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Emancipation Proclamation | Study Guide

Abraham Lincoln

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Abraham Lincoln

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At a Glance

  • As the Civil War (1861–65) entered its second year, pressure mounted on President Abraham Lincoln (1809–65) to issue a proclamation freeing some or all of America's four million enslaved persons. Yet Lincoln reacted cautiously, apparently unsure of his constitutional authority and worried about the impact such an action would have on the border states—Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri—which had not joined the Confederacy at that point.
  • Lincoln first moved in the direction of emancipation in July 1862 when he read a draft of the document to his cabinet members. He decided to wait for a Union military victory, hoping to gain more traction for the new policy.
  • Such an occasion came with the Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862, when Union forces stopped a Confederate advance into Maryland. On September 22 Lincoln issued a preliminary proclamation, publicly declaring that slaves in the rebellious states would be free 100 days later, on January 1, if those states did not lay down their arms and rejoin the Union before that day. On January 1, 1863, Lincoln officially issued the Emancipation Proclamation.
  • The Emancipation Proclamation had profound effects. It changed the character of the war, whose twin goals became preservation of the Union and the disestablishment of slavery. The proclamation ended any Confederate hopes for support from Europe, and it sparked Union plans to enlist African American troops in the armed forces. Lincoln regarded the proclamation as the central achievement of his presidency.


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