On New Year's Day in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln shook hands with thousands of White House visitors. When he sat down to sign the Emancipation Proclamation, his hand was shaky from greeting so many people. He put down the pen.
"He waited until he could sign the proclamation with a bold and clear hand," Lincoln expert Doris Kearns Goodwin told TFK. "That's how much this meant to him."
Lincoln's decision to issue the proclamation was the result of months of debate. Our country was split, North against South, in the Civil War. At first, Lincoln's only goal in fighting the war was to keep our country united. He later decided that slavery must end or our country would not survive.
Lincoln used his war powers as President to free slaves in the South. Only Congress could pass a Constitutional amendment to outlaw slavery altogether. But the proclamation inspired 180,000 slaves to join the Northern army to fight for freedom.
In 1865, the war ended in a Northern victory. Congress passed the 13th Amendment on December 6, forever outlawing slavery in every state in the nation.
"History is made up of stories of people who, like Lincoln, struggled and triumphed," Kearns Goodwin says. "It's important that we learn from our past."
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