During the American Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation made slavery's demise one of the North's principal war aims.
At the beginning of the American Civil War, few Northerners or Southerners believed that the conflict was about slavery. Southerners contended that the war resulted from the federal government's refusal to respect the rights of the states. Northerners argued that the federal government had to protect the rights of the majority. While the conflict continued during 1861 and 1862, an increasing number of Northerners joined with the abolitionists to demand the end of slavery in America.
Among the Northerners who eventually agreed that slavery had to end was President Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln initially sought only the reunification of America, but he came to believe that any resolution of the conflict had to include slavery's termination. Lincoln believed that the nation could be reunited with slavery still in existence. Nevertheless, he felt that this issue would continue to divide Northerners and Southerners.
Lincoln refused to end slavery during 1861 and the first half of 1862 for several reasons. First, he believed that the United States Constitution prevented the president from seizing the property—slaves—of the country's citizens without due process. Second, Lincoln feared alienating the residents of the Border States—slave states that had remained in the Union. These people included residents of Kentucky, Missouri, Delaware, and Maryland. If these people joined with the South, hundreds of thousands of more men could join the Confederate armies. Lincoln wanted to solidify the North's control over these slaveholding states before acting against slavery. Third, Lincoln realized that many Southerners and Northerners would not support slavery's termination, because it might result in the equality of African Americans with white people. Lincoln hoped to persuade prominent African-American leaders that the black population should move from the United States if slavery ended. The president also had to negotiate with other nations, to convince these countries to accept African-American immigrants. Finally, Lincoln worried that ending slavery would alienate any Unionist sympathizers currently in the South, further strengthening the Confederate war effort.
By the summer of 1862, Lincoln had become convinced that slavery had to end. Many of his concerns about ending the institution had been alleviated. Northern troops now had firm control over the Border States and they would be able to prevent these states from seceding from the United States. Southerners remained committed to the war effort. Lincoln was convinced that any Unionist support in the Confederacy could not succeed in persuading secessionists to rejoin the United States. A growing number of Northerners began to believe that slavery was morally wrong. As Northern soldiers marched into the South, many of these men saw the true brutality of slavery for the first time. Many of these men informed their loved ones in the North about the injustice of the institution, prompting calls for slavery's demise. Finally, Lincoln believed that the federal government did have the right to hamper its enemy's ability to wage war. Slaves grew crops and produced other supplies for the Confederate military. The United States Constitution allowed the president to adopt measures during times of war to help guarantee a military victory. Lincoln decided that ending slavery would hamper the Confederate war effort and was legal under the United States Constitution.
Lincoln drafted an initial copy of the Emancipation Proclamation in July 1862, but he did not issue it to the public until September 22, 1862. Lincoln believed that American citizens and governments of other nations might view the proclamation as a desperate attempt by the United States to build support for the war effort. Before September 1862, the North had won several important victories but the Union had not won a significant battle east of the Appalachian Mountains. Following the Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862, Lincoln had an important Union victory in the East.
The Emancipation Proclamation declared that slavery would end in any area still in rebellion against the United States on January 1, 1863. Lincoln hoped that Southerners would rejoin the United States before the deadline to keep their slaves. These Southerners refused to recognize Lincoln's conciliatory gesture, and slavery, in theory, ended in areas in rebellion on January 1, 1863. Slavery did not end everywhere within the United States on that date. The Emancipation Proclamation did not end slavery in the Border States. It also did not end slavery in areas in the South that Union forces had conquered. These areas included several coastal areas along the Atlantic Ocean, as well as parts of northern Virginia and Louisiana. Nevertheless, the Civil War had become a war to end slavery. Slavery did not end everywhere in the United States until the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1865.
Ohioans greeted the Emancipation Proclamation with differing outlooks. Radical Republicans, like Senator Benjamin Wade, welcomed the document, as did the state's abolitionists and the Quaker population. Other Ohioans, especially those from working-class backgrounds, were not as welcoming. Many of these people feared that African Americans would flee the South, move to Northern states, and take jobs away from other working people. Clement Vallandigham argued that Lincoln did not have the power to end slavery and that the president was in clear violation of the United States Constitution. Some Ohioans serving in the Union military refused to fight a war to end slavery. They deserted and returned home.
In the elections of November 1862, the Union Party in Ohio experienced major setbacks. Only five of their nineteen congressional candidates were elected to office. The Unionists also lost the election for attorney-general. A major reason for the Union Party's lack of success was Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. Despite the political backlash, the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect on January 1, 1863, ending slavery in areas in rebellion.