln's handwritten draft of the formal
Courtesy, Library of Congress.
Any document with the long-term importance of the
Emancipation Proclamation deserves to be read by those who experience
its effects. Following is the text of the formal Emancipation Proclamation,
issued on January 1, 1863:
BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF
WHEREAS on the 22d day of September, A.D. 1862,
a proclamation was issued by the President of the United States,
containing, among other things, the following, to wit:
"That on the 1st day of January, A.D. 1863,
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 for ever free; and the
executive government of the United Stares, 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 1st 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 States 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
1st day of January, A.D. 1863, and in accordance with my purpose so to
do, publicly proclaimed for the full period of one hundred days from the
first day 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, Paquemines, 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 Berkeley, Accomac, Northhampton, Elizabeth City, York,
Princess Anne, 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 persons.
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 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 judgement of mankind and the gracious favor of Almighty