This Day in the Law
January 1

President Abraham Lincoln Issues Emancipation Proclamation (1863)

On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation officially freeing many slaves from the Confederate states during the Civil War. Lincoln authorized the Emancipation Proclamation by his power under Article II, Section 2 of the United States Constitution as Commander in Chief.

In particular, the Emancipation Proclamation really consisted of two presidential executive orders. The first executive order is often referred to as the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation issued on September 22, 1862. It freed slaves in Confederate states that refused to return to the Union by January 1, 1863. The second executive order, issued on this day, January 1, 1863, listed 10 Confederate states where slavery was outlawed, including: (i) Arkansas, (ii) Texas, (iii) Louisiana, (except certain cities, including New Orleans), (iv) Mississippi, (v) Alabama, (vi) Florida, (vii) Georgia, (viii) South Carolina, (ix) North Carolina, and (x) Virginia (except certain counties and cities).

The Emancipation had many other positive impacts besides freeing slaves in the Confederate states. For example, the Emancipation Proclamation helped to gain the support for the Union from Britain and France. That’s because Britain and France had already outlawed slavery and if they had chosen to support the Confederacy they would have been encouraging slavery. The Emancipation Proclamation also accepted black men in the Union Army and Navy, allowing them to fight for their own freedom. In fact, by the end of the Civil War nearly 200,000 black men had fought for the Union.

It’s important to understand the Emancipation Proclamation did not make slavery illegal under federal law. Rather, it outlawed slavery in certain Confederate states. However, the Emancipation Proclamation had did impact the country’s views toward slavery. After the Proclamation, some states actually enacted their own laws outlawing slavery. Then, only a few years after the Proclamation in 1865, Congress ratified of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which finally made slavery illegal across the entire United States.

Overall, it took nearly a century since the founding of the United States, two years of some of the deadliest fighting in the Civil War, and a long struggle by the abolitionists to lead up to the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. Indeed, this day on January 1, 1863 was a historical event in the life of American legal history.

NOTE: To view the original Emancipation Proclamation, as written by Lincoln himself (and edited by his Secretary of State, William H. Seward), we recommend you visit the National Archives in Washington, D.C. where it is housed.