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Emancipation Proclamation

The Emancipation Proclamation was issued 154 years ago — but should we celebrate?

The day Abraham Lincoln changed the course of history is not without complication

As tourists gathered in Washington, D.C., to tour the national monument of the Lincoln Memorial, many were unaware that Thursday marked the 154th anniversary of when the Emancipation Proclamation was issued. It’s a day that could be celebrated or commemorated, but there’s a feeling the freeing of slaves was by default.

It was Sept. 22, 1862, when President Abraham Lincoln warned the Confederate States of America by announcing that by Jan. 1, 1863, he would proclaim the slaves to be free if the Confederacy did not return to the Union.

The 10 states that seceded from the Union were not planning to return. So Lincoln went on with his plans and signed the final Emancipation Proclamation that even allowed freed slaves to fight in the Union Army.

According to history, the message did not reach many blacks who were still enslaved. Although the day doesn’t have much meaning to today’s generation, it was the official announcement that changed the status of more than 3 million slaves.

“On the first day of January . . . all persons held as slaves within any state, or designated part of a state, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free,” Lincoln said.

The day is celebrated by some, but holds controversy for others. In the summer of 1862, Lincoln wrote a letter in response to an editorial written in the The New York Tribune titled “The Prayer of Twenty Millions” by Republican editor Horace Greeley.

In the editorial, Greeley implied Lincoln was more interested in preserving the Union than freeing slaves, but was willing to free slaves to prove a point to the Confederacy:

“On the face of this wide earth, Mr. President, there is not one … intelligent champion of the Union cause who does not feel … that the rebellion, if crushed tomorrow, would be renewed if slavery were left in full vigor,” Greeley wrote.

Lincoln responded in his “Letter To Horace Greeley“:

My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union … I have here stated my purpose according to my view of official duty; and I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men everywhere could be free.

Kelley Evans is a general editor at The Undefeated. She is a food passionista, helicopter mom and an unapologetic southerner who spends every night with the cast of The Young and the Restless by way of her couch.