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[Detail] Lincoln Centennial Association

1863: The Emancipation Proclamation and the Continuation of the War

Beginning in 1862, Congress and the President began acting to change the status of enslaved people in the United States. In March, Lincoln commanded Union Army officers not to return fugitive slaves who had made it behind Union lines. In April, slaves in Washington, D.C., were freed; their owners were given compensation. In June, slavery was prohibited in U.S. territories. In July, Lincoln began discussing emancipation with his Cabinet, but he waited until the Union victory on the battlefield at Antietam to issue a preliminary proclamation on September 22, 1862. This proclamation said that slaves would be freed in any Confederate states that did not return to Union control. On January 1, 1863, Lincoln issued the final Emancipation Proclamation. Read the proclamation and answer the following questions:

  • How did Lincoln justify issuing the Emancipation Proclamation?
  • Why were certain parts of the Confederate states excepted from the proclamation? What other slaves were not emancipated by the proclamation?
  • What does Lincoln ask the emancipated people to do?
  • In what ways would emancipating the slaves help the Union?

The war raged on through 1863. The collection contains a number of interesting letters key figures in the war wrote during 1863:

Read these letters, looking for information about the progress of the war, as seen through the eyes of the various letter-writers. Then answer these questions:

  • What can you learn about the progress of the war from reading these letters? Which letter do you find most informative? Why?
  • Identify a detail in a letter and try to confirm that detail using another source in the collection (for example, you might be able to confirm information through newspaper reports).
  • What, if anything, do the letters from Lincoln reveal about his character? Do the letters reveal character traits that you might not get from Lincoln’s public speeches or descriptions of the president written by others?

In July 1863, Union forces won a bloody battle at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Some 7,500 soldiers were buried there; they were just a fraction of the 250,000 lost in the war to that time. Anti-war and anti-Lincoln feelings were on the rise, as evidenced by the New York Draft riots that occurred less than two weeks after the battle at Gettysburg. When the cemetery at Gettysburg was dedicated in November 1863, the president was asked to take only a small role in the ceremony. Lincoln delivered a brief speech designed to buoy the spirits of the citizens of the Union. While not acclaimed at the time, the Gettysburg Address has become one of the best-known speeches in U.S. history.

  • What ideals did Lincoln appeal to in the speech?
  • Why does Lincoln say that the people gathered at the dedication “cannot dedicate, cannot consecrate” the cemetery?
  • What does Lincoln predict will happen if the Union does not prevail?
  • What in the speech might have lifted the spirits of the Union? How might you assess whether the speech helped meet the goal Lincoln set for it?