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Emancipation Proclamation: A Certificate of Freedom

Today’s blog post comes from National Archives social media intern Anna Fitzpatrick.

Before President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, the Federal Government took steps to begin the process of freeing the slaves. In July 1862—acting on Lincoln’s warning that freeing slaves in parts of the South occupied by Union troops might ”become a necessity” and in hopes of crippling the Confederacy—the Congress passed the Second Confiscation and Militia Act.

This act gave the military the power to seize and confiscate the property of the Confederate people—to seize their slave ”property” in occupied areas. As a result, the progress of Union troops meant the promise of freedom for many. Troops successfully freed slaves belonging to members of the Confederate military or Confederate sympathizers in those areas.

Image: Order Granting Freedom to Wally Caruz and Family, 08/15/1862; General James R. Chalmers' Papers, 1874–1899; War Department Collection of Confederate Records, 1825–1927, Record Group 109; National Archives Building, Washington, DC. (National Archives Identifier 3854715)

The Army issued this pass to Wally Caruz and his family. The pass amounted to a certificate of freedom and declared them ”forever emancipated.” The order says that:

Wally Caruz family a colored . . . formerly Slaves having by direction of their owner been engaged in the rebel service, are hereby confiscated as being contraband of war, and not being needed in the Public Service are permitted to pass the pickets of the command northward, and are forever emancipated from a master who permitted them to assist in an attempt to break up the Government and Laws of our Country.

In the months to come, President Lincoln would continue the process of freeing the slaves through the passage of the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862, followed by the final Emancipation Proclamation a few months later. The passage of the 13th Amendment in 1865 finally completed Lincoln’s work.

The story of the Second Confiscation and Militia Act, and Wally Caruz’s freedom, is featured in “The Meaning and Making of Emancipation,” a free eBook created by the National Archives. You can read it on your iPad, iPhone, Nook, or other electronic device.

The National Archives will commemorate the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation with a special display of the original document at the National Archives Building in Washington, DC, from Sunday, December 30, to Tuesday, January 1. The commemoration will include extended viewing hours, inspirational music, a dramatic reading of the Emancipation Proclamation, and family activities and entertainment for all ages.

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