FREED SOUTHERN SLAVES
Abraham Lincoln issued the proclamation (first announcing it on Sept. 22, 1862, and putting it into effect on January 1, 1863), declaring slaves free in all areas then in rebellion against the Union. It authorized the Union armed forces to carry this into effect as they took control of areas of the Confederacy. When they received fleeing slaves, they were no longer to return them to their masters. The proclamation freed 3.1 million of the 4 million slaves in the USA. The Proclamation also authorized the Union armies to recruit these freed slaves to fight. A large number joined the Union Army and made a major contribution to the war effort during the final two years of the war.
A claim that it "freed no one" (see below) is inaccurate. Yes, it only did so as the Union Army was able to move forward. But that is the same for any law or proclamation --it is a 'dead letter' until backed up by power (sometimes armed force). And this proclamation specifically provided for its own enforcement. In fact, from 1863 through mid-1865 (when on June 19 the order was announced in Texas), the Proclamation was the main instrument by which slaves in the South were actually freed.
Note that Lincoln took this step under his "war powers" as Commander-in-chief. He had no general authority under the Constitution to free slaves elsewhere (especially in the border states that had remained loyal to the Union). The criticism of his not freeing slaves in the Union misses this point - the Proclamation could not free these slaves, no matter how much Lincoln might have wanted to.
PART OF LARGER PLAN TO FREE ALL SLAVES
Critics also ignore the fact that Lincoln & Congress were, even before the Emancipation Proclamation working on Constitutional methods to end slavery throughout the nation. Lincoln, already in 1861, had begun to urge border Union slave states to vote an end to slavery themselves (which some eventually did). His original proposal was "compensated emancipation", providing financial help to states that emancipated their slaves. In fact, Lincoln and Congress had already used this method in April 1862 to free slaves in Washington DC (the one place they had the Constitutional authority to do so!)
Lincoln and the Republicans also worked on a method to free all slaves in the Union, as well as to assure that those freed under the Emancipation Proclamation remained free after the war ended (since a court challenge could conceivably reinstate slavery). This was accomplished by means of the 13th amendment to the Constitution in 1865.
The Proclamation was not, at first, highly regarded overseas. Britain was not impressed by it, and stayed its hand at recognizing the Confederacy not so much because of the Proclamation, but because the victory at Antietam suggested a Southern victory was not a certainty. The French government did not really care about the slavery issue or 'bad press', but preferred to recognize the South only after Britain did.
One other effect - in the short term, as Lincoln expected, the Proclamation cost him and his party at home. It contributed to a number of key losses in the 1862 elections. This makes it all the more remarkable that Lincoln chose to announce the plan in September, rather than waiting until after those elections.
Claim that it had no real effect :
The Emancipation Proclamation merely announced Lincoln's intention to free slaves that it had no power to free. No slaves were freed (not even on paper) until the actual Executive Order was signed over three months later. Even then, it specifically exempted the Slave States that had not seceded (like Kentucky and Maryland). It also specifically exempted any State that had not seceded or that had been captured by Union troops and any county that had been captured by Union troops. In other words, slavery REMAINED LEGAL in all Slave States and Slave Counties that were under Union control. The only places where slavery became illegal was in those States and Counties that didn't recognize the authority of the US government anyway. So, in actual effect, the Emancipation Proclamation freed exactly zero slaves.
Though as the North conquered more territory in the South, slavery immediately became illegal in the new States and Counties conquered. But it was the Union Army, not the Emancipation Proclamation, that conquered those States and Counties.
(Some argue that some slaves in already-Union-controlled areas were freed immediately upon the issuance of the executive order, and the estimate of the number of slaves thus freed varies between 20,000 and 50,000. If this is, in fact, the case, then the executive order was, in fact, in direct opposition to the Emancipation Proclamation, which exempted all states or parts of states under Union control. So, once again, the Emancipation Proclamation itself freed no one.)
The Emancipation Proclamation, in itself, was totally worthless. Moreover, it was nothing more than a political stunt and one of the most dishonest political acts of American history. It was bait to get the States in Rebellion to rejoin the Union, under the promise that they would be allowed to keep their slaves. It even provided a means by which States in rebellion could prove that they were no longer in rebellion (election of representation of the State in the US Congress was "deemed conclusive evidence"). Yet, Lincoln never intended to let any Southern States keep their slaves. It was a classic "bait and switch". Of course, none of the Southern States fell for it.
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