New Year's Day marked the 150th anniversary of the beginning of freedom for an oppressed race in this country, when our 16th president issued the Emancipation Proclamation, writing, in part:
“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…
,“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.”
The proclamation only promised freedom contingent upon a Union victory in the Civil War, then in its third year, it did not apply to slavery in the loyal border states and it exempted parts of the Confederacy that were already under Northern control.
As stated on the National Archives & Records Administration website, “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."
Lincoln's proclamation was a milestone on the road to the elimination of slavery and recognition of what Lincoln proclaimed in his Gettysburg Address, that “all men are created equal.” Though not the end-all in the slow, painful struggle for civil rights, it is one of the great documents of human freedom.