Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1,
1863, as the nation approached its third year of bloody civil war. The
proclamation declared "that all persons held as slaves" within the
rebellious states "are, and henceforward shall be free."
Despite this expansive wording, the Emancipation
Proclamation was limited in many ways. It applied only to states that
had seceded from the Union, leaving slavery untouched in the loyal
border states. It also expressly exempted parts of the Confederacy
that had already come under Northern control. Most important, the
freedom it promised depended upon Union military victory.
Although the Emancipation Proclamation did not end
slavery in the nation, it captured the hearts and imagination of
millions of Americans and fundamentally transformed the character of
the war. After January 1, 1863, every advance of federal troops
expanded the domain of freedom. Moreover, the Proclamation announced
the acceptance of black men into the Union Army and Navy, enabling the
liberated to become liberators. By the end of the war, almost 200,000
black soldiers and sailors had fought for the Union and freedom.
From the first days of the Civil War, slaves had
acted to secure their own liberty. The Emancipation Proclamation
confirmed their insistence that the war for the Union must become a
war for freedom. It added moral force to the Union cause and
strengthened the Union both militarily and politically. As a milestone
along the road to slavery's final destruction, the Emancipation
Proclamation has assumed a place among the great documents of human
The original of the Emancipation Proclamation of
January 1, 1863, is in the National Archives in Washington, DC. With
the text covering five pages the document was originally tied with
narrow red and blue ribbons, which were attached to the signature page
by a wafered impression of the seal of the United States. Most of the
ribbon remains; parts of the seal are still decipherable, but other
parts have worn off.
The document was bound with other proclamations in a
large volume preserved for many years by the Department of State. When
it was prepared for binding, it was reinforced with strips along the
center folds and then mounted on a still larger sheet of heavy paper.
Written in red ink on the upper right-hand corner of this large sheet
is the number of the Proclamation, 95, given to it by the Department
of State long after it was signed. With other records, the volume
containing the Emancipation Proclamation was transferred in 1936 from
the Department of State to the National Archives of the United States.