Portrait of Abraham Lincoln

On January 1, 1863, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing slaves in areas in rebellion against the United States. Just before signing his executive order, Lincoln declared, “I never, in my life, felt more certain that I was doing right than I do in signing this paper.” [Wikimedia Commons]

Emancipation Proclamation Facts

January 1, 1863

Key facts about the Emancipation Proclamation.

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  • On August 6, 1861, Congress passed the First Confiscation Act conferring “contraband” status on slaves being used in direct support of the Confederate war effort.
  • The First Confiscation Act made slaves captured by Union armies the property of the U.S government, much like any other contraband captured during combat.
  • On March 13, 1862, Congress enacted an article of war that stated prohibited all officers or persons in the military or naval service of the United States from returning fugitives slaves to their owners.
  • On July 17, 1862, Congress passed the Second Confiscation Act.
  • The Second Confiscation Act required individuals in areas occupied by Union armies to surrender within 60 days of the legislation’s enactment or else lose ownership of their slaves.
  • President Lincoln began drafting the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation in early July 1862.
  • President Lincoln introduced the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation to his cabinet at a meeting on July 22, 186.
  • President Lincoln described the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation as “a military necessity, absolutely essential to the preservation of the Union. We must free the slaves or be ourselves subdued.”
  • President Lincoln agreed with Secretary of State William H. Seward’s suggestion that the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation not be made public until it could be backed by a major Union military victory on the battlefield.
  • President Lincoln publicly introduced the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862, five days after the Union victory at the Battle of Antietam.
  • The Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation stated that people held in slavery in designated areas in rebellion against the United States as of January 1, 1863 would be freed.
  • President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863.
  • When President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, he stated, “I never, in my life, felt more certain that I was doing right than I do in signing this paper.”
  • In the text of the Emancipation Proclamation President Lincoln characterized his executive order as “a fit and necessary war measure for suppressing said rebellion.” Toward the end, he described the proclamation as “an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution, upon military necessity.”
  • The final draft of the Emancipation Proclamation declared that freed slaves of “suitable condition” would “be received into the armed service of the United States to garrison forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service.”
  • Critics of the Emancipation Proclamation were quick to note that the executive order freed few, if any, slaves since it applied only to areas in rebellion, where the government had no effective authority.
  • Although applauded by many abolitionists, the Emancipation Proclamation did not go far enough to appease others who had been clamoring for blanket emancipation since before the beginning of the Civil War.
  • In the minds of many, the Emancipation Proclamation made the Civil War a moral crusade as well as a political conflict to save the Union.
  • On the international stage, the transformation of the American Civil War from a political affair to a moral crusade may have been influential in preventing foreign intervention by European powers.
  • After the announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation, some Northerners who initially supported the war as a means to preserving the Union lost their enthusiasm for continuing the conflict because they were not prepared to champion a crusade to free slaves.
  • As expected, the Emancipation Proclamation was nearly universally condemned in the South, and undoubtedly steeled the resolve of Southerners to continue the Civil War.
  • In February 1865, shortly before his assassination, President Lincoln described the Emancipation Proclamation as “the central act of my administration and the great event of the nineteenth century.”
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Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Emancipation Proclamation Facts
  • Coverage January 1, 1863
  • Author
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date August 1, 2021
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update February 17, 2021
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