The Emancipation Proclamation and the abolition of slavery 


Emancipation Proclamation, proclamation issued by Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863, during the American Civil War, declaring all “slaves within any State, or designated part of a State ... then ... in rebellion, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.” The states affected were enumerated in the proclamation; specifically exempted were slaves in parts of the South then held by Union armies. Lincoln's issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation marked a radical change in his policy; historians regard it as one of the great state documents of the United States.
After the outbreak of the Civil War, the slavery issue was made acute by the flight to Union lines of large numbers of slaves who volunteered to fight for their freedom and that of their fellow slaves. In these circumstances, a strict application of established policy would have required return of fugitive slaves to their Confederate masters and would have alienated the staunchest supporters of the Union cause in the North and abroad.
Abolitionists had long been urging Lincoln to free all slaves, and public opinion seemed to support this view. Lincoln moved slowly and cautiously nonetheless; on March 13, 1862, the federal government forbade all Union army officers to return fugitive slaves, thus annulling in effect the fugitive slave laws. On April 10, on Lincoln's initiative, Congress declared the federal government would compensate slave owners who freed their slaves. All slaves in the District of Columbia were freed in this way on April 16, 1862. On June 19, 1862, Congress enacted a measure prohibiting slavery in United States territories, thus defying the Supreme Court decision in the Dred Scott case, which ruled that Congress was powerless to regulate slavery in the territories.



Finally, after the Union victory in the Battle of Antietam (September 17, 1862), Lincoln issued a preliminary proclamation on September 22, declaring his intention of promulgating another proclamation in 100 days, freeing the slaves in the states deemed in rebellion at that time. On January 1, 1863, he issued the Emancipation Proclamation, conferring liberty on about 3,120,000 slaves. With the enactment of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in effect in 1865, slavery was completely abolished.
The results of the Emancipation Proclamation were far-reaching. From then on, sympathy with the Confederacy was identified with support of slavery. Antislavery sentiment in France and Britain, whose governments were friendly to the Confederacy, became so strong that it precluded the possibility of intervention by those governments in behalf of the Confederacy. As a further result of the proclamation, the Republican party became unified in principle and in organization, and the prestige it attained enabled it to hold power until 1884.
The Civil War (1861-1865) began as a test of whether states could withdraw from the Union, but the goals of the North soon broadened to include abolishing slavery. On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln, using his war powers as commander in chief, issued the Emancipation Proclamation that freed the slaves in the rebel-held areas of the country. Technically, the proclamation did not free the slaves, but it had that effect, as thousands of slaves left Southern plantations. Slavery as an institution was not abolished until the end of the war with the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment (1865), which the Southern states were required to accept as a condition for readmission to the Union.