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5.3: Emancipation Proclamation

Difficulty Level: At Grade Created by: CK-12
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From the beginning of the Civil War, Lincoln insisted that the goal was to preserve the union, not to free the slaves. In part, he took this position to retain the loyalty of the four Border States, Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri. As the war progressed, the Confederacy used slave labor to supply their cause—for example, to build fortifications or work in factories—and Lincoln changed his policy. On September 22, 1862, Lincoln issued the first part of the Emancipation Proclamation, which stated that in any state that had not returned to the union by the following January \begin{align*}1^{\mathrm{st}}\end{align*}, the slaves would be declared free. Then, on January 1, 1863, he issued the document below, following through on his promise. As you read, try to determine why Lincoln freed the slaves. Out of a sincere opposition to slavery? As a strategic move to help win the war and preserve the Union?

The Emancipation Proclamation

Source: The Emancipation Proclamation, January 1, 1863(Figure below).

The Emancipation Proclamation

On the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State in rebellion against the United States, shall be forever free...

Now, therefore I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, by virtue of the power in me vested as Commander-in-Chief, of the Army and Navy of the United States... do order and designate [appoint] the following States as being in rebellion:

Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia.

And I hereby call upon the people so declared to be free to abstain from all violence, unless in necessary self-defense; and I recommend to them that, in all cases when allowed, they labor faithfully for reasonable wages.

And I further declare and make known, that such persons will be received into the armed service of the United States.

And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution, upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God.

By the President: ABRAHAM LINCOLN


  1. The Civil War ended in 1865. According to the Emancipation Proclamation, why did Lincoln decide to free the slaves before the war had even ended?
  2. Lincoln lists many of states but leaves out the following four slave states: Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, and Missouri. These states had slaves but were not part of the Confederacy (they were not fighting against the Union). What happened to the slaves in these states? You may use your outside sources to answer this question.
  3. Close Reading: Why do you think he calls the act a “military necessity” and “invoke the considerate judgment of mankind” in the last section?

From The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass – Frederick Douglass

Source: Excerpt from The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, 1881.

In mid-1863, after the Emancipation Proclamation had been announced, President Lincoln called Frederick Douglass to the White House to speak with him. Douglass recounts the event here in his autobiography.

President Lincoln did me the honor to invite me to discuss the best way to induce (persuade) the slaves in the rebel states to escape. Lincoln was alarmed about the increasing opposition to the war in the North, and the mad cry against it being an abolition war. Lincoln worried that an early peace might be forced upon him which would leave all those who had not escaped in slavery.

I was impressed by this kind consideration because before he had said that his goal was to save the Union, with or without slavery. What he said on this day showed a deeper moral conviction against slavery than I had ever seen before in anything spoken or written by him. I listened with the deepest interest and profoundest satisfaction, and, at his suggestion, agreed to organize men who would go into the rebel states, and carry the news of emancipation, and urge the slaves to come within our boundaries....

I refer to this conversation because I think that, on Mr. Lincoln's part, it is evidence that the proclamation, so far at least as he was concerned, was not passed merely as a `necessity.'


  1. Sourcing: When did Douglass write this document? When did the meeting and the Emancipation take place? How might that affect Douglass’s memory of Lincoln and his evaluation of the Emancipation Proclamation?
  2. Contextualization: According to Douglass, what was happening in the North in 1863?
  3. Close Reading: According to Douglass, what was Lincoln concerned about?
  4. Close Reading: What is Douglass’s conclusion about Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation?

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