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Determining the Facts

Reading 3: The Emancipation Proclamation

On September 22, 1862, while living at the Soldiers’ Home, President Lincoln issued the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, which announced his intention to free the slaves in Confederate states. Lincoln was working on the Emancipation Proclamation during his first summer at the Soldiers’ Home. The cottage offered Lincoln a place to reflect and think through his ideas on emancipation. He also had the opportunity to discuss ideas with visitors and guests to the Soldiers’ Home.

Lincoln noted that, “I put the draft of the Proclamation aside, waiting for a victory. Well the next news we had was of Pope’s disaster at Bull Run. Things looked darker than ever. Finally came the week of the Battle of Antietam. I determined to wait no longer. The news came, I think, on Wednesday that the advantage was on our side. I was then staying at the Soldiers’ Home. Here I finished writing the second draft of the Proclamation; came up on Saturday, called the cabinet together to hear it, and it was published the following Monday. I made a solemn vow before God that if General Lee was driven back from Maryland I would crown the result by the declaration for freedom to the slaves.”¹

Excerpts from the final Emancipation Proclamation, issued January 1, 1863:


By the President of the United States of America:

A Proclamation.

…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...

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 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 judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God...
By the President: ABRAHAM LINCOLN

¹Paul R. Goode, The United States Soldiers’ Home (Richmond, Virginia, 1957), 68, as quoted in the “U.S. Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home” (Washington, DC) National Register of Historic Places Inventory—Nomination Form (Washington, DC: Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1973).

Questions for Reading 3

1. According to President Lincoln, what gave him the authority to make this proclamation?

2. What did President Lincoln say that “the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof” will do to aid, “persons so declared free”?

3. What did President Lincoln ask the freed slaves to do? What did he tell them not to do?

4. In what region do the persons declared, “thenceforward, and forever free” live? Why do you think some states were not included in the proclamation? Do you think many of those enslaved were likely to have gained their freedom as a result of this proclamation? Why or why not?

5. Why do you think the Emancipation Proclamation is considered such an important document?

You can read the entire Emancipation Proclamation on the website of the National Archives and Records Administration.

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