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The Emancipation Proclamation: The Beginning of the End of Slavery

The Beginning of the End of Slavery

Abraham Lincoln, the Republican candidate for president in 1860, personally abhorred slavery and was pledged to prevent it from spreading into the western territories. At the same time, he believed that the Constitution did not allow the federal government to prohibit slavery in states where it already existed.

The election of Lincoln as the 16th president led to the secession of eleven slaveholding states and the beginning of the Civil War. By 1862, more and more slaves were escaping and seeking refuge with Union armies. Lincoln recognized that the extraordinary pressure of war was gradually destroying the institution of slavery, even without legal emancipation. Lincoln believed the pressure of war gave him the constitutional authority to declare emancipation as a military measure necessary to save the Union.

Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation

In July 1862, Lincoln read a draft of the Emancipation Proclamation to his Cabinet. Secretary of State William Seward suggested that Lincoln wait to issue it until after a Union victory, so that it would not sound like the last desperate act of a losing government. At the Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862, Gen. Robert E. Lee's Confederate army retreated allowing Union General McClellan to claim victory. Five days later, on September 22, 1862, Lincoln issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation stating that slaves in rebel states not under Union control would become free on January 1, 1863.

Final Emancipation Proclamation

On January 1, 1863, Lincoln signed the final Emancipation Proclamation. He had been shaking hands all day at a New Year's reception, and his hand was unsteady when he grasped the pen. He set it back down and said, "If my name ever goes into history it will be for this act, and my whole soul is in it. If my hand trembles when I sign the Proclamation, all who examine the document hereafter will say, 'He hesitated.'" Then he slowly and firmly wrote "Abraham Lincoln," looked up, smiled, and said, "That will do."

The Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection includes many items related to Lincoln issuing the Emancipation Proclamation: signed documents, sculpture, sheet music, books and pamphlets, and prints and engravings. By clicking on the images above, you can examine and learn more about some of these items.