The Emancipation Proclamation - American Civil War for Kids and Teachers Illustration

American Civil War Emancipation Proclamation

The American Civil War started in 1861 and ended in 1865. As war dragged on, President Lincoln tried to find ways to end it. One of the ways he chose was to place into law his immortal Emancipation Proclamation. Many people believe this proclamation ended slavery in America. This proclamation did allow African American soldiers to fight for the Union. But it did not legally free a single slave. How can that be?

In 1863, slavery was sanctioned or allowed by the Constitution of the United States. That changed with the 13th Amendment to the Constitution at the end of the war in 1865, but in 1863, when Lincoln signed his proclamation, the United States was legally divided into free states and slaves states. His Emancipation Proclamation was not designed to override the Constitution and give all African American men the same rights of citizenship as white men. It was designed to cause chaos in the South.

The first drafts of the Emancipation Proclamation were full of heretofores and vague and confusing language. In the minds of Lincoln's staff, this proclamation was a momentous document. They believed this new law should be more clearly stated and free all slaves everywhere in America, and that this nonsense of free states and slaves states should end. They were not alone. Lincoln had received numerous letters and petitions from various groups asking him to free the slaves. Lincoln pointed out in discussions with various Union government and military leaders that there were 50,000 bayonets held by 50,000 fighting men from the border slave states who were loyal to the Union. If these strong border states were told that slavery was now illegal, and they could no longer keep slaves, these men would probably join the Southern cause. Slave labor was important to the economics of these states, just as it was important to the Southern states. Lincoln believed the Union forces could not afford to lose these fighting men over the question of slavery. The war at the time was being fought over states' rights.

To avoid heated arguments between leaders who wanted slavery to continue and leaders who wanted slavery to end, Lincoln's proclamation was not sent to the Senate and Congress for a vote. Using the broad range of powers the Constitution gives presidents in times of national emergency or war, Lincoln placed his Emancipation Proclamation directly into law in 1863. That law stated that slaves were freed in areas not controlled by the Union. Slaves in the border states - Kentucky, Delaware, Maryland, and Missouri - were not freed. Slaves in New Orleans, Northern Virginia, much of Tennessee, the South Carolina coast, and in other areas of the South under Union control by 1863 were not freed. Slaves were only freed in areas over which the Union had no control.

Lincoln was quite sure that:

  1. The country of The Confederate States of America felt no obligation to obey Lincoln's proclamation as Lincoln was not their president - Jefferson Davis was their president. The Southern states had formed a new country. There was nothing illegal about that at the time. (Today, via changes in the law,  states cannot choose to secede. The United States is and hopefully always will be one country.)
  2. The Confederacy was benefitting from slaves at home who produced goods and took care of the farms and plantations, while the men were off fighting. It was Lincoln's hope that slaves under Confederate control would hear they were freed and rebel, whether or not they understood that the Union had no legal right to free them.
  3. Lincoln was quite sure his proclamation would dash any hope the Confederacy might have of foreign support of monies or supplies. Both England and France would be very happy to see the United States break up into smaller pieces as that would weaken us as a country and make us far more vulnerable to foreign aggression. But, once slavery was stated as a central issue of the war as this proclamation accomplished, England and France would not support the South's desire to continue slavery.

So, although Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation did not end slavery in America, it did set the stage to end slavery in America. It made slavery a central issue of the war. If the North won, it set the stage for real laws to make real change to end slavery in America forever. It was a brilliant piece of legislation, and did, in fact, accomplish its goals.

Emancipation Proclamation allowed African American soldiers to fight for the Union.

The Emancipation Proclamation did not free a single slave in areas under Union control.

Emancipation Proclamation Paragraph Paramedics - fix the paragraph, interactive

Slavery Index

See Also:

The Civil War for Kids, Index

Civil War Interactive Games & Activities for Kids

Civil War Presentations in PowerPoint format

Civil War Video Clips

Civil War Clip Art for Kids and Teachers

Civil War, Free iPad & iPhone apps

American Civil War Lesson Plans for Teachers