After the Battle of Antietam, Lincoln issued his famous Emancipation Proclamation on January 1st, 1863.
Now, after the Battle of Antietam, which was in September 1862, Lincoln made a big announcement that he was going to issue the Emancipation Proclamation to any states that were still in a state of rebellion against the Union on January 1st.
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So, he gave a warning. He tried to kind of scare the states into saying, “Okay, well, he’s going to free all our slaves if we don’t go back into the Union.” But none of the states did go back into the Union, so all the Southern states, all the states that were part of the Confederacy were still considered to be in a state of rebellion on January 1st, 1863. So, Lincoln followed through and issued the Emancipation Proclamation.
This document freed the slaves in any area that was still in a state of rebellion against the Union at that time. It offered no compensation to the former owners. So, all of the states in the South were going to have their slaves freed, and they were going to receive no compensation for that. Now, this is important. It was only in the South, only in the Confederacy, only in any area that was still in a state of rebellion against the Union, who still hadn’t come back into the Union.
Now, it did not free slaves in the Border States, and these were the states that were between the North and the South. Some of them may have been considered Northern states, but they had slaves in them. So, if there were slaves in the Border States, those slaves were not freed because Lincoln wanted to maintain loyalty to the Union in these areas. So, in the middle of the war, he didn’t try to free the slaves in the Union. Any states that were considering themselves to be sided with the Union were exempt from this proclamation. It was only these states that were still in rebellion against the Union where the slaves were freed. The slaves in the Border States stayed enslaved, they still belonged to their owners.
So, this proclamation did not outlaw slavery outright, and it did not make ex-slaves citizens. So, even once the slaves in the Confederacy were freed, they were not considered United States citizens. They were just ex-slaves, or freed men, as they were called. So, even though the slaves were technically free, it wasn’t something the North could enforce unless they actually conquered a particular area of the South.
Now, this did encourage a lot of slaves to try to escape because the former fugitive slave laws that were in place before the Emancipation Proclamation said that any slaves that were escaped were to be returned to the owner, or they would be held in camps until something was decided about them. But they weren’t to be able to go on being free, at least according to the fugitive slave law.
Now, there were still plenty of people that tried to help free slaves and keep them free. But, lawfully, they would’ve been returned to their owner, or been put in one of these camps until something was decided. Now, any slaves that were able to escape the Confederacy and get into Union territory would be considered free. And they could also join the United States army or navy, and get paid for their services. So, they weren’t considered citizens, but they could serve and get paid in the army or navy. There were three main reasons Lincoln issued the proclamation. He wanted to keep Britain or keep the British, from assisting the South.
So, the South had been trying to get European powers interested in their cause. The South knew it probably wasn’t going to be able to win this war without help, and so, it needed to show the European powers that it was strong enough to win if it just got a little help. So, Britain was actually interested in helping the South, but after the Emancipation Proclamation, things got a little too crazy. A lot of the slaves were escaping, and as the territory was conquered by the North, slaves were freed. And so, Britain lost a lot of its interest after the proclamation.
Lincoln also issued it to motivate the Northern troops and possibly add to them. So, this was something that the Northern troops could get excited about. If they fought through certain areas, they would be able to free the slaves there, and they could possibly add to their troops if the slaves wanted to join the Union army or navy. And then, to effect a positive moral change. This was something that Lincoln believed was right. In the end, he wanted to get rid of slavery altogether, but at this time, he couldn’t do that and risk loyalty in the Union areas that did have slavery still in place. So, at least in this partial way, he was able to effect a positive moral change.
So, the Emancipation Proclamation did uplift the spirits of a lot of the African Americans. The slaves were impassioned by this. They realized that freedom was coming. For a lot of them, freedom was here if they were able to escape the South, or freedom was here if the North came through and conquered an area of the South. And so, the slaves were excited by this. If they had been feeling worn down, if they had felt like they were never going to get out of the South, slavery was always going to be around, this showed them that that was not so, and it gave them a lot more encouragement to go on, keep trying to get out of the South, and to just hang on until more laws were passed, and slavery was eventually eradicated. The Emancipation Proclamation changed the goal of the Civil War from simply keeping the Union together to reuniting the Union, and eradicating slavery.
So, know the Emancipation Proclamation did not eradicate all slavery in the United States, but it made that an explicit war goal. Now that the Emancipation Proclamation had been issued, it was clear that Lincoln meant to free the slaves. If he freed all the slaves in the South, there would only be a few slaves in between the Free states in the South where there was slavery allowed. So, people could look and see slavery was going away as long as the Union won the war. So, the Emancipation Proclamation was very important during the Civil War. It came about after Lincoln promised that he would issue this if the Southern states did not stop rebelling and come back into the Union. When they didn’t, he followed through on that promise, and he issued the proclamation. It freed all the slaves in the Confederacy, but not slaves in any Union territory, or Border States that were loyal to the Union, because Lincoln needed to maintain that loyalty.
So, it didn’t outlaw slavery outright, it didn’t make the ex-slaves citizens, it didn’t compensate the former owners, it simply said, “If you’re a slave in the Confederacy, now you’re free. If you can make your way to the North, you can live a free life, and you can possibly serve in the United States army or navy and get paid to do so if you wanted to.” This was something that motivated Northern troops and added to them, and it effected a positive moral change in the country. And lastly, it also changed the goal of the Civil War from simply keeping the country together to reuniting the Union, and eradicating slavery altogether.