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The Emancipation Proclamation remains one of Washington’s most significant pieces of legislation. It culminated in President Abraham Lincoln’s government freeing over 3m slaves in the American South on January 1st, 1863.
Those freed came from 10 of the most pro-slavery states during the American Civil War. While The Emancipation Proclamation didn’t outlaw slavery completely, but it sent a warning to the South that this would be the end goal of the war and convinced France and Britain not to side with the Confederates.
A year later, Lincoln would sign an amended version called the Compensated Emancipation Act on April 16th 1864. Now an official holiday in the American capital, we’ve listed 30 interesting facts in the leadup to it about the Emancipation Proclamation you may not have known.
1. It all started in 1862
On September 22nd, 1862, and with the American South still at war with the Northern states, President Abraham Lincoln turned the heat on the South and issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.
This sent a stern warning to the South that their demands over bills and legislature regarding slavery would not be entertained. They were given until January 1st, 1863 to end their defiance.
2. Seven states affected
Those affected by the Emancipation Proclamation were, of course, those in the American south. These included South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Virginia, North Carolina, and Arkansas.
Initially, only seven states- South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Texas – withdrew from the Union. However, once Abraham Lincoln called for federal authority, four border states- Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee and North Carolina- also succeeded and joined the Confederacy. It was a moral battle against humanity, or as the South saw it, a battle to preserve their heritage and culture away from the tyranny of Washington interventionists.
3. 5 states remained unaffected
While many states sympathised with slave owners, there was little they could do.
This was because they weren’t impacted by the Emancipation Proclamation because they were already Union controlled. These included Maryland, Missouri, Delaware, Kentucky and Tennessee.
4. An unsympathetic South
Despite repeated demands from Abraham Lincoln to cease their rebellion, Confederate generals flatly ignored these demands.
Therefore, once January 1st, 1863 had expired, President Abraham Lincoln went one step further and issued the Emancipation Proclamation.
5. Emancipation wasn’t straight forward
While slaves in Maryland, Missouri, Delaware, and Kentucky were Union controlled, the Emancipation Proclamation did not free them.
While they were under the watchful eye of Lincoln’s men, the end goal was the abolishment of slavery entirely, and thus until the war was over, the slave could only be emancipated at the consent of the owner.
6. Emancipation wasn’t initially that well-received in Washington
When Abraham Lincoln first proposed the Emancipation Proclamation in July of 1862, the plan wasn’t entirely well-received
Advisors suggested Lincoln refrain from such grand plans and wait until there was a significant victory in the Civil War. Being the visionary that he was, Lincoln announced his plans regardless of the opposition to it.
7. The Battle of Antietam boosted support of the bill
In September 1862, Union forces made strong headway, and eventually, they won their most important battle yet; Battle of Antietam. This significant milestone increased morale and support for President Lincoln’s grand plans of complete emancipation of slaves in the South.
Five days after the victory, he issued the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1962.
8. French and British sympathies
French and British forces came close to joining confederacy troops in toppling Lincoln’s government to expand their Empires in the Western Hemisphere.
However, morals took precedent over colonial domination when the South’s sinister intentions to keep slavery very much intact became more apprent.
9. African-American slaves could fight for the North
President Abraham Lincoln’s passing of the Emancipation Proclamation allowed black soldiers to aid the efforts in the war and thus African-American slaves were allowed to enlist in the U.S. Army.
This was made possible by the War Department organizing the USCT (United States Colored Troops) five months after the bill was passed.
10. Slavery was eventually abolished in 1865
Three years after Abraham Lincoln’s preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, the American Civil War was won, forcing landowners in the South to succeed in the North’s demands for the total abolishment of slavery.
This took effect on December 6th, 1865. This argubally remains the most crucial piece of legislation ever passed by a president.
11. A Crowning achievement
President Abraham Lincoln saw the success of the Emancipation Proclamation and prophetically predicted that it would be his most significant single contribution to American history. Despite the various personal achievements spawned from the civil war, Lincoln revealed to newspaper reporter James Scovel that the Emancipation Proclamation would be “my greatest and most enduring contribution to the history of the war.”
It was this and many other sweeping reforms during the period that has given Lincoln the accolade of America’s Greatest President. A bright light in the dark doldrums of the American Civil War effort, Lincoln took America by the reigns and steered it through one of its most challenging political crises of the 1800s. A true icon.
12. The Emancipation Proclamation was to maintain “Ex-Slaves’ Freedoms”
Both the Union Army and the government itself had hoped to ‘recognize and maintain’ the ex-slaves’ freedom, but this wasn’t as straightforward as many might believe.
While slaves’ lives improved in the early stages, it soon transpired that most didn’t have the right social capital in place to become self-sufficient, and thus remained metaphorically chained to the very captors that they had been set free of.
13. The Emancipation Proclamation didn’t make freed slaves citizens
Life after slavery was a world transformed- at least from the outside looking in. While the brute realities of whippings and sexual assaults decreased, these injustices still went on because as we just explained, black people- particularly in the South- didn’t have the resources to start lives on their own without a wage from the white man.
But most significantly of all were the various Black Codes the South instituted after the Civil War. Slavery was abolished but the South was by no means a land suddenly reformed. African Americans freed from tyranny and ownership faced onslaughts of white prejudice.
And while these Black Codes granted certain legal rights such as property ownership, marriage and the ability to sue in court, black people still couldn’t testify against whites, serve in the state militias or serve on a grand jury.
14. Some ex-slaves were compensated
The compensation of ex-slaves was talked about as an essential part of gradual emancipation. In fact, President Lincoln drafted an act before the legislature of Delaware that supported compensated emancipation.
However, it was only in the District of Columbia, owing to the sate falling under direct Federal auspices, were compensated emancipation was passed to the tune of $300 per slave.
15. The original Emancipation Proclamation was lost in a fire
The famous, original hand-written and signed Emancipation Proclamation that President Abraham Lincoln signed on January 1st, 1863, was destroyed in a fire in 1871.
As shown above, there are mock replicas as well as real early drafts and copies still in existence. The actual document spans five pages and is located in the National Archives in Washington D.C
16. Paving the way for The 13th Amendment
As the Emancipation Proclamation was an executive order, it couldn’t be taken as the law of the Constitution yet. The plus side was that it paved the way for the Thirteenth Amendment. Though this took longer to pass, the speedier to pass Emancipation Proclamation set everything in place so the groundbreaking amendment would pass through Congress and get implemented.
And on December 6, 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment was written into the United States Constitution. From that day forth, involuntary servitude would only be implemented if the person had committed a crime.
17. Only 50,000 slaves were freed
Initially, of the 4 million slaves, only 50,000 were immediately released. The Emancipation Proclamation, as we just mentioned, wasn’t as legally binding as the Thirteen Amendment which meant only slaves in certain areas were free. There were many border states where slavery was still legal but that still comprised part of the Union. Because of this, these slaves were not immediately freed.
For the majority of other slaves, they would not be able to find freedom until the Union was able to overcome the Confederacy.
18. Reconstitution period
Reconstitution lasted from 1865 to 1877 and saw Congress pass and promote laws that would aid and enhance the civil and political rights for African Americans across the South. The most notable of these were the three amendments to the US Constitution.
These consisted of the Thirteenth Amendment (1865) which ended slavery, the Fourteenth Amendment (1868) that granted African Americans American citizenship, and the Fifteenth Amendment (1870) which gave the black man the right to vote.
19. Reconstitution saw 700 African American men elected to public office
During the two years of Reconstruction, some 700 African American men got elected to public office. These included two United States Senators and fourteen members of the United States House of Representatives.
As well as this impressive figure, over 1300 African American men and women found employment in a string of government jobs.
20. The Emancipation Act wasn’t without its critics
While public celebrations took place across the North following the moral and political revolution in Washington, not everyone was satisfied and that included abolitionists themselves.
The biggest sceptics thought that Emancipation Proclamation didn’t go far enough and was an insincere gesture to get black soldiers to help them defeat the Confederacy.
21. Countries around the world celebrate Emancipation Day
Countries around the world celebrate Emancipation Day. While Washington D.C. celebrates it on April 16 – this was the day the District of Columbia signed the Emancipation Act into law- other nations observe it on different days.
In many Carribean islands, for instance, The Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 came into full force on midnight on 31 July 1838.
22. Abraham Lincoln’s election set the wheels in motion
By 1861, Abraham Lincoln had created enough buzz to win a general election and send a progressive message that America was a land united rather than one divided, which wasn’t the kind of rhetoric the South believed.
Lincoln saw every State as a Union that was legally binding and one that could not be divided, which spawned the succession of the South. This then led to a deep malaise among Southerners that the North would change the very bedrock of Southern culture. This sentiment was spawned well before Lincoln even announced his intentions to abolish slavery.
23. Hiram Revels: A shining beacon of 1800s Emancipation
We recently wrote that more than 700 African Americans found success in public office, but the highest profile appointment of a black male was in 1870 when Hiram Revels of Mississippi became part of the U.S Senate.
This landmark election made Revels the first African American man elected to the US Senate. However, it would be close to 140 years before the first African American president, one Barack Obama, was elected.
24. The KKK’s reign of terror
With such sweeping reforms came opposition of a different kind. The Confederacy was toppled, but bitter troops and less wealthy plantation owners didn’t automatically let their racial hatred to African Americans slide. So while black people were better off on paper, they now had to contend with white supremacists like the KKK.
It wasn’t until the US Congress passed legislation in 1871 that many Klan leaders were arrested and restrained from such flagrant disregards for the rights of the recently emancipated black man and woman.
25. The Compromise of 1877
Following on from the landmark passings of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments, federal government’s military presence in the southern states gradually declined until a finite solution in the form of the Compromise of 1877 was passed. While President Rutherford B. Hayes saw this as a positive bill, a complete withdrawal of federal troops quickly exposed the vulnerability that African Americans living in the South faced on a daily basis.
Unfortunatley, it wasn’t long before the South became a hotbed of lynching, disenfranchisement, and segregation. These injustices permeated across large swathes of southern states for the next 100 years. Not till the Civl Rights Movement in the 1960s was anything drastically done in Washington to stop this.
26. Racism in the South post-Emancipation
Following the Emancipation of African-American slaves, Southern people, for the first time in their lives, were confronted with their racism, hate that had been passed down from generation to generation. But rather than question this sociological prejudice wired into them at birth, most Southerners stayed rooted in their ignorant beliefs.
Emancipation and three new amendments looked good on paper, but this change only pushed white Southerners further from Northern values. By the 1890s, southern states had passed their own laws enacting strict segregation laws. Knowing the strength black representation could have in Southern politics, white lawmakers were quick to pass a series of anti-black legislation that weakened black voting powers. These included making them jump through hoops they knew they wouldn’t be able to such as literacy tests and poll taxes, rendering their newly-enfranchised voting status practically worthless. Most shocking of all was the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to support these measures.
27. Despite their freedoms, 90% of the black population in 1900 remained rooted in the South
You have to remember that railroad infrastructure in 1800s America wasn’t that developed. And when routes eventually become more accessible, most black people couldn’t afford to uproot their communities and leave.
In fact, when the Emancipation Proclamation was signed in 1863, only 8% of the entire African-American population lived in the Northeastern or Midwestern United States. And almost 40 years later, 90% of African Americans remained in the Southern states.
28. White terror extended beyond the KKK
The Ku Klux Klan was founded in 1866 to resist Reconstruction reforms, but as early as 1870, you can trace more than 70 lesser-known but equally as aggressive organizations.
These included the Knights of the White Camellia and the White Brotherhood, all of whom shared the common goal of toppling local governments and reestablishing white supremacy.
29. With increased black suffrage came a rise in racist propaganda
Owing to the increased presence of black political voices, protests against an irrevocably racist and unjust climate were commonplace in the post-Emancipation South. However, media outlets would spin these events and label them as race disturbances.
This photo above, for instance, depicts a scene at the “Race Disturbance” in Wilmington, N.C. which saw white opposition groups attack black activists. However, this illustration, which was published by COLLIERS WEEKLY, on Nov. 26, 1898, depicted the black man as a killer rather than the peaceful demonstrators they were.
30. Political satire became a powerful tool in the fight against lawless tyranny in the South
Thomas Nast became one of America’s most lauded satirist in the 1800s and early 1900s for his powerful illustrations of corrupt and morally bankrupt governments in Washington and the South. In the picture above, we see a powerful cartoon these so-called “worse than slavery” reforms had caused. The social and economic welfare of black people, despite such reforms, wasn’t getting better; in many instances, it often got worse.
The German-born American cartoonist has gone down as the world’s most famous political newspaper satirist and is considered the “Father of the American Cartoon.”