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Lincoln Issues the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation

By David J. Kent

Washington, D.C.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

On this date, September 22, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. The final proclamation would come 100 days later, but this was the beginning of the end of slavery in the United States.

Lincoln had proposed the document to his cabinet back in July. At that time, Secretary of State William Seward convinced Lincoln that, given how badly the recent battles had been going for the Union, it might look like an act of desperation. Lincoln agreed to hold off releasing it until after a Union victory. That came with the battle of Antietam on September 17th (really a draw and the bloodiest single day of the Civil War) and Lincoln called his cabinet together on the 22nd.

He began with a reading of the humorous story, "High Handed Outrage at Utica" written by Artemus Ward (the pen name of Charles Farrar Browne). While seemingly out of place, Lincoln often resorted to humor to break the constant stream of horrific war news. He then read the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation to his cabinet before releasing it to the press and the public.

The Proclamation stated that on the first day of January 1863, all persons held as slaves within any state still in rebellion against the United States shall be "thenceforward, and forever free."

In addition, the document stated that Lincoln would designate which states remained in rebellion on January 1, 1863 and to who this order would apply. Already, army and navy personnel were prohibited from returning fugitive slaves since March. An act of Congress stipulated that any enslaved people who escaped to Union lines would immediately be considered free.

The full Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation can be read here.

Illustration is a contemporary allegorical print of Lincoln struggling to write the Emancipation Proclamation (Library of Congress).

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