Emancipation Proclamation, January 1, 1863
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).