AFRICANGLOBE – The first of January is a two-fold celebration in America this year: It’s the start of a new year and the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, the document that initiated the end of slavery in 1863.
To commemorate the date, the National Archives and Records Administration displayed pages 3 and 5 of the document for three days only, starting Dec. 31 and ending Jan. 1.
In addition, the United States Postal Service has unveiled a new Forever stamp that contains some of the words from the document.
Lincoln’s faded signature and that of his Secretary of State, William Seward, are visible along with the Seal of the United States.
The document is rarely displayed as part of the effort to preserve it, says Katherine Nicholson, the Archives Conservation Lab deputy director.
“We’ve been very careful and limiting display in the last few decades,” she says. “We want it to be readable by future generations.”
Many historians say only the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States have had as great an impact on human life in America as the proclamation.
The Emancipation Proclamation
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.”
Despite this expansive wording, the Emancipation Proclamation was limited in many ways. It applied only to states that had seceded from the Union, leaving slavery untouched in the loyal border states. It also expressly exempted parts of the Confederacy that had already come under Northern control. Most important, the freedom it promised depended upon Union military victory.
Although the Emancipation Proclamation did not end slavery in the nation, it captured the hearts and imagination of millions of Americans and fundamentally transformed the character of the war.
After January 1, 1863, every advance of federal troops expanded the domain of freedom. Moreover, the Proclamation announced the acceptance of Black men into the Union Army and Navy, enabling the liberated to become liberators. By the end of the war, almost 200,000 Black soldiers and sailors had fought for the Union and freedom.
From the first days of the Civil War, slaves had acted to secure their own liberty. The Emancipation Proclamation confirmed their insistence that the war for the Union must become a war for freedom.
It added moral force to the Union cause and strengthened the Union both militarily and politically. As a milestone along the road to slavery’s final destruction, the Emancipation Proclamation has assumed a place among the great documents of human freedom.
The original of the Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863, is in the National Archives in Washington, DC. With the text covering five pages the document was originally tied with narrow red and blue ribbons, which were attached to the signature page by a wafered impression of the seal of the United States. Most of the ribbon remains; parts of the seal are still decipherable, but other parts have worn off.
The document was bound with other proclamations in a large volume preserved for many years by the Department of State. When it was prepared for binding, it was reinforced with strips along the center folds and then mounted on a still larger sheet of heavy paper.
Written in red ink on the upper right-hand corner of this large sheet is the number of the Proclamation, 95, given to it by the Department of State long after it was signed. With other records, the volume containing the Emancipation Proclamation was transferred in 1936 from the Department of State to the National Archives of the United States.