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A Blow to Slavery

America marks the Emancipation Proclamation's 150th anniversary.

By Laura Leigh Davidson

Slaves in the South (Library of Congress, Virginia 1862)
Slaves in the South (Library of Congress, Virginia 1862)

January 1, 2013, was celebrated for being the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. This order, issued by President Abraham Lincoln, set the United States on a path toward ending slavery.


Lincoln signed the executive order on January 1, 1863, when America was split in two—partly over the issue of whether or not to end slavery. At the time of Lincoln’s order, the two sides, called the Union and the Confederacy, were locked in the violent struggle of the Civil War.

A civil war occurs when groups from the same country fight each other. America’s Civil War was the deadliest conflict that the country has ever faced.

The Emancipation Proclamation formally declared all slaves in the Confederacy “forever free.” At the time, Lincoln had very little power to enforce the order in the Confederate states. Those 11 Southern states had already seceded (broken away) from the Union. The document’s real power was symbolic, as it changed the nation’s official stance on slavery.

After the Union won the war in 1865, the states were reunited, and Congress passed the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. The amendment was then ratified by the states. It fully abolished , or ended, slavery throughout the country.

The U.S. Postal Service celebrated the anniversary by creating a special stamp that quotes the Proclamation. “Stamps often tap into our culture and help us remember the events and people who have had an impact on American history,” said Deputy Postmaster General Ronald A. Stroman, from the U.S. Postal Service.


Communities across the nation honored the Emancipation Proclamation with special services in churches and historical reenactments.

Reverend Clementa Pinckney led a church service, known as Watch Night, to commemorate the anniversary at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Many African-American churches around the country held similar services.

“It’s not just an African-American celebration; it’s an American celebration,” Reverend Pinckney told congregants. “It’s freedom come full circle.”

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