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The Emancipation Proclamation

Kim and Sal talk about the Emancipation Proclamation. 

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Video transcript

- [Voiceover] So again, we've been talking a lot about the early stages of the Civil War which were about slavery and the spread of slavery, and I think in popular culture, when we think about things like Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War and slavery, the term Emancipation Proclamation, or the idea of the Emancipation Proclamation comes to mind and I think a lot of folks imagine it to be this really amazing speech that at some point, you know, Lincoln makes this proclamation, and after that point, slavery is just gone from the United States, is that what it was? - [Voiceover] No, it's actually a lot more complicated than that. So, the Emancipation Proclamation itself was not a speech. It was actually closer to a decree. Even though Lincoln didn't originally come in to his presidency intending to end slavery, it became pretty clear in the first year of the war that-- - [Voiceover] He was anti-slavery. He just didn't want it to spread. He didn't think he could end it. - [Voiceover] Right, so he specifically says in his inaugural address that he has no intention of ending slavery and that if the slave states returned to the Union, everything will just go back to the status quo, but it very quickly becomes apparent in the Civil War that ending slavery is going to have to be a goal of the North. For one thing, the slaves provide so much of the production for the South that interfering with that production is really important for the North to secure victory but it also is important on a moral ground. Almost as soon as the war begins and slave men and women in the South start going to Union lines hoping for the army to protect them, they want to be part of the war effort, they interpret it as a war to end slavery long before Abraham Lincoln interprets it as a war to end slavery. So it becomes clear by the summer of 1862 that the Union is going to have to deal with slavery, one way or another. - [Voiceover] Now, once again, the reason why it's strategically important is that this war is not going as well as the North would have hoped or as Lincoln would have hoped. It's lasting longer, the first years as we mentioned in the previous video, the South was winning and it was going on the offensive, and then also on the moral argument, it gave the North something more to fight for. - [Voiceover] Yes, and even in some pockets of the South, individual Union generals were even making their own small Emancipation Proclamation. So it became clear that the North was going to need an overall stance on whether this was a war to end slavery. Lincoln decides, yes, this is going to be a war to end slavery. - [Voiceover] And so, does he announce it, you know, just all of a sudden, or, is he kind of waiting for the right time? - [Voiceover] He's definitely waiting for the right time. In the summer of 1862, he makes the first draft of the Emancipation Proclamation, and even in the summer, he shows it to the members of his cabinets, and they're shocked. Most of them are, themselves, strongly abolitionist but they are terrified that this document is going to be so revolutionary at a time when the North is already struggling, that it's going to force the border states out, that many of the whites in the North who don't care about the fate of slaves are going to leave the war effort, so they advise Lincoln not to just proclaim the Emancipation Proclamation, but rather to wait for a big Union victory to kind of put a stamp on the document. - [Voiceover] And just to make sure we understand, I mean, the fear of his advisors was not all the Union states were free states. You had states like Missouri and Kentucky and Maryland that were slave states but still part of the Union and so the fear is, if you emancipate, or if you make this proclamation, all of a sudden, those states would leave. - [Voiceover] Right, and those are very important states. They have a very large white population, relative to their enslaved population, which means that if they go to the South, all of those fighters will go for the South, and it's also where a lot of the South's industry is so it would mean that a tremendous amount of man power and also industrial power would join the South, so Lincoln and his cabinet are very concerned about alienating these states. They want to make sure that their power doesn't go with the South. - [Voiceover] Does the Emancipation Proclamation end slavery in those states, or the entire United States, or just in the South, or just in the Confederate states? - [Voiceover] So this is a strategy of military necessity, as Lincoln says. He specifically exempts the border states from the Emancipation Proclamation. - [Voiceover] He exempts them? - [Voiceover] He exempts them. - [Voiceover] He says, this does not apply to them. So, it's not a pure moral grounds that slavery is evil and needs to be gone from the Earth. He's saying, in the states that are trying to secede, he's banning slavery. - [Voiceover] Right, and, he almost makes it like a form of enticement for the South to come back. He says, here is my plan for emancipation. I am going to put it into effect on the first day of January, 1863. He puts it out in September of 1862 just after the Union victory at Antietam, so this big Union victory gives him the... - [Voiceover] Confidence, or-- - [Voiceover] The confidence. - [Voiceover] the backdrop, the context. - [Voiceover] The context - [Voiceover] to do this. - [Voiceover] in which he can put the Emancipation Proclamation out there, but he says, if the states that are in rebellion come back into the Union before January 1st, then it will be null and void. - [Voiceover] I see, so he's still trying to get them back in the fold, and he's willing to accept slavery, at least for the time being, if he can end this war that's turning out far bloodier and far longer-lasting than frankly anyone, especially folks in the North, had expected it to be, so didn't immediately say, hey, no more slavery, which might have made the South fight even harder. It's like, hey, well, I'm going to make this effective in January 1863, which would be another year, so you have a couple months to come back, come back to the mother ship so to speak. - [Voiceover] Right, and the South does not take him up on this offer, so when January 1st, 1863 rolls around he signs the Emancipation Proclamation. - [Voiceover] And, we have some of the text of the Proclamation here, and what I think is interesting, and we have this right on the Khan Academy site, in one of the articles, is that, it doesn't have the beauty of the Declaration of Independence or even the Constitution. It actually reads kind of like a legal document. I mean, if I read this, "That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord, "one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, "all persons held as slaves within any States or designated "part of a State," so it's kind of this legalese, "the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against "the United States, shall be then, thenceforth "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 no act or acts to repress such persons, "or any of them in efforts, "in any efforts they make for their actual freedom," which is a, in spirit a really nice thing to say, but it reads like a legal document and I could keep going and I encourage the folks listening to read it, and it literally lists the various states and as you mentioned, it's much more of a decree. It's not this beautiful speech. - [Voiceover] Right, and we know Lincoln for his beautiful speeches, the Gettysburg Address is perhaps the most famous speech in American history, and so, it's a little bit strange that, arguably, the most important thing that Lincoln ever does is arguably the ugliest piece of writing that Lincoln ever put out there. It's because he's a lawyer, and we forget sometimes about Lincoln's background as a lawyer, but he practiced for decades, and so, what he's trying to do here is really create an ironclad legal document that no one can turn around later and say, "Well, here's a loophole." - [Voiceover] Yup, although it has its moments. I mean, right here, "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," so, I mean, it's kind of, yeah, it's still kind of a legal, yeah, it's not moving to the passions or to the moral as much as, kind of, and he even also talks about, well, it is what it is. We'll let other people judge it on their own. - [Voiceover] But, you know, what's really important about the Emancipation Proclamation is from that point forward, even though he's particularly putting this on the southern states where any jurisdiction he has is really just what can be enforced by the army, it turns the Union army into an army of liberation, that as they go throughout the South, enslaved people will flock to them and want to contribute to the war effort and shortly after this, Lincoln will make it possible, one part of the Emancipation Population is saying that African Americans can join the Union army as soldiers, and so, they really, from this point forward, can play an active role, direct and recognized role in ending slavery and this is really the moment when slavery truly starts to crumble.