President Abraham Lincoln issued the first, or preliminary, Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862, when the Nation was in the middle of the Civil War (1861-1865), and southern states seceded or left the Union. The final proclamation took effect on January 1, 1863, and declared "that all persons held as slaves" within the Confederate states "are, and henceforth shall be free" and the Union military would fight to defend that freedom. It only applied to states that were “in rebellion against the United States.”

The Proclamation also invited newly freed slaves to join the Union cause and fight against the rebelling Confederate states: “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.”

In 1862, the Government Printing Office in Washington, DC, printed 15,000 copies of the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation for the War Department. The Proclamation was sent to military commanders, troops, and diplomats in foreign countries. It was an important step in abolishing or ending slavery. It paved the way for the passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, in December of 1865, which ended slavery permanently in the United States.

Emancipation Proclamation facts and figures:

  • The Emancipation Proclamation invited former slaves to join the Union military. By the end of the war, almost 200,000 African-American soldiers and sailors had fought for the Union.
  • The original Emancipation Proclamation is at the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, DC.

To learn more, see the Emancipation Proclamation site at the National Archives.