Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. On that day, Lincoln stated, “I never, in my life, felt more certain that I was doing right, than I do in signing this paper.” (Hardsog, and Riley 4-6)
Shortly after Lincoln won the election in 1860 as the 16th U.S. President, seven Southern states seceded from the Union, forming the Confederate States of America. (Hardsog, and Riley 4-6) Other states joined them soon after. These Southern states believed that the federal government should not interfere or have authority in issues that were better decided by individual states. The states’ rights supporters viewed the future of slavery as one such issue. Although many Northern states had abolished the institution and felt strongly that it should be abolished elsewhere, the Southern plantation economy depended on it. Lincoln, the new leader of an ideologically divided nation, knew that he would need to conduct himself with patience and firmness. His main objective was to keep the United States united'”something he tried to be clear about. Though he wished “that all men everywhere might be free,” bringing an end to slavery was not his primary concern. (Hardsog, and Riley 4-6)
The Civil War broke out a little bit more than a month after Lincoln took office in March 1861′”but even still, the new president hoped to avoid a long, bloody war. One step he took was to attempt to keep from offending the Confederacy. When Union army leaders began to free slaves in areas they had conquered, Lincoln overrode their orders. (Hardsog, and Riley 4-6) He feared that such an action would convince the Confederate states not to rejoin the Union. Northern politicians sharply criticized Lincoln for this position. By 1862, the Union army had lost more battles than it had won and few volunteers were answering the president’s call to fight voluntarily.
Through the summer of 1862, Lincoln worked hard on a paper that would help change the course of the war. He released his Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862. (Hardsog, and Riley 4-6) The proclamation stated that unless the Confederacy surrendered, “all slaves in states or districts in rebellion against the United States on January 1, 1863, will be thenceforth and forever free.” It was not a law but a military order made by the army’s commander-in-chief to cripple the enemy’s economy.
On January 1, 1863, the day Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, abolitionists and free slaves celebrated the historic change in America. (Hardsog, and Riley 4-6) However, once the celebration ended and reality sunk in, they realized that the proclamation had not ended all slavery. Slaves in states that had not seceded from the Union were not freed, nor were slaves in places already defeated by the Union army. Yet, thousands of free blacks rushed to join the Union troops following the public issue of the proclamation. Their numbers strengthened the Union army, while the loss of plantation workers crippled the South. The South’s hopes for foreign aid were also dashed by the Emancipation Proclamation. (Hardsog, and Riley 4-6) Previously, Antietam, England, and France had seriously considered recognizing and helping the Confederacy. Not only had the South now lost the battle, but the North had joined the antislavery cause already championed by the two European nations. The South would be required to fight alone, making 1863 a pivotal year in the Civil War.
Overall, the Emancipation Proclamation changed forever the relationships of the national government to slavery. (Goodwin 48-58) Where slavery had once been protected by the national government, it was now “under its ban.”
Goodwin, Doris Kearns. “MY WHOLE SOUL IS IN IT.” Smithsonian 36.10 (n.d.): 48-58. Literary Reference Center. EBSCO. Web. 02 May 2011.
Hardsog, Ellen, and Trudi L. Riley. “Lincoln’s Decision.” Cobblestone 32.2 (2011): 4. MasterFILE Premier. EBSCO. Web. 02 May 2011.