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Emancipation Proclamation: Summary & Analysis

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  • 0:02 The Background
  • 1:30 The Beginning
  • 4:03 Emancipation Proclamation
  • 5:34 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Katie Surber

Katie has a Master's degree in English and has taught college level classes for ten years.

In this lesson, we will discuss the background of the Civil War and the role of slavery. We will then define the Emancipation Proclamation, summarize its key points, and then analyze the effects that it had on the Civil War and the United States.

The Background

The United States in 1861 was very different from the country we know today. The states had just entered the Civil War, a war between its citizens and states, and our country was divided between the North and the South. The Civil War would last four years and become the deadliest war our country has experienced. With more than six hundred thousand deaths and thousands of battles spread throughout the country, the Civil War forever changed the United States.

One of the main reasons the Civil War started was slavery. The Southern states were angry that the Northern states wanted to block slavery from moving out West. The Southern states believed that slavery should be decided by the states, not the federal government. As the population grew in the North, the Southern states slowly began to lose power in the federal government. The pro-slavery elected officials could not contend with the new anti-slavery numbers. While compromises over the new Western states were introduced, the overall conflict of state rights was still very strong. This debate of state rights and the lack of representation eventually led the Southern states to secede from the Union and to the beginning of the Civil War.

In this lesson, we will discuss the events leading to the Emancipation Proclamation, define what this important document is, and then discuss the effects that it had on the Civil War.

The Beginning

Although it is true that President Lincoln did not morally agree with slavery, it was never a cause he intended to take. In fact, in his inaugural address, he said that he had no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with slavery in the states where it exists. He continued to make this promise, even after the Civil War had started. At this time, slavery was still a constitutional issue. Because the Constitution granted slavery to the states, Lincoln worried that taking too many steps to end slavery would cause him to lose support during the Civil War, especially the support from the states that bordered the South.

How did this change? While it may be hard for us to imagine this point of view, slaves were really just seen as property during the Civil War. What is the best way to weaken an army during the time of war? You take their property and wealth. Lincoln knew this. He knew if he were to free the slaves that the South would lose its crops, labor, and even factory workers.

In 1861, three slaves escaped and were stopped at a Union Army camp. The general refused to return the slaves, saying that they were now contraband of war. As slaves began to hear about this, more of them started to escape, allowing themselves to become war contraband.

In 1861, Congress took action and passed a Confiscation Act, giving all slaves a contraband status. In 1862, Congress passed their second act which forbade army officers to return any slaves to their owners. These acts began to change the focus of the war and slavery became a stronger issue. The states began to encourage Lincoln to take a final step and completely free the slaves in the South. It soon became clear to Lincoln that if he did not follow this popular opinion that he would lose support from his allies.

In 1862, the war was not going well for the Union. The Union had already seen some change with the slaves that they had confiscated, so they knew that granting freedom would change the war. Not only would the South suffer loss in agriculture and factory work, but they would also lose soldiers. The new slaves would increase the numbers in the North, helping them recover from their losses. Lincoln had decided that he would issue a proclamation that freed all slaves in the Southern states. While many of Lincoln's advisors worried that the proclamation would be too radical, Lincoln chose to use his executive power and deemed the freedom of the slaves necessary to win the war.

The Emancipation Proclamation

The Emancipation Proclamation was issued on January 1, 1863. This document stated, that all persons held as slaves within the rebellious states are, and henceforward shall be, free. It is important to note that the Proclamation really just focused on the rebellious states. If the Union army already had control of the state or the state was considered an ally, the Emancipation Proclamation did not apply to them. The Emancipation Proclamation not only declared these slaves as free, but it also stated that freed slaves were allowed to join the Union Army.

What effects did the Emancipation Proclamation have?

After Lincoln made this proclamation, the war was changed. Prior to this moment, the focus of the war was really about preserving the Union, but now the focus had changed to freeing the slaves.

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