Recognizing the 155th Anniversary of Juneteenth:
The Emancipation Proclamation Changed the Purpose of the Civil War
Abraham Lincoln began his presidency vowing not to interfere with slavery where it already existed, but 17 months of war changed that.
While Lincoln felt that freeing the slaves would be “an act of justice,” he considered whether this act was constitutional. He knew he could not free all of the slaves, including those in the vital Border States that remained loyal to the Union. Lincoln determined that emancipating slaves in the areas of rebellion that were not under Federal control was “warranted by the Constitution." Slave labor supported the Confederate Army, he reasoned. This gave the Confederacy a distinct advantage.
After determining the proclamation’s constitutionality, Lincoln considered the political atmosphere and the timing of his announcement. The Union had not yet won a battle in the East and not everyone in the North supported the idea of fighting a war for the freedom of slaves. Some considered it a last-ditch effort to support an army that could not otherwise suppress the rebellion. This victory would raise morale and support for the war while showing that the Union army was strong enough to fight the rebellion on its own.
Gen. Robert E. Lee and his army retreated back to Virginia, allowing Lincoln to claim a strategic victory. On September 22, 1862, he released the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, which served as a warning to the states in rebellion: if they did not rejoin the Union by January 1, 1863, their slaves would be freed.
The Emancipation Proclamation took effect in the ten rebellious states — Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia. In the Proclamation Lincoln declared, “All persons held as slaves within said designated States, and parts of States, are, and henceforward shall be free.”
The Emancipation Proclamation changed the meaning and purpose of the Civil War. The war was no longer just about preserving the Union— it was also about freeing the slaves. Foreign powers such as Britain and France lost their enthusiasm for supporting the Confederacy. The Emancipation Proclamation stated that, “Such persons of suitable condition, will be received into the armed service of the United States”
African-Americans could now join the army, and eagerly did so.