The Emancipation Proclamation, 1863

"When you are dead and in Heaven, in a thousand years that action of yours will make the Angels sing your praises."

Hannah Johnson, mother of a Northern Black soldier, writing to President Abraham Lincoln about the Emancipation Proclamation, July 31, 1863

President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, as the nation approached its third year of bloody civil war. The proclamation declared "that all persons held as slaves" within the rebellious states "are, and henceforward shall be free."

Despite that expansive wording, the Emancipation Proclamation was limited in many ways. It applied only to states that had seceded from the Union, leaving slavery untouched in the loyal border states. It also expressly exempted parts of the Confederacy that had already come under Northern control. Most important, the freedom it promised depended upon Union military victory.

Although the Emancipation Proclamation did not immediately free a single slave, it captured the hearts and imagination of millions of African Americans, and fundamentally transformed the character of the war from a war for the Union into a war for freedom. Moreover, the proclamation announced the acceptance of black men into the Union army and navy, enabling the liberated to become liberators. By the end of the war, almost 200,000 black soldiers and sailors had fought for the Union and freedom.

For more about the Emancipation Proclamation please visit: Emancipation Proclamation

Go Back

National Archives and Records Administration
.