The Emancipation Proclamation
On January 1, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect. Here's what it did and didn't do for freedom.
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On January 1, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect. We are often taught that this declaration was the end of slavery, but here’s what it did and did not do.
Even though the proclamation went into effect in January 1863, president Abraham Lincoln had already hinted at what it would contain. He issued a preliminary proclamation in September 1862.
That document indicated the January 1, 1863 date on which the enslaved would be declared free and the United States government would “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.”
The Emancipation Proclamation Did Not End Slavery
The Emancipation Proclamation did not end slavery. In fact, it was quite limited in its specific applications.
First, the proclamation did not apply to slaveholding states that remained loyal to the Union. That meant that border states such as Kentucky, Delaware, Maryland, and Missouri could continue practicing slavery.
Second, the Emancipation Proclamation only applied to states that had seceded from the Union. And it did not apply to Southern states that had already come under Union control.
The most significant limitation of the Emancipation Proclamation is that depended on the Union winning the Civil War. In the beginning of 1863, this was not a foregone conclusion. The Confederates were waging a scrappy battle on their own turf, and had won many significant battles.
The Emancipation Proclamation bolstered the Union Army ranks and its chances for victory by saying that “that such persons of suitable condition, will be received into the armed service of the United States.” It invited recently freed Black people into the armed services which helped sway the tide of the war in the North’s favor.
The Significance of the Proclamation
The Emancipation Proclamation faced many limitations in its scope and by the fact that it depended on the Union winning the war, but it was still a crucial act.
It led to the Juneteenth holiday, the oldest celebration of Black emancipation in the country. It is the day when enslaved persons in Texas finally heard about their freedom on June 19, 1865.
The proclamation was a definitive sign that the Civil War was a war for emancipation, and it gave moral weight to the Union’s efforts. Even though the motives for emancipation were quite mixed—many wanted only the abolition of slavery or to see the Northern and Southern states re-united but not “social equality”—the end of slavery would be a new beginning for Black people.
Black people, both free and enslaved, celebrated the Emancipation Proclamation and the president who issued it. With their newfound freedom, thousands of Black people fought for the Union and helped cement the abolition of slavery.
The Thirteenth Amendment officially abolished slavery (except as punishment for a crime) in December 1865. That day may not have come as quickly apart from the Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln said the proclamation was “sincerely believed to be an act of justice” and called for the “gracious favor of Almighty God.”
It took a CivilWar and hundreds of thousands of casualties, but the Emancipation Proclamation heralded the end of the “peculiar institution” of race-based chattel slavery.
Read a transcript of the Emancipation Proclamation HERE.