The Emancipation Proclamation: Lincoln Frees the South's Slaves
Seven Southern states seceded from the Union before President Abraham Lincoln assumed office in 1861 (four more later joined the Confederacy). Southern leadership was fearful of Lincoln's attitudes towards the institution of slavery, which was a central economic and cultural force in the South. Fear of slavery's demise, and the push towards abolition, divided the relatively young nation. The Southern states believed they had every right to secede, based on the doctrine of states’ rights, but secession was not acceptable to the new president or the Northern states. War would be waged to preserve the United States.
Article continues after this newspaper image from the Sept. 23, 1862, issue of the Milwaukee Sentinel (Wisconsin)
The Civil War was not yet a year old and already a bloody conflict by the spring of 1862. President Lincoln's wartime thoughts were wrestling with, among many other things, the abolition of slavery. His contemplation would lead to action. Between April and July of that year, slaves in the District of Columbia were freed, Congress abolished slavery in U.S. territories, and Lincoln passed the Second Confiscation Act. This act liberated slaves held by the Confederate military. Lincoln would do more.
When Lincoln issued the first of two executive orders implementing the Emancipation Proclamation, the abolition of slavery—and with it the South's economic base—became the central focus of the war. The first order was issued on Sept. 22, 1862. It ordered that all slaves in Confederate states be freed unless those states returned to Union control by the first day of 1863. On Jan. 1, 1863, Lincoln issued the second order specifying the states where emancipation applied.
Lincoln was both congratulated and criticized for the Emancipation Proclamation. Many were pleased that the nation had finally taken steps to abolish slavery. Others were critical because Lincoln only freed the Confederacy's slaves—slaves in such states as Maryland and Delaware were not included in the Emancipation Proclamation. Criticism aside, the proclamation was widely celebrated in the North.
Some abolitionists feared the Emancipation Proclamation would only be a temporary measure designed to end the war, and that slavery would be resurrected once peace was established. Their fears were put to rest when, on Dec. 18, 1865, the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution made slavery illegal. Humans would no longer be sold into servitude in the United States of America.
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