The Civil War, Day by Day

The Emancipation Proclamation

A new era for civil liberty began on January 1, 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This landmark document officially freed all black slaves in the southern states, except in western Virginia (now West Virginia), Tennessee, and parts of Louisiana, then occupied by Union troops. Lincoln also refused to force abolitionism upon the four border states - Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky and Missouri - in order to ensure their loyalty to the Union cause.

Lincoln had become increasingly ambivalent on the issue of slavery - and this landmark document reflected his political acumen, not his personal feelings. As the Civil War raged on, he was unwilling to risk losing the loyalty of the states which permitted slavery, arguing that quick abolition would “not only weaken our cause, but smack of bad faith....We didn’t go into the war to put down slavery, but to put the flag back.”

Lincoln had confidentially submitted a draft of the proclamation to his cabinet as early as June 22, 1862. Concerned about the Union’s dwindling fortunes in the Civil War, Lincoln did not deem it appropriate to reveal his plan to the nation until September 22, after the Union victory in Antietam.

Publisher Joseph Medill of the Chicago Tribune hailed the Emancipation Proclamation as “the grandest proclamation ever issued by splendid a vision has hardly shone upon the world since the day of the Messiah.” Lincoln himself acknowledged its importance by signing the agreement with his full name, rather than his usual signature of “A. Lincoln.”

February's Archived Features:

Wednesday February 1, 2023
Thursday February 2, 2023
Friday February 3, 2023
Saturday February 4, 2023
Sunday February 5, 2023
Monday February 6, 2023



All illustrations by Mort Künstler. Text by Michael Aubrecht, Dee Brown, Henry Steele Commager, Rod Gragg, Mort Künstler, Edward Lengel, James McPherson, and James I. Robertson, Jr. - Copyright © 2001-2019. All Rights Reserved. No part of the contents of this web site may be reproduced or utilized in any form by any means without written consent of the artist.