President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, announcing, "that all persons held as slaves" within the rebellious areas "are, and henceforward shall be free."
Initially, the Civil War between North and South was fought by the North to prevent the secession of the Southern states and preserve the Union. Even though sectional conflicts over slavery had been a major cause of the war, ending slavery was not a goal of the war.
That changed on September 22, 1862, when President Lincoln issued his Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, which stated that enslaved people in those states or parts of states still in rebellion as of January 1, 1863, would be declared free. One hundred days later, with the rebellion unabated, President issued the Emancipation Proclamation declaring "that all persons held as slaves" within the rebellious areas "are, and henceforward shall be free."
Lincoln’s bold step to change the goals of the war was a military measure and came just a few days after the Union’s victory in the Battle of Antietam. With this Proclamation he hoped to inspire all Black people, and enslaved people in the Confederacy in particular, to support the Union cause and to keep England and France from giving political recognition and military aid to the Confederacy.
Because it was a military measure, however, the Emancipation Proclamation was limited in many ways. It applied only to states that had seceded from the Union, leaving slavery untouched in the loyal border states. It also expressly exempted parts of the Confederacy that had already come under Union control. Most important, the freedom it promised depended upon Union military victory.
Although the Emancipation Proclamation did not end slavery in the nation, it did fundamentally transform the character of the war. After January 1, 1863, every advance of federal troops expanded the domain of freedom. Moreover, the Proclamation announced the acceptance of Black men into the Union Army and Navy, enabling the liberated to become liberators. By the end of the war, almost 200,000 Black soldiers and sailors had fought for the Union and freedom.
From the first days of the Civil War, enslaved people had acted to secure their own liberty. The Emancipation Proclamation confirmed their insistence that the war for the Union must become a war for freedom. It added moral force to the Union cause and strengthened the Union both militarily and politically. As a milestone along the road to slavery's final destruction, the Emancipation Proclamation has assumed a place among the great documents of human freedom.
THE WHITE HOUSE
BRIEFING ROOM STATEMENTS AND RELEASES
JANUARY 01, 2023
Statement from President Joe Biden
on the 160th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation
On New Year’s Day, 160 years ago today, President Abraham Lincoln changed America’s destiny forever. We were at the height of a raging Civil War, “a house divided” along the dangerous fault line of slavery. During the one hundred days after the battle at Antietam, where more American soldiers were lost in a single day than in any other war, President Lincoln engaged in months of cautious deliberation. His duty, he felt, was to do more than what he personally believed was morally right, but to represent the will of a fractured people.
On January 1, 1863, President Lincoln finally issued the Emancipation Proclamation, ending slavery in states that rebelled against the Union, but preserving the institution in states that remained within the Union. It was not a perfect solution, but it began the active pursuit of perfection, the quest that persists to this day to realize the full promise of democracy in America. With the stroke of a pen, President Lincoln aligned the future of our Nation with the challenge of our world, to end humanity’s war against itself, to recognize there is more that unites us than could ever divide us, and to finally reconcile ourselves with one another in peace.
The Emancipation Proclamation became an inspiration to thousands of Americans who celebrated all across the Nation that New Year’s Day long into the night. Afterwards, every Union victory became a greater sign that justice could conquer injustice, that freedom would triumph over bondage, and that the battle cry of our Nation was freedom and justice for all.
On this New Year’s Day, let us add our voices to those of the ages, to celebrate the unity that is the sacred mission of our Nation. Let us rejoice that freedom is our goal, and let us set aside our differences, break through bitter and divisive partisanship, our finger pointing and blame, and rise up to meet our great calling as a Nation. Let us do all we can in 2023 to create “a new birth of freedom” in the United States and ensure that “government of the people, by the people and for the people, shall not perish,” but will shine like a sun, a beacon to all people, demonstrating that from the many our great Nation can become one.