Milestone Documents in the National Archives

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Emancipation Proclamation


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Issued in the midst of the Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation became a universal symbol of liberation from bondage. Its immediate effect was to change the character of the Civil War from a struggle to preserve the Union to a crusade for human liberty.

President Abraham Lincoln had hesitated to take a firm stand against slavery early in the Civil War because of the need to defer to opinion in the border states so precariously bound to Union. But by 1862 the danger of European support for Southern independence outweighed other considerations. On September 22, 5 days after the Union forces stopped the Confederate invasion of Maryland at Antietam Creek, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, warning the Confederate states that slaves would be freed in all areas still in rebellion in January 1863.

The announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation brought an immediate emotional response in western Europe, where workers gathered at large meetings to applaud the launching of the crusade in America. In such an atmosphere, European governments abandoned ideas of intervening in support of the Confederacy.

African Americans all over the country, even those in border states and in Union-occupied territory where the document specifically did not apply, believed the Proclamation’s words, "thenceforward and forever free." They celebrated a great day of liberation in 1863 and flocked to Union lines. Yet only a total Union victory could give the Proclamation full effect in the South.

In 1861 Americans in both the North and South had entered into the Civil War in high spirits, each side expecting a quick victory. Recruiting posters aroused patriotism and helped fill the ranks of the army and navy, and volunteer units adopted romantic uniforms. But the Civil War proved not to be a short conflict; as it dragged on, enthusiasm flagged. Both sides had to resort to conscription by 1863.

After the Emancipation Proclamation, black troops were also recruited for the Union despite the misgivings of many in the North. The performance of the 1st and 3d Louisiana Negro Regiments at Port Hudson, LA, on May 27, 1863, however, laid to rest the question of the African-American suitability for military service. After the battle of New Market Heights, VA, on September 29, 1864, Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Butler authorized a medal for gallantry for black members of the Army of the James.

For nearly 2 1/2 years after the issuance of the Proclamation, the fighting continued. Chancellorsville, Vicksburg, Gettysburg, the Wilderness campaign, Sherman’s march through Georgia, Petersburg—battle followed battle in weary succession with mounting death tolls unequaled in U. S. history to date until the Confederacy was finally exhausted. In April 1865, at Appomattox Court House in Virginia, Confederate general Robert E. Lee and Union general Ulysses S. Grant agreed to terms of surrender. The war was over.

The slaves emancipated by the great Proclamation were now free in fact. Indeed, all the slaves in the country were freed by the ratification of the 13th amendment to the Constitution later that year.

Immediately after the war, General Lee, along with many other former Confederate soldiers, gave his oath of loyalty to the United States and applied for amnesty and the restoration of his U. S. citizenship. By accident, the oath did not accompany his submitted application. The application was not acted upon, and Lee died on October 12, 1870, without having his citizenship restored. In 1975, as a united nation embarked on the celebration of its Bicentennial, Congress restored Lee’s citizenship posthumously retroactive to June 18, 1865.

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Chicago: "Emancipation Proclamation," Milestone Documents in the National Archives in United States. National Archives and Records Administration. Milestone Documents in the National Archives (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1995), Pp.112-117 47–52. Original Sources, accessed July 6, 2022, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=8GSNVX1Y2ZKVF7C.

MLA: . "Emancipation Proclamation." Milestone Documents in the National Archives, in United States. National Archives and Records Administration. Milestone Documents in the National Archives (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1995), Pp.112-117, pp. 47–52. Original Sources. 6 Jul. 2022. http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=8GSNVX1Y2ZKVF7C.

Harvard: , 'Emancipation Proclamation' in Milestone Documents in the National Archives. cited in , United States. National Archives and Records Administration. Milestone Documents in the National Archives (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1995), Pp.112-117, pp.47–52. Original Sources, retrieved 6 July 2022, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=8GSNVX1Y2ZKVF7C.