The Emancipation Proclamation

First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation of President Lincoln by Francis Bicknell Carpenter


September 22, 1863

One hundred and forty six years ago today, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.  Many of us have studied the significance of the document, but have not read it.  Below is the full proclamation which was put into law on January 1, 1864. Historian John Hope Franklin recounts the events of New Year's day 1864 for Abraham Lincoln.  He reports that after guests to the White House left in the early afternoon after a celebration,the President went upstairs to his study for the signing in the presence of a few friends.


No Cabinet meeting was called, and no attempt was made to have a ceremony. Later, Lincoln told F. B. Carpenter, the artist, that as he took up the pen to sign the paper, his hand shook so violently that he could not write. "I could not for a moment control my arm. I paused, and a superstitious feeling came over me which made me hesitate. . . . In a moment I remembered that I had been shaking hands for hours with several hundred people, and hence a very simple explanation of the trembling and shaking of my arm." With a hearty laugh at his own thoughts, the President proceeded to sign the Emancipation Proclamation. Just before he affixed his name to the document, he said, "I never, in my life, felt more certain that I was doing right than I do in signing this paper."

The Emancipation Proclamation

January 1, 1863

By the president of the United States of America:

A Proclamation.

Whereas on the 22d day of September, A.D. 1862, a proclamation was issued by the president of the United States, containing, among other things, the following, to wit:

“That on the 1st day of January, A.D. 1863, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons and will do not act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.”

“That the executive will on the 1st day of January aforesaid, by proclamation, designate the States and parts of States, if any, in which the people thereof, respectively, shall then be in rebellion against the United States; and the fact that any State or the people thereof shall on that day be in good faith represented in the Congress of the United States by members chosen thereto at elections wherein a majority of the qualified voters of such States shall have participated shall, in the absence of strong countervailing testimony, be deemed conclusive evidence that such State and the people thereof are not then in rebellion against the United States.”

Now, therefore, I, Abraham Lincoln, president of the United States, by virtue of the power in me vested as Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States in time of actual armed rebellion against the authority and government of the United States, and as a fit and necessary war measure for suppressing said rebellion, do, on this 1st day of January, A.D. 1863, and in accordance with my purpose so to do, publicly proclaimed for the full period of one hundred days from the first day above mentioned, order and designate as the States and parts of States wherein the people thereof, respectively, are this day in rebellion against the United States the following, to wit:

Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana (except the parishes of St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Jefferson, St. John, St. Charles, St. James, Ascension, Assumption, Terrebonne, Lafourche, St. Mary, St. Martin, and Orleans, including the city of New Orleans), Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia (except the forty-eight counties designated as West Virginia, and also the counties of Berkeley, Accomac, Northhampton, Elizabeth City, York, Princess Anne, and Norfolk, including the cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth), and which excepted parts are for the present left precisely as if this proclamation were not issued.

And by virtue of the power and for the purpose aforesaid, I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States and parts of States are, and henceforward shall be, free; and that the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons.

And I hereby enjoin upon the people so declared to be free to abstain from all violence, unless in necessary self-defense; and I recommend to them that, in all cases when allowed, they labor faithfully for reasonable wages.

And I further declare and make known that such persons of suitable condition will be received into the armed service of the United States to garrison forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service.

And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind and the gracious favor of Almighty God.


Poetry Commemorating the Emancipation Proclamation

Poetry was very much an art form during the time of the Civil War.  Therefore it was not unusual that a signifcant number of poems were written about the Emancipation Proclamation.  Three poems appear here that relate directly to the Proclamation.  The first is by Oliver Wendell Holmes, an associate Justice of the Supreme Court, the second by Frank Wells, a fellow American who wanted to share his thoughts with Lincoln.  The President stated that Wells poem was "pretty good."  The third poem was written by James Weldon Johnson while he was serving as U.S. consul in Nicaragua.  It was written to celebrate the 50th year anniversary of the adoption of the Emancipation Proclamation and was published on the editorial page of the New York Times. 


Hymn After The Emancipation Proclamation

Oliver Wendell Holmes

GIVER of all that crowns our days,
With grateful hearts we sing thy praise;
Through deep and desert led by Thee,
Our promised land at last we see.

Ruler of Nations, judge our cause!
If we have kept thy holy laws,
The sons of Belial curse in vain
The day that rends the captive's chain.

Thou God of vengeance! Israel's Lord!
Break in their grasp the shield and sword,
And make thy righteous judgments known
Till all thy foes are overthrown!

Then, Father, lay thy healing hand
In mercy on our stricken land;
Lead all its wanderers to the fold,
And be their Shepherd as of old.

So shall one Nation's song ascend
To Thee, our Ruler, Father, Friend,
While Heaven's wide arch resounds again
With Peace on earth, good-will to men!


Poem to Abraham Lincoln

Frank Wells

Not often unto mortal is it given —
Whate'er his worldy rank or state may be —
The power, sustained by principle and truth,
To set, as Lincoln did, a people free.
He was ordained to do this Christlike deed,
To snap the bonds of slavery apart,
To break the chains which held the negro down,
And draw the iron from his bleeding heart.
This Proclamation, stamped with his strong will,
This writ of Freedom, sealed by his firm hand,
This last, great act, Emancipation's prayer,
Freeing all bonds men living in the land,
Will cause Humanity throughout the world,
To bless and honor Abraham Lincoln's name,
And, more than marble fane or statue could,
Will crown his memory with enduring fame.


Commemorating the Emancipation Proclamation

James Weldon Johnson


O Brothers mine, to-day we stand

Where half a century sweeps our ken,

Since God, through Lincoln's ready hand,

Struck off our bonds and made us men.

Just fifty years--a winter's day--

As runs the history of a race;

Yet, as we look back o'er the day,

How distant seems our starting place!


This land is ours by right of birth,

This land is ours by right of toil

We helped to turn its virgin earth,

Our sweat is in its fruitful soil.

To gain these fruits that have been earned,

To hold these fields that have been won,

Our arms have strained, our backs have burned,

Bent bare beneath a ruthless sun.

Then should we speak but servile words,

Or shall we hang our heads in shame?

Stand back of new-come foreign hordes,

And fear our heritage to claim?

No! stand erect and without fear,

And for our foes let this suffice--

We've bought a rightful sonship here,

And we have more than paid the price. . . .

That for which millions prayed and sighed

That for which tens of thousands fought,

For which so many freely died,

God cannot let it come to naught.