Dickinson College / Gilder Lehrman Institute

An Eye Opening Perspective of the Emancipation Proclamation

In my capacity as a teacher and a historical performer I often ask people What they know about the Emancipation Proclamation. The answers are varied but usually people have an incomplete understanding of the famous document. Most people children and adults alike will say it freed the slaves. They think all the slaves were freed but of course it’s much more complicated than that. While watching Allen Guelzo’s excellent presentation it opened up many realities of the great document . It was not well received at all by anyone North or South except of course by the slaves who were freed. Guelzo points out that many people thought it was a legal sham, that Lincolnused it to promote himself as the great crusader for freedom. Others claimed Lincoln’s heart was not in it that it was a propaganda ploy ,that’s why it was so plain and boring very unLincoln like writing , a document of disappointment ,not freedom. Many questions arose Why was the document so bland?, Why did Lincoln wait two years into the civil war to issue it?, What were his real motives? The simplified answers are Lincoln was not pushed reluctantly by zealous abolitionist toward Emmancipation , in fact he was working on a way to do just that since the beginning of the war. It was not a sentimental trick in fact it cost the Republicans 31 seats in the elections . It was not a political device. Guelzo said Lincoln felt to save the Union was to Emancipate the slaves and to Free the slaves was in fact to save the Union. Allen Guezo’s presentation was very eye opening to me and it gives me some great insight and wisdom to pass along to my students and adults that I present to.


Visualizing Emancipation


Test Driving Google Maps with John Brown Locations


  1. Valencia

    In teaching middle school when we get to the lessons of the Emancipation Proclamation the majority of my students are dismayed at the fairytale narratives that they were given in elementary school, especially when it comes to the Emancipation Proclamation. They want the truth of the historical data, the good, the bad and the ugly, but I find that many teachers skim and skip with a lot of the information.

  2. Tom Leahy

    Velencia , thanks for the comment and I agree. Math teachers would be frustrated if kids were taught ” 4×4 = 15,17 or you know something like that”. English teachers don’t say “There are I think 7 parts of speech or 8 well I know it’s less than 10 “,we don’t say there are “around 30” letters in the alphabet. History/Social Studies deserves better.

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