Why did Lincoln wait to issue the Emancipation Proclamation?

Why did Lincoln wait to issue the Emancipation Proclamation?

(Apologies in advance: not being American, while I've read up somewhat about the military aspects of the Civil War, I am somewhat unclear as to its political dimension.)

Lincoln did not declare the slaves free until 1863, despite his personal beliefs.

Did he wait because he was not sure of the political support in the North for accepting Abolition as a war aim, along with stopping Secession? Or did he wait to preserve the possibility of negotiations with the Confederacy? If it was the second reason, is there any indication of what he was willing to compromise on? If the first, what changed?

Yes, I've seen What is the context of Lincoln saying: "if I could save the union without freeing any slave I would do it" but it doesn't tell me why he waited and what got him to commit to abolition.

@Peter Diehr's answer is a good one and I've upvoted it - but I'd like to expand on that, remembering that Lincoln was a very good strategist.

First, The Civil War was about slavery, and the South's (correct) understanding was that the North was growing faster than it was and free states would sooner or later substantially outnumber slave states. (Some of the nominally slave states allowed slavery, but were not economically dependent on it as were the Deep South states. Sentiment for abolition was growing in those states, also. Slavery was doomed under the Union.)

If the South did nothing, they lost in maybe twenty years when the North would have the political power to abolish slavery. They had to secede when they did.

Lincoln, on the other hand, had history on his side. If he could hold the Union together, then slavery was doomed. Until the war was beyond settlement, his best bet to abolish slavery was to try to keep the Union together. So in the early days he insisted his only purpose was to hold the Union together.

Secondly, the Union included several border states which allowed slavery, but where it wasn't the bedrock of the economy. To have a decent chance of winning the war militarily, the North had to hold on to those states. So even the Emancipation Proclamation didn't free the slaves in Union states! Key point: For the Emancipation Proclamation to have effect anywhere it needed to not push the slave states still in the Union into rebellion. So it had to exempt them.

And then thirdly, as Peter says, once Lincoln had a strong Union victory he could start pushing explicitly on ending slavery. Once the North (and foreign countries, especially Great Britain) saw that the Union would end slavery and had to power to do it its moral authority was immeasurably strengthened which sped the end of the war.

Lincoln waited until there was a great union victory; the early losses, and the poor showing of the Union generals did not give him a very firm place to stand and make promises.

Antietam was the victory he was waiting for, and a preliminary declaration was issued at that time.

See this History channel article on the Emancipation Proclamation for further details and analysis.

Because, as Lincoln stated, "My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery".

Initially, North expected short victorious war and quick reunification. If this would happened, slavery would be intact. After full year of struggle it became clear that the war is not going to be short, and became questionable if it is going to be victorious.

Lincoln issued Emancipation Proclamation when it became obvious that freeing slaves in rebellion states would help save the Union, and without this action the war could be lost.

Consider following:

  1. Before Lincoln's inauguration, Congress passed constitutional amendment that would shield slavery from the constitutional amendment process and from abolition or interference by Congress (Corwin Amendment). This was attempt to end secession peacefully; Lincoln publicly supported this proposed amendment. It was ratified by few states but did not get required three fourths states to make to Constitution.

  2. As a president, Lincoln did not have an authority to end slavery (to change the Constitution). However, as a commander in chief, during the war he could order to deprive the rebels from their property of military use. On September 22, 1862 Lincoln announced that all slaves in territory that was still in rebellion as of January 1, 1863, would be free. So it was up to southern states to stop fighting and save their slaves, or continue straggle and risk losing slaves if they loose the war.

  3. For Lincoln, ending slavery was another "struggle", which he tried to win (unsuccessfully) by persuasion. He offered compensation to slave states still in Union to end the slavery within these states; they rejected his offer. Before the end of the war Congress passed 13th amendment, abolishing slavery, and these states lost all slaves without any compensation.

BTW, on February 1865, couple of month before Confederacy collapsed, Lincoln offered Confederacy compensation for lost slaves if they agree to stop fighting and return to the Union. Jefferson Davis rejected this proposal, causing thousands unnecessary casualties, humiliating military defeat, and much more painful longer reunification.

While there were plenty of altruistic abolitionists who hated slavery purely on its in-humanity, much of the political drive ($$$) for the war was driven by the fear of the northern factory owners.

Like almost every war, the United States Civil War was not primarily about ideology, it was about economics. The northern, industrialized states were concerned that after several labor saving devices (i.e. cotton gin, steam engine) that the South's excess labor pool and the increasing industrialization of the south would threaten their near monopoly on manufacture. Imagine just one point, cotton; if the south had the raw materials (cotton) and the ability to use slave labor to manufacture the cotton cloth and even cotton clothing. That would put a big dent in the northern factory owners earning stream.

Lincoln's timing for the emancipation proclamation was purely based on the failure of diplomacy to end the war before major conflict (Antietam). It served largely propaganda purposes.

Why did Lincoln wait to issue the Declaration of Emancipation?

(Apologies in advance: not being American, while I've read up somewhat about the military aspects of the Civil War, I am somewhat unclear as to its political dimension.)

Lincoln did not declare the slaves free until 1863, despite his personal beliefs.

Did he wait because he was not sure of the political support in the North for accepting Abolition as a war aim, along with stopping Secession? Or did he wait to preserve the possibility of negotiations with the Confederacy? If it was the second reason, is there any indication of what he was willing to compromise on? If the first, what changed?

In the United States the most reliable way to end slavery was a constitutional amendment. This takes the most political consensus (2/3rds of the house and Senate and then 3/4th of the states) and is thus the most difficult to implement and reverse.

The Thirteenth amendment was first introduced Dec 1863, and failed to pass in the house on the first vote June 15, 1864 by 13 votes. Lincoln organized a pretty masterful political offensive involving government jobs for outgoing congressmen in a lame duck congress in order to finally pass the amendment through the House which was the most difficult stage of the process. Still it took years and right up until the final vote in congress, passing it was not a forgone conclusion. Lincoln passed the first part of these hurdles during the Civil war( Apr 12, 1861 - Apr 9, 1865) with the ratification of of the 13th Amendment by the senate(April 8, 1864) followed by the house 9 months latter (January 31, 1865). Ratification by 3/4ths of individual states after the war could be relied upon as the Southern secessionist governments would be controlled by the Union during reconstruction. As predicted the states achieved the 3/4th's majority to ratify it after the end of the War, Dec 6, 1865.

Short Answer
The Emancipation proclamation wasn't about freeing the slaves. At it's best it was temporary war time fiat which only affected the slaves in the secessionist states outside of the Unions control. The evening before Lincoln signed the Proclamation Robert E Lee and his entire army were in Northern Territory, The Union Armies having been repulsed by Lee from Virginia earlier that year.

The Emancipation proclamation was a political vehicle, as was the timing. Lincoln was looking to redefine the war. He had previously defined the war as a war to preserve the Union, now Lincoln would telegraph ending slavery as a major war goal. Through this redefinition Lincoln hoped to block Britain and France from getting involved. These countries who were considering recognizing the confederacy (Britain and France) were popularly against slavery. By making the American Civil War about slavery Lincoln targeted these European nations making recognition of the south politically untenable for them domestically.

Detailed Answer:
So Lincoln knew he needed a constitutional Amendment to end slavery in a meaningful way. Why did he sign the Presidential order the Emancipation Proclamation in Jan 1, 1863, knowing the next President could simply repeal Lincolns order? Or after the war the supreme court could nullify his war powers act and rule his proclamation unconstitutional. In the absence of a change to the Constitution, any act taken by President Lincoln would not survive much beyond his presidency.

Lincoln did it to preserve the union. Simple put the American Civil war was fought on many fronts. Economic, Political, Military, and Diplomatic. It was the diplomatic war which needed Lincoln's action on Jan of 1863. Britain and France were threatening to enter the war on behalf of the Confederate States. Lincoln used the Emancipation Proclamation to reframe the war from one about preserving the Union, into a war to end slavery. That's what the emancipation proclamation did. It announced that ending slavery would be a major goal of the Union in the War. Lincoln knew if the war was framed as one against slavery it would make Britain and France's intervention untenable giving both countries had already abolished slavery Britain(Slavery Abolition Act in 1833) and France (Louis X abolished slavery in 1315, although slavery continued in French Colonies until 1848).

The timing was dictated by politics, and as previous answers said more precisely by a Union victory at Battle of Antietam. Technically Antietam wasn't a victory for the Union it was a stalemate. But after months and months of seeing his armies retreating from the gates of Richmond, seeing Lee retreat from Maryland back into Virginia was represented in the Northern Newspapers as a victory. So Lincoln used that "victory" to roll out his diplomatic offensive against Britain and French intervention.

Emancipation Proclamation
As Lincoln had hoped, the Proclamation turned foreign popular opinion in favor of the Union by gaining the support of anti-slavery countries and countries that had already abolished slavery (especially the developed countries in Europe such as Great Britain or France). This shift ended the Confederacy's hopes of gaining official recognition.[99]

Since the Emancipation Proclamation made the eradication of slavery an explicit Union war goal, it linked support for the South to support for slavery. Public opinion in Britain would not tolerate direct support for slavery. British companies, however, continued to build and operate blockade runners for the South. As Henry Adams noted, "The Emancipation Proclamation has done more for us than all our former victories and all our diplomacy." In Italy, Giuseppe Garibaldi hailed Lincoln as "the heir of the aspirations of John Brown". On August 6, 1863, Garibaldi wrote to Lincoln: "Posterity will call you the great emancipator, a more enviable title than any crown could be, and greater than any merely mundane treasure".[100]

Mayor Abel Haywood, a representative for workers from Manchester, England, wrote to Lincoln saying, "We joyfully honor you for many decisive steps toward practically exemplifying your belief in the words of your great founders: 'All men are created free and equal.'"[101] The Emancipation Proclamation served to ease tensions with Europe over the North's conduct of the war, and combined with the recent failed Southern offensive at Antietam, to cut off any practical chance for the Confederacy to receive British support in the war.


  • Thirteenth Amendment
  • History of the Thirteenth Amendment
  • Emancipation_Proclamation
  • Abolitionism
  • Battle of Antietam

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The United States Constitution of 1787 did not use the word "slavery" but included several provisions about unfree persons. The Three-Fifths Compromise (in Article I, Section 2) allocated Congressional representation based "on the whole Number of free Persons" and "three-fifths of all other Persons". [11] Under the Fugitive Slave Clause (Article IV, Section 2), "no person held to service or labour in one state" would be freed by escaping to another. Article I, Section 9 allowed Congress to pass legislation to outlaw the "Importation of Persons", but not until 1808. [12] However, for purposes of the Fifth Amendment—which states that, "No person shall. be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law"—slaves were understood as property. [13] Although abolitionists used the Fifth Amendment to argue against slavery, it became part of the legal basis for treating slaves as property with Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857). [14] Socially, slavery was also supported in law and in practice by a pervasive culture of white supremacy. [15] Nonetheless, between 1777 and 1804, every Northern state provided for the immediate or gradual abolition of slavery. No Southern state did so, and the slave population of the South continued to grow, peaking at almost four million people at the beginning of the American Civil War, when most slave states sought to break away from the United States. [16]

Lincoln understood that the Federal government's power to end slavery in peacetime was limited by the Constitution which before 1865, committed the issue to individual states. [17] Against the background of the American Civil War, however, Lincoln issued the Proclamation under his authority as "Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy" under Article II, section 2 of the United States Constitution. [18] As such, he claimed to have the martial power to free persons held as slaves in those states that were in rebellion "as a fit and necessary war measure for suppressing said rebellion". [19] He did not have Commander-in-Chief authority over the four slave-holding states that were not in rebellion: Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland and Delaware, and so those states were not named in the Proclamation. [21] The fifth border jurisdiction, West Virginia, where slavery remained legal but was in the process of being abolished, was, in January 1863, still part of the legally recognized, "reorganized" state of Virginia, based in Alexandria, which was in the Union (as opposed to the Confederate state of Virginia, based in Richmond).

The Proclamation applied in the ten states that were still in rebellion in 1863, and thus did not cover the nearly 500,000 slaves in the slave-holding border states (Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland or Delaware) which were Union states. Those slaves were freed by later separate state and federal actions.

The state of Tennessee had already mostly returned to Union control, under a recognized Union government, so it was not named and was exempted. Virginia was named, but exemptions were specified for the 48 counties then in the process of forming the new state of West Virginia, and seven additional counties and two cities in the Union-controlled Tidewater region of Virginia. [22] Also specifically exempted were New Orleans and 13 named parishes of Louisiana, which were mostly under federal control at the time of the Proclamation. These exemptions left unemancipated an additional 300,000 slaves. [23]

The Emancipation Proclamation has been ridiculed, notably in an influential passage by Richard Hofstadter for "freeing" only the slaves over which the Union had no power. [24] These slaves were freed due to Lincoln's "war powers". This act cleared up the issue of contraband slaves. [25] It automatically clarified the status of over 100,000 now-former slaves. Some 20,000 to 50,000 slaves were freed the day it went into effect [26] in parts of nine of the ten states to which it applied (Texas being the exception). [27] In every Confederate state (except Tennessee and Texas), the Proclamation went into immediate effect in Union-occupied areas and at least 20,000 slaves [26] [27] were freed at once on January 1, 1863.

The Proclamation provided the legal framework for the emancipation of nearly all four million slaves as the Union armies advanced, and committed the Union to end slavery, which was a controversial decision even in the North. Hearing of the Proclamation, more slaves quickly escaped to Union lines as the Army units moved South. As the Union armies advanced through the Confederacy, thousands of slaves were freed each day until nearly all (approximately 3.9 million, according to the 1860 Census) [28] were freed by July 1865.

While the Proclamation had freed most slaves as a war measure, it had not made slavery illegal. Of the states that were exempted from the Proclamation, Maryland, [29] Missouri, [30] Tennessee, [31] and West Virginia [32] prohibited slavery before the war ended. In 1863, President Lincoln proposed a moderate plan for the Reconstruction of the captured Confederate State of Louisiana. [33] Only 10% of the state's electorate had to take the loyalty oath. The state was also required to accept the Proclamation and abolish slavery in its new constitution. Identical Reconstruction plans would be adopted in Arkansas and Tennessee. By December 1864, the Lincoln plan abolishing slavery had been enacted in Louisiana, as well as in Arkansas and Tennessee. [34] [35] In Kentucky, Union Army commanders relied on the proclamations offer of freedom to slaves who enrolled in the Army and provided freedom for an enrollee's entire family for this and other reasons the number of slaves in the state fell by over 70% during the war. [36] However, in Delaware [37] and Kentucky, [38] slavery continued to be legal until December 18, 1865, when the Thirteenth Amendment went into effect.

Military action prior to emancipation

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 required individuals to return runaway slaves to their owners. During the war, Union generals such as Benjamin Butler declared that slaves in occupied areas were contraband of war and accordingly refused to return them. [39] This decision was controversial because it implied recognition of the Confederacy as a separate, independent sovereign state under international law, a notion that Lincoln steadfastly denied. As a result, he did not promote the contraband designation. In addition, as contraband, these people were legally designated as "property" when they crossed Union lines and their ultimate status was uncertain. [40]

Governmental action toward emancipation

In December 1861, Lincoln sent his first annual message to Congress (the State of the Union Address, but then typically given in writing and not referred to as such). In it he praised the free labor system, as respecting human rights over property rights he endorsed legislation to address the status of contraband slaves and slaves in loyal states, possibly through buying their freedom with federal taxes, and also the funding of strictly voluntary colonization efforts. [41] In January 1862, Thaddeus Stevens, the Republican leader in the House, called for total war against the rebellion to include emancipation of slaves, arguing that emancipation, by forcing the loss of enslaved labor, would ruin the rebel economy. On March 13, 1862, Congress approved a "Law Enacting an Additional Article of War", which stated that from that point onward it was forbidden for Union Army officers to return fugitive slaves to their owners. [42] Pursuant to a law signed by Lincoln, slavery was abolished in the District of Columbia on April 16, 1862, and owners were compensated. [43]

On June 19, 1862, Congress prohibited slavery in all current and future United States territories (though not in the states), and President Lincoln quickly signed the legislation. By this act, they repudiated the 1857 opinion of the Supreme Court of the United States in the Dred Scott Case that Congress was powerless to regulate slavery in U.S. territories. [44] [45] This joint action by Congress and President Lincoln also rejected the notion of popular sovereignty that had been advanced by Stephen A. Douglas as a solution to the slavery controversy, while completing the effort first legislatively proposed by Thomas Jefferson in 1784 to confine slavery within the borders of existing states. [46] [47]

In July, Congress passed and Lincoln signed the Confiscation Act of 1862, containing provisions for court proceedings to liberate slaves held by convicted "rebels", or slaves of rebels that had escaped to Union lines. [48] The Act applied in cases of criminal convictions, to those who were slaves of "disloyal" masters, and to slaves in rebel territory that was captured by the Union forces. Unlike the first Confiscation Act, the second one explicitly said that all slaves covered under the law would be permanently freed, stating "all slaves of persons who shall hereafter be engaged in rebellion against the government of the United States, or who shall in any way give aid or comfort thereto, escaping from such persons and taking refuge within the lines of the army and all slaves captured from such persons or deserted by them and coming under the control of the government of the United States and all slaves of such person found on [or] being within any place occupied by rebel forces and afterwards occupied by the forces of the United States, shall be deemed captives of war, and shall be forever free of their servitude, and not again held as slaves." [49] However, Lincoln's position continued to be that Congress lacked the power to free all slaves within the borders of rebel held states, but Lincoln as commander in chief could do so if he deemed it a proper military measure, [50] and that Lincoln had already drafted plans to do. [51]

Public opinion of emancipation

Abolitionists had long been urging Lincoln to free all slaves. In the summer of 1862, Republican editor Horace Greeley of the highly influential New York Tribune wrote a famous editorial entitled "The Prayer of Twenty Millions" demanding a more aggressive attack on the Confederacy and faster emancipation of the slaves: "On the face of this wide earth, Mr. President, there is not one . intelligent champion of the Union cause who does not feel . that the rebellion, if crushed tomorrow, would be renewed if slavery were left in full vigor and that every hour of deference to slavery is an hour of added and deepened peril to the Union." [52] Lincoln responded in his Letter To Horace Greeley from August 22, 1862, in terms of the limits imposed by his duty as president to save the Union:

If there be those who would not save the Union, unless they could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them. If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them. My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union. I have here stated my purpose according to my view of official duty and I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men everywhere could be free. [53]

Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer wrote in this context about Lincoln's letter: "Unknown to Greeley, Lincoln composed this after he had already drafted a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, which he had determined to issue after the next Union military victory. Therefore, this letter, was in truth, an attempt to position the impending announcement in terms of saving the Union, not freeing slaves as a humanitarian gesture. It was one of Lincoln's most skillful public relations efforts, even if it has cast longstanding doubt on his sincerity as a liberator." [51] Historian Richard Striner argues that "for years" Lincoln's letter has been misread as "Lincoln only wanted to save the Union." [54] However, within the context of Lincoln's entire career and pronouncements on slavery this interpretation is wrong, according to Striner. Rather, Lincoln was softening the strong Northern white supremacist opposition to his imminent emancipation by tying it to the cause of the Union. This opposition would fight for the Union but not to end slavery, so Lincoln gave them the means and motivation to do both, at the same time. [54] In his 2014 book, Lincoln's Gamble, journalist and historian Todd Brewster asserted that Lincoln's desire to reassert the saving of the Union as his sole war goal was, in fact, crucial to his claim of legal authority for emancipation. Since slavery was protected by the Constitution, the only way that he could free the slaves was as a tactic of war—not as the mission itself. [55] But that carried the risk that when the war ended, so would the justification for freeing the slaves. Late in 1862, Lincoln asked his Attorney General, Edward Bates, for an opinion as to whether slaves freed through a war-related proclamation of emancipation could be re-enslaved once the war was over. Bates had to work through the language of the Dred Scott decision to arrive at an answer, but he finally concluded that they could indeed remain free. Still, a complete end to slavery would require a constitutional amendment. [56]

Conflicting advice, to free all slaves, or not free them at all, was presented to Lincoln in public and private. Thomas Nast, a cartoon artist during the Civil War and the late 1800s considered "Father of the American Cartoon", composed many works including a two-sided spread that showed the transition from slavery into civilization after President Lincoln signed the Proclamation. Nast believed in equal opportunity and equality for all people, including enslaved Africans or free blacks. A mass rally in Chicago on September 7, 1862, demanded immediate and universal emancipation of slaves. A delegation headed by William W. Patton met the president at the White House on September 13. Lincoln had declared in peacetime that he had no constitutional authority to free the slaves. Even used as a war power, emancipation was a risky political act. Public opinion as a whole was against it. [57] There would be strong opposition among Copperhead Democrats and an uncertain reaction from loyal border states. Delaware and Maryland already had a high percentage of free blacks: 91.2% and 49.7%, respectively, in 1860. [58]

Lincoln first discussed the proclamation with his cabinet in July 1862. He drafted his "preliminary proclamation" and read it to Secretary of State William Seward, and Secretary of Navy Gideon Welles, on July 13. Seward and Welles were at first speechless, then Seward referred to possible anarchy throughout the South and resulting foreign intervention Welles apparently said nothing. On July 22, Lincoln presented it to his entire cabinet as something he had determined to do and he asked their opinion on wording. [59] Although Secretary of War Edwin Stanton supported it, Seward advised Lincoln to issue the proclamation after a major Union victory, or else it would appear as if the Union was giving "its last shriek of retreat". [60]

In September 1862, the Battle of Antietam gave Lincoln the victory he needed to issue the Emancipation. In the battle, though the Union suffered heavier losses than the Confederates and General McClellan allowed the escape of Robert E. Lee's retreating troops, Union forces turned back a Confederate invasion of Maryland, eliminating more than a quarter of Lee's army in the process. On September 22, 1862, five days after Antietam occurred, and while living at the Soldier's Home, Lincoln called his cabinet into session and issued the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. [61] According to Civil War historian James M. McPherson, Lincoln told Cabinet members that he had made a covenant with God, that if the Union drove the Confederacy out of Maryland, he would issue the Emancipation Proclamation. [62] [63] Lincoln had first shown an early draft of the proclamation to Vice President Hannibal Hamlin, [64] an ardent abolitionist, who was more often kept in the dark on presidential decisions. The final proclamation was issued on January 1, 1863. Although implicitly granted authority by Congress, Lincoln used his powers as Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy, "as a necessary war measure" as the basis of the proclamation, rather than the equivalent of a statute enacted by Congress or a constitutional amendment. Some days after issuing the final Proclamation, Lincoln wrote to Major General John McClernand: "After the commencement of hostilities I struggled nearly a year and a half to get along without touching the "institution" and when finally I conditionally determined to touch it, I gave a hundred days fair notice of my purpose, to all the States and people, within which time they could have turned it wholly aside, by simply again becoming good citizens of the United States. They chose to disregard it, and I made the peremptory proclamation on what appeared to me to be a military necessity. And being made, it must stand." [65]

Initially, the Emancipation Proclamation effectively freed only a small percentage of the slaves, those who were behind Union lines in areas not exempted. Most slaves were still behind Confederate lines or in exempted Union-occupied areas. Secretary of State William H. Seward commented, "We show our sympathy with slavery by emancipating slaves where we cannot reach them and holding them in bondage where we can set them free." Had any slave state ended its secession attempt before January 1, 1863, it could have kept slavery, at least temporarily. The Proclamation only gave the Lincoln Administration the legal basis to free the slaves in the areas of the South that were still in rebellion on January 1, 1863. It effectively destroyed slavery as the Union armies advanced south and conquered the entire Confederacy. [ citation needed ]

The Emancipation Proclamation also allowed for the enrollment of freed slaves into the United States military. During the war nearly 200,000 blacks, most of them ex-slaves, joined the Union Army. [66] Their contributions gave the North additional manpower that was significant in winning the war. The Confederacy did not allow slaves in their army as soldiers until the last month before its defeat. [67]

Though the counties of Virginia that were soon to form West Virginia were specifically exempted from the Proclamation (Jefferson County being the only exception), a condition of the state's admittance to the Union was that its constitution provide for the gradual abolition of slavery (an immediate emancipation of all slaves was also adopted there in early 1865). Slaves in the border states of Maryland and Missouri were also emancipated by separate state action before the Civil War ended. In Maryland, a new state constitution abolishing slavery in the state went into effect on November 1, 1864. The Union-occupied counties of eastern Virginia and parishes of Louisiana, which had been exempted from the Proclamation, both adopted state constitutions that abolished slavery in April 1864. [68] [69] In early 1865, Tennessee adopted an amendment to its constitution prohibiting slavery. [70] [71]

The Proclamation was issued in two parts. The first part, issued on September 22, 1862, was a preliminary announcement outlining the intent of the second part, which officially went into effect 100 days later on January 1, 1863, during the second year of the Civil War. It was Abraham Lincoln's declaration that all slaves would be permanently freed in all areas of the Confederacy that had not already returned to federal control by January 1863. The ten affected states were individually named in the second part (South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina). Not included were the Union slave states of Maryland, Delaware, Missouri and Kentucky. Also not named was the state of Tennessee, in which a Union-controlled military government had already been set up, based in the capital, Nashville. Specific exemptions were stated for areas also under Union control on January 1, 1863, namely 48 counties that would soon become West Virginia, seven other named counties of Virginia including Berkeley and Hampshire counties, which were soon added to West Virginia, New Orleans and 13 named parishes nearby. [72]

Union-occupied areas of the Confederate states where the proclamation was put into immediate effect by local commanders included Winchester, Virginia, [73] Corinth, Mississippi, [74] the Sea Islands along the coasts of the Carolinas and Georgia, [75] Key West, Florida, [76] and Port Royal, South Carolina. [77]

Immediate impact

It has been inaccurately claimed that the Emancipation Proclamation did not free a single slave [78] historian Lerone Bennett Jr. alleged that the proclamation was a hoax deliberately designed not to free any slaves. [79] However, as a result of the Proclamation, many slaves were freed during the course of the war, beginning with the day it took effect eyewitness accounts at places such as Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, [80] and Port Royal, South Carolina [77] record celebrations on January 1 as thousands of blacks were informed of their new legal status of freedom. Estimates of how many thousands of slaves were freed immediately by the Emancipation Proclamation are varied. One contemporary estimate put the 'contraband' population of Union-occupied North Carolina at 10,000, and the Sea Islands of South Carolina also had a substantial population. Those 20,000 slaves were freed immediately by the Emancipation Proclamation." [26] This Union-occupied zone where freedom began at once included parts of eastern North Carolina, the Mississippi Valley, northern Alabama, the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, a large part of Arkansas, and the Sea Islands of Georgia and South Carolina. [81] Although some counties of Union-occupied Virginia were exempted from the Proclamation, the lower Shenandoah Valley, and the area around Alexandria were covered. [26] Emancipation was immediately enforced as Union soldiers advanced into the Confederacy. Slaves fled their masters and were often assisted by Union soldiers. [82]

Booker T. Washington, as a boy of 9 in Virginia, remembered the day in early 1865: [83]

As the great day drew nearer, there was more singing in the slave quarters than usual. It was bolder, had more ring, and lasted later into the night. Most of the verses of the plantation songs had some reference to freedom. . Some man who seemed to be a stranger (a United States officer, I presume) made a little speech and then read a rather long paper—the Emancipation Proclamation, I think. After the reading we were told that we were all free, and could go when and where we pleased. My mother, who was standing by my side, leaned over and kissed her children, while tears of joy ran down her cheeks. She explained to us what it all meant, that this was the day for which she had been so long praying, but fearing that she would never live to see.

Runaway slaves who had escaped to Union lines had previously been held by the Union Army as "contraband of war" under the Confiscation Acts when the proclamation took effect, they were told at midnight that they were free to leave. The Sea Islands off the coast of Georgia had been occupied by the Union Navy earlier in the war. The whites had fled to the mainland while the blacks stayed. An early program of Reconstruction was set up for the former slaves, including schools and training. Naval officers read the proclamation and told them they were free. [75]

Slaves had been part of the "engine of war" for the Confederacy. They produced and prepared food sewed uniforms repaired railways worked on farms and in factories, shipping yards, and mines built fortifications and served as hospital workers and common laborers. News of the Proclamation spread rapidly by word of mouth, arousing hopes of freedom, creating general confusion, and encouraging thousands to escape to Union lines. [84] [ page needed ] George Washington Albright, a teenage slave in Mississippi, recalled that like many of his fellow slaves, his father escaped to join Union forces. According to Albright, plantation owners tried to keep the Proclamation from slaves but news of it came through the "grapevine". The young slave became a "runner" for an informal group they called the 4Ls ("Lincoln's Legal Loyal League") bringing news of the proclamation to secret slave meetings at plantations throughout the region. [85]

Robert E. Lee saw the Emancipation Proclamation as a way for the Union to bolster the number of soldiers it could place on the field, making it imperative for the Confederacy to increase their own numbers. Writing on the matter after the sack of Fredericksburg, Lee wrote "In view of the vast increase of the forces of the enemy, of the savage and brutal policy he has proclaimed, which leaves us no alternative but success or degradation worse than death, if we would save the honor of our families from pollution, our social system from destruction, let every effort be made, every means be employed, to fill and maintain the ranks of our armies, until God, in his mercy, shall bless us with the establishment of our independence." [86] [ page needed ]

Political impact

The Proclamation was immediately denounced by Copperhead Democrats who opposed the war and advocated restoring the union by allowing slavery. Horatio Seymour, while running for the governorship of New York, cast the Emancipation Proclamation as a call for slaves to commit extreme acts of violence on all white southerners, saying it was "a proposal for the butchery of women and children, for scenes of lust and rapine, and of arson and murder, which would invoke the interference of civilized Europe". [92] [ page needed ] The Copperheads also saw the Proclamation as an unconstitutional abuse of presidential power. Editor Henry A. Reeves wrote in Greenport's Republican Watchman that "In the name of freedom of Negroes, [the proclamation] imperils the liberty of white men to test a utopian theory of equality of races which Nature, History and Experience alike condemn as monstrous, it overturns the Constitution and Civil Laws and sets up Military Usurpation in their Stead." [92] [ page needed ]

Racism remained pervasive on both sides of the conflict and many in the North supported the war only as an effort to force the South to stay in the Union. The promises of many Republican politicians that the war was to restore the Union and not about black rights or ending slavery, were now declared lies by their opponents citing the Proclamation. Copperhead David Allen spoke to a rally in Columbiana, Ohio, stating, "I have told you that this war is carried on for the Negro. There is the proclamation of the President of the United States. Now fellow Democrats I ask you if you are going to be forced into a war against your Brithren of the Southern States for the Negro. I answer No!" [93] The Copperheads saw the Proclamation as irrefutable proof of their position and the beginning of a political rise for their members in Connecticut, H. B. Whiting wrote that the truth was now plain even to "those stupid thick-headed persons who persisted in thinking that the President was a conservative man and that the war was for the restoration of the Union under the Constitution". [92] [ page needed ]

War Democrats who rejected the Copperhead position within their party, found themselves in a quandary. While throughout the war they had continued to espouse the racist positions of their party and their disdain of the concerns of slaves, they did see the Proclamation as a viable military tool against the South, and worried that opposing it might demoralize troops in the Union army. The question would continue to trouble them and eventually lead to a split within their party as the war progressed. [92] [ page needed ]

Lincoln further alienated many in the Union two days after issuing the preliminary copy of the Emancipation Proclamation by suspending habeas corpus. His opponents linked these two actions in their claims that he was becoming a despot. In light of this and a lack of military success for the Union armies, many War Democrat voters who had previously supported Lincoln turned against him and joined the Copperheads in the off-year elections held in October and November. [92] [ page needed ]

In the 1862 elections, the Democrats gained 28 seats in the House as well as the governorship of New York. Lincoln's friend Orville Hickman Browning told the president that the Proclamation and the suspension of habeas corpus had been "disastrous" for his party by handing the Democrats so many weapons. Lincoln made no response. Copperhead William Javis of Connecticut pronounced the election the "beginning of the end of the utter downfall of Abolitionism in the United States". [92] [ page needed ]

Historians James M. McPherson and Allan Nevins state that though the results looked very troubling, they could be seen favorably by Lincoln his opponents did well only in their historic strongholds and "at the national level their gains in the House were the smallest of any minority party's in an off-year election in nearly a generation. Michigan, California, and Iowa all went Republican. Moreover, the Republicans picked up five seats in the Senate." [92] McPherson states "If the election was in any sense a referendum on emancipation and on Lincoln's conduct of the war, a majority of Northern voters endorsed these policies." [92] [ page needed ]

Confederate response

The initial Confederate response was one of expected outrage. The Proclamation was seen as vindication for the rebellion, and proof that Lincoln would have abolished slavery even if the states had remained in the Union. [94] In an August 1863 letter to President Lincoln, U.S. Army general Ulysses S. Grant observed that the Proclamation, combined with the usage of black soldiers by the U.S. Army, profoundly angered the Confederacy, saying that "the emancipation of the Negro, is the heaviest blow yet given the Confederacy. The South rave a great deal about it and profess to be very angry." [95] A few months after the Proclamation took effect, the Confederacy passed a law in May 1863 demanding "full and ample retaliation" against the U.S. for such measures. The Confederacy stated that the black U.S. soldiers captured while fighting against the Confederacy would be tried as slave insurrectionists in civil courts—a capital offense with automatic sentence of death. Less than a year after the law's passage, the Confederates massacred black U.S. soldiers at Fort Pillow. [96] [ page needed ]

Confederate General Robert E. Lee called the Proclamation a "savage and brutal policy he has proclaimed, which leaves us no alternative but success or degradation worse than death" [97]

However, some Confederates welcomed the Proclamation, as they believed it would strengthen pro-slavery sentiment in the Confederacy and, thus, lead to greater enlistment of white men into the Confederate army. According to one Confederate man from Kentucky, "The Proclamation is worth three hundred thousand soldiers to our Government at least. It shows exactly what this war was brought about for and the intention of its damnable authors." [98] Even some Union soldiers concurred with this view and expressed reservations about the Proclamation, not on principle, but rather because they were afraid it would increase the Confederacy's determination to fight on and maintain slavery. One Union soldier from New York stated worryingly after the Proclamation's passage, "I know enough of the Southern spirit that I think they will fight for the institution of slavery even to extermination." [99]

As a result of the Proclamation, the price of slaves in the Confederacy increased in the months after its issuance, with one Confederate from South Carolina opining in 1865 that "now is the time for Uncle to buy some negro women and children." [100]

International impact

As Lincoln had hoped, the proclamation turned foreign popular opinion in favor of the Union by gaining the support of anti-slavery countries and countries that had already abolished slavery (especially the developed countries in Europe such as the United Kingdom or France). This shift ended the Confederacy's hopes of gaining official recognition. [101]

Since the Emancipation Proclamation made the eradication of slavery an explicit Union war goal, it linked support for the South to support for slavery. Public opinion in Britain would not tolerate support for slavery. As Henry Adams noted, "The Emancipation Proclamation has done more for us than all our former victories and all our diplomacy." In Italy, Giuseppe Garibaldi hailed Lincoln as "the heir of the aspirations of John Brown". On August 6, 1863, Garibaldi wrote to Lincoln: "Posterity will call you the great emancipator, a more enviable title than any crown could be, and greater than any merely mundane treasure". [102]

Mayor Abel Haywood, a representative for workers from Manchester, England, wrote to Lincoln saying, "We joyfully honor you for many decisive steps toward practically exemplifying your belief in the words of your great founders: 'All men are created free and equal.'" [103] The Emancipation Proclamation served to ease tensions with Europe over the North's conduct of the war, and combined with the recent failed Southern offensive at Antietam, to remove any practical chance for the Confederacy to receive foreign support in the war. [104]

Lincoln's Gettysburg Address in November 1863 made indirect reference to the Proclamation and the ending of slavery as a war goal with the phrase "new birth of freedom". The Proclamation solidified Lincoln's support among the rapidly growing abolitionist element of the Republican Party and ensured that they would not block his re-nomination in 1864. [105] [ page needed ]

In December 1863, Lincoln issued his Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction, which dealt with the ways the rebel states could reconcile with the Union. Key provisions required that the states accept the Emancipation Proclamation and thus the freedom of their slaves, and accept the Confiscation Acts, as well as the Act banning of slavery in United States territories. [106]

Near the end of the war, abolitionists were concerned that the Emancipation Proclamation would be construed solely as a war measure, Lincoln's original intent, and would no longer apply once fighting ended. They also were increasingly anxious to secure the freedom of all slaves, not just those freed by the Emancipation Proclamation. Thus pressed, Lincoln staked a large part of his 1864 presidential campaign on a constitutional amendment to abolish slavery uniformly throughout the United States. Lincoln's campaign was bolstered by separate votes in both Maryland and Missouri to abolish slavery in those states. Maryland's new constitution abolishing slavery took effect in November 1864. Slavery in Missouri was ended by executive proclamation of its governor, Thomas C. Fletcher, on January 11, 1865. [ citation needed ]

Winning re-election, Lincoln pressed the lame duck 38th Congress to pass the proposed amendment immediately rather than wait for the incoming 39th Congress to convene. In January 1865, Congress sent to the state legislatures for ratification what became the Thirteenth Amendment, banning slavery in all U.S. states and territories. The amendment was ratified by the legislatures of enough states by December 6, 1865, and proclaimed 12 days later. There were approximately 40,000 slaves in Kentucky and 1,000 in Delaware who were liberated then. [28]

As the years went on and American life continued to be deeply unfair towards blacks, cynicism towards Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation increased. Perhaps the strongest attack was Lerone Bennett's Forced into Glory: Abraham Lincoln's White Dream (2000), which claimed that Lincoln was a white supremacist who issued the Emancipation Proclamation in lieu of the real racial reforms for which radical abolitionists pushed. In his Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, Allen C. Guelzo noted the professional historians' lack of substantial respect for the document, since it has been the subject of few major scholarly studies. He argued that Lincoln was the US's "last Enlightenment politician" [107] and as such was dedicated to removing slavery strictly within the bounds of law.

Other historians have given more credit to Lincoln for what he accomplished within the tensions of his cabinet and a society at war, for his own growth in political and moral stature, and for the promise he held out to the slaves. [108] More might have been accomplished if he had not been assassinated. As Eric Foner wrote:

Lincoln was not an abolitionist or Radical Republican, a point Bennett reiterates innumerable times. He did not favor immediate abolition before the war, and held racist views typical of his time. But he was also a man of deep convictions when it came to slavery, and during the Civil War displayed a remarkable capacity for moral and political growth. [109]

Perhaps in rejecting the critical dualism–Lincoln as individual emancipator pitted against collective self-emancipators–there is an opportunity to recognise the greater persuasiveness of the combination. In a sense, yes: a racist, flawed Lincoln did something heroic, and not in lieu of collective participation, but next to, and enabled, by it. To venerate a singular –Great Emancipator' may be as reductive as dismissing the significance of Lincoln's actions. Who he was as a man, no one of us can ever really know. So it is that the version of Lincoln we keep is also the version we make. [110]

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made many references to the Emancipation Proclamation during the civil rights movement. These include a speech made at an observance of the hundredth anniversary of the issuing of the Proclamation made in New York City on September 12, 1962 where he placed it alongside the Declaration of Independence as an "imperishable" contribution to civilization, and "All tyrants, past, present and future, are powerless to bury the truths in these declarations". He lamented that despite a history where the United States "proudly professed the basic principles inherent in both documents", it "sadly practiced the antithesis of these principles". He concluded "There is but one way to commemorate the Emancipation Proclamation. That is to make its declarations of freedom real to reach back to the origins of our nation when our message of equality electrified an unfree world, and reaffirm democracy by deeds as bold and daring as the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation." [111]

King's most famous invocation of the Emancipation Proclamation was in a speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom (often referred to as the "I Have a Dream" speech). King began the speech saying "Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of captivity. But one hundred years later, we must face the tragic fact that the Negro is still not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination." [112]

The "Second Emancipation Proclamation"

In the early 1960s, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his associates developed a strategy to call on President John F. Kennedy to bypass a Southern segregationist opposition in the Congress by issuing an executive order to put an end to segregation. This envisioned document was referred to as the "Second Emancipation Proclamation".

President John F. Kennedy

On June 11, 1963, President Kennedy appeared on national television to address the issue of civil rights. Kennedy, who had been routinely criticized as timid by some of the leaders of the civil rights movement, told Americans that two black students had been peacefully enrolled in the University of Alabama with the aid of the National Guard despite the opposition of Governor George Wallace.

John Kennedy called it a "moral issue". [113] Invoking the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation he said,

One hundred years of delay have passed since President Lincoln freed the slaves, yet their heirs, their grandsons, are not fully free. They are not yet freed from the bonds of injustice. They are not yet freed from social and economic oppression. And this Nation, for all its hopes and all its boasts, will not be fully free until all its citizens are free. We preach freedom around the world, and we mean it, and we cherish our freedom here at home, but are we to say to the world, and much more importantly, to each other that this is a land of the free except for the Negroes that we have no second-class citizens except Negroes that we have no class or caste system, no ghettoes, no master race except with respect to Negroes? Now the time has come for this Nation to fulfill its promise. The events in Birmingham and elsewhere have so increased the cries for equality that no city or State or legislative body can prudently choose to ignore them. [114]

In the same speech, Kennedy announced he would introduce comprehensive civil rights legislation to the United States Congress which he did a week later (he continued to push for its passage until his assassination in November 1963). Historian Peniel E. Joseph holds Lyndon Johnson's ability to get that bill, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, passed on July 2, 1964 was aided by "the moral forcefulness of the June 11 speech" that turned "the narrative of civil rights from a regional issue into a national story promoting racial equality and democratic renewal". [113]

President Lyndon B. Johnson

During the civil rights movement of the 1960s, Lyndon B. Johnson invoked the Emancipation Proclamation holding it up as a promise yet to be fully implemented.

As vice president while speaking from Gettysburg on May 30, 1963 (Memorial Day), at the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation, Johnson connected it directly with the ongoing civil rights struggles of the time saying "One hundred years ago, the slave was freed. One hundred years later, the Negro remains in bondage to the color of his skin. In this hour, it is not our respective races which are at stake—it is our nation. Let those who care for their country come forward, North and South, white and Negro, to lead the way through this moment of challenge and decision. Until justice is blind to color, until education is unaware of race, until opportunity is unconcerned with color of men's skins, emancipation will be a proclamation but not a fact. To the extent that the proclamation of emancipation is not fulfilled in fact, to that extent we shall have fallen short of assuring freedom to the free." [115]

As president, Johnson again invoked the proclamation in a speech presenting the Voting Rights Act at a joint session of Congress on Monday, March 15, 1965. This was one week after violence had been inflicted on peaceful civil rights marchers during the Selma to Montgomery marches. Johnson said ". it's not just Negroes, but really it's all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome. As a man whose roots go deeply into Southern soil, I know how agonizing racial feelings are. I know how difficult it is to reshape the attitudes and the structure of our society. But a century has passed—more than 100 years—since the Negro was freed. And he is not fully free tonight. It was more than 100 years ago that Abraham Lincoln—a great President of another party—signed the Emancipation Proclamation. But emancipation is a proclamation and not a fact. A century has passed—more than 100 years—since equality was promised, and yet the Negro is not equal. A century has passed since the day of promise, and the promise is unkept. The time of justice has now come, and I tell you that I believe sincerely that no force can hold it back. It is right in the eyes of man and God that it should come, and when it does, I think that day will brighten the lives of every American." [116]

In the 1963 episode of The Andy Griffith Show, "Andy Discovers America", Andy asks Barney to explain the Emancipation Proclamation to Opie who is struggling with history at school. [118] Barney brags about his history expertise, yet it is apparent he cannot answer Andy's question. He finally becomes frustrated and explains it is a proclamation for certain people who wanted emancipation. [119] In addition, the Emancipation Proclamation was also a main item of discussion in the movie Lincoln (2012) directed by Steven Spielberg. [120]

The Emancipation Proclamation is celebrated around the world including on stamps of nations such as the Republic of Togo. [121] The United States commemorative was issued on August 16, 1963, the opening day of the Century of Negro Progress Exposition in Chicago, Illinois. Designed by Georg Olden, an initial printing of 120 million stamps was authorized. [117]

Abraham Lincoln's Draft of the Emancipation Proclamation

When Lincoln felt the time had come to pursue emancipation as a “military necessity,” he read an initial draft of his Proclamation to his cabinet. His advisors were apathetic to the Proclamation, or worse, worried that it was too radical. Secretary of State William Seward suggested that Lincoln wait to issue the Proclamation until a Union victory could prove that the federal government could enforce it. The Proclamation was officially released on September 22nd, 1862, after the Battle of Antietam, but the two months between July and September gave Lincoln the necessary time to revise the Proclamation from its original content, below.

In pursuance of the sixth section of the act of congress entitled “An act to suppress insurrection and to punish treason and rebellion, to seize and confiscate property of rebels, and for other purposes,” approved July 17, 1862, and which act, and the Joint Resolution explanatory thereof, are herewith published, I, ABRAHAM LINCOLN, President of the United States, do hereby proclaim to, and warn all persons within the contemplation of said sixth section to cease participating in, aiding, countenancing, or abetting the existing rebellion, or any rebellion against the government of the United States, and to return to their proper allegiance to the United States, on pain of the forfeitures and seizures, as within and by said sixth section provided.

And I hereby make known that it is my purpose, upon the next meeting of congress, to again recommend the adoption of a practical measure for tendering pecuniary aid to the free choice or rejection, of any and all States which may then be recognizing and practically sustaining the authority of the United States, and which may then have voluntarily adopted, or thereafter may voluntarily adopt, gradual abolishment of slavery within such State or States---that the object is to practically restore, thenceforward to be maintain[ed], the constitutional relation between the general government, and each, and all the states, wherein that relation is now suspended, or disturbed and that, for this object, the war, as it has been, will be, prosecuted [sic]. And, as a fit and necessary military measure for effecting this object, I, as Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, do order and declare 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 states, wherein the constitutional authority of the United States shall not then be practically recognized, submitted to, and maintained, shall then, thenceforward, and forever, be free.

Lesson Plans

A Juneteenth celebration in Richmond, Virginia, 1905. Library of Congress

For a Google version of this lesson plan, click here . (Note: you will need to make a copy of the document to edit it).

Emancipation Proclamation. Lithograph by L. Lipman, Milwaukee, Wisc., Feb. 26, 1864. Library of Congress

In this lesson, students will explore and discuss the history and context around the Juneteenth holiday in the United States. Topics explored will include the history of racial injustice in the U.S., the Civil War and the limitations of the Emancipation Proclamation. Additionally, students will be encouraged to explore the modern significance of Juneteenth and its long-term impact.

Time: One 50-60 minute class period

As of June 15, 2021, the Senate unanimously approved a bill approving June 19 as a federal holiday for “Juneteenth National Independence Day. ” The House passed the bill one day later. As this legislation makes its way to President Joe Biden’s desk, many Americans are still unaware of the history and significance of June 19.

Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger. Brady’s National Photographic Portrait Galleries. Library of Congress

On Jan. 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation declaring “that all persons held as slaves” in the Confederacy “shall be free.” While this may have freed some enslaved people on paper, the reality was much more complicated.

For instance, the Emancipation Proclamation only freed those slaves held under the Confederacy, not in border states loyal to the Union, including Kentucky, West Virginia and Delaware, where slavery was still legal after the Emancipation Proclamation. In fact, slavery was still legal in Kentucky until Dec. 1865, when the 13th Amendment was passed, though Kentucky voted against ratifying the amendment.

Confederate states and slaveholders also resisted emancipation, and many people remained enslaved in Confederate states after the proclamation, even as many enslaved people fought for their freedom or escaped behind Union lines. On June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger of the Union issued an order in Galveston, Texas, alerting all enslaved persons that they were legally free.

At this point in 1865, Texas was the westernmost state in America and one of the last Confederate states to be occupied by the Union. Many slaveholders had fled Union advances in other parts of the South to Texas, along with the people they had enslaved.

Billy McCrea, a former enslaved person, remembered the Union troops coming into Texas in 1865 and being told that he was free. Photo by Ruby Terrill Lomax, Sept. 30, 1940. Library of Congress

While it took time for the logistics of “freeing” enslaved people to come into effect, the importance of June 19, or “Juneteenth” lived on. Considering how complicated emancipation was, many dates were considered for holding celebrations of emancipation, but over 150 years later, June 19 remains.

What originally was a holiday mainly observed by Texans has grown to be recognized all over the country. Each year on “Juneteenth,” (or more formally Juneteenth National Freedom Day), communities all around the United States gather and celebrate and reflect on the history of slavery and struggle for civil rights and equality, including the work that still remains after conditional advances such as the Emancipation Proclamation.

As a class, watch the BrainPop video (8 minutes) below or found here introducing Juneteenth. While watching the video, answer the following discussion questions.

Discussion questions:

  • What is “Juneteenth”? What does it celebrate?
  • Why did it take so long for enslaved peoples in Texas to finally be free? What obstacles existed?
  • What were some of the forms of discrimination against newly freed people mentioned in the video?
  • What is the Great Migration?
  • How did Juneteenth become a national, not just regional, celebration?

After watching the video, separate into groups of 3-4 to discuss the focus questions (5 minutes).

  1. Along with their groups, participants should read through the article “What is Juneteenth” by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. starting at the second section, “Other Contenders.” (10 minutes) After reading, discuss the following questions (5-10 minutes):
    • Why was June 19 chosen as the date to celebrate the freedom of all Americans? What were some of the drawbacks to other dates? Can you make an argument for why you think a different date might have been better or worse?
    • Gates describes several reasons why Juneteenth struggled to be remembered at times, and why it was able to endure. Compare and contrast what the BrainPop video included as reasons why Juneteenth struggled and endured with what Gates emphasizes. What do you think were the most important factors in Juneteenth’s momentum and remembrance worth continuing?
  2. If Juneteenth isn’t recognized in your state, see if you can answer: Why is Juneteenth not recognized? At the end of the article in the “Juneteenth Today” section, Gates describes how Juneteenth has spread in modern day. Explore Juneteenth in your local community. Search for the history of Juneteenth in your community and state. (10-15 minutes) Find out:
    • Does my state recognize Juneteenth?
    • When did my state start recognizing Juneteenth, if at all?
    • What was the process of Juneteenth becoming a holiday in my state?
    • Resources students can use include:
        for state and local government websites
    • The Library of Congress

Additional activities

1. Brainstorm or plan a Juneteenth celebration activity. This can be decorating a common area, bringing in a relevant local speaker or planning a refreshment break for your school. Juneteenth celebrations can be in the home, at school or in community locations. For more inspiration see these resources:

2. Some activists feel ambivalent about Juneteenth becoming a national holiday, or reject the idea. To learn more about the nuances surrounding making Juneteenth a federal holiday, watch this NewsHour interview with Dr. Mark Anthony Neal recorded in 2020 amid the George Floyd protests.

If classrooms finish and plan a celebratory activity, please share your ideas with us on social media @NewsHourEXTRA on Twitter Instagram.

Cecilia Curran is a current rising sophomore at Amherst College. She is a prospective double major in Asian Languages & Civilization and Psychology looking to work in Public Health. This summer she is working as one of PBS NewsHour EXTRA’s interns. Local to northern Virginia, Cecilia has loved PBS and her local PBS station WETA for years and is ecstatic to work with NewsHour this summer.

This lesson was edited by NewsHour EXTRA’s education producer and former history teacher Vic Pasquantonio.

Why Did Lincoln Feel the Emancipation Proclamation was necessary?

Why did Lincoln feel that it was necessary to issue the Emancipation Proclamation?

Ever since he was elected, Abraham Lincoln had to balance his commitment to preserving the Union against his personal convictions against slavery. When that failed and the South seceded, Lincoln decided that all bets were off and that when the Union was restored, slavery would go—universally. That conviction was not universally supported in the North, however, and Lincoln held off proclaiming emancipation until he would do so on the occasion of a battlefield victory. Antietam provided that large-scale victory on September 17, 1862, even though Maj. Gen. George McClellan had missed all opportunities to accomplish any more than drive General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia out of Maryland, intact to fight another day. Lincoln made this repulsion of a Confederate invasion just victory enough to give the impression that he was issuing the proclamation from a position of strength, rather than one of desperation. Moreover, by shifting the Civil War’s main purpose from preserving the Union to universal liberty, Lincoln was hurling a moral challenge in the face of the British and French at a time when they were considering recognition of the Confederate government. In essence, it said, “You both abolished slavery—are you really going to recognize a nation built on that institution now, just to have access to the cotton grown by their slaves?” Britain and France balked. Thus Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation transformed Antietam from an unsatisfying tactical victory into a major moral and strategic victory.

Jon Guttman
Research Director
World History Group
More Questions at Ask Mr. History

The Emancipation Proclamation

"First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation by President Lincoln," by Francis Bicknell Carpenter

Rarely in history has the link between the blood shed on the battlefield and the freedom of millions been as clear as it was September, 1862. At the Battle of Antietam, on September 17, over 23,000 men fell as casualties in a single day of battle - more than the total casualties of all America's previous wars combined. Just five days later, on September 22, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. This declaration was the result of a long struggle, dating back to the very foundation of the country. From the moment that Thomas Jefferson penned those immortal words, "all men are created equal," a great national debate spread through the nation, attempting to define citizenship, personhood, and freedom. In 1861, that debate had descended into civil war.

By the summer of 1862, with casualties mounting across the country, Lincoln realized it was time to embrace a higher goal for the conflict. On July 22, he introduced to his cabinet a proclamation declaring that all slaves in states in active rebellion against the federal government would be freed under his powers as Commander-in-Chief. While nearly all of his cabinet members greeted the proclamation favorably, Secretary of State William Seward suggested Lincoln wait for a Union victory before issuing such an important policy. Seward believed putting forth such a revolutionary measure amidst Union setbacks on the fields of Virginia would take away much of the proclamation's power, giving it the appearance of an act of desperation rather than a bold move. Lincoln agreed. He held on to the document, waiting for a Union victory.

When Robert E. Lee's Confederate Army of Northern Virginia crossed the Potomac River and began its invasion of Maryland, Lincoln made "a solemn vow" that should Lee be stopped, he would "crown the result by the declaration of freedom to the slaves." While the fate of the nation hung in the balance, and with the eyes of millions upon them, the Union Army of the Potomac and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia clashed near the banks of Antietam Creek on September 17. Five days later, with Lee gone from Maryland, Lincoln had the victory he needed and he issued the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, stating that he would free all the slaves in any state "in rebellion against the United States" on January 1, 1863.

The Emancipation Memorial, sculpted by Thomas Bell, in Lincoln Park in Washington, DC

By the appointed deadline none of the Confederate states returned to the Union, so after standing in line for hours to greet the customary New Year's Day visitors at the White House, Abraham Lincoln retired to his office upstairs at the Executive Mansion and signed the final version of the Emancipation Proclamation. His hands were tired and trembling from shaking so many hands, and as he prepared to sign the document, he paused to let the quivering subside, and declared, as if to reinforce his resolve, "I never in my life felt more certain that I was doing right than I do in signing this paper. if my name ever goes into history it will be for this act, and my whole soul is in it." Lincoln affixed a steady signature to the Emancipation Proclamation, competing what he would later call the great event of the nineteenth century."

The final proclamation, issued January 1, 1863, identified those areas "in rebellion." They included virtually the entire Confederacy, except areas controlled by the Union army. The document notably excluded the so-called border states of Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri, where slavery existed side by side with Unionist sentiment. In areas where the U.S. government had authority, such as Maryland and much of Tennessee, slavery went untouched. In areas where slaves were declared free - most of the South - the federal government had no effective authority.

The Emancipation Proclamation had a profound influence on the course of the war and the institution of slavery. In addition to setting the state for the freedom of millions of former slaves, it was also a decisive war measure. It deprived the South of valuable slave labor for its war effort as thousands of slaves fled to nearby Union camps, and historians believe that it influenced the decision of England and France not to intervene on behalf of the Confederacy. It also allowed nearly 180,000 former slaves and free blacks to serve and fight alongside their countrymen as United States Colored Troops.

Although his famous proclamation did not immediately free a single slave, black Americans saw Lincoln as a savior. Official legal freedom for the slaves came in December 1865 with the ratification of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution abolishing slavery.

Jill Lepore: Abraham Lincoln’s 100 Days

Weary of the one-hundred-day-a-palooza? Not every span of one hundred days is as arbitrary as this one. On September 22, 1862, Lincoln signed a document called the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, declaring that he would free every slave held in every Confederate state in exactly one hundred days, on New Year’s, 1863. That’s a long time to wait. And not everyone was sure the President would stand by his pledge. “The first of January is to be the most memorable day in American Annals,” answered Frederick Douglass. “But will that deed be done? Oh! That is the question.”

As soon as word got out, though, a crowd came to the White House and spontaneously serenaded the President. (The District of Columbia’s thirty-one thousand slaves had already been emancipated, by an act of Congress, in April.) Elsewhere, the response was mixed. The New York Times deemed the Preliminary Proclamation as important as the Constitution. The Richmond Examiner called it “the inauguration of a reign of hell upon earth!” Within days, the news made its way to slaves in the South. Isaac Lane took a newspaper from his master’s mailbox and read it aloud to every slave he could find. One hundred days? Not everyone was willing to wait that long. In October, slaves caught planning a rebellion in Culpeper, Virginia, were found to have in their possession newspapers in which the Proclamation had been printed seventeen of those men were executed.

The Proclamation has not always been highly regarded many historians, like many abolitionists, think Lincoln did too little, too late some see granting freedom to the slaves in Confederate states a purely military—and, finally, a cynical—maneuver. Whatever it was, it wasn’t unimportant. As the historian John Hope Franklin once observed (in a chapter called “The Hundred Days”), the Preliminary Proclamation “transformed the war into a crusade against slavery.” And that’s what gave Lincoln so much trouble: not all of his supporters were interested in fighting a crusade against slavery. As autumn faded to winter, pressure mounted on the President to abandon his pledge. Maybe he wavered. Maybe he didn’t. “Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history,” Lincoln told Congress in December. “We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last, best, hope of earth.”

On Christmas Eve, day ninety-two, a worried Charles Sumner visited the White House. Was the President still planning on declaring an end to slavery, as promised? Lincoln reassured him: “He would not stop the Proclamation if he could, and he could not if he would.” On December 29th, Lincoln read a draft of the Proclamation to his Cabinet and he discussed it with them again, two days later. Cabinet members suggested an amendment, urging “those emancipated, to forbear from tumult.” This Lincoln did not add. But Salmon Chase, Secretary of the Treasury, suggested a new ending, which Lincoln did adopt: “I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind and the gracious favor of almighty God.”

Day ninety-six. “The cause of human freedom and the cause of our common country,” Douglass said, that Sunday, “are now one and inseparable.” Ninety-seven, ninety-eight. Ninety-nine: New Year’s Eve, 1862, “watch night,” the eve of what would come to be called the “Day of Days.” In the capital, crowds of African-Americans filled the streets. In Norfolk, Virginia, four thousand slaves—who, living in a city already under Union control, were not actually freed by the Emancipation Proclamation— paraded through the streets, with fifes and drums. (In other states, men and women and children simply headed north, in an attempt to emancipate themselves they didn’t often make it.) In New York, Henry Highland Garnet preached to an overflowing crowd at the Shiloh Presbyterian Church. At exactly 11:55 P.M., the church fell silent. The crowd sat in the cold counting those final minutes. At midnight, the choir broke into “Blow Ye Trumpets Blow, the Year of Jubilee has Come.” On the streets of the city, crowds sang another song:

Cry out and shout all ye children of sorrow,
The gloom of your midnight hath passed away.

One hundred. On January 1, 1863, sometime after two o’clock in the afternoon, Lincoln held the Emancipation Proclamation in his hand, and picked up his pen. “I never, in my life, felt more certain that I was doing right than I do in signing this paper.”

Emancipation Proclamation

During the American Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation made slavery's demise one of the North's principal war aims.

At the beginning of the American Civil War, few Northerners or Southerners believed that the conflict was about slavery. Southerners contended that the war resulted from the federal government's refusal to respect the rights of the states. Northerners argued that the federal government had to protect the rights of the majority and preserve the Union. While the conflict continued during 1861 and 1862, an increasing number of Northerners joined with the abolitionists to demand the end of slavery in the United States.

Among the Northerners who eventually agreed that slavery had to end was President Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln initially sought only preserve the United States, but he came to believe that any resolution of the conflict had to include slavery's termination.

Lincoln refused to end slavery during 1861 and the first half of 1862 for several reasons. First, he believed that the United States Constitution prevented the president from seizing the property—in this case, slaves—of the country's citizens without due process. Second, Lincoln feared alienating the residents of the Border States, slave states that had remained in the Union. These included Kentucky, Missouri, Delaware, and Maryland. If these people joined with the South, hundreds of thousands of more men could join the Confederate armies. Lincoln wanted to solidify the North's control over these slaveholding states before acting against slavery. Third, Lincoln realized that many Southerners and Northerners would not support slavery's termination, because it might result in the equality for African Americans. Finally, Lincoln worried that ending slavery would alienate any Union sympathizers currently in the South, further strengthening the Confederate war effort.

By the summer of 1862, Lincoln had become convinced that slavery had to end. Many of his concerns about ending the institution had been alleviated. Northern troops now had firm control over the Border States and they would be able to prevent these states from seceding from the United States. However, Southerners remained committed to the war effort. Lincoln was convinced that any Union support in the Confederacy could not succeed in persuading secessionists to rejoin the United States. A growing number of Northerners began to believe that slavery was morally wrong. As Northern soldiers marched into the South, many of these men saw the true brutality of slavery for the first time. Many of these men informed their loved ones in the North about the injustice of the institution, prompting calls for slavery's demise. Finally, Lincoln believed that the federal government did have the right to hamper its enemy's ability to wage war. Slaves grew crops and produced other supplies for the Confederate military. The United States Constitution allowed the president to adopt measures during times of war to help guarantee a military victory. Lincoln decided that ending slavery would hamper the Confederate war effort and was legal under the United States Constitution.

Lincoln drafted an initial copy of the Emancipation Proclamation in July 1862, but he did not issue it to the public until September 22, 1862. Lincoln believed that U.S. citizens and governments of other nations might view the proclamation as a desperate attempt by the United States to build support for the war effort, unless it was preceded by some Union victories. Before September 1862, the North had won several important victories but the Union had not won a significant battle east of the Appalachian Mountains. Following the Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862, Lincoln finally had an important Union victory in the east.

The Emancipation Proclamation declared that slavery would end in any area still in rebellion against the United States on January 1, 1863. Lincoln hoped that Southerners would rejoin the United States before the deadline to keep their slaves. These Southerners refused to recognize Lincoln's conciliatory gesture, and slavery, in theory, ended in areas in rebellion on January 1, 1863. However, slavery did not legally end anywhere within the United States on that date. The Emancipation Proclamation did not end slavery in the Border States, nor in areas in the South that Union forces had conquered. These areas included several coastal areas along the Atlantic Ocean, as well as parts of northern Virginia and Louisiana. Nevertheless, the Civil War had become a war to end slavery. Slavery did not end everywhere in the United States until the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1865.

Ohioans greeted the Emancipation Proclamation with differing outlooks. Radical Republicans, like Senator Benjamin Wade, welcomed the document, as did the state's abolitionists and the Quaker population. Other Ohioans, especially those from working-class backgrounds, were not as welcoming. Many of these people feared that African Americans would flee the South, move to Northern states, and take jobs away from other working people. Clement Vallandigham argued that Lincoln did not have the power to end slavery and that the president was in clear violation of the United States Constitution. Some Ohioans serving in the Union military refused to fight a war to end slavery, and they deserted and returned home.

In the elections of November 1862, the Union Party in Ohio experienced major setbacks. Only five of their 19 congressional candidates were elected to office, and the Unionists also lost the election for attorney-general. A major reason for the Union Party's lack of success was Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. Despite the political backlash, the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect on January 1, 1863, ending slavery in areas in rebellion.

150 years later, Lincoln's Emancipation still sparks debate

Growing up in Alabama after World War II, the boy who would become the civil rights hero John Lewis spent New Year's with his sharecropper family at services in a small cinderblock Baptist church outside town.

He heard grandparents repeat their grandparents' stories about plantation life — bondage, resistance, escape. The congregation sang spirituals, field songs, freedom songs. The story of emancipation was told in skits, with congregants dressed as heroes such as Tubman, Douglass and Lincoln.

This was Watch Night, when the faithful waited for the new year as their ancestors had waited for midnight on Dec. 31, 1862. The following day, in the middle of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing slaves across the South.

Lewis, today a congressman from Georgia, never forgot those annual celebrations of freedom by people who couldn't legally check a book out of the public library. He says when he was nearly beaten to death during the Freedom Rides in 1961 and at the Selma march in 1965, "those stories inspired me to keep going."

Over the years and across the land, they helped shape what Alabama State University archivist Howard Robinson II calls "a common African-American consciousness."

The nation has just re-elected an African-American president who hangs in his Oval Office a signed copy of the Emancipation Proclamation. This, the executive order's 150th anniversary, is the first major one when black people can fairly be called free.

The sesquicentennial is being marked by speeches, ceremonies, books, exhibits, conferences and services. You can visit the Smithsonian and see the inkstand Lincoln used when he drafted it you can go to the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston and see the pen he used to sign it.

But on this anniversary, no less than its first or its 100th, Americans are still working through why and how the Emancipation Proclamation came into being, what it meant, and what it wrought.

It's a subject on which Americans have long disagreed. The abolitionist Frederick Douglass said that the date Jan. 1, 1863, was greater even than July 4, 1776. William Seward, Lincoln's secretary of State, called the decree as ephemeral as "a puff of wind." In 1948, Columbia historian Richard Hofstader wrote that it "had all the moral grandeur of a bill of lading."

Whatever you think of it, there is nothing else in U.S. history like the Emancipation Proclamation.

It was the product of a most difficult decision by a most complex president during a most crucial conflict. It ordered the largest single confiscation of private property in U.S. history. And before Gettysburg, Appomattox and the Second Inaugural, it ensured Lincoln his spot in the American pantheon.

Underrated and under-read

Everyone learned in school that the Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves. Only it didn't free all of them in law it didn't free most of them in fact and eventually, with the collapse of Reconstruction in the 1870s, it didn't leave many of them materially better off than they were in 1862.

Rutgers historian Louis Masur says that because real freedom for the slaves came so long after 1863 and required so much more than one edict, the proclamation is underappreciated, rarely read and widely misunderstood.

Some enduring questions and controversies:

Who was and wasn't freed?

The Emancipation Proclamation was a wartime order designed and worded by a commander in chief to achieve a limited military aim — weaken the Confederacy — not to end slavery in America or make the former slaves citizens.

In fact, it freed only slaves in parts of the Confederacy "in rebellion" — about 3.2 million of the nation's 4 million slaves. Because they were behind Confederate lines, there was no way to immediately enforce the order.

Emancipation did not apply to areas of the South not in rebellion (such as southern Louisiana) or to four slave-owning border states (Maryland, Delaware, Kentucky, Missouri) that never seceded.

The original copy of President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation sold in June at a New York auction for more than $2 million. (Photo: Seth Kaller, Inc. via AP)

The proclamation's limitations were reflected in the drive, two years later, for a constitutional amendment abolishing slavery once and for all. (Steven Spielberg's film Lincoln relegates the proclamation to a footnote in its story of the 13th Amendment.)

The order could not physically free most slaves, but on the day it was issued, it immediately liberated tens of thousands, most in sections of the Confederacy behind Union lines specifically designated by Lincoln.

They included the sea islands of South Carolina. When the proclamation was read aloud at a plantation in Port Royal, slaves spontaneously began to sing "My country 'tis of thee…"

The edict was also a vital part of the process of emancipation. In areas such as Tidewater Virginia, slaves were encouraged to flee toward Union lines. As Union armies advanced through the South, more slaves were liberated by the day.

Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation Jan. 1 but issued a preliminary version Sept. 22, 1862, saying he planned to make it official 100 days later.

Yet in late 1862, Lincoln's signature was far from certain. Critics said the proposed order was unconstitutional and unenforceable and would incite the slaves to violent revolt.

Abolitionists, black and white, worried Lincoln wouldn't go through with it. Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of the anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom's Cabin wrote on Dec. 12, "Everybody I meet in New England says to me with anxious earnestness, 'Will the president stand firm to his Proclamation?'"

In the end, what the president signed was different from the preliminary version. He added a provision to allow former slaves to join the Union military forces, and he dropped one for resettling former slaves in Africa and other places outside the USA.

If this is Lincoln, where's the eloquence?

The Emancipation Proclamation is not a stirring declaration of freedom.

The Gettysburg Address begins, "Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation… " The proclamation starts, "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 …":

The proclamation reads like a dry military order, which is what Lincoln — fearing Union border state backlash and Supreme Court review — wanted. "These words were not meant to excite anyone," says Harold Holzer, a Lincoln biographer. "And by and large, they did not."

Was Lincoln the Great Emancipator or a reluctant one?

"No one was more skeptical of the Emancipation Proclamation than the president who issued it," writes James Oakes in his new history, Freedom National. Months before issuing the preliminary version, Lincoln asked a group of abolitionists: "What good would a proclamation of emancipation from me do?"

Revisionists have argued that, despite what generations were taught in school, Lincoln issued the order only under political pressure from abolitionists in his Republican Party, and did not believe the races could co-exist in peace.

Lerone Bennett Jr., former editor of Ebony magazine, has described Lincoln as a racist who dreamed of an all-white America: "Every schoolchild knows the story of 'the great emancipator' who freed Negroes with a stroke of the pen out of the goodness of his heart. The real Lincoln . was a conservative politician who said repeatedly that he believed in white supremacy."

Yet many historians, including Oakes, say Lincoln the emancipator was far more enthusiastic than reluctant.

He signed the proclamation even though his party had lost congressional seats in the midterm election after he issued the preliminary version. In November, he told a delegation from Kentucky he'd "rather die than take back a word of the Proclamation of Freedom."

On Jan. 1, he said, "I never, in my life, felt more certain that I was doing right than I do in signing this paper."

Lincoln's work for emancipation didn't stop there. He maneuvered to gain passage in the House of the 13th Amendment and to get the border states to outlaw slavery.

But to some, this first major blow by a president against slavery has always seemed to come up short. Last year, at the unveiling of a signed copy of the proclamation, President Obama imagined how pundits today might sum up a proclamation that emancipated but did not end slavery: "Lincoln sells out slaves.'"

Howard Wright performs as President Abraham Lincoln during "The Emancipation Proclamation Then and Now," a discussion of how the Emancipation Proclamation affected people throughout the country at the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center in Hartford, Conn. (Photo: Stan Godlewski for USA TODAY)

Emancipation then and now

To evaluate the Emancipation Proclamation on its 150th anniversary, consider how it was observed in 1962 on its centennial, when Americans gathered for a ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial.

Not President Kennedy, who'd backed out of speaking and was in Newport for the America's Cup yacht races.

Not Mississippi Gov. Ross Barnett, who was defying a federal court order to admit a black applicant, James Meredith, to the state university at Oxford.

There were few white Southern officials, who had no desire to commemorate emancipation, and few civil rights leaders, incensed that no African American was originally invited to speak.

The main speaker, United Nations Ambassador Adlai Stevenson, delivered what Yale historian David Blight calls "a Cold War speech" that barely mentioned the burgeoning civil rights movement.

For the Kennedy administration, the "freedom" represented by the Emancipation Proclamation was good propaganda against totalitarian communism. But at home, in light of segregation imposed by state Democratic regimes across the old Confederacy, it was an embarrassment.

Historian Robert Cook says the proclamation's centennial was inherently problematic: When international tensions made national unity imperative, how could leaders admit that the reconciliation of North and South was based on selling out black civil rights?

The result was a muted, awkward observance. John Lewis says he didn't attend and doesn't even remember it taking place.

Yet he was at the Lincoln Memorial 11 months later when hundreds of thousands gathered for the March on Washington. Martin Luther King begin his "I Have a Dream" speech with an homage to Lincoln and the proclamation, which King called "a beacon of light" for the slaves, "a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity."

Then King said what had not been said the previous year on the same spot: A century after Emancipation, "the Negro still is not free."

The rest, as they say, is history the movement led by King, Lewis and others allowed the nation to realize the ideals of emancipation taught in its schools.

Today, Lewis is 72, one of the few surviving organizers of the March on Washington. As the year turns, he thinks about what he once saw and heard at the Macedonia Baptist Church outside Troy, Ala., and about those who kept the meaning of emancipation alive, New Year's after New Year's.

"Those stories made me want to do something," he says. "You felt there was other generations before you that was involved in a struggle. And that as a part of that tradition, you had to free yourself."

Contributing: Melanie Eversley and Larry Copeland of USA TODAY Jessie Halladay of The (Louisville) Courier-Journal Marty Roney of the Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser John Wisely of the Detroit Free Press.

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