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The Emancipation Proclamation

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Carole
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« on: September 20, 2007, 12:41:56 pm »

Near the end of the war, abolitionists were concerned that the Emancipation Proclamation would be construed solely as a war act and thus no longer apply once fighting ended. They were also increasingly anxious to secure the freedom of all slaves, not just those freed by the Emancipation Proclamation. Thus pressed, Lincoln staked a large part of his 1864 presidential campaign on a constitutional amendment to abolish slavery uniformly throughout the United States. Lincoln's campaign was bolstered by separate votes in both Maryland and Missouri to abolish slavery in those states. Maryland's new constitution abolishing slavery took effect in November 1864.

Winning re-election, Lincoln pressed the lame duck 38th Congress to pass the proposed amendment immediately rather than wait for the incoming 39th Congress to convene. In January 1865, Congress sent to the state legislatures for ratification what became the Thirteenth Amendment, banning slavery in all U.S. states and territories. The amendment was ratified by the legislatures of enough states by December 6, 1865. There were about 40,000 slaves in Kentucky and 1,000 in Delaware who were liberated.

The proclamation was lauded in the years after Lincoln's death. The anniversary of its issue was celebrated as a black holiday for more than 50 years; the holiday of Juneteenth was created to honor it. In 1913, the fiftieth anniversary of the Proclamation, there were particularly large celebrations. As the years went on and American life continued to be deeply unfair towards blacks, cynicism towards Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation increased.

Some 20th century black intellectuals, including W.E.B. Du Bois, James Baldwin and Julius Lester, have described the proclamation as essentially worthless. Perhaps the strongest attack was Lerone Bennett's Forced into Glory: Abraham Lincoln's White Dream, which claimed that Lincoln was a white supremacist who issued the Emancipation Proclamation in lieu of the real racial reforms that radical abolitionists were pushing for.

In his Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, Allen C. Guelzo notes the professional historians' lack of substantial respect for the document, since it has been the subject of few major scholarly studies. He argues that Lincoln was America's "last Enlightenment politician" and as such was dedicated to removing slavery strictly within the bounds of law.

The Emancipation Proclamation will be on display at the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum in Little Rock, Arkansas, from September 22-25, 2007. This is part of the Little Rock Central High School 50th anniversary of integration
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