President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, as the nation approached its third year of bloody civil war. The proclamation declared “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free.” It proclaimed the freedom of 3.1 million of the nation’s 4 million slaves. The declaration highlighted freedom of all slaves within any state that did not submit to Union control and specified the states where the proclamation was to be unconditionally applied. The freedom it promised depended upon Union military victory.
The Emancipation Proclamation enjoined emancipated slaves to “labor faithfully for reasonable wages” in the United States. For the first time, it authorized the enrollment of black soldiers into the Union Army. The proclamation set in motion the process by which 200,000 black men in the last two years of the war fought for the Union. This added to the much needed manpower for winning the war against the Confederacy. Putting black men into the military implied a very different vision of their future place in American society than earlier plans for settling freed slaves overseas.