5 Facts About The Emancipation Proclamation

On September 22, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, which sets a date for the freedom of more than 3 million black slaves in the United States. Here are five things you didn't know about the Emancipation Proclamation...


Lincoln Delayed Anti-slavery Proclamations When the Civil War Started At the start of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln wasn't sure that he had the public support for issuing a proclamation demanding freedom for the slaves. There was certainly a strong private push for it, with abolitionist groups and some political allies pressuring him to do it. However, Lincoln instead claimed the war was about preventing the Confederate states from seceding, and then he waited until more of the general public was amenable to ending slavery. That wasn't until July 1862, when Lincoln announced that he would issue a proclamation. He waited until September to do so because he had been advised to wait until the Union had a major victory in battle.

It Didn't Free All Slaves In fact, it didn't free even a majority of slaves. The Proclamation is popularly seen now as this wide-ranging reform, but all it really did was say that the slaves in states that were still rebelling as of January 1, 1863, would be freed. Not the slaves in states that decided to stop rebelling, or slaves in states that had never rebelled, or in those in Union territory, but only those in about ten states that still had a chance to give up fighting. However, the Proclamation was a vital step toward expanding emancipation for all slaves.


Emancipation Originally Didn't Apply to the Union-Friendly Border States The proclamation issued in September was not country-wide, nor was it the final Emancipation Proclamation of which most people think. Lincoln wanted to remain on good terms with Union-friendly border states that still allowed slavery and was willing to exempt them from the call to end slavery. When Lincoln did finally issue the proclamation, it called for slaves' freedom in areas that were still rebelling against the Union 100 days from the date of the proclamation. In other words, if states wanted to keep their slaves as slaves, they had to stop fighting against the Union before the end of 100 days. 

The final version of the proclamation was issued the next January 1, and it freed all slaves in rebelling states. Lincoln also called for African Americans to be allowed to form military units (that were pro-Union, of course) to help fight the war. African Americans had previously been in the Navy aboard ships, but now they were finally allowed to join the Army.

The Proclamation Wasn't Actually a Law The Emancipation Proclamation was... a proclamation. It was an order but not a law, and technically it didn't end slavery. Union-friendly states still got to have slaves according to the terms of the proclamation (remember, it focused on rebelling states), so Lincoln pushed for the proclamation and the end of slavery to be made law. That led to the 13th Amendment to the Constitution in 1865, which ended slavery in every state.

Lincoln Was Interested in Moving Freed Slaves Abroad Lincoln wanted to free slaves, but instead of focusing on the freed slaves making new lives in the United States, he was interested in having them resettle outside the country. It was commonly thought that Lincoln had given up on this idea at the start of the war, but it turns out that he was interested in having freed slaves move to Central and South America even after the Emancipation Proclamation had been issued. 

His model was the country of Liberia in Africa, which was settled by freed slaves. The idea wasn't popular among freed slaves, however, and the one attempt to resettle slaves to an island near Haiti in 1862 resulted in a smallpox outbreak among the freed slaves, a lack of medical supplies, outright robbery of the freed slaves by the owner of the island, failed crops, and an eventual rescue mission arranged by Lincoln himself.