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This Week in History:
December 26, 1862 - January 1, 1863
Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation Goes Into Effect

December 2010

Abraham Lincoln welcomed by emancipated slaves in Richmond, Virginia.

January 1, 2003 is the 140th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, which was issued in September 1862, and went into effect on Jan. 1, 1863.

Lincoln's freeing of the slaves, taken as a war emergency measure, as none other than Congressman John Quincy Adams had argued might become necessary, flowed from his own conviction that slavery was the cause of the Civil War, and that its abolition was both morally and strategically right. His intention was to free the slaves earlier, but he was forced by his Cabinet to delay the proclamation until after he could announce a victory in the war. As soon as the battle of Antietam, which the Union claimed as a victory, was finished, Lincoln rushed to complete his draft.

The proclamation of Sept. 22, 1862 stated:

"That 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, or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free: and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom...."

The Jan. 1, 1863 proclamation repeated the above section, and went on to say:

"... By virtue of the power and for the purpose aforesaid, I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within, said designated States and parts of States are, and henceforth shall be, free; and that the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, shall recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons.

"And I hereby enjoin 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 where allowed, they labor faithfully for reasonable wages.

"And I further declare and make known that such persons of suitable condition will be received into the armed service of the United States to garrison forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service.

"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....

"In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

"Done at the city of Washington, the first day of January in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the independence of the United States of America the eighty-seventh.

"By the President: Abraham Lincoln

"William H. Seward, Secretary of State."


There has been a considerable attack on President Lincoln's action to free the slaves, particularly from those who claim that he was insufficiently committed to racial equality, and was only maneuvering strategically to preserve the Union. Others have simply argued that the emancipation did not actually succeed in improving the conditions of former slaves, to real freedom.

There are two problems with the first argument. First, there is ample evidence that Lincoln hated slavery as a moral evil, from early in his political career. At the time of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, he stated that he believed all men to be created equal, blacks as well as whites, in respect to the rights to "life, liberty and the pursuit of Happiness," as outlined in the Declaration of Independence. Second, it is a fact that the only basis upon which freedom for all Americans could be secured, was with the preservation of the national Union.

As to the second argument, about the incompleteness of emancipation, that cannot be blamed upon Abraham Lincoln, or his intentions. The vision which President Lincoln had for the industrialization of the South, following the winning of the Civil War, had the potential for unifying the nation in prosperity—rather than keeping the South a bastion of rural poverty. After Lincoln's assassination, a different policy prevailed, and ultimately the very opposite, in terms of the denial of rights, both political and economic, to the former slaves.

Ultimately, the argument for emancipating the slaves relies on the concept that every human being, regardless of race, is created in the image of God. That concept, as crucial as it is to Judeo-Christian culture, and the United States' foundations, has still not been put into practice as a day-to-day reality.

To that extent, we do well to celebrate the Emancipation Proclamation—with a view to extending its underlying principle, that of the Declaration of Independence, to all mankind.


The original article was published in the EIR Online’s Electronic Intelligence Weekly, as part of an ongoing series on history, with a special emphasis on American history. We are reprinting and updating these articles now to assist our readers in understanding of the American System of Economy.

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