Soon after Union troops secured territory in Confederate states, enslaved African Americans flocked to their encampments. Union officers were unsure what to do with the refugees, often sending them back to their owners or allowing them to stay and work at the camps. Those people who worked and stayed at the Union camps were classified as "contrabands" of war, or enemy property. Lincoln rescinded emancipation orders that two Union generals, John C. Frémont and David Hunter issued, in September 1861 and May 1862, respectively, preferring to reserve to himself as commander-in-chief the power to emancipate. The United States Congress passed the Confiscation Act of 1861 allowing Union officers to appropriate the property of rebels, including enslaved people working to support the Confederate army. The next year Congress passed the Second Confiscation Act, which freed the contrabands working with the Union army.
Lincoln was initially unsure and cautious about emancipating the slaves. On several occasions, he made it clear that his primary intention was to save the Union regardless of the outcome on slavery. On April 16, 1862, he signed the District of Columbia Emancipation Act, allowing for the emancipation of all slaves within the District of Columbia. The act also approved compensation for loyal slaveholders and offered the colonization choices of Liberia or Haiti to newly freed African Americans. About the same time Lincoln offered similar emancipation plans to the state legislators of the border slave states of Maryland, Kentucky, Delaware, and Missouri.
In July 1862, Lincoln drafted the Emancipation Proclamation and submitted it to his cabinet for advice and revisions. His cabinet members were taken aback by the radical sentiment, and their support was mixed. Lincoln revised the proclamation and on September 22 announced his preliminary proclamation, a military measure warning that if the war continued and states remained in rebellion he would free all slaves held in rebellious states on January 1, 1863. His September proclamation came five days after an estimated 6,300 Union and Confederate soldiers died in the defeat of Lee's Confederate army near Antietam, Maryland.
The war continued, and, as anticipated by many enslaved people, on the first day of 1863, Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. The proclamation freed only slaves held in rebellious states and not in the border slave states or in areas of the South already occupied by the United States Army. The proclamation also for the first time officially allowed African American soldiers to fight for the Union.
Legal emancipation for all enslaved people of the United States was not achieved until the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment on December 6, 1865. But the symbolism of the Emancipation Proclamation is undeniable. It gave hope to millions of enslaved people and turned the Union army into liberators and the Civil War into a war of liberation. After Lincoln issued the proclamation, enslaved people became freed when Union troops gained Southern territory. Freedom came to different areas of the South as the Union troops moved. The most famous and probably the last place in the former Confederate States in which the Emancipation Proclamation took effect was Galveston, Texas, where on June 19, 1865, General Gordon Granger read a military order announcing that all the slaves of Texas were free according to the Emancipation Proclamation. That date has come to be celebrated in the African American community as Juneteenth.
1. Which president issued the Emancipation Proclamation?
2. On what day was the proclamation issued? On what day did it go into effect?
1. The Emancipation Proclamation was a military edict. What was its purpose? Who did it actually free?
The original copy of this final draft by Lincoln was lost in the Chicago fire of 1871. Photographs of the original show it was primarily in Lincoln's own handwriting. The superscription and ending were written by a clerk, and the printed insertions are from the preliminary proclamation Lincoln presented at a cabinet meeting on September 22, 1862.
Siddali, Silvana R. From Property to Person: Slavery and the Confiscation Acts, 1861–1862. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2005.
Guelzo, Allen C. Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2004.
Holzer, Harold, Edna Greene Medford, and Frank J. Williams. The Emancipation Proclamation: Three Views. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2006.
Ira Berlin et al. Slaves No More: Three Essays on Emancipation and the Civil War. Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge University Press, 1992.