Emancipation DBQ

Prepared by Dan McNamara, New Rochelle High School, New Rochelle, NY

President Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation


American History and Government



Document Based Question (DBQ) Unit Project

Overview and Historical Context:

The purpose of this DBQ unit project is to help you to further develop your ability to work with primary source documents and to deepen your appreciation for the complex forces that contribute to history.  You will do this by analyzing individual documents and understanding how they relate to each other during a particular era in American History, the Civil War.  Once you have done this, you will be better able to write effectively in response to the essay task.


Each document is connected to one of the most remarkable events in the history of the United States: President Abraham Lincoln’s issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863.  While historians differ about the meaning of the Emancipation Proclamation, and about President Lincoln’s motivations for issuing it, you will be able to see for yourself how a diverse selection of Americans at the time thought about the proclamation.

One important aspect of analyzing a document is to take into account the source of the document. If it is a written document, was it written by a person who had a bias?  Or not? The same could be asked of a photograph, or a political cartoon, or a painting. The person who created a document developed a perspective of his or her world, one shaped by many factors in that person’s life. It is important to be aware of this as you analyze the documents and try to figure out what they say about the topic.

Once you have completed your analysis of the eleven documents, you will be ready to proceed with the task of writing your DBQ essay. The question you will respond to is presented in the task. In addition to using 6 of the documents as you respond to the task,  you will also use your own knowledge of the this topic in United States history.  As always, your essay will comply with standard essay form: introduction with thesis statement, several body paragraphs, and a conclusion.

Essay Task:  Discuss how contemporaries viewed President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863.  In the course of your discussion, analyze why Americans had different points of view about this critical action.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *