The Emancipation Proclamation


Enslaved people who have just escaped from a Virginia plantation in 1862. (Library of Congress)

Slavery was not abolished by the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. The proclamation applied only to enslaved people in states that were in rebellion in 1863, namely South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Texas, Arkansas, and North Carolina. It exempted Tennessee and portions of Virginia and Louisiana that were occupied by the Union and left slavery untouched in the border states of Maryland, Delaware, Kentucky, and Missouri.

Exercising his powers as commander in chief, President Abraham Lincoln issued the proclamation primarily as a wartime measure. Key provisions allowing for the service of former slaves in the Union army and navy opened the door to the gradual enlistment of almost 200,000 Black men.

Slavery would not become illegal until the Thirteenth Amendment was officially ratified on December 6, 1865. Many Southern states resisted ratification even after the Civil War. Delaware and Kentucky rejected ratification and slavery persisted in those states for several more years before the practice ceased. Mississippi did not officially ratify the amendment until 130 years later, in 1995, and did not formally file the ratification until February 7, 2013.