Preserving American Freedom

The Evolution of American Liberties in Fifty Documents

Emancipation Proclamation, January 1, 1863

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Emancipation Proclamation
January 1, 1863
A Proclamation.
Whereas, on the twenty-second day of September, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-two, a proclamation was issued by the President of the United States, containing, among other things, the following, to wit:
"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;1 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.
"That the Executive will, on the first day of January aforesaid, by proclamation, designate the States and parts of States, if any, in which the people thereof, respectively, shall then be in rebellion against the United States; and the fact that any State, or the people thereof, shall on that day be in good faith represented in the Congress of the United States, by members chosen thereto at elections wherein a majority of the qualified voters of such State shall have participated, shall, in the absence of strong countervailing testimony, be deemed conclusive evidence that such State, and the people thereof, are not then in rebellion against the United States."
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,2 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, Terre Bonne, 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,3 and also the counties of Berkeley, Accomac, Northampton, Elizabeth City, York, Princess Ann, 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-defence; 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.
In witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the CITY OF WASHINGTON this first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States of America the eighty-seventh.
[L. S.]
By the President: Abraham Lincoln
William H Seward Secretary of State.
A true copy, with the autograph signatures of the President and the Secretary of State.
Jno. G. Nicolay Priv. Sec. to the President.
Source Information: 
Emancipation Proclamation
Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865
The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
Treasures Collection (HSP.Treasures)
About This Document: 

On July 22, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln presented an early draft of the Emancipation Proclamation to his cabinet. Although he had accepted that slavery must be abolished, Lincoln had no idea how he would integrate two million freed slaves into society. He briefly entertained the notion of sending African Americans to Africa or having them colonize a region of South America where they would not be exposed to the intolerance of white Americans. His cabinet helped edit these proposals out of the final version and advised Lincoln to wait until a decisive Union victory in the Civil War before releasing the document to the public. Without the threat of a powerful military, they feared the Proclamation would be an empty gesture that might even encourage the few loyal border states to secede. On September 17, 1862, the victory Lincoln was waiting for finally arrived. The Battle of Antietam near Sharpsburg, Maryland, ended in a stalemate with 22,000 Americans dead. It was the bloodiest battle of the Civil War. However, the Union army had stalled the Confederate advance, and Lincoln seized the opportunity to issue the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22.

The Proclamation was quickly reprinted and sent around the world. Frederick Leypoldt printed 48 autographed copies to be sold for the benefit of soldiers at the Great Central Sanitary Fair in Philadelphia around June 6, 1864. Only 20 copies of this printing are known to still exist. One of those copies is displayed here, bearing Lincoln's original signature.

The Emancipation Proclamation was a strategic military maneuver as well as an act of social reform. By framing the Civil War as a battle between abolitionists and slaveholders, Lincoln hoped to gain support from allies in Europe. He also hoped to encourage slaves to flee the South by promising them the protection of and enrollment in the Union army, which would damage the Confederacy's economy. But the Proclamation also had symbolic significance for free African Americans living in the North, who used it as an opportunity to push for greater racial equality. Following the enactment of the Proclamation, the first black regiments in the army were formed and civil rights activists introduced a bill into Congress that would guarantee equal pay for African American soldiers.

Lincoln had issued the Proclamation using his war powers instead of going through Congress, where he knew it would not pass. He also understood that when the legality of the Proclamation was challenged, it would go to the Supreme Court, where Chief Justice Taney could declare it unconstitutional. Historically, slavery was enforced through state laws and not by the federal government, making the Proclamation an encroachment upon state rights. Following the enactment of the Proclamation on January 1, 1863, Lincoln pushed Congress to adopt an amendment that would officially abolish slavery throughout the entire nation and place the Proclamation out of Taney's reach. The 13th Amendment was ratified in January, 1865, and the Union defeated the Confederacy a few months later.

The country struggled to smoothly incorporate the newly free population of African Americans into society during Reconstruction, retaining the racist convictions of the pre-war era. Although Lincoln did not live to experience his own legacy, the Emancipation Proclamation is considered one of the most significant advances in the long history of African American freedom.


The Emancipation Proclamation at 150, Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 137, no. 1 (2013).

Allen C. Guelzo, "The Great Event of the Nineteenth Century: Lincoln Issues the Emancipation Proclamation," Treasures of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Legacies 4, no. 2 (2004): 20-23.

John Hope Franklin, The Emancipation Proclamation (New York: Doubleday, 1963).

Howard Holzer, Edna Greene Medford, and Frank J. Williams, The Emancipation Proclamation: Three Views (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2006).