The New Student's Reference Work/Emancipation Proclamation

Eman′cipa′tion Proclamation. After the Civil War had been in progress for more than a year, the antislavery leaders in the north urged President Lincoln to take action toward the abolition of slavery. While personally opposed to slavery, the president was slow to take so important a step until it should appear to be necessary in order to save the Union. Replying to the suggestions, he said, on Aug. 22, 1862: “My paramount object is to save the Union, and not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; 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 do that.” At length it became evident that slavery was a source of military strength to the Confederate cause, since slave-labor provided the means of supporting the Confederate forces in the field, and that it must be destroyed if the Union was to live. Accordingly, on Sept. 22, 1862, the president issued a preliminary proclamation, giving notice that on the 1st of January, 1863, “all persons held as slaves in any state, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward and forever free.” No attention was paid to this notification, and on the first day of January, 1863, President Lincoln issued the final proclamation of emancipation, declaring free all persons held as slaves in the states then in rebellion. This proclamation was given effect as fast as territory came under Federal control.