“Emancipation Proclamation”

January 24, 1863

Thomas Nast

“Emancipation Proclamation”

Antebellum Slavery; Black Americans; Civil War, Emancipation; Education, Public Schools; Home Life; Labor; Presidential Administration, Abraham Lincoln; Wars, American Civil War;

Lincoln, Abraham;

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The Emancipation of the Negroes, January, 1863 - the past and the future.

This Harper’s Weekly cartoon by Thomas Nast celebrates the Emancipation Proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863.

Lincoln had been initially cautious about emancipating the slaves. Before becoming president, he had insisted that there was no federal authority to abolish slavery in states where it already existed. His goal was to stop its spread into the Western territories.

Once the Civil War began, President Lincoln rescinded an emancipation order issued by Union General John C. Frémont in Missouri. The president feared that the border states (slave states still loyal to the Union: Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware) might join the Confederacy. He did, though, make several unsuccessful attempts to convince the border states to free their slaves on a plan of gradual, compensated emancipation.

In the summer of 1862, Lincoln informed his cabinet that he would issue an emancipation order. His secretary of state, William Seward, convinced him to wait until after a major Union victory in order to announce the policy from a position of military strength, so that it would not seem like an act of desperation. Accordingly, after Confederate general Robert E. Lee’s invasion of the North was repelled at the battle of Antietam in September 1862, Lincoln issued his Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.

The document declared that if the Confederacy did not cease its rebellion by the first of the year, then all the slaves in Confederate-held territory would be freed. It excluded slaves in the Union border states and Southern areas controlled by the Union military on that date. The policy was aimed at inducing the Confederacy to surrender rather than lose their slaves, and it was based on what Lincoln considered to be a president’s augmented constitutional authority during a national emergency.

The Confederacy did not take the offer, so the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect on January 1, 1863. Thereafter, to the original federal war aim of restoring the union was added the goal of freeing the slaves. As the Union military forces advanced across the South, thousands of slaves were freed, with many serving in the Union military. It took, though, the postwar Thirteenth Amendment (December 1865) to free all of the slaves and to abolish the institution of slavery.

The centerpiece of this Harper’s Weekly cartoon is a united family of former slaves. On the right, artist Thomas Nast pictures other benefits of emancipation, such as public education and paid employment, which are contrasted on the left by the heartless slave auctions, which divided families, and the brutal punishment slaves suffered.

Robert C. Kennedy

“Emancipation Proclamation”
July 14, 2024

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