David has taught college history and holds an MA in history.
The Emancipation Proclamation
On January 1st, 1863 Abraham Lincoln issued a presidential notice that applied to millions of black slaves in the United States. These slaves had provided the labor that powered the Southern states' economies, which were primarily built around cash crops like rice, tobacco, indigo, and, above all, cotton. The question of slavery's legality had so divided the American people that it led to the Civil War itself.
Even so, among many of the Union and Confederate soldiers fighting the Civil War, slavery was not really believed to be the core issue of the war. Southerners often believed their rights, including the right of a state to secede, was paramount, while Union soldiers believed that the Southerners did not have the right to raise rebellion. In fact, many Northerners believed blacks were not worth fighting for, as demonstrated by the anti-draft riots of New York City in 1863 where the mob lynched free blacks.
The Emancipation Proclamation, the first mass emancipation law instituted by any American politician, proved a crucial moment in the racial history of the United States. It provided the first legal framework for the comprehensive abolition of slavery, and, in turn, a step towards the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution that formally outlawed slavery throughout the United States.
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Text of the Emancipation Proclamation
January 1, 1863
By the President of the United States of America:
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; 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 States 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, 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 first day 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, Palquemines, Jefferson, St. John, St. Charles, St. James Ascension, Assumption, Terrebone, 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, and also the counties of Berkeley, Accomac, Northhampton, Elizabeth City, York, Princess Anne, 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 case 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.
By the President: Abraham Lincoln
William H. Seward, Secretary of State.
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