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June 19, 2024 7 mins

The Emanicaption Proclamation didn't immediately free any enslaved people -- it wasn't meant to. Learn how it succeeded at its actual purpose -- demoralizing the Confederacy -- in this episode of BrainStuff, based on this article:

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Speaker 1 (00:01):
Welcome to Brainstuff, a production of iHeartRadio. Hey Brainstuff, Louren Vogelbaum. Here,
here's a question for your next trivia game. How many
enslaved people did the United States Emancipation Proclamation free? The
answer zero. You may have learned in school that President

Abraham Lincoln freed the enslaved with the Emancipation Proclamation, but
those history books were stretching the truth. Lincoln was a
savvy politician. The Emancipation Proclamation was a document that officially
changed nothing. The proclamation only covered the Confederate States, where
Congress had already passed laws essentially outlawing enslavement. Lincoln the

politician didn't want to risk alienating his voters in the
border states, and he didn't issue the proclamation until January
first of eighteen sixty three, two years after the Civil
War began. So what took Lincoln so long? He was
waiting for a big Union win. Issuing such a decree
while the North was losing the war would have looked
like an unenforceable, hollow threat. He got his win at

Antietam in the fall of eighteen sixty two, which turned
the tide. But unless they've lived in a state that
had abolished the institution of slavery. Enslaved people living in
the Union had to wait for their freedom until December
of eighteen sixty five, after Lincoln's assassination for the passage
of the thirteenth Amendment, which nationally abolished the practice, and

many people in the South waited nearly as long. June
nineteenth of eighteen sixty five was the day that news
of the proclamation finally reached parts of Texas, with the
Union soldiers two and a half years after it was
issued and two months after the Confederacy surrendered. The day
is now observed as June teenth. The Emancipation Proclamation wasn't
necessarily meant to free anyone. It was part of Lincoln's

strategy to demoralize the South, and it worked. Poorer white
people in the South were upset the war's cause could
no longer be claimed to be about states' rights. They
resented fighting to protect the quote unquote property of wealthy
landowners who themselves could buy their way out of having
to serve in the Confederate Army. Additionally, the proclamation ended

the quiet support that European countries like England and France
had given the Confederacy. Early in the war, the South
had hoped that these European powers would officially recognize the
Confederacy as an independent country, but England and France had
abolished slavery decades earlier and would not openly oppose a
country fighting to eradicate it as were it. Of the proclamation, spread,

formerly enslaved people left the South en mass. Some joined
the war effort on the Union side, which the proclamation
officially allowed, and the Confederacy suffered for the lack of
their labor. For example, the Union's victory at Vicksburg, which
gave them control of the Mississippi River, has been attributed
to the South's lack of fortifications there post proclamation. All

of which is why, despite its hefty limitations, the Emmancipation
Proclamation is remembered. It's still impressive for a seven hundred
word document. Unlike Lincoln's famous Gettysburg Address, the Proclamation is
very legal and dry, apparently very much on purpose. The
Supreme Court was heavy with Southern sympathizers, so Lincoln knew

that if there was any sort of legal loophole that
the Court could use to challenge the proclamation. The Institution
of slavery would be preserved. In the document, Lincoln used
his authority as the commander in chief to end enslavement,
specifically as leverage against the rebelling states. He claimed that
this was a military tactic to suppress the rebellion, thus

skirting the Supreme Court's jurisdiction. Of course, by confining the
proclamation to areas of open rebellion, Lincoln had to exclude
areas that had been recaptured by the Union. Knowing this,
he actually issued a preliminary version of the proclamation back
in September of ai eighteen sixty two, with a note
that it wouldn't be enacted until January first of eighteen

sixty three. He was giving the rebels one last chance
to hold onto the institution of slavery for a little
while longer as long as they agreed to rejoin the Union.
So in the proclamation, there's an entire paragraph devoted to
which states and in some cases, individual counties, were currently
in rebellion. Lincoln left this paragraph with blanks in it

until the day before it was published, a waiting for
word from military commanders about any new territories that could
be added to the list of exceptions. By listing counties individually,
Lincoln was able to avoid enslaver's lawsuits in federal courts.
The border states Missouri, Delaware, Kentucky, and Maryland were also excluded,
though enslaved people sometimes were able to cross to freedom

before those states governments revised their constitutions to include freedom
from enslavement. Lincoln may have wanted to completely abolish slavery,
but his main objectives were preserving the Union and winning
the war. He couldn't do that if he continued to
bleed states and the popular support of voters who were
at the time entirely white men, many of whom were landowners.

He told newspaper reporter James Scovell that the proclamation would
be quote my greatest and most enduring contribution to the
history of the war. Many abolitionists were unhappy with the
proclamation's limitations, though some did celebrate January first as Freedom Day.
In April of eighteen sixty four, the U. S. Senate

pushed for a constitutional amendment to abolish the institution of slavery,
which Lincoln supported. Though it was ultimately defeated in the
House of Representatives, the issue nearly caused lincoln re election
and his party, the Republicans, control of Congress. But Lincoln's
dedication is an argument that not all of his anti
slavery measures were politically motivated. A two other national constitutionals

that Lincoln had pushed for were passed in the five
years after his death. In addition to the Thirteenth, there's
the fourteenth, which grant citizens due process, and the fifteenth,
which opened voting rights to black men. We've talked about
these amendments on the show before and how they were
moves towards equity, but how they ultimately fell short of
guaranteeing these rights to black people in the face of

both racist policies enacted by state and local governments and
discriminations enforced by private companies and citizens. These rights didn't
stand on firm ground across the United States until the
Civil rights movement of the nineteen sixties. A full century later,
and we are still coping and sometimes failing to cope
with the repercussions of these centuries of inequity. So if

you're listening to this episode the day it comes out
on June teenth, or any day really we hear it,
brain stuff, hope that you'll observe it. Well, anyway that
you want to. I'm not going to tell you what
to do, but I would suggest continuing to seek out
the real, complicated history of our world as so to
better understand the way that it is and to see
how it could be better. Today's episode is based on

the article how the Band's Patient Proclamation Work on how
stuffworks dot Com, written by Tiffany Connors. Brain Stuff is
production of by Heart Radio in partnership with how stuffworks
dot Com and is produced by Tyler Klang. Four more
podcasts from my heart Radio, visit the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts,
or wherever you listen to your favorite shows.

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Ben Bowlin

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Lauren Vogelbaum

Lauren Vogelbaum

Cristen Conger

Cristen Conger

Christian Sager

Christian Sager

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