On September 22, 1862, in the heat of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln drafted a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, which declared “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious southern states “are, and henceforward shall be free.” On January 1, 1863, with Union troops struggling to gain momentum in the war, Lincoln publicly issued the Emancipation Proclamation. The proclamation did not end slavery in the border states (this would come with the thirteenth Amendment), but it did permanently alter the character of the war by allowing former slaves to join the Union army and fight to secure their own liberty.
On September 17, 2012 the National Endowment of the Humanities (NEH) plans to honor the 150th anniversary of the proclamation by sponsoring a day-long commemorative festival. The program includes two events that will focus on “the dramatic period leading up to the issuance of the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.” First, at 1:30 EDT, University of Richmond President and historian Ed Ayers will moderate a panel of four leading Civil War scholars–former AHA President Eric Foner, Thavolia Glymph, Gary Gallagher, and Christy Coleman– in front of a live audience at the Warner Brothers Theater at the Smithsonian Museum of American History. Each historian will attempt to recall the frenetic national atmosphere surrounding September. 22, 1862, by offering perspectives from Frederick Douglas, individual military personnel, slaves, and northern free blacks. Organizers will not ask the historians to offer analysis on the long term implications of the proclamation, but to emphasize instead the immediate political and social impact the proclamation had on Americans in both the North and South. Members of the audience can expect this discussion to complement the already growing trend in Civil War history to offer broader histories that highlight the dramatic changes in behavior and attitudes in both the North and South during and shortly after the war.
The discussion will be live-streamed on the NEH site, and viewers will have the opportunity to interact with the panel and submit their questions in real time. Program organizers encourage viewers to “put greater consideration on the immediate and long term implication of emancipation as it relates to the U.S. Constitution.”
The second event begins in the late afternoon (appropriately at the Lincoln Memorial) and will feature music and readings related to the Emancipation Proclamation.
In addition to the live events, the NEH has created an online resource portal that contains relevant lesson plans, an interactive timeline, essays, and links to NEH-funded films and websites.