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This Day In History: President Abraham Lincoln Issues The Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation

September 22, 2016

This day in history, September 22, 1862, during the middle of the Civil War, President Lincoln issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation and announced that if the rebels did not end the fighting and rejoin the Union by January 1, 1863, all slaves in the rebellious states would be free.

Announced a week after the nominal Union victory at the Battle of Antietam (Sharpsburg), this measure did not technically free any slaves, but it redefined the Union’s war aim from reunification to the abolition of slavery.

Lincoln used vacated congressional seats to determine the areas still in rebellion, as some parts of the South had already been recaptured and representatives returned to Congress under Union supervision. Since it freed slaves only in rebel areas that were beyond Union occupation, the Emancipation Proclamation essentially didn’t free anyone. The measure was still one of the most important acts in American history, as it meant slavery would end when those areas were recaptured.

In addition, the proclamation effectively sabotaged Confederate attempts to secure recognition by foreign governments, especially Great Britain. When reunification was the goal of the North, foreigners could view the Confederates as freedom fighters being held against their will by the Union. After the Emancipation Proclamation, the Southern cause was now viewed as the defense of slavery.

The proclamation was a shrewd maneuver by Lincoln to brand the Confederate States as a slave nation and render foreign aid impossible. The measure was met by a good deal of opposition, because many Northerners were unwilling to fight for the freedom of black people. The proclamation had the effect on British opinion that Lincoln had desired. Antislavery Britain could no longer recognize the Confederacy, and Union sentiment rose in Britain. With this measure, Lincoln effectively isolated the Confederacy and killed the institution that was the root of sectional differences.