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Understanding the Emancipation Proclamation

Updated on August 19, 2012

The Emancipation Proclamation

The Emancipation Proclamation consists of two executive orders issued by United States President Abraham Lincoln during the American Civil War. The first one, issued September 22, 1862, declared the freedom of all slaves in any state of the Confederate States of America that did not return to Union control by January 1, 1863. The second order, issued January 1, 1863, named the specific states where it applied.

A Short History of the Emancipation Proclamation

The Emancipation Proclamation was widely attacked at the time as freeing only the slaves over which the Union had no power. In practice, it committed the Union to ending slavery, which was a controversial decision in the North. Lincoln issued the Executive Order by his authority as "Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy" under Article II, section 2 of the United States Constitution.

The proclamation did not free any slaves of the border states (Kentucky, Missouri, Maryland, Delaware, and West Virginia), or any southern state (or part of a state) already under Union control. It first directly affected only those slaves who had already escaped to the Union side. Hearing of the Proclamation, more slaves quickly escaped to Union lines as the Army units moved South. As the Union armies conquered the Confederacy, thousands of slaves were freed each day until nearly all (approximately 4 million, according to the 1860 census[1]) were freed by July 1865.

In this, Lincoln's proclamation echoed that issued at the beginning of the American War for Independence by Virginia's royal governor, John Murray, Earl of Dunmore. Lord Dunmore's Proclamation (dated November 7, 1775) declared "all indentured Servants, Negroes, or others, (appertaining to Rebels,) free, that are able and willing to bear Arms" for King George III. Although it applied only to slaves belonging to rebels, it still inspired thousands of African slaves (regardless of whether their masters were rebels or loyalists) to join the British Army throughout the war in hopes of earning their freedom.

After the war, abolitionists were concerned that since the proclamation was a war measure, it had not permanently ended slavery. Several former slave states passed legislation prohibiting slavery; however, some slavery continued to exist until the institution was ended by the sufficient states' ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment on December 18, 1865.

Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America

Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America
Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America

"The complex story of how the war to preserve the Union evolved into a war to give that Union 'a new birth of freedom' has been told many times -- but never so well."-- James M. McPherson


The Results of the Proclamation

By the Emancipation Proclamation 3,063,392 slaves were set free, as follows:


Alabama 435,132

Florida 61,753

Georgia 462,232

Mississippi 436,696

North Carolina 275,081

South Carolina 402,541

Texas 180,682

Virginia (part) 450,437

Louisiana (part) 247,734

The institution of slavery was not disturbed by the proclamation in eight States, which contained 831,780 slaves, distributed as follows:

Delaware 1,798

Kentucky 225,490

Maryland 87,188

Missouri 114,465

Tennessee 275,784

Louisiana (part) 85,281

West Virginia 12,761

Virginia (part) 29,013

The remainder were emancipated by the Thirteenth Amendment to the national Constitution, making the whole number set free 3,895,172.

Excerpts from the Emancipation Proclamation

This proclamation was delivered on Jan. 1, 1863. By the President of the United States of America:


Whereas on the 22nd day of September, A.D. 1862, a proclamation was issued by the President of the United States, containing, among other things, the following, to wit:

Slaves Set Free

"That on the 1st day of January, A.D. 1863, 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.

Biography - Abraham Lincoln: Preserving the Union - A&E DVD Archives

Defining a Rebellious State

"That the executive will on the 1st 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."

The Emancipation Proclamation: Three Views - Conflicting Worlds: New Dimensions of the American Civil War

The Emancipation Proclamation: Three Views (Conflicting Worlds: New Dimensions of the American Civil War)
The Emancipation Proclamation: Three Views (Conflicting Worlds: New Dimensions of the American Civil War)

The authors (Holzer, Edna Greene Medford, and Frank J. Williams) will be familiar names to readers of Civil War material; each of these historians occasionally discusses the conflict on C-SPAN. Therefore, their essays about the Emancipation Proclamation, the political and moral cynosure of the war, will be greeted with interest. Independent scholar Holzer's essay is the most instantly accessible, interpreting the visual imagery of Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. Holzer's explanations of a print or statue's creation contain many a curiosity, such as Lincoln's cooperation in the production of the most recognizable image of the proclamation, painter Francis Carpenter's First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation. Williams, a judge, embeds the proclamation in its legal context, such as the Confiscation Acts that preceded it, and the Thirteenth Amendment that succeeded it. College professor Medford's more ruminative essay reaches for ambiguities that attend the proclamation, especially its remembrance amidst the postwar resubordination of blacks that dampened, but never entirely extinguished, the initial exultation in the freedom promised by the proclamation. For active Civil War collections.

Copyright American Library Association. All rights reserved


The Rebellious 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 1st day of January, A.D. 1863, 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:

A List of the Rebellious States

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, Morthhampton, 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.

American Documents: The Emancipation Proclamation (American Documents)

American Documents: The Emancipation Proclamation
American Documents: The Emancipation Proclamation

This book describes the roots of slavery in the United States, and examines the reasons why certain people and states were for it, while others were opposed to it. It also explains why President Lincoln issued the proclamation when he did, whom the proclamation freed, and whom it did not, and some of the effects it had on future events. Readers learn about the differences between northern and southern economies, how slavery became a states rights issue, how Congress struggled to maintain a balance between free and slave states, and how Lincoln's election forced 11 southern states to leave the Union and hastened the beginning of the Civil War.


Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln
Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln

Team of Rivals doesn't just tell the story of Abraham Lincoln. It is a multiple biography of the entire team of personal and political competitors that he put together to lead the country through its greatest crisis. Here, Doris Kearns Goodwin profiles five of the key players in her book, four of whom contended for the 1860 Republican presidential nomination and all of whom later worked together in Lincoln's cabinet.


Freed Slaves Equal

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.

Abraham Lincoln: The Pressure for Emancipation

Abraham Lincoln: Preparing the Final Draft

Abraham Lincoln: Cabinet Discussions

Abraham Lincoln: Waiting for a Victory: Part A

Abraham Lincoln: Waiting for a Victory: Part B

Abraham Lincoln: The Proclamation: Part A

Abraham Lincoln: The Proclamation: Part B

Abraham Lincoln: Dark Days of December

Abraham Lincoln: New Years Day Reception

Abraham Lincoln: Signing the Proclamation

Abraham Lincoln: The Impact on the War: Part A

Abraham Lincoln: The Impact on the War: Part B

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    • bjj james profile image

      bjj james 

      5 years ago

      Love this lens.

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 

      7 years ago from Central Florida

      This is a good explanation. I'm adding it as a feature on my Important Civil War Documents lens.

    • dexter yarbroug1 profile image

      dexter yarbroug1 

      7 years ago

      Outstanding! Thanks for sharing!

    • KANEsUgAr profile image


      7 years ago

      Great lens, I love American history.

    • Redneck Lady Luck profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 

      7 years ago from Canada

      He was indeed a man very much ahead of his time. A very great man.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Really good information on your lens, and well presented!

    • writernewbie profile image


      8 years ago

      Wonderful lens on one of my favorite topics. In fact, I wrote a lens that touches briefly on the emancipation proclamation, which I will be lensrolling this lens to. My lens focuses mainly on the current state of our nation: The United States of America: Still the land of the Free?

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Thanks for joining G Rated Lense Factory!

    • icjackson profile image


      9 years ago

      This is an EXCELLENT lens!

      5* and fave!

    • aquariann profile image


      10 years ago

      Great lens! I had no idea there were that many slaves at the time to be set free. And shame on my state for being one of the eight to delay. :p

    • LucyVet profile image


      10 years ago

      I love historical lenses, and yours was great!

    • KimGiancaterino profile image


      10 years ago

      Nicely designed lens. Also one of my favorite historical topics. Abraham Lincoln was a fascinating man. Well done!

    • The Homeopath profile image

      The Homeopath 

      10 years ago

      A wonderful look at such a vital historical point for all of humanity.

    • Robyco profile image


      10 years ago

      Good lens, great recent history lesson, lots to be learnt....

    • James20 profile image


      10 years ago

      Great lens and how you put it together.

      Anyone here who has not seen that last video at the bottom of this page has to watch it, that is so funny! I like that show anyway. 5*****


    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Very - very nicely done lens. Great selection of pictures and great content.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Great job. I'm going to have to check out your bookstore as I'm looking for some old, rare books that relate to my family history in Kentucky.

    • DividingLine profile image


      10 years ago

      You've clearly done your research for this lens. Nice work, 5*.

    • Angelina Howard profile image

      Angelina Howard 

      10 years ago

      Great topic. Very sad indeed. Very sad still in some Third World countries slavery is still in existence!

      By the way I am a huge CS Lewis fan myself! Favorite: Out of the Silent Planet>!!

    • MatCauthon profile image


      10 years ago

      Yup. Abe is indeed a hero. One day I'll get to see that big statue of his. 5*

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      A very interesting Lens! This is such a big part of American history.

      5 Stars.


    • ArtByLinda profile image

      Linda Hoxie 

      10 years ago from Idaho

      Wonderful presentation of part of our history! How very sad that slavery ever existed. In this day and age, it is so hard to even comprehend that someone could look at another human and not know that they were the same species. Very well done! 5*

    • Niamh2 profile image


      10 years ago

      Brings it home to me that it is really not that long ago since slavery was abolished.

    • BrianRS profile image

      Brian Stephens 

      10 years ago from France

      This is a pretty powerful subject well written about

    • BrianRS profile image

      Brian Stephens 

      10 years ago from France

      This is a pretty powerful subject well written about

    • dahlia369 profile image


      10 years ago

      I love doing historical researches myself - one can learn so much! 5***** for your lens (and 5***** for Abraham Lincoln :)

    • sanukmak profile image


      10 years ago

      Nice addition to the squidoo family of history related lenses.

    • MarcoG profile image


      10 years ago from Edinburgh

      Hey - I visited today, but I'm gonna keep reading now... hahaha. Grrrrreat work here :)

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      W00t! A terrific lens -- very impressed with your work Jeffrey.

    • mazbond profile image


      10 years ago

      A great lens. Slavery was a terrible thing, I cannot image how people could to do that to each other!

    • Paula Atwell profile image

      Paula Atwell 

      10 years ago from Cleveland, OH

      Excellent job.

    • Mihaela Vrban profile image

      Mihaela Vrban 

      10 years ago from Croatia

      It's a pleasure to read your lenses! Always so informative!

    • Haveagood1 profile image


      10 years ago

      As always, an elegant lens! Lovely.


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