Breaking Down the Emancipation Proclamation

4798The year 1863 was an important one for the rights of African Americans in the United States. The country was in the middle of the Civil War, with Southern states (also called the Confederacy) having seceded -- or separated -- from the North (the Union). A large reason for the war was slavery, which was permitted in the South. The South believed that without slaves, its economy and everything about the way white Southerners lived would be ruined.

Library of Congress - This painting by Francis B. Carpenter shows President Abraham Lincoln reading an early draft of the Emancipation Proclamation to members of his Cabinet.
President Abraham Lincoln was against slavery, but his main concern was winning the war and bringing the North and South together again. He once wrote: "If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it."

That was the situation in the country on January 1, 1863, when Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation -- a long name for a long document (it went on for five pages!). You might have heard that it freed all slaves, but that isn't true. Only a small number of the country's 4 million slaves were freed immediately.

KidsPost's Christina Barron talked to the National Archives's Jennifer Johnson, who agreed to help explain what Lincoln's words mean and what happened after he wrote them.

What is emancipation?

Emancipation means to set free.

Who was freed on January 1, 1863?

Slaves held within Confederate states that were not under Union control were officially freed. In reality, the South didn't have to follow Lincoln's order. Southerners saw themselves as having their own country with their own president, Jefferson Davis. That's why not many slaves were actually freed that day. After January 1, as Union troops won battles and took over Confederate territory, slaves there were freed.

What else did the document do for African Americans?

It allowed freed slaves to join the Union army and navy to help free those who were still slaves. By the end of the war, 200,000 African Americans had fought for the Union.

Source: Washington Post 
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