150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation

I apologize for the lack of posts of late. However, quantity over quality has always been a motto of mine (except I’d prefer to have a quantity of trillions of dollars; but we can’t all have what we want).

Today, January 1, 2013, is a historic day. It has been 150 years since Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States of America, signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

Abraham Lincoln and his Emancipation Proclamation / The Strobridge Lith. Co., Cincinnati, 1888 lithograph. Original image at the Library of Congress.

The National Archives exhibited the original document Sunday, December 30, 2012-January 1, 2013. There were other programs there in December and some others coming later in January.

The Emancipation Proclamation perhaps was best summed up by former slave turned abolitionist-writer/orator, Frederick Douglass.

Frederick Douglass, circa 1850

“THE first of January, 1863, was a memorable day in the progress of American liberty and civilization. It was the turning-point in the conflict between freedom and slavery. A death-blow was given to the slaveholding rebellion. Until then the federal arm had been more than tolerant to that relic of barbarism. It had defended it inside the slave States; it had countermanded the emancipation policy of John C. Fremont in Missouri; it had returned slaves to their so-called owners; it had threatened that any attempt on the part of the slaves to gain their freedom by insurrection, or otherwise, should be put down with an iron hand; it had even refused to allow the Hutchinson family to sing their anti-slavery songs in the camps of the Army of the Potomac; it had surrounded the houses of slaveholders with bayonets for their protection….”


Much has been made about Lincoln’s motivations. Be not confused, Lincoln was opposed to slavery. Being opposed to slavery did not make him a racial equality person throughout his whole life. However, by the release of this Emancipation Proclamation, much about Lincoln’s feelings regarding enslaved people and their immediate future (at least) had been altered.

Lincoln’s final draft of the Emancipation Proclamation was something different in American political discourse and in Lincoln’s own thought process for this document (points I summarize from Eric Foner’s book, The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery (W.W. Norton & Co., 2010):

  • The proclamation did not seek slave owners’ cooperation in emancipation.
  • There was no mention of loyal versus disloyal owners.
  • It was immediate and offered no financial compensation for the slaveholders.
  • There was no mention of colonization or action from the specific states.
  • For the first time really in American history, the Federal government would actively seek, train, uniform, train, and arm black soldiers. This is an often ignored portion of the document but by the end of the Civil War, of the approximately, 179,000 black men who served in United States Colored Troop regiments or in the few state regiments of black men, some 150,000 were former slaves (the remainder being free-born persons from North and South).

So with this in mind, I encourage all my readers to take a re-read of the Emancipation Proclamation (which you can find here along with the preliminary draft, a former slave’s interview, and a thoughtful commentary from the respected and revered historian John Hope Franklin.)



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2 responses to “150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation

  1. L.L. Brown

    Nicely summarized. Lincoln’s transformation was important, and while his views can be criticized by 21st century types (& legitimately by Douglass at the time), his courage was without peer in the first 14 occupants of the Executive Mansion (plus Geo. Washington).

    I have wondered for the past few years if when Obama opposed the court ruling that would have struck down Don’t Ask Don’t tell will be remembered like Lincoln overriding Fremont’s emancipation order.

    • Thanks for the comment. Really, Eric Foner is brillant which is why I think he summarizes best.

      I hope on the latter point that isn’t the case as most of the American public has forgotten about Lincoln striking down Fremont’s order as well as David Hunter’s order. But that is my bias.

      However, on this subject, I agree with you regarding Lincoln’s resolve. Few people from the 19th century are our ideal version of perfection when it comes to race relations in the United States (or internationally) but this President was the first one to not sustain the slave South indefinitely.

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