Today, January 1, 2013, is the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. And some are still arguing over the meaning of that document to this day. It was a momentous act, and President Abraham Lincoln knew it as he signed it.
What the proclamation did—and did not do—has been a matter of debate ever since. Many still stubbornly insist that the Emancipation Proclamation freed no one—that it proved utterly and cynically toothless, applying only to a region in which Lincoln had no authority to proclaim anything. It was meant only to keep England from recognizing the Confederacy, go these arguments. Lincoln had no real compassion for slaves; only for restoration of the Union.
The truth is, some 50,000 enslaved people in Confederate territory immediately gained their freedom on Jan. 1, most along the coast of the Carolinas. In the years that followed, moreover, Union troops, armed with miniature copies of the proclamation printed for distribution to dubious Southern slave owners, liberated tens of thousands more wherever they marched. And emboldened by word of the official imprimatur, yet tens of thousands of additional slaves bravely abandoned their bondage on their own, offering their services to the Union when they reached federal lines.
As the war progressed, the Emancipation Proclamation became effective in more areas. And the symbolism of the document meant even more, as it changed the perceived philosophy of the Civil War and of the United States itself. Read the story of the document at The Daily Beast. Link