Lincoln's Proclamation: Emancipation Reconsidered

Lincoln's Proclamation: Emancipation Reconsidered

Lincoln's Proclamation: Emancipation Reconsidered

Lincoln's Proclamation: Emancipation Reconsidered


Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation is popularly regarded as a heroic act by a great American president. Widely remembered as the document that ended slavery, the proclamation in fact freed slaves only in the rebellious South (and not in the Border States, where slavery remained legal) and, effectively, only in the parts of the South occupied by the Union. Questions persist regarding Lincoln's moral conviction and the extent to which the proclamation truly represented a radical stance on the issue of freedom.

The eight essays in this volume enrich our understanding of the proclamation by considering not only aspects of the president's decision making, but also events beyond Washington. The proclamation provides a launching point for new insights on the consequences and legacies of freedom, the engagement of black Americans in their liberation, and the issues of citizenship and rights that were not decided by Lincoln's document. Together the essays portray emancipation as a product of many hands, best understood when considering all the various actors, the place, and the time.


William Blair, The Pennsylvania State University
Richard Carwardine, University of Oxford
Paul Finkelman, Albany Law School
Louis Gerteis, University of Missouri-St. Louis
Steven Hahn, University of Pennsylvania
Stephanie McCurry, University of Pennsylvania
Mark E. Neely Jr., The Pennsylvania State University,
Michael Vorenberg, Brown University
Karen Fisher Younger, The Pennsylvania State University


In Lincoln Park, about a mile east of the U.S. Capitol, resides one of the few outdoor representations of emancipation in the country. Every day, thousands of commuters pass it on their way to work or play. The observant ones would notice two figures on the pedestal: Abraham Lincoln stretching his hand over a crouching slave who wears freshly broken shackles. One simple word sounds the message of this monument, “Emancipation.” It is a handsome work of art, standing twenty-four feet from top to bottom. Nonetheless, it is easy to overlook this piece of stone in a city filled with numerous other monuments, many of them much more imposing. But this quiet statue that anchors one side of the park, surrounded by Victorian-era homes in the Capitol Hill District, is worth attention. It contains the achievements and the contradictions that marked the coming of freedom for enslaved African Americans in the United States. One person can see the comforting figure of Lincoln, the Great Emancipator; another can view the statue with less comfort, wondering why the slave must kneel to a paternalistic hand.

Lincoln remains arguably the most popular president in American history, yet his legacy is not without controversy; the most hotly debated part of the sixteenth president’s achievements always has been his Emancipation Proclamation. Part of the reason is that the proclamation, and the process of ending slavery in this country, traveled an uneven road that lends itself to multiple interpretations. With the Constitution acknowledged as protecting slavery, the president faced limits on what he could do with executive powers. So he freed slaves in the Confederate states and not in the loyal border regions. Additionally, emancipation came about through the efforts of many hands, including military officers, legislators, abolitionists, and slaves whose resistance forced changes in government policies. Yet the limitations of the proclamation were not confined to the border states of Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware. Even in the . . .

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