On January 1, 1863, as the nation entered its third year of civil war, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free.” Although its effects were gradual, the Emancipation Proclamation fundamentally transformed the Civil War from a war to save the Union into a war for freedom, announced the acceptance of black men into the Union Army and Navy, and eventually led to the ratification of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, formally outlawing slavery nationwide. By 1870, the 15th Amendment also was ratified, giving African American men the right to vote.
Because of its pivotal role in slavery’s destruction and in the history of our nation, Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation is revered today as one of the great documents of human freedom.
The official Emancipation Proclamation, signed and sealed by President Lincoln 150 years ago, is safeguarded for the American people by the National Archives. To protect the document, National Archives conservators work closely with the exhibition team to limit the Emancipation Proclamation’s viewing to a few days each year. A high-resolution facsimile is on permanent display daily in the National Archives’ “Public Vaults” exhibition.
Past Featured Records
Anna May Wong
National Archives, Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service
“I want to be an actress, not a freak.”
Film legend Anna May Wong’s talent could not be contained by the racist casting of early Hollywood movies. Born Wong Liu Tsong in Los Angeles in 1905,... Read more
Willa B. Brown, February 13, 1943
National Archives, Records of the Office of War Information
Aviator Willa Beatrice Brown (1906–92) achieved numerous “firsts” in her lifetime, many of them earned through her tireless advocacy to integrate aviation programs. Brown began taking flying lessons in 1934,... Read more
Thursday, November 3, 2022 – Thursday, January 12, 2023East Rotunda Gallery
On November 5, 1872, Susan B. Anthony and 14 other women attempted to vote in Rochester, New York, challenging section... Read more
Thursday, September 8, 2022 – Wednesday, November 2, 2022
East Rotunda Gallery
Early in the Cold War, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) investigated allegations of Communist activity in the film industry. The committee’s mandate was... Read more
Thursday, April 1, 2021 – Thursday, June 17, 2021
“— were dead. Figures are omitted [because] NO ONE KNOWS.” —Red Cross Report
On Memorial Day 1921, a Black shoe shiner named Dick Rowland rode in an elevator with white operator Sarah Page. The next day,... Read more