The Emancipation Proclamation

Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, but it was the product of a massive effort undertaken by African Americans on the ground and their allies throughout the United States. These factors, along with the confederacy’s stubborn defense, convinced Lincoln that peace could only be permanently restored by ending the institution of slavery. This document began that process, stating “all persons held as slaves” in areas under rebellion “shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.”

The official Emancipation Proclamation is held by the National Archives in Washington, D. C. Lincoln and Secretary of State William Seward signed 48 printed copies that were sold at the June 1864 Great Central Sanitary Fair in Philadelphia to raise money for the care of U. S. soldiers. Only 27 of those Lincoln-signed copies are known to exist today. This is one of them.

Gift of Jesse Jay Ricks, 1937

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The Emancipation Proclamation was a critical step in transforming Federal Civil War policy from only suppressing the Southern rebellion to also destroying slavery. It transformed U. S. armies into agents of freedom—providing safe-havens and powerful allies for African Americans fighting against their enslavement.

This was the process at work in Texas in June 1865. On June 2, the last major Confederate army surrendered at Galveston. By the 19th, U. S. General Gordon Granger considered the state fully liberated and announced that all enslaved Texans were now free. The massive celebrations that followed established the tradition of Juneteenth as a day for commemorating the end of American slavery. At that same time, the 13th Amendment was in the process of being ratified. It would officially become part of the Constitution on December 6, finally and permanently ending the American slave system.

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