Emancipation Rings in the New Year

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“Reading the Emancipation Proclamation,” J. W. Watts, 1864.

As we begin the second semester of the Freedom Project at Marquette: A Sesquicentennial Commemoration, I’d like to highlight the 150th anniversary of the event at the center of the commemoration: the Emancipation Proclamation, issued on January 1, 1863.  The whole text appears below.  The Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, issued after the Battle of Antietam a few months earlier, had warned the “people . . . in rebellion against the United States” that if they did not lay down their arms by January 1, their slaves would be freed.  They kept fighting, of course, and President Lincoln, as Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces of the United States, kept his promise.  Although historians contemporaries and historians debated the effectiveness, the motivations, and even the legality of the Proclamation—a debate renewed, in some ways, by historians’ reactions to last fall’s Steven Spielberg movie, Lincoln, about the passage of the 13th Amendment two years after the Proclamation—it changed the course of the war and of American history.

This semester’s Freedom Project events include a history of African Americans through song, a lecture about the pathbreaking African American filmmaker Oscar Michaux, a symposium on personal freedom and domestic surveillance, plays exploring multiple facets of freedom, and a Casper Lecture on emancipation in the US and the Caribbean.  See the complete schedule of Freedom Project events at  http://www.marquette.edu/library/services/freedom-project/.

Marquette University’s Library also has a Research Guide on the Emancipation Proclamation: http://libguides.marquette.edu/emancipation_proclamation

The Emancipation Proclamation

By the President of the United States of America

WHEREAS on the twenty-second day of September, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-two, a proclamation was issued by the President of the United States, containing, among other things, the following, to wit:

“That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State, or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.

“That the executive will on the first day of January aforesaid, by proclamation, designate the States and parts of States, if any, in which the people thereof, respectively, shall then be in rebellion against the United States; and the fact that any State or the people thereof shall on that day be in good faith represented in the Congress of the United States by members chosen thereto at elections wherein a majority of the qualified voters of such States shall have participated shall, in the absence of strong countervailing testimony, be deemed conclusive evidence that such State and the people thereof are not then in rebellion against the United States.”

Now, therefore, I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, by virtue of the power in me vested as Commander-In-Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States in time of actual armed rebellion against the authority and government of the United States, and as a fit and necessary war measure for suppressing said rebellion, do, on this first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and in accordance with my purpose so to do, publicly proclaimed for the full period of one hundred days from the first day above mentioned, order and designate as the States and parts of States wherein the people thereof, respectively, are this day in rebellion against the United States the following, to wit:

Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana (except the parishes of St. Bernard, Palquemines, Jefferson, St. John, St. Charles, St. James, Ascension, Assumption, Terrebone, Lafourche, St. Mary, St. Martin, and Orleans, including the city of New Orleans), Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia (except the forty-eight counties designated as West Virginia, and also the counties of Berkeley, Accomac, Morthhampton, Elizabeth City, York, Princess Anne, and Norfolk, including the cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth), and which excepted parts are for the present left precisely as if this proclamation were not issued.

And by virtue of the power and for the purpose aforesaid, I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States and parts of States are, and henceforward shall be, free; and that the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons.

And I hereby enjoin upon the people so declared to be free to abstain from all violence, unless in necessary self-defence; and I recommend to them that, in all case when allowed, they labor faithfully for reasonable wages.

And I further declare and make known that such persons of suitable condition will be received into the armed service of the United States to garrison forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service.

And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind and the gracious favor of Almighty God.

In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington, this first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the independence of the United States of America the eighty-seventh.

Abraham Lincoln

Source: J. G. Nicolay and J. Hay, Complete Works of Abraham Lincoln,, Vol. 9 (1905), p. 161.

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