On this dayJan 01, 1863
Enslavement Only Partially Banned by Emancipation Proclamation
Slavery was not abolished by the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. Issued in the midst of the Civil War, the proclamation applied only to enslaved people in states that were in rebellion in 1863, namely South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Texas, Arkansas, and North Carolina. Tennessee and portions of Virginia and Louisiana that were occupied by the Union were exempt. Slavery was left untouched in the border states of Maryland, Delaware, Kentucky, and Missouri.
Many Southern planters in rebelling states attempted to hide news of the proclamation from enslaved people, using threats and violence to force silence and attacking those who dared attempt to flee. Where federal troops were present, however, many enslaved people courageously fled bondage and sought protection and freedom in Union camps. For the many more enslaved people living where federal forces were absent or unreachable, Lincoln’s declaration did nothing, and the hold of enslavement lasted well beyond 1863. Up until the war’s end in 1865, local newspapers in Montgomery, Alabama, continued to advertise auction sales of enslaved people and publish ads seeking the return of “runaways.”
Exercising his powers as commander in chief, President Abraham Lincoln issued the proclamation primarily as a wartime measure. Key provisions allowing for the service of formerly enslaved Black people in the Union Army and Navy opened the door to the gradual enlistment of almost 200,000 Black men.
Slavery did not become illegal until the Thirteenth Amendment was officially ratified on December 6, 1865 (though even then, the provision allowed for legal enslavement "as punishment for crime"). Many Southern states refused to ratify the Thirteenth Amendment even after the Civil War ended. Delaware and Kentucky rejected ratification and slavery persisted in those states for several more years before the practice ceased. Mississippi did not officially ratify the amendment until 1995—130 years after it was adopted.
To learn more about the Emancipation Proclamation, and the later ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment, read EJI's report Reconstruction in America.