Emancipation Proclamation

Emancipation Proclamation, in U.S. history, the executive order abolishing slavery in the Confederate States of America.

Desire for Such a Proclamation

In the early part of the Civil War, President Lincoln refrained from issuing an edict freeing the slaves despite the insistent urgings of abolitionists. Believing that the war was being fought solely to preserve the Union, he sought to avoid alienating the slaveholding border states that had remained in the Union. "If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could do it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that." He wrote these words to Horace Greeley on Aug. 22, 1862, in answer to criticism from that administration gadfly; he had, however, long since decided, after much reflection, to adopt the third course.

Lincoln kept the plan to himself until July 13, 1862, when, according to the cabinet diarist Gideon Welles, he first mentioned it to Welles and Secretary of State William H. Seward. On July 22 he read a preliminary draft to the cabinet and acquiesced in Seward's suggestion to wait until after a Union victory before issuing the proclamation. The Antietam campaign presented that opportunity, and on Sept. 22, 1862, after reading a second draft to the cabinet, he issued a preliminary proclamation that announced that emancipation would become effective on Jan. 1, 1863, in those states "in rebellion" that had not meanwhile laid down their arms.

The Proclamation

On Jan. 1, 1863, the formal and definite Emancipation Proclamation was issued. The President, by virtue of his powers as commander in chief, declared free all those slaves residing in territory in rebellion against the federal government "as a fit and necessary war measure for suppressing said rebellion." Congress, in effect, had done as much in its confiscation acts of Aug., 1861, and July, 1862, but its legislation did not have the popular appeal of the Emancipation Proclamation—despite the great limitations of the proclamation, which did not affect slaves in those states that had remained loyal to the Union or in territory of the Confederacy that had been reconquered. These were freed in other ways (see slavery). Nor did the proclamation have any immediate effect in the vast area over which the Confederacy retained control. Confederate leaders, however, feared that it would serve as an incitement to insurrection and denounced it.

Purpose of the Proclamation

The proclamation did not reflect Lincoln's desired solution for the slavery problem. He continued to favor gradual emancipation, to be undertaken voluntarily by the states, with federal compensation to slaveholders, a plan he considered eminently just in view of the common responsibility of North and South for the existence of slavery. The Emancipation Proclamation was chiefly a declaration of policy, which, it was hoped, would serve as an opening wedge in depleting the South's great manpower reserve in slaves and, equally important, would enhance the Union cause in the eyes of Europeans, especially the British.

At home it was duly hailed by the radical abolitionists, but it cost Lincoln the support of many conservatives and undoubtedly figured in the Republican setback in the congressional elections of 1862. This was more than offset by the boost it gave the Union abroad, where, on the whole, it was warmly received; in combination with subsequent Union victories, it ended all hopes of the Confederacy for recognition from Britain and France. Doubts as to its constitutionality were later removed by the adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment.

Bibliography

See J. H. Franklin, The Emancipation Proclamation (1963); E. Foner, Nothing But Freedom: Emancipation and Its Legacy (1983).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Lincoln's Proclamation: Emancipation Reconsidered
William A. Blair; Karen Fisher Younger.
University of North Carolina Press, 2009
Act of Justice: Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation and the Law of War
Burrus M. Carnahan.
University Press of Kentucky, 2007
Librarian’s tip: The text of the final version of the Emancipation Proclamation begins on p 169
The Emancipation Proclamation
John Hope Franklin.
Doubleday, 1963
Final Freedom: The Civil War, the Abolition of Slavery, and the Thirteenth Amendment
Michael Vorenberg.
Cambridge University Press, 2001
Abraham Lincoln and a New Birth of Freedom: The Union and Slavery in the Diplomacy of the Civil War
Howard Jones.
University of Nebraska Press, 1999
Librarian’s tip: Chap. Seven "The Emancipation Proclamation: An Act of Justice, Warranted by... Military Necessity"
Turning Points of the Civil War
James A. Rawley.
University of Nebraska Press, 1989
Librarian’s tip: "The Emancipation Proclamation" begins on p. 115
Defending Emancipation: Abraham Lincoln and the Conkling Letter, 1863
Guelzo, Allen C.
Civil War History, Vol. 48, No. 4, December 2002
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
The Emancipation Proclamation and British Public Opinion
Ewan, Christopher.
The Historian, Vol. 67, No. 1, Spring 2005
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
History of Black Americans: From the Compromise of 1850 to the End of the Civil War
Philip S. Foner.
Greenwood Press, 1983
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 19 "Two Proclamations and a Day of Jubilee"
Emancipation and Equal Rights: Politics and Constitutionalism in the Civil War Era
Herman Belz.
W. W. Norton, 1978
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 2 "Confiscation, Emancipation, and the Question of War Aims"
Abraham Lincoln, Constitutionalism, and Equal Rights in the Civil War Era
Herman Belz.
Fordham University Press, 1998
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 4 "Protection of Personal Liberty in Republican Emancipation Legislation"
Lincoln's Calvinist Transformation: Emancipation and War
Parrillo, Nicholas.
Civil War History, Vol. 46, No. 3, September 2000
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Black Troops, White Commanders, and Freedmen during the Civil War
Howard C. Westwood.
Southern Illinois University Press, 1992
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 10 "The Reverend Fountain Brown: Alleged Violator of the Emancipation Proclamation"
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