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Course: US history   >   Unit 5

  • Slavery and the Missouri Compromise
  • Increasing political battles over slavery in the mid-1800s
  • Start of the Civil War - secession and Fort Sumter
  • Strategy of the Civil War
  • Early phases of Civil War and Antietam

The Emancipation Proclamation

  • Significance of the battle of Antietam
  • The battle of Gettysburg
  • The Gettysburg Address - setting and context
  • Photographing the Battle of Gettysburg, O'Sullivan's Harvest of Death
  • The Gettysburg Address - full text and analysis
  • Later stages of the Civil War - 1863
  • Later stages of the Civil War - the election of 1864 and Sherman's March
  • Later stages of the Civil War - Appomattox and Lincoln's assassination
  • Big takeaways from the Civil War
  • The Civil War

Slavery and the Civil War

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emancipation proclamation essay question

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Emancipation Proclamation

By: History.com Editors

Updated: March 29, 2023 | Original: October 29, 2009

Emancipation Proclomation

On September 22, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, which declared that as of January 1, 1863, all enslaved people in the states currently engaged in rebellion against the Union “shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.”

Lincoln didn’t actually free all of the approximately 4 million men, women and children held in slavery in the United States when he signed the formal Emancipation Proclamation the following January. The document applied only to enslaved people in the Confederacy, and not to those in the border states that remained loyal to the Union.

But although it was presented chiefly as a military measure, the proclamation marked a crucial shift in Lincoln’s views on slavery. Emancipation would redefine the Civil War , turning it from a struggle to preserve the Union to one focused on ending slavery, and set a decisive course for how the nation would be reshaped after that historic conflict.

emancipation proclamation essay question

Abe Lincoln's Developing Views on Slavery

Sectional tensions over slavery in the United States had been building for decades by 1854, when Congress’ passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act opened territory that had previously been closed to slavery according to the Missouri Compromise . Opposition to the act led to the formation of the Republican Party in 1854 and revived the failing political career of an Illinois lawyer named Abraham Lincoln, who rose from obscurity to national prominence and claimed the Republican nomination for president in 1860.

Lincoln personally hated slavery, and considered it immoral. "If the negro is a man, why then my ancient faith teaches me that 'all men are created equal;' and that there can be no moral right in connection with one man's making a slave of another," he said in a now-famous speech in Peoria, Illinois, in 1854. But Lincoln didn’t believe the Constitution gave the federal government the power to abolish it in the states where it already existed, only to prevent its establishment to new western territories that would eventually become states. In his first inaugural address in early 1861, he declared that he had “no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with slavery in the States where it exists.” By that time, however, seven Southern states had already seceded from the Union, forming the Confederate States of America and setting the stage for the Civil War.

First Years of the Civil War

At the outset of that conflict, Lincoln insisted that the war was not about freeing enslaved people in the South but about preserving the Union. Four border slave states (Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky and Missouri) remained on the Union side, and many others in the North also opposed abolition. When one of his generals, John C. Frémont, put Missouri under martial law, declaring that Confederate sympathizers would have their property seized, and their enslaved people would be freed (the first emancipation proclamation of the war), Lincoln directed him to reverse that policy, and later removed him from command.

But hundreds of enslaved men, women and children were fleeing to Union-controlled areas in the South, such as Fortress Monroe in Virginia, where Gen. Benjamin F. Butler had declared them “contraband” of war, defying the Fugitive Slave Law mandating their return to their owners. Abolitionists argued that freeing enslaved people in the South would help the Union win the war, as enslaved labor was vital to the Confederate war effort.

In July 1862, Congress passed the Militia Act, which allowed Black men to serve in the U.S. armed forces as laborers, and the Confiscation Act, which mandated that enslaved people seized from Confederate supporters would be declared forever free. Lincoln also tried to get the border states to agree to gradual emancipation, including compensation to enslavers, with little success. When abolitionists criticized him for not coming out with a stronger emancipation policy, Lincoln replied that he valued saving the Union over all else.

“My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union and is not either to save or to destroy slavery,” he wrote in an editorial published in the Daily National Intelligencer in August 1862. “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and 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 also do that.”

From Preliminary to Formal Emancipation Proclamation 

Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclomation

At the same time however, Lincoln’s cabinet was mulling over the document that would become the Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln had written a draft in late July, and while some of his advisers supported it, others were anxious. William H. Seward, Lincoln’s secretary of state, urged the president to wait to announce emancipation until the Union won a significant victory on the battlefield, and Lincoln took his advice.

On September 17, 1862, Union troops halted the advance of Confederate forces led by Gen. Robert E. Lee near Sharpsburg, Maryland, in the Battle of Antietam . Days later, Lincoln went public with the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, which called on all Confederate states to rejoin the Union within 100 days—by January 1, 1863—or their slaves would be declared “thenceforward, and forever free.”

On January 1, Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, which included nothing about gradual emancipation, compensation for enslavers or Black emigration and colonization, a policy Lincoln had supported in the past. Lincoln justified emancipation as a wartime measure, and was careful to apply it only to the Confederate states currently in rebellion. Exempt from the proclamation were the four border slave states and all or parts of three Confederate states controlled by the Union Army. 

Impact of the Emancipation Proclamation

As Lincoln’s decree applied only to territory outside the realm of his control, the Emancipation Proclamation had little actual effect on freeing any of the nation’s enslaved people. But its symbolic power was enormous, as it announced freedom for enslaved people as one of the North’s war aims, alongside preserving the Union itself. It also had practical effects: Nations like Britain and France, which had previously considered supporting the Confederacy to expand their power and influence, backed off due to their steadfast opposition to slavery. Black Americans were permitted to serve in the Union Army for the first time, and nearly 200,000 would do so by the end of the war.

Finally, the Emancipation Proclamation paved the way for the permanent abolition of slavery in the United States. As Lincoln and his allies in Congress realized emancipation would have no constitutional basis after the war ended, they soon began working to enact a Constitutional amendment abolishing slavery. By the end of January 1865, both houses of Congress had passed the 13th Amendment , and it was ratified that December.

"It is my greatest and most enduring contribution to the history of the war,” Lincoln said of emancipation in February 1865, two months before his assassination. “It is, in fact, the central act of my administration, and the great event of the 19th century."

emancipation proclamation essay question

HISTORY Vault: Abraham Lincoln

A definitive biography of the 16th U.S. president, the man who led the country during its bloodiest war and greatest crisis.

The Emancipation Proclamation, National Archives

10 Facts: The Emancipation Proclamation, American Battlefield Trust

Eric Foner, The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery (New York: W.W. Norton, 2010)

Allen C. Guelzo, “Emancipation and the Quest for Freedom.” National Park Service . 

emancipation proclamation essay question

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Online Exhibits

National Archives Logo

The Emancipation Proclamation

See the Emancipation Proclamation on special exhibit at the National Archives Museum, April 14 - 16, 2019

refer to caption

The Emancipation Proclamation (page 1) Record Group 11 General Records of the United States

View in National Archives Catalog

President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, as the nation approached its third year of bloody civil war. The proclamation declared "that all persons held as slaves" within the rebellious states "are, and henceforward shall be free."

Despite this expansive wording, the Emancipation Proclamation was limited in many ways. It applied only to states that had seceded from the United States, leaving slavery untouched in the loyal border states. It also expressly exempted parts of the Confederacy (the Southern secessionist states) that had already come under Northern control. Most important, the freedom it promised depended upon Union (United States) military victory.

Although the Emancipation Proclamation did not end slavery in the nation, it captured the hearts and imagination of millions of Americans and fundamentally transformed the character of the war. After January 1, 1863, every advance of federal troops expanded the domain of freedom. Moreover, the Proclamation announced the acceptance of black men into the Union Army and Navy, enabling the liberated to become liberators. By the end of the war, almost 200,000 black soldiers and sailors had fought for the Union and freedom.

From the first days of the Civil War, slaves had acted to secure their own liberty. The Emancipation Proclamation confirmed their insistence that the war for the Union must become a war for freedom. It added moral force to the Union cause and strengthened the Union both militarily and politically. As a milestone along the road to slavery's final destruction, the Emancipation Proclamation has assumed a place among the great documents of human freedom.

The original of the Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863, is in the National Archives in Washington, DC. With the text covering five pages the document was originally tied with narrow red and blue ribbons, which were attached to the signature page by a wafered impression of the seal of the United States. Most of the ribbon remains; parts of the seal are still decipherable, but other parts have worn off.

The document was bound with other proclamations in a large volume preserved for many years by the Department of State. When it was prepared for binding, it was reinforced with strips along the center folds and then mounted on a still larger sheet of heavy paper. Written in red ink on the upper right-hand corner of this large sheet is the number of the Proclamation, 95, given to it by the Department of State long after it was signed. With other records, the volume containing the Emancipation Proclamation was transferred in 1936 from the Department of State to the National Archives of the United States.

Emancipation Proclamation Page 1

Select Resources

  • Transcript of the Proclamation
  • The Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, 1862
  • "The Emancipation Proclamation: An Act of Justice" by John Hope Franklin.
  • Audio: Former slave Charlie Smith discusses work and living situation after the Emancipation Proclamation . (357K, 0:46) from NARA's National Archives Catalog (NWDNM(s)-16.332B)
  • The Charters of Freedom  

The National Archives’ annual display of the Emancipation Proclamation is made possible in part by the National Archives Foundation through the generous support of The Boeing Company.

emancipation proclamation essay question

Abraham Lincoln and Emancipation

emancipation proclamation essay question

Written by: Allen Guelzo, Princeton University

By the end of this section, you will:.

  • Explain how Lincoln’s leadership during the Civil War impacted American ideals over the course of the war

Suggested Sequencing

Use this Decision Point in conjunction with  The Rhetoric of Abraham Lincoln DBQ  Lesson to have students analyze Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

No one ever doubted that Abraham Lincoln hated slavery. He said so repeatedly, from his first entrance into political life until his death. As a state representative in Illinois in 1837, he made one of his earliest motions on the floor of the Illinois legislature by resolving “that the institution of slavery is founded on both injustice and bad policy.” That slavery existed as a form of labor at all was a testimony to “the selfishness of man’s nature,” whereas “opposition to it is in his love of justice.” And years later, as president, Lincoln repeated even more forcefully, “I am naturally anti-slavery. If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong. I can not remember when I did not so think, and feel.”

And yet, although Lincoln “always hated slavery, I think as much as any Abolitionist,” he was not, in fact, an abolitionist or an advocate for the immediate liberation of all American slaves without qualifications or any form of financial compensation to their owners. By temperament he was simply suspicious of hasty solutions and all-or-nothing answers to complicated problems. “If all earthly power were given me, I should not know what to do, as to the existing institution,” he said, because the existing slave population was African American, and not only slaveowners but ordinary whites across the country harbored deeply antagonistic attitudes toward black people, free or slave. “My first impulse,” Lincoln said, “would be to free all the slaves, and send them to Liberia, to their own native land.” But this would be impractical. “What next? Free them, and make them politically and socially, our equals?” He knew that “the great mass of white people” would never accept this, even if freedom and equality “accords with justice and sound judgment.”

Lincoln faced a momentous decision upon assuming the presidency in March 1861. The Deep South had already seceded, and civil war threatened to divide the country further. Lincoln reasoned that slavery was a grave moral evil and was greatly opposed to it. However, he was also a constitutionalist who took seriously his duties to faithfully execute the laws of the United States. The Constitution did not authorize the president to interfere with slavery where it existed in the states, as Lincoln asserted in his First Inaugural Address. Many additional considerations claimed his attention, too, such as preserving the Union, suppressing the rebellion, keeping the border states on the Union side, and maintaining the support of the North. Lincoln had to find a way to free the slaves in a lawful manner that could not simply be overturned by the Supreme Court. Therefore, as much as he personally might want to end slavery—and as much as abolitionists pressured him to act immediately—he trod a narrow path on the way to the Emancipation Proclamation.

Lincoln hoped the southern states, where legalized slavery prevailed, might adopt “systems of gradual emancipation.” And in general, he thought the best path toward eliminating slavery had to include “three main features—gradual [emancipation]—compensation—and vote of the people.” These requirements, he admitted, would make for a slow process, but slowness might have the benefit of allowing the “two races” to “gradually live themselves out of their old relation to each other, and both come out better prepared for the new.”

Still, for most of his career, Lincoln took few public steps in any of these directions. In his solitary term representing Illinois in the U.S. House of Representatives, he formulated a bill for the ending of slavery in the District of Columbia, but it was never formally introduced. He was convinced that the Constitution, as well as the restrictive legislation adopted in the Missouri Compromise and the Compromise of 1850, would inevitably ensure the “ultimate extinction of that institution.”

Figure (a), titled “The Home of the Oppressed,” shows shackled slaves walking in front of the Capitol building. Figure (b) is a picture of young Abraham Lincoln.

The existence of slavery in the nation’s capital was viewed with disgust by many antislavery proponents. (a) This drawing depicting slaves in front of the Capitol building dates from 1836. (b) After Lincoln was elected to House of Representatives in 1846, he formulated a bill to end slavery in the District. But he never introduced the bill, and he served only one term in the House.

The passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854 jolted Lincoln out of this complacency, because the act repealed the Missouri Compromise’s restrictions on the expansion of slavery into the western territories and opened the possibility that future states carved out of those territories could be aggressively occupied by slaveowners. “We were thunderstruck and stunned; and we reeled and fell in utter confusion,” Lincoln recalled. He joined a new antislavery political party, the Republicans, and was further shaken by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in  Dred Scott v. Sanford  in 1857, which seemed to allow for the reintroduction of slavery into the free states as well. In 1858, Lincoln challenged the architect of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, Stephen A. Douglas, for Douglas’s U.S. Senate seat from Illinois. In the seven public debates Lincoln held with Douglas, he denounced slavery as “the same spirit” as that of “a king who seeks to bestride the people of his own nation and live by the fruit of their labor.” Lincoln lost the election, but the debates made him nationally famous and led the Republicans to make him their presidential nominee in 1860.

This composite image includes a photograph of Lincoln on the left and a photograph of Douglass on the right.

This composite photographic image depicts Lincoln and Douglass at the time of their debates in the contest for the Illinois senate in 1858.

Lincoln was elected president on November 6, 1860, and almost at once, 11 of the 15 states in the American Union where slavery was legal began making threats and preparations to secede. Between December 1860 and February 1861, seven of them did secede, and they created an alternate government, the Confederate States of America. Lincoln struggled to calm the storm, reminding slaveholders that, as president, he had no authority “directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists.” But when Confederate forces bombarded the U.S. Army installation at Fort Sumter, in Charleston harbor, into submission, Lincoln denounced the attack as pure rebellion and called out “the war power of the government” to suppress the secessionists.

At first, Lincoln seemed determined to conduct the war purely as a police action, to suppress the Confederate insurrection. In August 1861, the Federal commandant of the District of Missouri, John Charles Fremont, attempted to declare martial law throughout the state and threatened to emancipate the slaves of any who resisted. Lincoln asked Fremont to revise his order to conform with the First Confiscation Act. When Fremont declined, Lincoln at once countermanded Fremont’s order, arguing that it would push Missouri (a slave state but still loyal to the Union) into the arms of the Confederates: “There is great danger that. . . the liberating slaves of traitorous owners, will alarm our Southern Union friends, and turn them against us.”

Nevertheless, Lincoln also understood that the war provided an opportunity to begin undermining slavery. In November, he proposed a federally financed buyout of the 1,700 slaves living in Delaware (another slave state that had remained in the Union), hoping this would provide a model for encouraging the emancipation of slaves in Missouri and the other two loyal slave states, Kentucky and Maryland.

These “border states,” however, threw the buyout plan back in Lincoln’s face. By July, Lincoln was convinced he needed a new strategy, and he found it in the constitutional provision that made him “Commander-in-Chief of the army and navy of the United States” (Article 2, section 2). Although the Constitution did not specify what “war powers” he possessed as commander-in-chief, Lincoln was persuaded that they must include whatever measures would effectively weaken an enemy, and emancipating the Confederacy’s slaves would surely do that. Congress had just passed a Second Confiscation Act calling on Confederates to surrender or have their slave property seized, but Lincoln thought it was of dubious legality.

On July 22, 1862, Lincoln introduced to his cabinet a preliminary draft of an Emancipation Proclamation, freeing the Confederacy’s slaves (although not the border states’ slaves) as a “military necessity.” The cabinet generally agreed, but Secretary of State William H. Seward urged Lincoln to withhold the Proclamation until the Union armies had won a significant military victory, lest the Proclamation appear to be a sign of desperation.

Figure (a) shows part of the handwritten first draft of the Emancipation Proclamation. Figure (b) is a painting depicting the reading of the Emancipation Proclamation. In the center surrounding a table are Abraham Lincoln, Gideon Welles, and William Seward, who sits with his legs crossed. Abraham Lincoln holds the document and a pen. Other leaders fill the room.

The first draft of the Emancipation Proclamation Lincoln shared with his cabinet in July 1862 was written in his own handwriting. (b) New York artist Francis Bicknell Carpenter deeply respected Lincoln and painted his “First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation by President Lincoln” in 1864, two years after Lincoln had shared the draft with his cabinet. Secretary of State Seward, who advised the president to wait for a Union victory before issuing the Proclamation, is shown with crossed legs, facing Lincoln.

Lincoln relented. But as soon as Union forces had checked an attempted invasion of Maryland at the Battle of Antietam in September 1862, Lincoln believed the time had come. As he explained to his cabinet, once the rebels had been driven out of Maryland, he had made a “vow” to God “to issue a Proclamation of Emancipation.” The “rebel army is now driven out,” he said, “I am going to fulfil that promise.” Lincoln had concluded that “God had decided this question in favor of the slaves. He was satisfied it was right,” and “was confirmed and strengthened in his action by the vow and the results.” On September 22, he released the Proclamation with a warning that unless the Confederates submitted by January 1, 1863, the Proclamation would go into effect. The rebels only scoffed, and on January 1, 1863, Lincoln signed the Proclamation into law.

The cartoon shows a man in a tree labeled “slavery.” Another man (Lincoln) is holding an ax in the air, ready to cut the tree down. The caption reads “Lincoln’s Last Warning. ‘Now, if you don’t come down, I’ll cut the Tree from under you.’”

This political cartoon, depicting the Emancipation Proclamation as Lincoln’s last warning to the South, appeared in  Harper’s Weekly  in October 1862. If the rebel does not come down (surrender), then Lincoln will destroy the tree of slavery with the Proclamation.

The Proclamation had its limitations, especially because it emancipated only those enslaved people in territory still under Confederate control. In other words, emancipation became a reality once these territories were retaken by Union forces. Because it was a “war powers” measure, and the border states were not at war with the government, slaves in the border states remained slaves. Nor was the Proclamation a particularly eloquent document, like the Gettysburg Address, but Lincoln feared intervention from a federal court system that still had strong adherents of  Dred Scott  thinking on its benches. Lincoln suspected Chief Justice Roger Taney would overturn the Proclamation and that his constitutional power over slavery would end when the war ended. Many people believed he intended the proclamation only as a bargaining chip for negotiations with the Confederates.

Lincoln, in fact, had no intention of either bargaining with the Confederates or rescinding the Proclamation. “I should be damned in time & in eternity for so doing,” he insisted. He assured Confederate representatives that he would “never would change or modify the terms of the proclamation in the slightest particular.” He told a general in July that “I think it is valid in law, and will be so held by the courts.” But even if not, “I think I shall not retract or repudiate it. Those who shall have tasted actual freedom I believe can never be slaves, or quasi slaves again.”

If anything, Lincoln looked for ways to make the Proclamation permanent, opening recruitment in the Union army to black volunteers, making acceptance of the Proclamation a condition for the restoration of the Union, urging new state governments in the South to consider giving freed men the vote, and ultimately pushing through Congress an amendment to the Constitution that abolished slavery everywhere in the United States. The Proclamation thus became not only a monument on the path to freedom but the culmination of Lincoln’s lifelong abhorrence of slavery.

Review Questions

1. Lincoln’s first political act, which demonstrated his hatred of slavery, was

  • formulating a bill to end slavery in the District of Columbia
  • pushing the Thirteenth Amendment through Congress
  • proposing a resolution in the Illinois legislature that included a denunciation of slavery
  • opening recruitment in the Union Army to black volunteers

2. Lincoln’s strong feelings against the institution of slavery were reinforced by the issuance of the

  • Compromise of 1850
  • Fugitive Slave Act
  • novel titled  Uncle Tom’s Cabin
  • Dred Scott  decision

3. Lincoln’s first move as president for emancipating slaves was

  • a military order in Missouri
  • a federally financed buyout of slaveholders in Delaware
  • congressional legislation
  • a request for a favorable Supreme Court decision

4. Lincoln believed the best path toward eliminating slavery should include all the following except

  • gradual emancipation
  • compensation for slaveholders
  • voluntary emancipation
  • abolition and deportation of slaves to Africa

5. Lincoln waited until the fall of 1862 to issue the Emancipation Proclamation because

  • he had agreed to wait for a Union military victory
  • Congress was not yet in session
  • he had been waiting for the slaves to stage a rebellion
  • the border states petitioned him to wait

6. The Emancipation Proclamation did not free the slaves of the border states, because

  • those states had declared their neutrality in the Civil War
  • the Proclamation applied only to the states at war with the United States
  • Lincoln was not interested in the slaves of the border states
  • the border states threatened to sue in federal court

Free Response Questions

  • Explain the evolution of President Lincoln’s stance on slavery.
  • Explain why Lincoln waited until January 1, 1863—a year and a half into the Civil War—to free the slaves.

AP Practice Questions

“If I were to suggest anything it would be that as the North are already for the measure, we should urge it persuasively, and not menacingly, upon the South. I am a little uneasy about the abolishment of slavery in this District, not but I would be glad to see it abolished, but as to the time and manner of doing it. If some one or more of the border-states would move fast, I should greatly prefer it; but if this can not be in a reasonable time, I would like the bill to have the three main features—gradual—compensation—and vote of the people—I do not talk to members of congress on the subject, except when they ask me. I am not prepared to make any suggestion about confiscation. I may drop you a line hereafter. Yours truly A. LINCOLN” Abraham Lincoln, “Letter to Honorable Horace Greeley,” March 24, 1862

Refer to the excerpt provided.

1. The phrase “vote of the people” in the excerpted letter suggests Lincoln’s solution to the slavery issue would be decided by

  • presidential decree
  • an act of Congress
  • a poll of slaveholders
  • a Supreme Court decision

2. Based on the letter, Lincoln’s ideas regarding emancipation were less radical than those of which of the following?

  • John C. Calhoun
  • Daniel Webster
  • William Lloyd Garrison

Primary Sources

Lincoln, Abraham. “Drafts of a Bill for Compensated Emancipation in Delaware.” November 1861.  https://quod.lib.umich.edu/l/lincoln/lincoln5/1:74?rgn=div1;view=fulltext

Lincoln, Abraham. “Peoria Speech, October 16, 1854.”  https://www.nps.gov/liho/learn/historyculture/peoriaspeech.htm

Lincoln, Abraham. “To Albert G. Hodges.” April 4, 1864.  http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/hodges.htm

Lincoln, Abraham. “To Horace Greeley.” March 24, 1862.  https://quod.lib.umich.edu/l/lincoln/lincoln5/1:364?rgn=div1;view=fulltext

Lincoln, Abraham. “To Stephen A. Hurlbut.” July 31, 1863.  https://quod.lib.umich.edu/l/lincoln/lincoln6/1:757?rgn=div1;view=fulltext

The Emancipation Proclamation. National Archives.  https://www.archives.gov/exhibits/featured-documents/emancipation-proclamation

Suggested Resources

Franklin, John Hope.  The Emancipation Proclamation . Garden City, NJ: Doubleday, 1963.

Guelzo, Allen C.  Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America . New York: Simon and Schuster, 2004.

Masur, Louis P.  Lincoln’s Hundred Days: The Emancipation Proclamation and the War for the Union . Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012.

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The Emancipation Proclamation, issued by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863, was a monumental declaration that declared the freedom of slaves in Confederate-held territory. Essays could delve into the political and social context surrounding this declaration, examining how the evolving circumstances of the Civil War influenced Lincoln’s decision. The discourse might extend to the immediate and long-term effects of the proclamation on the war, the abolitionist movement, and the lives of the enslaved individuals. Discussions could also explore the international implications of the Emancipation Proclamation, particularly its impact on European attitudes towards the Confederacy. Moreover, essays might focus on the legacy of the Emancipation Proclamation, exploring how it shaped the broader struggle for civil rights and racial equality in the United States, and how it continues to be remembered and celebrated in contemporary American society. We’ve gathered an extensive assortment of free essay samples on the topic of Emancipation Proclamation you can find at PapersOwl Website. You can use our samples for inspiration to write your own essay, research paper, or just to explore a new topic for yourself.

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Emancipation Proclamation: Effects, Impacts, and Outcomes

There is one document from the American Civil War that is considered to be one of the most important, valuable and impactful of all documents. That document was known as the Emancipation Proclamation.

This executive order was drafted and signed by Abraham Lincoln on January 1 st , 1863, during the Civil War. Many people believe that the emancipation proclamation effectively ended slavery but the truth is far more complicated than that.

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The Emancipation Proclamation was a momentous occasion in the history of the United States . It was created by Abraham Lincoln as a way to try and take advantage of the rebellion that was currently underway in the south. This rebellion was known as the Civil War, with the North and the South divided due to ideological differences.

The political situation of the Civil War was relatively dire. With the South in a state of outright rebellion, it was on Abraham Lincoln’s shoulders to try and preserve the Union at all costs. The war itself was still not recognized by the North as a war, because Abraham Lincoln refused to recognize the South as its own nation. While the South prefer to call itself the Confederate States of America, to the north they were still states of the United States of America.

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The Emancipation Proclamation’s entire purpose was to free the slaves in the South. In fact, the Emancipation Proclamation had nothing to do with slavery in the North. The Union would still be a slave nation during the war, despite the fact that Abraham Lincoln would y be laying the ground for a greater abolitionist movement. When the proclamation was passed, it was aimed at the states that were currently in rebellion; the entire purpose was to disarm the South.

During the Civil War, the Southern economy was primarily based on slavery. With the majority of men fighting in the Civil War, slaves were used primarily for reinforcing soldiers, transporting goods, and working in agricultural labor back home. The South did not have the same level of industrialism without slavery, as the North did. Essentially, when Lincoln passed to the Emancipation Proclamation it was actually an attempt to weaken the Confederate states by removing one of their strongest methods of production.

This decision was primarily pragmatic; Lincoln was focused entirely on disarming the South. However, regardless of intentions, the Emancipation Proclamation signaled a shift in the purpose of the Civil War. The war was no longer simply about preserving the state of the union, the war was more or less about ending slavery. The Emancipation Proclamation was not a well-received action. It was a strange political maneuver and even most of Lincoln’s cabinet was hesitant to believe that it would be effective.  The reason that the Emancipation Proclamation is such a curious document is because it was passed as under the President’s war-time powers.

Normally, the American Presidency has very little power of decree. Lawmaking and legislative control belongs to Congress. The President does have the ability to issue what is known as an executive order. Executive orders have the full backing and force of a law, but for the most part they are subject to control from Congress. The president himself has very little power outside of what Congress allows, except in wartime. As the commander-in-chief, the president has the ability to use wartime powers to enforce special laws. The Emancipation Proclamation was one of those laws that Lincoln had used his military powers to enforce.

Originally, Lincoln believed in the progressive elimination of slavery in all states. He believed that it was primarily up to the states to oversee the progressive abolition of slavery in their own individual power. Regardless of his political position on the matter, however, Lincoln had always believed that slavery was wrong. The Emancipation Proclamation served more as a military maneuver than a political maneuver. At the same time, this action cemented Lincoln as being a staunchly aggressive abolitionist and would ensure that slavery would eventually be removed from the entire United States.

One major political effect that the Emancipation Proclamation had was the fact that it invited slaves to serve in the Union Army. Such an action was a brilliant strategic choice. The decision to pass a law that told all slaves from the South that they were free and encouraging them to take up arms to join in the fight against their former masters was the brilliant tactical maneuver. Ultimately with those permissions, many freed slaves joined the Northern Army, drastically increasing their manpower. The North by the end of the war had over 200,000 African-Americans fighting for them.

The South was more or less in a state of turmoil after such an announcement. The proclamation had actually been publicized three times, the first time as a threat, the second time as a more formal announcement and then the third time as the signing of the Proclamation. When the Confederates heard the news, they were in a state of severe disrepair. One of them primary issues was that as the North advanced into territories and seized control of Southern land, they would often capture slaves. These slaves were simply restricted as contraband, not returned to their owners – the South.

When the Emancipation Proclamation was announced, all current contraband, i.e. the slaves, were freed at the stroke of midnight. There was no offer of compensation, payment, or even a fair trade to the slave-owners. These slave-holders were suddenly deprived of what they believe to be property. Combined with the sudden loss of a large number of slaves, and influx of troops that would provide the North with additional firepower, the South found itself in a very tough position. Slaves were now able to escape from the South and as soon as they made it into the North, they would be free.

Yet as important as the Emancipation Proclamation was to America’s history, its actual impact on slavery was minimal at best. If nothing more, it was a way to solidify the president’s position as an abolitionist and to ensure the fact that slavery would be ended. Slavery wasn’t officially ended in the United States of America until the 13 th Amendment was passed, in 1865.

One of the issues with the Emancipation Proclamation was that it was passed as a wartime measure. As stated before, in the United States, laws are not passed through the president, they are passed by Congress. This left the actual freedom status of the slaves up in the air. If the North were to win the war, the Emancipation Proclamation would not continue to be a constitutionally legal document. It would need to be ratified by the government in order to stay in effect.

The purpose of the Emancipation Proclamation has been muddled over the course of history. The basic line of though is that it freed the slaves. That is only partially correct, it merely freed the slaves in the South, something that wasn’t particularly enforceable due to the fact South was in a state of rebellion. What it did do however was ensure that if the North won, the South would be forced to free all of their slaves. Ultimately that would lead to the freedom of 3.1 million slaves. However, most of those slaves were not free until after the war had concluded.

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The Emancipation Proclamation was criticized on all sides of the political spectrum. The proslavery movement believed that it was wrong and immoral for the president to inflict such a thing, but their hands were tied due to the fact that they wanted the Union to be preserved. The North had originally tried to use the Emancipation Proclamation as a threat to the South.

The terms were simple, return to the Union or face the dire consequences of having all slaves freed. When the South refused to return, the North decided to unleash the document. This left Lincoln’s political opponents in a bind because they didn’t want to lose their slaves, but at the same time it would be a disaster if United States were to divide up into two different nations.

There was a lot of flak in the abolitionist movement as well.  Many of the abolitionists believed that it wasn’t a sufficient document because it did not totally eradicate slavery and in fact was barely enforceable in the states that it did authorize such release. Since the South was in a state of war, there wasn’t much impetus for them to comply with the order.

Lincoln was criticized by many different factions, and even among historians there is a question as to what his motives were in his decisions. But it is important to remember that the success of the Emancipation Proclamation hinged on the victory of the North. If the North was successful and was able to seize control of the Union once again, reunifying all the states and putting the South out of its state of rebellion, it would have freed all of their slaves.

There was no going back from this decision. The rest of America would be forced to follow suit. This meant that Abraham Lincoln was well aware of the ramifications of his actions. He knew that the Emancipation Proclamation was not a permanent, final solution to the problem of slavery but rather it was a powerful opening salvo to an entirely new type of war.

This changed the purpose of the Civil War as well. Prior to the Emancipation Proclamation, the North was engaged in military action against the South due to the fact of the South was trying to secede from the Union. Originally, the war as seen by the North, was a war to preserve the unity of America. The South was trying to secede because of a myriad of reasons. There are a lot of simplistic reasons offered for why the North and the South were divided.

The most common reason stated is that the South wanted to have slavery and Lincoln was purely a staunch abolitionist. Another theory was that the Civil War was started because the South wanted a greater level of states’ rights, whereas the current Republican Party was pushing for a more unified type of government. The reality is that the motivations of the South’s secession is a mixed bag. It was most likely a collection of all the above ideas. To say there was a single reason for the Civil War is a massive underestimation of how politics works.

Regardless of the South’s purpose for leaving the union, when the North made the decision to free the slaves, it became very clear that this would become an abolitionist war. The South relied heavily on their slaves in order to survive. Their economics were based primarily on a slave economy, as opposed to the North which had been developing a primarily industrial economy.

The North with higher level of education, weaponry, and production capability did not rely on slaves as much because abolition had become more prevalent.  As the abolitionists continued to chip at and reduce the right to own slaves, the South began to feel threatened and as such made the decision to break away in order to preserve their own economic strength.

This is where the question of Lincoln’s intentions has come into play across history. Lincoln was an abolitionist, of that there can be no doubt. Yet his intentions were to allow states to progressively disengage slavery on their own terms. He was greatly trying to encourage each state to abolish slavery, attempting his best to offer compensation to the slave-owners in the hopes that eventually they would free their slaves. He believed in a slow, progressive reduction in slavery.

This was primarily, in some opinions, a political decision. Freeing the slaves in one fell swoop would have caused massive political upheaval and probably would’ve caused a few more states to join the South. So rather, as America progressed, there were a series of laws and rules passed to slow down the strength of slavery. Lincoln, in fact, advocated for those kinds of laws. He believed in the slow reduction of slavery, not immediate abolition.

This is why his intentions are called into question with the existence of the Emancipation Proclamation. The man’s approach to the Emancipation Proclamation was primarily designed to destroy the southern economy, not to free the slaves. Still, at the same time, there was no going back from this action, as said before. When Lincoln made the decision to free the slaves in the South, he was making the decision to free all of the slaves eventually. This was recognized as such and so the Civil War became a war about slavery.

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Regardless of what Lincoln’s intentions were, it is unmistakable to see the widespread effects of the Emancipation Proclamation. Little by little, inch by inch, slavery was overcome and this is thankfully because of Lincoln’s decision to make such a bold action. Make no mistake, this was not a simple political maneuver in order to gain popularity. If anything, this would signal the destruction of Lincoln’s party if he failed in securing the Union. Even if he had prevailed and held control of the union, it very well still could have signaled his party’s destruction.

But he chose to put everything on the line and made the decision to free the people from the bonds of slavery. Shortly thereafter, when the war had ended, the 13 th amendment passed and all slaves in the United States were free. Slavery was declared to be abolished forever. This was passed under Lincoln’s administration and most likely would never have existed without his bravery and courage and stepping up to sign the Emancipation Proclamation.


The Three-Fifths Compromise

Booker T. Washington

10 Facts About The Emancipation Proclamation: http://www.civilwar.org/education/history/emancipation-150/10-facts.html

The Emancipation of Abe Lincoln: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/01/opinion/the-emancipation-of-abe-lincoln.html

A Pragmatic Proclamation: http://www.npr.org/2012/03/14/148520024/emancipating-lincoln-a-pragmatic-proclamation

How to Cite this Article

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1. To cite this article in an academic-style article or paper , use:

<a href=" https://historycooperative.org/effects-emancipation-proclamation/ ">Emancipation Proclamation: Effects, Impacts, and Outcomes</a>

2 thoughts on “Emancipation Proclamation: Effects, Impacts, and Outcomes”

Your baby needs you. It’s the fight for their live, not Planned Parenthood’s life. Just look at those advertisements and stop and think for a second. They say “this is the fight of our life?” It’s an organization whose primary purpose is to end unborn life. People have their reasons for doing things, but make no mistake, PP is a business who profits on doing it. Withhold your money and speak against that group.

From the article: “The basic line of though is that it freed the slaves.”. Probably should be: “basic line of thought..”

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President Abraham Lincoln and Emancipation

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Abraham Lincoln and The Emancipation Proclamation

The bondage that did not fall: the era of reconstruction.

January 1, 1863

Emancipation Proclamation or Proclamation 95, was an edict issued by U.S. President Abraham Lincoln on September 22, 1862, during the Civil War. With the purpose to freed the slaves of the Confederate states in rebellion against the Union.

The Emancipation Proclamation did not end slavery in the nation, it had little actual effect on freeing any of the nation’s enslaved people, and in result, it fundamentally transformed the character of the war. Also, it accepted of black men into the Union Army and Navy, and by the end of the war, almost 200,000 black soldiers had fought for the Union and freedom.

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emancipation proclamation essay question


What ended slavery throughout the united states? answer a. the emancipation proclamation b. the fourteenth amendment c. the surrender at appomattox d. the thirteenth amendment


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    Emancipation Proclamation Questions . 1) In this document, what ultimatum was given the states that had seceded from the Union? ... Emancipation Proclamation? 10) Which areas of the country are listed as excluded from the action of the Emancipation? 11) What is your opinion of how this document affected the countries of Europe's attitude toward

  8. Why did Abraham Lincoln issue the Emancipation Proclamation?

    The Emancipation Proclamation was issued by Lincoln during the Civil War so that slaves would be freed. The only slaves that were affected by this were the ones in rebellious states, not the ones ...

  9. The Emancipation Proclamation Summary

    On July 22, 1862, Lincoln read a draft proclamation to the entire cabinet and asked for comment. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton applauded the document and expressed the opinion that ...

  10. The Emancipation Proclamation

    The Emancipation Proclamation. President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, as the nation approached its third year of bloody civil war. The proclamation declared "that all persons held as slaves" within the rebellious states "are, and henceforward shall be free." Despite this expansive wording, the ...

  11. Emancipation Proclamation

    The Emancipation Proclamation, officially Proclamation 95, [2] [3] was a presidential proclamation and executive order issued by United States President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863, during the American Civil War. The Proclamation had the effect of changing the legal status of more than 3.5 million enslaved African Americans in the ...

  12. Emancipation Proclamation Discussion Questions

    Application and Historical Context Questions. Think about what you know about the Civil War. The Emancipation Proclamation was announced in September 1862 and became official in January 1863.

  13. Abraham Lincoln and Emancipation

    4. Lincoln believed the best path toward eliminating slavery should include all the following except. gradual emancipation. compensation for slaveholders. voluntary emancipation. abolition and deportation of slaves to Africa. 5. Lincoln waited until the fall of 1862 to issue the Emancipation Proclamation because.

  14. The Emancipation Proclamation: [Essay Example], 762 words

    The Emancipation Proclamation also encouraged other places to also end slavery. It encouraged the border state of Maryland to end slavery (Holzer). This also led to the termination of slavery all together. For example, the enslaved people of Galveston, Texas were informed of their freedom from Union troops ("Abraham Lincoln Issues the ...

  15. Emancipation Proclamation Free Essay Examples And Topic Ideas

    20 essay samples found. The Emancipation Proclamation, issued by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863, was a monumental declaration that declared the freedom of slaves in Confederate-held territory. Essays could delve into the political and social context surrounding this declaration, examining how the evolving circumstances of the ...

  16. Emancipation Proclamation Essay

    The Emancipation Proclamation was a big game changer for the Civil War. It changed the federal legal status of more than 3 million enslaved people in the designated areas of the South from slave to free. The Emancipation Proclamation changed the main goal of the Civil War. This executive order, issued as. 500 Words.

  17. Emancipation Proclamation: Effects, Impacts, and Outcomes

    December 1, 2016. The Emancipation Proclamation was a momentous occasion in the history of the United States. It was created by Abraham Lincoln as a way to try and take advantage of the rebellion that was currently underway in the south. This rebellion was known as the Civil War, with the North and the South divided due to ideological differences.

  18. Emancipation Proclamation Essay

    The Emancipation Proclamation was a presidential proclamation and executive order issued by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863. This one proclamation changed the federal legal status of about than 3 million enslaved people. In the designated areas of the South from the cages of slavery to the gates of freedom.

  19. Emancipation Proclamation Essay

    Emancipation Proclamation Essay. On September 22, 1862, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, issued the first, or preliminary, Emancipation Proclamation. In this document he warned that unless the states of the Confederacy returned to the Union by January 1, 1863, he would declare their slaves to be "forever free.".

  20. Essays on Emancipation Proclamation

    Abraham Lincoln: The Emancipation Proclamation. The Emancipation Proclamation, issued by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863, stands as one of the most significant documents in American history. This landmark executive order declared the freedom of enslaved people in Confederate-held territory during the Civil War.

  21. Emancipation Proclamation Essays (Examples)

    Paper #: 57328741. Read Full Paper . Emancipation Proclamation is one of the United States of America's most important documents, which aimed to bring the Civil War closer to an end. The Emancipation Proclamation was an executive order issued by the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. In September 1862, Lincoln announced that ...

  22. Emancipation Proclamation, Questions And Answers

    Emancipation Proclamation Dbq 511 Words | 3 Pages. Emancipation has been defined as the pursuit, expansion, and security of freedom. Lincoln was an immigrant from the South who had flourished in two states, Indiana and Illinois, where laws against both slavery and the migration of free blacks protected whites like him against nonwhite competition (Lind 2005).

  23. Select the correct text in the passage.Which lines from the Emancipation

    The procedure for making homemade lemonade is quite easy. First, combine one cup of sugar with one cup of water. To make a simple syrup, heat the mixture until the sugar has completely dissolved. Next, juice eight lemons. Then, combine the simple syrup, the lemon juice, and four cups of cold water in a pitcher.

  24. What ended slavery throughout the united states? answer a. the emancipation

    a. the emancipation proclamation b. the fourteenth amendment c. the surrender at appomattox d. the thirteenth amendment. 1 week ago. Solution 1. Guest #10578183. 1 week ago. The emancipation proclamation. 📚 Related Questions. Question _____ is the capital of the byzantine empire. ... two-paragraph essay explaining why it might have taken ...

  25. Emancipation Proclamation Essay Questions

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