Summary of the Emancipation Proclamation

Despite his personal opposition to slavery, when President Abraham Lincoln took office in 1861 he insisted that his constitutional duty was to keep the nation together, not to abolish slavery. He conducted the first year of the war with the goal of reuniting the Union, but wartime events, including heavy military losses and the many slaves who escaped behind Union battle lines, forced him to contend with the issue of slavery. He issued a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862 and the final version on January 1, 1863, fundamentally changing the meaning of the war.

The final Emancipation Proclamation:

  • Declared "forever free" more than 3.5 million slaves in Confederate areas still in rebellion against the Union

  • Promised that the federal government and military would "recognize and maintain the freedom" of the freed slaves

  • Did not free almost half a million slaves in the border states loyal to the Union (Maryland, Missouri, Delaware, Kentucky) and in some other areas under Union control

  • Asked the newly freed slaves to avoid violence unless in self-defense and recommended that they work for wages

  • Announced that African-American men could enlist in the Union army and navy

  • Described these actions as "an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution, upon military necessity"

Source | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning, 2008.
Creator | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning
Rights | Copyright American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Item Type | Article/Essay
Cite This document | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning, “Summary of the Emancipation Proclamation,” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed August 20, 2014, http://herb.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/534.