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Emancipation Proclamation: “It is my Desire to be Free”

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

Image: Letter from Annie Davis to Abraham Lincoln, 08/25/1864; Letters Received, 1863–1888; Records of the Adjutant General's Office, 1762–1984, Record Group 94; National Archives (National Archives Identifier 4662543)

Only 100 days after promising in the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation that slaves in the Confederacy would soon be freed, Lincoln fulfilled that promise by signing the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. This proclamation changed the character of the war, adding moral force to the Union cause and strengthening the Union both militarily and politically while the rebellion was still in full force.

Despite the expansive wording of the proclamation, which stated ”that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious areas ”are, and henceforward shall be free,” the Emancipation Proclamation was limited in many ways. It applied only to states that had seceded from the Union and it excused parts of the Confederacy that had already come under Northern control. Most importantly of all, the freedom it promised depended upon a Union military victory.

The Emancipation Proclamation also failed to apply to the slave-holding border states that had remained loyal to the Union, such as Maryland. On April 25, 1864, Annie Davis, an enslaved woman living in Maryland, wrote a brief but touching letter to President Abraham Lincoln, asking if she was free.

Mr. President It is my Desire to be free. to go to see my people on the eastern shore. my mistress wont let me you will please let me know if we are free. and what I can do. I write to you for advice. please send me word this[?] week. or as soon as possible. and oblidge. Annie Davis

No reply from the President has been located. The answer to Davis’s question, however, would have been ”no.” Since Maryland was a border state loyal to the Union, slavery existed there until November 1, 1864. The following year, however, the 13th Amendment finished the work of freeing the slaves by abolishing slavery.

Annie Davis’ letter is featured in the “The Meaning and Making of Emancipation,” a free eBook created by the National Archives. You can download it to your iPad, iPhone, Android, or nook, or just read it as a PDF.

Be sure to stop by the National Archives for the special display of the original document 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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Comments

Pingback from Emancipation Proclamation at 150: A Slave’s Revealing Letter
Time January 1, 2013 at 1:11 pm

[...] Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863 — Annie Davis sent this letter to the White House: Mr. PresidentIt is my Desire to be free. To go to see my people on the eastern [...]

Pingback from Politics & Bullsh*t Slave’s Letter Reveals Pace of Freedom
Time January 1, 2013 at 1:41 pm

[...] Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863 — Annie Davis sent this letter to the White [...]

Pingback from Slave’s Letter Reveals Pace of Freedom « Tankduckett's Blog
Time January 1, 2013 at 6:58 pm

[...] Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863 — Annie Davis sent this letter to the White House: Mr. PresidentIt is my Desire to be free. To go to see my people on the eastern [...]

Pingback from Milwaukee Community Journal » WISCONSIN'S LARGEST AFRICAN AMERICAN NEWSPAPER » Slave’s Letter Reveals Pace of Freedom
Time January 4, 2013 at 7:02 pm

[...] Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863 — Annie Davis sent this letter to the White [...]

Comment from Ronald Neely
Time February 1, 2013 at 5:53 am

thank you for this service

Comment from anne
Time March 20, 2013 at 3:19 pm

Where can I see a copy of the 13 Amendment to the US Constituion prior to 1825?

Hilary Reply:

The 13th Amendment was ratified in 1865. Do you mean a draft of the Amendment?