The Emancipation Proclamation, formally issued on January 1, 1863, by President ABRAHAM LINCOLN is often mistakenly praised as the legal instrument that ended slavery?actually, the THIRTEENTH AMENDMENT to the Constitution, ratified in December 1865, outlawed SLAVERY. But the proclamation is justifiably celebrated as a significant step toward the goal of ending slavery and making African Americans equal citizens of the United States. Coming as it did in the midst of the Civil War (1861?65), the proclamation announced to the Confederacy and the world that the ABOLITION of slavery had become an important goal of the North in its fight against the rebellious states of the South. The document also marked a shift in Lincoln's mind toward support for emancipation. Just before signing the final document in 1863, Lincoln said, "I never, in my life, felt more certain that I was doing right than I do in signing this paper."
In the text of the proclamation?which is almost entirely the work of Lincoln himself?Lincoln characterizes his order as "an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution upon military necessity." These words capture the essential character of Lincoln's work in the document. On the one hand, he perceived the proclamation as a kind of military tactic that would aid the Union in its difficult struggle against the Confederacy. As such, it was an extraordinary measure that carried the force of
law under the powers granted by the Constitution to the president as commander in chief of the U.S. military forces. But on the other hand, Lincoln saw the proclamation as "an act of justice" that announced the intention of the North to free the slaves. In this respect, it became an important statement of the intent to abolish slavery in the United States once and for all, as well as a vital symbol of human freedom to later generations.
Lincoln had not always regarded emancipation as a goal of the Civil War. In fact, he actively resisted emancipation efforts early in the war, as when he voided earlier emancipation proclamations issued by the Union generals John C. Frémont and David Hunter in their military districts. Lincoln also failed to enforce provisions passed by Congress in 1861 and 1862 that called for the confiscation and emancipation of slaves owned by persons supporting the rebellion.
Antislavery sentiment in the North, however, grew in intensity during the course of the...