Where Slaves Were Immediately Freed by the Emancipation Proclamation

Map Emancipation Proclamation

In response to my last post Al Mackey referenced a North and South magazine article from back in 2001 by William Harris on the Emancipation Proclamation.  Al correctly noted that Harris’s article addresses the long-standing myth that the proclamation did not immediately free any slaves in the South.  I’ve made use of this particular article (December 2001) on numerous occasions in my courses on the Civil War.  What I especially like about the article is the accompanying map, which is incredibly helpful in visualizing the reach of the document.

You may also want to read a recent Disunion essay on emancipation along the Sea Islands of South Carolina by Blain Roberts and Ethan J. Kytle.

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19 comments… add one
  • Nick Mar 3, 2013 @ 21:56

    I just stumbled on your blog. I found a location to order back issues of North & South but the magazine is listed by Volume and Issue not date.

    Can you help me by telling me which Volume and Issue Harris’s article appears in?


  • leebobi Jan 3, 2013 @ 19:56

    Just a minor correction, West Virginia, the 50 counties that eventually made up the new state, had 18,371 slaves. It should not be presumed, as historian Susan Shulten argues, that low levels of slavery equals Unionism, as some of those WV counties supported secession, such as McDowell, Webster and Calhoun, with less than 10 slaves each.


  • Craig Swain Jan 2, 2013 @ 14:46

    The long-standing myth also fails to address the executive nature of the proclamation. It was an executive order, directed not at the slave holders, but the military. The EP didn’t have to free a single slave. But every step the army advanced would translate into freed slaves.

    • Kevin Levin Jan 2, 2013 @ 14:51

      Nice to hear from you, Craig. This is always a point worth remembering. To claim that it didn’t free the vast majority of slaves in the Confederate South on Jan. 1, 1863 is to miss the point that the EP inaugurates a process by which emancipation was to be carried out.

  • Billy Bearden Jan 2, 2013 @ 13:57

    Why is not the above map colored blue for Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, Delaware, New Jersey and Maryland? Certainly a glaring historical ommission? Or a left leaning agenda? Oh, it only applies to ‘seceeded’ areas, not places where slavery actually existed… Yeah, a left leaning bias, cause we wouldnt want to tell of Lincoln’s hypocracy…

    • Kevin Levin Jan 2, 2013 @ 14:00

      The map focuses on states that left the Union, Billy. The article makes perfectly clear the status of slaves in the Border States area.

      Yes, definitely a left leaning agenda at work here. 🙂

      • Billy Bearden Jan 2, 2013 @ 14:23

        Of course it is Kevin my good buddy 🙂 A vast Left wing conspiracy. The whole great big fuss over the EP is because ‘it freed the slaves’ and we are all taught the North = Good, South = Bad. It would look real ugly on the map to show huge chunks of blue remaining untouched because it wouldnt fit into that agenda how Lincoln was the Great Emancipator and all.

        Hope you had a wonderful New Years

        • Kevin Levin Jan 2, 2013 @ 14:30

          First, why can’t we separate out the significance of the EP in American history from your perception that the attention is intended to do little more than reinforce what you see as a regional divide? I certainly am no advocate for your formula. In fact, much of what I write on this blog is intended to challenge just such a view.

          I see nothing wrong with commemorating a document that helped to bring an end to American slavery. It seems to me that such a stance transcends regional and racial divides.

          Sorry to see that such an identification prevents you from acknowledging this.

          • Billy Bearden Jan 2, 2013 @ 15:02

            Yes, I am glad that slavery was ended. But my beef is I can clearly remember as a child singing the praises of Abe Lincoln as the one person and President who ‘freed the slaves’, only as an adult did I learn that was far from the truth.
            The EP as a war measure, yes. The EP as a tactic employed to keep England and France from joining with the CSA, yes. Heck – I aint the only one with such a beef – remember the words of SoS William Seward “We show our sympathy with slavery by emancipating slaves where we cannot
            reach them and holding them in bondage where we can set them

            • Kevin Levin Jan 2, 2013 @ 15:16

              I learned an overly simplistic history as well. Many of my students come to me with a narrow understanding of Lincoln and emancipation. It’s my job to educate them, which I do.

              A proper interpretation of the Emancipation Proclamation as a war measure must go way beyond anything you’ve expressed here so I will refrain from commenting.

              • TFSmith1 Jan 2, 2013 @ 20:33

                I mentioned this to Dr. Simpson as well, but it never fails that one of your “critics” manages to reinforce the point you are making – makes me wonder if you don’t have a former student out there pranking you.
                Sometimes it is just too “perfect,” you know?

                • Kevin Levin Jan 3, 2013 @ 2:50

                  It’s a nice example of the extent to which some continue to filter every statement through the lens of a morality play.

                  • TFSmith1 Jan 3, 2013 @ 15:21

                    Sock puppets unite!

            • Jim H Jan 20, 2014 @ 4:02

              It’s always funny to me that people who get very tetchy about the constitution can’t understand the EP in the problem light. As Lincoln said numerous times, and which was undoubtedly true, the president had no ability to abolish slavery on his own. That would take a constitutional amendment, plainly, negating the parts of the document that recognized slavery. This was an impossibility in the congress which included the representatives of the slave states, their numbers grotesquely inflated by the 3/5 rule. So the Republican platform simply stood on firmer grounds and backed the idea that slavery should not exist in the Western territories. No Missouri compromise. No Kansas. The new states should be free — whether they could do it or not, that was a constitutional position. When the South seceded, whether you think Lincoln should have raised those 80,000 men after Sumter or not, that was plainly within the powers of the commander in chief — as Washington himself demonstrated by marching out to put down Shays’ rebellion. Lincoln’s main efforts for the first year were directed at securing the border states, but he needed, politically and personally, to find a way to use the power he had to begin the process of emancipation. The Emancipation Proclamation was all perfectly constitutional, and was also a brilliant military and political move. It added 200,000 colored troops to the Union, and made for a lot of slaves deserting to the Union lines, crippling the Southern economy. If he had said, “all slaves are free henceforth,” it would have been an empty gesture. Freedom was coming with the Union Army. When victory was certain, the last efforts of Lincoln’s life were spent on the 13th amendment, which was the capstone of his long struggle, the very constitutional act of the Great Emancipator, which cost him his life in Ford’s theater.

  • Terence Darby Jan 2, 2013 @ 7:41

    Robespierre remains the only elected executive to free any slaves under his direct territorial control.

  • bobhuddleston Jan 1, 2013 @ 20:35

    One of the common comments about the Emancipation Proclamation is that it did not free anyone.

    The Declaration of Independence did not make the US a “free and independent nation.” That took seven more years to accomplish. And, had the British prevailed, the Declaration would be of interest only to students of failed revolutions. All of the slaves in the areas delineated were free de facto with thirty months of the Emancipation Proclamation and a large number were freed immediately. The Emancipation Proclamation was prospective, i.e., it would free slaves as the United States Army marched south, and they were on the advance.

    • El Tel Jan 2, 2013 @ 9:17

      With all due respect, the Declaration of Independence did indeed free the United States. Part of the Treaty of Paris of 1783 is that the British RECOGNIZED our independence. They did not GRANT it to us. Your point about had the US lost that “the Declaration would be of interest only to students of failed revolutions” is spot on–but with one problem: The US won.

      • bobhuddleston Jan 3, 2013 @ 9:53

        Of course the US won in 1783. But the new US of 1776 was a lot further away from freedom than the slaves of 1863 were. There was no guarantee that the American colonists would be successful: indeed there was a good deal of mid-18th century evidence to success Yankee Doodle would fail.

        My point is that those who criticize the Emancipation Proclamation because *all* the slaves were not immediately are missing the real point of it: emancipation depended upon Yankee success. And within less than 2 1/2 years it was assured.

  • bobhuddleston Jan 1, 2013 @ 20:29

    The map, it seems to me, understates the area in Virginia immediately impacted by the Emancipation Proclamation. The United States Army occupied all of Virginia between the
    Rappahannock, thereby freeing the slaves from there to the Potomac.

    In 1860, Virginia, including the future West Virginia, had 490,865 slaves

    West Virginia had a total of 14,039 slaves. But there were very unequally distributed. four
    counties had less than 10 slaves, eighteen from 11-100, and 15 from 101-500. The five largest had 7,234 — over half the total.

    For the balance of the state, allowing for the few counties excluded, and roughly calculating where the Union lines were on January 1, 1863, I came up with 69,347 slaves freed by the Emancipation Proclamation.

    Including those of George Washington Custis who Lee had been ordered to free. Lee freed, in December 1862, only those who had followed him south. The others received their freedom with the Emancipation Proclamation.

    Of course my totals would not include any who were driven South by their owners. Nor the great number of contrabands fleeing north.

    With any sort of allowance for these, 80,000-100,000 Virginians became free on January 1, 1863.

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