Emancipation Proclamation

Through the generous support of The Boeing Company, the Emancipation Proclamation will be on display annually at the National Archives through 2029. Stay tuned for more on upcoming dates and programming!

When President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, he said, “I never in my life, felt more certain that I was doing right than I do in signing this paper. . . . If my name ever goes into history it will be for this act, and my whole soul is in it.” The document proclaimed that slaves held in areas still in rebellion “are and henceforward shall be free.” It also announced the acceptance of black men into the Union army and navy. By the end of the war nearly 200,000 black soldiers and sailors had fought for the Union and freedom. This display coincides with the anniversary of Lincoln’s death (he was shot on April 14th and died on April 15th). He viewed this milestone document as his proudest achievement.

Although the Emancipation Proclamation did not end slavery in the nation, it captured the hearts and imagination of millions of Americans and fundamentally transformed the character of the war. As a milestone along the road to slavery’s final destruction, the Emancipation Proclamation has assumed a place among the great documents of human freedom.

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Related Featured Document: DC Emancipation Act

The National Archives also holds the DC Emancipation Act.

On April 16, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill ending slavery in the District of Columbia. Passage of this law came nearly nine months before President Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation. It provided for immediate emancipation, compensation to former owners who were loyal to the Union of up to $300 for each freed slave, voluntary colonization of former slaves to locations outside the United States, and payments of up to $100 for each person choosing emigration. Over the next nine months, 930 petitions were approved, completely or in part, from former owners for the freedom of 2,989 former slaves.

Although its combination of emancipation, compensation to owners, and colonization did not serve as a model for the future, the DC Emancipation Act was an early signal of slavery’s death. In the District itself, African Americans greeted emancipation with great jubilation and continue to celebrate Emancipation Day with parades and festivals.

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The National Archives’ celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation is made possible in part by the National Archives Foundation through the generous support of