The Emancipation Proclamation, a document issued by Abraham Lincoln in the midst of Civil War, stated that all slaves in the rebelling states of the Confederacy would thereafter be free. Although the proclamation did not free all slaves (namely, those in the loyal border states of the union), it was an important step forward in defending liberty for all Americans. It also allowed African-American men to partake in fighting for freedom. It was not until the ratification of the 13th Amendment on December 6, 1865 that slavery was formally abolished in the United States.
As the war was still ongoing, the Proclamation did not take full effect in the U.S. until well after January 1, 1863. In Texas, the new executive order went unenforced for 2 1/2 years. Beginnings of liberation didn’t occur there until June 19, 1865, when Union troops led by General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston to liberate the slaves:
General Orders, No. 3
The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them, becomes that between employer and hired labor. The Freedmen are advised to remain at their present homes, and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts; and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.
By order of Major-General Granger
A significant date marking the emancipation of the last slaves in the South, June 19 was soon celebrated by former slaves in Texas as “Juneteenth.” It is now celebrated throughout the country as a holiday commemorating American emancipation from slavery. Traditional celebrations of the day include barbecue picnics, rodeos, worship services, and outdoor activities.
Below is a collection of resources recognizing this important document, holiday, and their history. Browse these resources or jump from section to section by clicking the links below:
Emancipation Proclamation – January 1, 1863
Whereas, on the twenty-second day of September, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-two, a proclamation was issued by the President of the United States, containing, among other things, the following, to wit:
“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 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 no 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 first 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 State 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 first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and in accordance with my purpose so to do publicly proclaimed for the full period of one hundred days, from the day first 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 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; 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-defence; 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.
In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the City of Washington, this first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty three, and of the Independence of the United States of America the eighty-seventh.
By the President: ABRAHAM LINCOLN, WILLIAM H. SEWARD, Secretary of State.
Selected online resources on emancipation in America:
Diana Schaub and Lucas Morel on Douglass’s View of Emancipation and Lincoln
Diana Schaub and Lucas Morel, Professor of Politics at Washington and Lee University, discuss Frederick Douglass’ thoughts about Lincoln and his role in emancipation at the American Enterprise Institute.
A Library of Congress Web Guide: The Emancipation Proclamation
The Library of Congress web guide on the Emancipation Proclamation includes links to several drafts of the document, Jefferson Davis’ retaliatory response to the Proclamation, and the Library’s African-American pamphlet collection. The Library’s “Voices from the Days of Slavery” presentation contains several interviews with former Texas slaves.
Galveston History: Juneteenth and General Order No. 3
“Juneteenth and General Order No. 3, read on June 19, 1865 announcing that all slaves were free, is one of Galveston’s most important historical moments. US President Abraham Lincoln announced the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862. Issued under powers granted to the president “as a fit and necessary war measure”, the proclamation declared, “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…” However, Lincoln’s proclamation would have little impact on Texans at that time due to the small number of Union troops available to enforce it…”
Juneteenth’s Texas Origins
The African American Odyssey: A Quest for Full Citizenship
The Library of Congress exhibition The African American Odyssey: A Quest for Full Citizenship, has an online counterpart that explores its African American collections. Sections of the exhibit include “Free Blacks in the Antebellum Period,” “The Booker T. Washington Era,” and “The Depression, The New Deal, and World War II,” and feature artwork, letters, and photos from each era.
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