Jessica: I am here at the National Archives in Washington, DC. It is where many of our nation’s most treasured documents are locked away to keep them safe.
And yesterday marked the 150th anniversary of one of those famous documents. On January 1st 1863, in the middle of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln issued an order stating that all slaves in the Confederate states were free.
That brings us to your pop quiz question.
What is the name of the document that freed the slaves? Is it:
A. The Gettysburg Address
B. The Emancipation Proclamation
C. The 16th Amendment
D. The Bill of Rights
You have got ten seconds to pick the right answer!
Time is up!
If you said “B,” The Emancipation Proclamation, you are right!
Reginald Washington: This is one of the great documents of human history and it ranks right up with the Declaration of Independence as historical significance for the U.S.
Jessica: The Civil War broke out in 1861, shortly after President Lincoln took over as America’s 16th president. Lincoln was anti-slavery, and several states broke away from the Union because he was elected. At first, Lincoln maintained that the war was about restoring the Union and not about slavery. He decided to move cautiously, and wait until he could gain wide public support for an anti-slavery measure.
After a big victory for the Union at the Battle of Antietam in September 1862, Lincoln announced that he was going to free slaves in the Confederate rebellion states within 100 days. Then on January 1st in 1863, he made good on the promise and declared “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebel states “shall be free.” The proclamation recast the Civil War as a fight against slavery and eventually more than 3 million black slaves were freed.
The Emancipation Proclamation was also a political move, designed to keep foreign countries from getting involved in the Civil War. Several countries had wanted to support the Confederate states but after the Emancipation Proclamation, they backed down because they didn’t want to appear to support slavery.
Lincoln also opened the door for blacks to join the Union forces. An estimated 180,000 African-Americans went on to serve in the Army, while another 19,000 served in the Navy.
Reginald: They fought gallantly, by all accounts, to free – not only the former enslaved – but to free America.
Jessica: Because the Emancipation Proclamation was a presidential order and not a law passed by Congress, most slaves did not go free immediately. It wasn’t until 1865, after the end of the Civil War, that states ratified the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, officially freeing all the slaves and ending slavery in America.
Jessica Kumari, Channel One News.