The Emancipation Proclamation through Different Eyes
by Gregory Segovia
The Emancipation Proclamation is the document that Lincoln felt would cement his name in history. It stated that all enslaved people within the states in rebellion were free. Although the document was not accepted in the Confederacy and therefore did not immediately free any slaves, it is considered one of the most important in American history.
The proclamation, controversial in its own time, laid down a pathway for the future and provided a commitment to ending slavery. The document promoted the mission of reestablishing a unified nation—a goal that was seen as an important part of creating a fairer and better America.
In order to keep the border states in the Union, Lincoln’s proclamation did not apply to them. President Lincoln issued the document as a wartime measure justified by "the power vested in me as Commander in Chief" by the Constitution. As word of the proclamation spread, enslaved people made their way from plantation fields to union lines in battle zones.
Issued after the Battle of Antietam, a bloody battle in which Union forces claimed victory, the document raised the stakes for both the Confederacy and the Union. European nations, which had abolished slavery, were now less likely to recognize the rebellious Southern government. Free blacks in the North welcomed the added moral dimension to the conflict and joined the Union army in increasing numbers. With the subsequent passage of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865, the promise of the Emancipation Proclamation was kept, as four million people were freed from bondage, and chattel slavery came to an end.
How did different segments of the American population view the Emancipation Proclamation?
In this lesson students will be asked to analyze the Emancipation Proclamation and then view it through the lens of different segments of the population at the time it was passed. At the conclusion of the lesson, students will be asked to determine if the document deserves to be called one of the greatest in US history.
As a homework assignment, students will read the Emancipation Proclamation. They will list and analyze key terms and statements in the document.
Students will be divided into committees. Each committee will complete the Emancipation Proclamation worksheet.
- The teacher will review student responses.
- The teacher will then assign a different role to each student in the committee. (Each student will represent one of the following groups: enslaved people, free blacks in the North, abolitionists, plantation owners in the South, Union soldiers, Confederate soldiers, factory workers in the North, factory owners.) The students in each committee will be asked to complete the Character Sheet from the viewpoint of the population group they represent.
- The teacher will separate the class into the population groups and have a full-class debate.
- To start the debate, the teacher will post the statement, "The Emancipation Proclamation should become the law of the land." As the students present their arguments, the teacher should make sure they are doing so from a first-person point of view.
At the conclusion of the lesson, the teacher will ask the following question: Should the Emancipation Proclamation be considered one of the greatest documents in American history?
Imagine you were in Lincoln’s cabinet and he asked your advice on whether or not he should issue a proclamation freeing slaves. Write a position paper in which you give him your recommendation. Be sure to include reasons to support your opinion.
Additional Resources from The Gilder Lehrman Collection
Additional Emancipation Proclamation documents
- Emancipation Proclamation Transcript, National Archives
- Abraham Lincoln Papers, Library of Congress