Did Abraham Lincoln Only Emancipate Confederate Slaves and Not Union Slaves?


Happy New Year’s Y’all!

As I was watching the latest installment of This Day in the USA (below), with Davis Fleetwood mixing in history with informative shock and fast talking awe, I heard him mention that when Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves with the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, it only applied to Confederate states and not to states within the Union.  Davis explains that Lincoln did this to spite the South and appease rich Northern slave owners.

That’s not what I remember from school.  What’s the deal?  Was Lincoln only freeing certain slaves with the Emancipation Proclamation?


Let’s go straight to the source (emphasis added by me):

Now, therefore I, Abraham Lincoln, President 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 first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three… 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 Berkley, Accomac, Northampton, Elizabeth City, York, Princess Ann, 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…

Wow. History dazzles me again.  The Emancipation Proclamation didn’t free all slaves. Not only were slaves in Union states exempt but slaves in certain parts of Confederate States were cool under the Emancipation Proclamation. If I’m reading this right if I owned slaves in West Virginia, I was good to go.  I’m assuming this exception is because certain parts of Confederate States weren’t under Confederate control.  And if I were a rebel state and didn’t want my slaves to be free I could just rejoin the Union to keep my slaves.

But anywho, the Confederate States weren’t under the control of Lincoln, so no slaves were really set free, except folks who escaped their captivity and made it to a free state (SUCH AS CANADA).  So the Emancipation Proclamation was more of a post-it note for progress, a whisper of change… which I can respect, the President of a country that depends on slavery coming out and officially taking a stand could be a big deal.  But still, that’s kind of messed up.  We’re talking about saying it’s OK to OWN PEOPLEin a country founded on individual liberty.

Lincoln’s Secretary of State, William Seward (the dude who survived a knife attack by Johnny Booth’s pal then went on to buy Alaska and sit forever in New York’s Madison Square Park), puts it perfectly:

“We show our sympathy with slavery by emancipating slaves where we cannot reach them and holding them in bondage where we can set them free.”

Take that spitball of honesty, Abe.

As I’m researching this topic (over the course of thirty minutes on a groggy morning), I’m having trouble finding facts and figures of Slavery in northern states during the Civil War, so if anyone has any info, please leave something in the comments.  I’d like to learn more about that.

When did slavery end? With the 13th Ammendment, almost 3 years after the Emancipation Proclamation when it was ratified by the states on December 6, 1865.

From reading around it seems like the Emancipation Proclamation was more a political move to either show the world the U.S.A.’s changing sentiment on OWNING PEOPLE as well as signaling that the emancipation of slaves ONLY IN STATES WE DIDN’T LIKE was a first step in total emancipation (which thankfully it turned out to be).

But maybe I’m being too hard on Lincoln, there was a horrible war going on, the bodies and savagery were piling up, perhaps angering Union States which happily OWNED PEOPLE would make them angry and the war bloodier.  Or maybe in order to go from Slavery to Freedom the U.S.A. needed some steps.  In my thankfully unshackled, war-free (with the exception of 9/11) life maybe I don’t have the perspective to appreciate the need to compromise for “moral baby steps.”  Maybe I can’t grasp how abolition of slavery might have been seen once as impossible and any improvement was miraculous.  Frederick Douglass, a fugitive slave turned rockstar statesman, loved the Emancipation Proclamation even though it only started the job.  He likened it to a “moral bombshell” that sent the good news to slaves that things were changing. So, who am I, a dude in 2010, to criticize a wartime Fresident over 150 years ago?  Does morality trump perspective and circumstance?

Whatever the case, I’m glad the 13th Ammendment came soon after the war and that we legally decided that owning people is wrong.  Although, I find it a little disconcerting that the practice of owning people was in place for around 100 years (not counting the colonial phase of our country).  It bothers me that slavery was justified, accepted, and procured by folks who treasured democracy, freedom, and in many cases the golden rule.  I just wish we were decent enought to make this correction on our own without resorting to legislation much less the bloodiest war in our history.  Do we need a kick in the pants or rules to be good people?  Can’t we do it on our own? Must we always consider things like economic stability before doing the right thing… GEORGE WASHINGTON, I’M TALKING TO YOU.

Sadly, as I’m finishing this piece I did a cursory search of the internet to find slavery is still alive and well in the world in several gruesome forms.  I’ve even heard some, such as Mr. Fleetwood above, compare the use of cheap overseas labor and undocumented workers to filling in the slavery gap, as illustrated in this hilarious, eye-opening Yes Men prank:


  • JosephineSouthern says:

    Well you have opened the sore but you haven’t let it bleed!

    Vatican reveals Secret Archives from Telegraph.co.uk

    Another formal letter in the archive highlights the papacy’s political role. In 1863 Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederate States, wrote to Pope Pius IX claiming that the civil war raging across America was entirely due to “Northern aggression”.

    Slaves in Louisiana were not freed! After the yankees invaded and took over New Orleans they spread out through South Louisiana, taking over the plantations and keeping the slaves working for the good ole USA.

  • JosephineSouthern says:

    Lincoln started the war!

    Lincoln’s letter to Gustavus Fox on 1 May, 1861, makes it clear that he was pleased by the result of the firing on Ft Sumter…” You and I both anticipated that the cause of the country would be advanced by making the attempt to provision Ft Sumter, even if it should fail; and it is no small consolation now to feel that our anticipation is justified by the result. “

  • John says:

    If you read Lincoln’s early (pre-presidential) writing, he was violently against slavery. After study, I think he was a tricky and skilled politician who played the game to get the result he wanted, as opposed to honestly saying and working openly towards that result, and letting the chips fall.

  • Mark Davis says:

    Great observation. A couple key things to remember. Legally, Lincoln would only free the slaves in the confederate states due to property laws. By leaving the Union, the Confederate states opened themselves up to Presidential proclamations. The reason a number of areas were exempt comes from their lack of support of the Confederacy. In fact, there were a number of Union regiments from these southern counties/parishes.

  • jim says:

    I want to start by saying yes. Lincoln did only declare the slaves free in the Confederate states.

    Lincoln was naturally against slavery but he did not think that his position of the presidency in and of itself was enough to outlaw the practice. In a letter to Albert G. Hodges on March 26, 1864 Lincoln explains his point. “I am naturally anti-slavery. If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong. I can not remember when I did not so think, and feel. And yet I have never understood that the Presidency conferred upon me an unrestricted right to act officially upon this judgment and feeling.”

    While it seems like the Emancipation Proclamation was used as a tool in the Civil War to weaken the Confederacy, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that Lincoln deep down wanted to prohibit slavery and the war gave him a chance to start the emancipation process even if from our eyes it appeared like a wishy washy political move.

  • [...] Proclamation.  A little known fact, however, is that in the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln only freed slaves in states that were no longer under his control–rebel states–while leaving slavery in [...]

  • Kevin says:

    Well I read many books and writings on Licoln. “The Real Licoln” was possibly one of the best writings I’ve ever read; truly opened my eyes to the evils of the Union and what the South was really fighting for.

    Of course in grade school they teach us that Licoln had a desire to free the slaves. Of course. Yet they leave out the fact that he was a SLAVE PROSECUTOR before becoming a politian. Just to be clear, he was the guy who would convict and punish runaways. Does this sound like a man who was so against slavery? No, Licoln was a scoundrel.

    They also leave out the fact that Licoln was a very open white supremacist. He condemned the South for allowing “Blacks and whites to live among eachother.” He wanted the North to belong strictly to whites. If Licoln had lived a bit longer after the war had ended, he would have began his “final solution” he very much bragged about, in which he would ship all people of color back to Africa. Therefore creating the white America he dreamed about.

    Licoln, my friends, was nothing more than a scoundrel who was responsible for over 50,000 murders of Southern civilians.

    The South just wanted independance; Slavery was the last thing either side was concerned with.

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