The Emancipation Proclamation

Read about the Emancipation Proclamation, which was issued by President Lincoln on September 22, 1862.
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Did the Emancipation Proclamation formally end slavery in the U.S.? No—that was the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution (1865). However, the Proclamation laid the foundation for the later amendment, which held that “[n]either slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

Long-Term Effects

Ultimately, what did the Emancipation Proclamation mean—for slaves, whites, and the United States as a whole?

For African-Americans it was a clear, supportive, ground-breaking political statement. While it was restricted in scope, and more carefully articulated than most people imagine, it was still a documented pronouncement by a sitting President of the United States. (Only after Lincoln's death would a Constitutional amendment prohibit slavery.)

For the Union, the Emancipation Proclamation had a clear, substantial short-term effect in providing the extra military manpower the North needed to win the war and preserve the Union. The popular image of Lincoln single-handedly freeing thousands of downtrodden African-American slaves with a stroke of the pen is a significant distortion of what actually happened, but the Emancipation Proclamation nevertheless opened an important door and made possible later legal advances for African-Americans—and countless other Americans of all races.

A Limited Emancipation

It is often overlooked that the Emancipation Proclamation made no attempt whatsoever to free slaves held in border states that had remained loyal to the Union. The document also did nothing to change the legal status of slaves in areas of the South that Union forces already controlled. The decree actually freed only individuals in territory that was in active rebellion “as a fit and necessary war measure for suppressing said rebellion.”

Ultimately, the Emancipation Proclamation is best regarded as a psychological benchmark—the moment at which the Federal government formally embraced the notion that slavery was worth forbidding. That realization had, of course, been a long time coming.

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