“Thenceforward And Forever Free”

Published: September 11, 2012

Abraham Lincoln and His Emancipation Proclamation, The Strobridge Lith. Co, 1888. Source: LOC

One hundred and fifty years ago this month, President Lincoln issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.  In it, he announced that on January 1, 1863, all slaves in the rebellious states “shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.”

Today, Lincoln is remembered as ‘The Great Emancipator’ — but the story of emancipation is a complicated one.  After all, the Emancipation Proclamation only affected the rebellious states.  Slavery remained untouched in the loyal slave states Maryland, Delaware, Kentucky, and Missouri.  And Lincoln himself was skeptical about the possibility of black and white Americans living together in the aftermath of slavery.  He pursued multiple colonization schemes, convinced, for a time, that the answer lay in sending freedpeople to start new societies in Liberia, Panama, Haiti, or Honduras.

So how can we best understand Emancipation — a moral imperative, a military necessity, a political strategy?  All of the above?

Please help us shape this show!  Share your stories, ideas, and questions below.  Do you celebrate Juneteenth?  What were you taught about the end of slavery in school, and how does that square with what you know now?  What would a national monument to emancipation look like?

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Comments (3)

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  1. Jim Mica

    Lincoln struggled with the question of slavery for years. I have been amazed to learn that he had already drafted the Emancipation Proclamation, and shared it with his cabinet, when he responded to Horace Greely’s famous editorial with the line about saving the Union with or without ending slavery.
    Goodheart (1861) tells us that Lincoln had emancipation on his mind as early as 1861 after Benjamin Franklin Butler invented the “contraband” strategy for dealing with escaped slaves.
    As our world struggles with sexual identity and the issue of providing universal healthcare, Lincoln’s struggled with the idea that a people who so many claimed were only suited to bondage might deserve to be free.

  2. Jan Jesser

    What I would like to hear about and I dont think many US Citizens do understand is the details of his almost draconian abandonment of civil liberties in order to protect the Union. For example the sequesturing or arresting of pro southern proponents of the Maryland General Assembly. This is not the only example of what we would consider not only unconstitutianal but un American today. Please elaborate on this and Linclons reasoning and in the long run great courage in protecting and salvaging the Union. We cannot forget his shortlived but very compleling argument of which Johnson and others took up on his death encouraging re-patriating the southern states with diginity and forgivness. The Civil war was only a little about the emancipation and although that became the catalyst and rallying cry later it was all about economic survival, the Union and those participants feeling that there State was there country and should hold ther allegiance first.

  3. Elizabeth Rose

    The Fairfield Museum is about to open an exhibit called “Promise of Freedom” in honor of the Proclamation’s 150th anniversary, and we have wrestled with these questions, with the help of Prof. Lou Masur, whose new book “Lincoln’s Hundred Days” will be of interest to you. Please feel free to contact me if you’d like to chat about the exhibition or how we have approached these issues.