After the Civil War had ended, three Amendments to the Constitution were necessary to abolish slavery (13th), define citizenship (14th), and prohibit barriers to voting (15th). However, Congressional resolutions, such as the Crittenden Compromise, establish that the principal initial goal of the war was to preserve the Union, not to end slavery. As the war continued and thousands of lives were invested in establishing a “more perfect Union,” the goal of firmly dealing with slavery as a legal institution and ending its practice in the states in rebellion became equally prominent.
Even before President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, Congress had sent him at least four acts significantly affecting the practice of slavery. The D.C. Emancipation Act ended slavery in the Capitol on April 16, 1862. On June 19, 1862, a law ended slavery in all current and future U.S. territories. In addition, two confiscation acts were passed to seize property from Confederate supporters in the South and emancipate their slaves who came under Union control. The Emancipation Proclamation broadened this effort and established the end of slavery as a wartime measure directed against the Confederacy.
Although limited in scope, the Emancipation Proclamation provided an additional foundation for national changes brought about by the constitutional Amendments ratified during Reconstruction. Because 2013 is the sesquicentennial anniversary of the issuance of the Proclamation, it and its preliminary version have received much attention. Even as significant as the Proclamation is in American history, it is often misunderstood and Lincoln's language “henceforward shall be free” is frequently misidentified as the provision that ends slavery.
|Exhibit at the N.C. Museum of|
History in 2013 included a copy
of the Preliminary Proclamation.
|Stamp issued in 2013|
for the Proclamation's
First and importantly, the Proclamation did not apply to all states. Exempt were the border states of Maryland, Missouri, Kentucky, and West Virginia where slavery remained legal. In addition, areas of states that had seceded were also except such as parts of Virginia and Louisiana. In fact, the entire state of Tennessee was excluded. Also lost in the passage of time is the irony that the effective date of the Proclamation was known in the South as “Hiring Day.” Many owners “rented out” enslaved workers who were three to five times more likely to be hired out than bought or sold. Throughout the South, New Year’s Day serving as “Hiring Day,” and hiring contracts ran from January 1 to December 25. Thus, the Proclamation became effective on the day that new hiring contracts were also effective.
|The stamp issued in 1963 for the |
Proclamation's centennial celebration
did not include the assertive language
of the 2013 stamp.
|Page 1 of the|
The Declaration of Independence was indispensable for starting a revolt against King George III, but it only partially explains the freedoms of Americans “created equal ... with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Other documents are equally central, and we need to view all of them carefully and objectively to appreciate their meanings.
Note: The lecture by Prof. Hildebrand was part of the program "Old and New: Studying the South in the 21st Century" that I attended as a recipient of the Bushing Humanities Fellowship from Sandhills Community College.