On January 1, 1863 Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. He declared that “all persons held as slaves within any State…, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.” It did not simply promise freedom, it ordered that the “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…in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.” The Union army would use the force of its bayonets to free enslaved African Americans and to keep them free.1
Lincoln called upon the freed slaves to “abstain” from retaliatory violence against Southern whites, but for the first time in history an American president authorized the slaves to use violence “in necessary self-defense.” Even more revolutionary, Lincoln authorized the enlistment of freed slaves “into the armed service of the United States.” Men who were once slaves would now be armed to kill those who had enslaved them and, in doing so, to liberate their own families from bondage.2
Lincoln concluded by affirming that he “sincerely believed [Emancipation 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.”3
The Emancipation Proclamation would soon accelerate the mass migration of blacks from the Confederacy to the United States as slaves sought freedom for themselves and the opportunity to join in striking the blows that would end slavery forever in the United States.4
Video: David Blight on Emancipation
Video: Professor Jonathan Holloway on Emancipation from the 1850s to the 1863 Draft Riots
A Short video on the origins of the Abolition Movement
1. Emancipation Proclamation; Lincoln’s Hundred Days: The Emancipation Proclamation and the War for the Union by Louis P. Masur published by Belknap Press of Harvard University Press (2012); Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America by Allen C. Guelzo published by Simon & Schuster (2006); Emancipating Lincoln: The Proclamation in Text, Context, and Memory (Nathan I Huggins Lectures) by Harold Holzer published by Harvard University Press (February 2012); The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery by Eric Foner published by Norton (2010) pp. 240-247.
The Immigrants’ Civil War is a series that examines the role of immigrants in our bloodiest war. Articles will appear twice monthly between 2011 and 2017. Here are the articles we have published so far:
43. Union Leader Ben Butler Seeks Support in New Orleans-When General Ben Butler took command in New Orleans in 1862, it was a Union outpost surrounded by Confederates. Butler drew on his experience as a pro-immigrant politician to win over the city’s Irish and Germans.