- Christopher Bates
The Emancipation Proclamation was issued by President Abraham Lincoln on 1 January 1863. Although it did not immediately free any slaves, it redefined the Union's military goals, and a war that had been undertaken strictly to reunite the country was transformed into a war of liberation. From 1863 onward, it was clear to both Northerners and Southerners that a Union victory would mean the permanent abolition of slavery.
The proclamation was months, if not years, in the making. Abolitionists had been pressuring the government to end slavery on moral grounds since the 1830s; they were joined in the 1850s by the Free-Soilers, who were concerned about the impact slavery was having on free laborers. The presidents of the 1850s—Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, and James Buchanan turned a deaf ear to antislavery protests however for all were southern sympathizers and had no interest in curtailing the ...
A version of this article originally appeared in The Encyclopedia of African American History, 1619–1895.