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The Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation

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

Throughout the Civil War, when President Lincoln needed to concentrate—when he faced a task that required his focused and undivided attention—he would leave the White House, cross the street to the War Department, and take over the desk of Thomas T. Eckert, chief of the military telegraph staff.

The hub of the Union’s military communication center had become an unlikely refuge for the President. Anxiously awaiting the latest reports from the front, hovering over the shoulder of an operator, he would enjoy the easy banter of the telegraph staff and, somehow, find relief from the strain of his office.

In early July of 1862, President Lincoln asked the telegraph chief for some paper, explaining that he had something ”special” to write. Slowly, putting down just one or two lines at a time, Lincoln began to work.

Only when a draft was finished did Lincoln reveal that he had composed an order ”giving freedom to the slaves in the South, for the purpose of hastening the end of the war.”

Page 1 of Presidential Proclamation 93 (Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation); Presidential Proclamation 93 (vault), Box 2; General Records of the U.S. Government, Record Group 11; National Archives.

This Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation indicated Lincoln’s intention of issuing the final proclamation in the near future:

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.

Lincoln would sign the final Emancipation Proclamation on New Year’s Day, 1863. Nearly two years later, the passage of the 13th Amendment completed Lincoln’s work of freeing the slaves.

You can view all the pages of this document on our online exhibit “American Originals” and read more about the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.

The story of the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation 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 also 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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