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The Emancipation Proclamation


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Carole
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« on: September 20, 2007, 12:36:09 pm »

Booker T. Washington, as a boy of 9, remembered the day in early 1865:

“ As the great day drew nearer, there was more singing in the slave quarters than usual. It was bolder, had more ring, and lasted later into the night. Most of the verses of the plantation songs had some reference to freedom.... Some man who seemed to be a stranger (a United States officer, I presume) made a little speech and then read a rather long paper—the Emancipation Proclamation, I think. After the reading we were told that we were all free, and could go when and where we pleased. My mother, who was standing by my side, leaned over and kissed her children, while tears of joy ran down her cheeks. She explained to us what it all meant, that this was the day for which she had been so long praying, but fearing that she would never live to see.
 ”

The Emancipation took place without violence by masters or ex-slaves. The proclamation represented a shift in the war objectives of the North—reuniting the nation would no longer become the sole outcome. It represented a major step toward the ultimate abolition of slavery in the United States and the formation of a "more perfect Union."


Some slaves were freed immediately by the proclamation. Runaway slaves who had escaped to Union lines were being held by the Union Army as "contraband of war" in contraband camps; when the proclamation took effect, they were told at midnight that they were free to leave. The Sea Islands off the coast of Georgia had been occupied by the Union Navy earlier in the war. The whites had fled to the mainland while the blacks stayed, and an early program of Reconstruction was set up for them. Naval officers read the proclamation to them and told them they were free.

In the military, the reaction to this proclamation varied widely, with some units nearly ready to mutiny in protest, and desertions were attributed to it. Other units were inspired with the adoption of a cause that seemed to them to ennoble their efforts, such that at least one unit took up the motto "For Union and Liberty."

Slaves had been part of the "engine of war" for the Confederacy. They produced and prepared food; sewed uniforms; repaired railways; worked on farms and in factories, shipping yards, and mines; built fortifications; and served as hospital workers and common laborers. News of the Proclamation spread rapidly by word of mouth, arousing hopes of freedom, creating general confusion, and encouraging many to escape.

Lincoln's Gettysburg Address made indirect reference to the Proclamation and the ending of slavery as a war goal with the phrase "new birth of freedom".

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