On this historic day, September 22, 1862, Abraham Lincoln proclaimed that slaves would soon be “free forever.”


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Abraham Lincoln is responsible for one of the boldest and most extensive uses of executive powers in American history when he announced that slaves would soon be “free forever” on this day in history, September 22, 1862.

Dubbed by historians the “preliminary” emancipation proclamation, Lincoln’s announcement noted that slavery would end in the United States on January 1, 1863, the date his proclamation would take effect.

He made the announcement to the nation as the Civil War dragged into its second year. He had become far deadlier than almost anyone had anticipated.

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“All persons held as slaves in any state or designated part of any state, whose people shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall then, henceforth, and forever be free,” Lincoln announced.

The “Great Emancipator” claimed controversial war powers when making the proclamation.

Postcard honoring President Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) for his Emancipation Proclamation freeing slaves, 1863.
(Kean Collection/Getty Images)

Lincoln received political capital for making the emotional announcement after the Union victory at the Battle of Antietam in Maryland five days earlier.

The bloodshed was shocking, reports the National Park Services, noting that “23,000 men were killed, wounded or missing in the bloodiest day in US history. [Confederate General Robert E.] Lee’s first invasion of the North ended as he retreated to Virginia on the night of September 18.”

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The battlefield boost for Lincoln came after the Federal Army was outmaneuvered, outmaneuvered, and defeated in nearly every battle in the first year of the Civil War.

Burying the dead on the battlefield of Antietam, September 1862;  artist, Alexander Gardner.  The Union victory cost dearly, but gave Abraham Lincoln the political capital to announce the coming end of slavery.

Burying the dead on the battlefield of Antietam, September 1862; artist, Alexander Gardner. The Union victory cost dearly, but gave Abraham Lincoln the political capital to announce the coming end of slavery.
(Photo by Heritage Art/Heritage Images via Getty Images)

“Antietam…showed that the Union could oppose the Confederate army in the Eastern theater,” writes the American Battlefield Trust.

“It also gave President Abraham Lincoln the confidence to issue the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation at a time of strength rather than desperation.”

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Lincoln had tried to persuade Congress to take action to emancipate the people of the nation who lived in bondage.

Illustration (undated) depicting Abraham Lincoln reading the draft Emancipation Proclamation to his cabinet in 1862.

Illustration (undated) depicting Abraham Lincoln reading the draft Emancipation Proclamation to his cabinet in 1862.
(Getty Pictures)

“Finally, in the summer of 1862, he shifted the basis of an emancipation strategy to his presumed constitutional “war powers” as commander-in-chief, presenting a draft emancipation proclamation to his cabinet in July “, writes the National Constitution Center.

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“Although there was no consensus that such ‘war powers’ existed, Lincoln issued a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862, and then issued a final Emancipation Proclamation on September 1. January 1863.”

Lincoln directed in his announcement: “I hereby enjoin and command all persons engaged in the military and naval service of the United States to observe, obey, and enforce, within their respective spheres of service, the law and the sections above recited [the pending emancipation of the slaves].”

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“Emancipation would redefine the Civil War, transforming it from a struggle to preserve the Union to one focused on ending slavery, and would set a decisive course for how the nation would be reshaped after this historic conflict” , writes History.com.


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