Today is the 155th anniversary of the signing (but not the release) of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Critics remarked even at the time that it didn't free a single slave, since it only applied to areas where the president's authority was not being recognized. Perhaps that's underselling it a bit, but it was certainly true that it happily left slaves in union slave states to continue their condition indefinitely.

So of course today I see people on twitter saying it freed the slaves, followed by a deluge of #WellActually responses, occasionally followed by defenses that say, "Yeah, but I only have 140 characters!"

That got me thinking, what would be a good accurate explanation of the importance of the Emancipation Proclamation that fits in 140 characters or less? Its possible we could help save twitter, and perhaps even a journalist or two, a lot of bandwidth.

  • 3
    The Emancipation Proclamation changed the Union's war aims from solely preventing secession to also abolishing slavery in the Confederacy
    – Henry
    Sep 22, 2017 at 15:00
  • you want an explanation of the EP, or the whole EP in a single tweet? I was hoping for the later. Sep 22, 2017 at 15:12
  • @axsvl77 - I'd like something more correct that can be used to replace "...freeing the slaves."
    – T.E.D.
    Sep 22, 2017 at 15:19
  • 1
    Is it accurate to say it did not free a single slave? My understanding is that where the Union occupied the South, it made explicit that the slaves there were free. Where it did not, of course it had less of an effect but still slaves would really be encouraged to help the Union (help escaped POWs which they did and probably did even before this) and undermine the Confederacy. Without it, even in occupied territories, slaves might have been legally still slaves, even under the Union jurisdiction.
    – Jeff
    Sep 22, 2017 at 15:47
  • 2
    Answers in answers please. Obviously some added text about why yours is a good answer would help with voting, but of course I can't bestow a checkmark on a comment.
    – T.E.D.
    Sep 22, 2017 at 16:28

8 Answers 8


On the line of sempaiscuba's answer, but focusing in what the changes were.

The Emancipation Declaration converted the Civil War from a fight only to avoid the South to secede to a fight to end slavery.


The Emancipation Declaration marked the involvement of the Federal government in the fight against slavery.

Yes those are somewhat less enthusiastic but I think the extra info is worth it, we should not forget that:

  1. The main interest of the Union was to stop secession, not the freedom of slaves, to the point that compromises were sought with the Southern states.

  2. As the OP states, the Emancipation Proclamation was a wartime measure. By itself it could be read as "the enemy's economy is based in slavery, let's ruin that economy".

Of course, as noted by the comments (and the fact that I needed to explain my points) Twitter might not be the best tool for historical courses.

  • Accepting this one, although I should point out I like the first version much better. Perhaps because it seems a bit odd to be using "fight" metaphorically when they were already in the middle of a real war (and if we try it non-metaphorically, that implies the Federal Government wasn't involved in the war). "Fight" in the first version works either way.
    – T.E.D.
    Sep 28, 2017 at 20:24

The importance of the Emancipation Proclamation in 140 characters:

The Emancipation Proclamation captured the hearts & imagination of millions of Americans fundamentally transforming the character of the war

The punctuation could be better (an additional comma and full-stop for a start) but, well, it is limited to 140 characters!

  • @T.E.D. If I were actually posting this on Twitter, I would probably expand it into a thread explaining that it gave a "nobility of purpose" to a war whose fundamental legality had been questioned by many. But you asked for a single tweet ... :) Sep 22, 2017 at 17:05
  • I'm not sure how I feel about the current trend of making long "twitter" threads. They can be really informative, but I still find that there's almost always a single tweet in there worth RTing that could stand for all the rest.
    – T.E.D.
    Sep 22, 2017 at 17:21
  • @T.E.D.Some Events involve far too much important detail for 140 characters. 9/11 was one recent example where a single tweet just cannot express what was involved. I think the Emancipation Proclamation is probably another. Sep 22, 2017 at 17:28

140 characters on the immediate effect of the proclamation's implementation:

The Emancipation Proclamation immediately caused 20,000 slaves to be declared free in the Union occupied Carolinas on the day it took effect

Or 140 characters on the long-term effect:

The Emancipation Proclamation immediately freed many slaves and laid the path for the eventual dismantlement of slavery across the continent


Regardless of number of slaves immediately freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, it was extremely important, because it made practically impossible to save slavery. The Emancipation Proclamation greatly improved the chances of Union victory (by discouraging foreign help to Confederacy and encouraging slaves to sabotage Confederate war effort) AND ensured that in post-war Union (with rebellion states included) slavery would be reduced to marginal institution, excluded from areas where it was really profitable (most cotton states).

So, in short (90 characters):

The Emancipation Proclamation ensured post-war slavery marginal status and rapid abolition

Or, with reference to “House Divided” speech by Lincoln:

The Emancipation Proclamation irrevocably placed the slavery on a path of rapid ultimate extinction

Or, little longer but still less than 140:

The Emancipation Proclamation placed slavery on the course of rapid ultimate extinction by ensuring its post-war marginal status


One more version, inspired by T.E.D corrections:

The Emancipation Proclamation placed the slavery “in the course of ultimate extinction” by ensuring its post-war marginal status

  • You know, reading this again nearly a year later, when a similar question came up (minus the "tweet" part), I'm again impressed by these. They are all really good.
    – T.E.D.
    Aug 24, 2018 at 20:44
  • @T.E.D. Well. not good enough to have more than one upvote and to be accepted by author of the question. Speaking of similar question - it is closely related but not the same, and difference is not just “tweet” part; Zebrafish is asking because he really does not understand something. I just gave my answer, naturally longer than 140 characters. Aug 27, 2018 at 2:52
  • 1
    Well, don't worry too much about that. I have it on good authority that the author of this question has really poor judgment.
    – T.E.D.
    Aug 27, 2018 at 13:01

The Emancipation Proclamation dashed Confederate hopes that Europe be deceived that the War was about States' Rights instead of slavery.

135 bytes by my count.

This was the the true reason for the Proclamation, and for why it had to be issued after a victory. To be effective as a deterrent against European entry to the war it could only be played from a position of strength.

As when one's true colours are finally revealed at the conclusion of a naval ruse of war, the Union, and its governing Republican Party, unabashedly reveals with this proclamation not just its own motives but the true motives of its adversary.

In a reply to Horace Greeley of Aug. 22, 1862, Lincoln famously states:

If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that. What I do about Slavery and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save this Union, and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union.

Once Lincoln subsequently makes the Emancipation Proclamation, he declares fully that the one and only way to restore the Union, includes freeing the slaves.

By making the Proclamation after a victory, Lincoln also makes clear that the Union takes this step by choice; not of necessity. As a later statesman would say:

We do these things not because they are easy; but because they are hard.

  • 1
    I like this. I'm skeptical that anyone was going to be legitimately "deceived" though. Unless you count willful self-deception.
    – T.E.D.
    Aug 30, 2018 at 14:13
  • @T.E.D.: It was "Confederate hopes that ...". I never stated it was reasonable. Britain and France had great economic incentive to allow themselves to be deceived however. Aug 30, 2018 at 14:31
  • I started confused after I read this answer. Thinking: "Shouldn't this be 'before a victory'?". Only after a while I inclined myself to : a victory (Antietam?), not the victory (Appomattox Court House?). Jumping cluelessly from just Q to this A, I guess a clarification might ease understanding. Sep 1, 2018 at 0:41
  • @LangLangC: Good question - but the back story is long and I am likely not the best qualified to describe it. I know more of the back story than on it, as the ACW is not really an era of my expertise. Sep 1, 2018 at 0:52
  • @LangLangC: In other words - that might make a great question. Sep 1, 2018 at 0:56

133 characters to spare:

⛓ 🔫 🇺🇸 👍🏿 👍🏾 👍🏽 👍🏼

  • 11
    There's a general problem with emojis in tweets, in that not everyone's device supports the same ones...as evidenced by this post, half of which shows up on my browser as empty boxes.
    – T.E.D.
    Sep 22, 2017 at 17:09
  • 3
    @T.E.D., only half? I see eleven light-blue boxes, and no emoji.
    – Mark
    Sep 25, 2017 at 3:20
  • +1 because I can see them all... It's like an answer meant just for me!!!
    – user27618
    Aug 30, 2018 at 21:56
  • @JMS I know right? I guess all the downvoters can't see it and all the upvoters can... Even stranger on my desktop the gun looks like a revolver and on my phone it looks like ummm... a water pistol...
    – AllInOne
    Aug 30, 2018 at 22:00

Since others submitted 2 I'll go with 2 also.

Take #1 -

Profoundly effected the rational for the war, the wars outcome, and rights in the United States for African Americans.

Take #2 -

Freed the vast majority of slaves in the US, eventually; refocused the war from succession to slavery; kept foreign powers from interceding.


In the second take, one could rearrange the order depending upon whether primarily concerned with civil rights, causes for the war, or winning the war. The emancipation proclamation had a profound effect on all three.

It was a key strategy in the diplomatic effort which ran parallel to the civil war to both isolate the south economically and militarily from would be european allies. That was influential on the timing of the announcement. But none of that diminishes Slavery and it's importance for why the war was fought on the Union side and Confederacy side.

139 characters, I'm not accustomed to being so concise. I could do a lot more with 10,000 more characters.

The main interest of the Union was to stop secession, not the freedom of slaves, to the point that compromises were sought with the Southern states.

I don’t think that’s entirely accurate either. Maybe before the war began knowing slavery’s days were already numbered; Lincoln was willing to allow slavery to die from 1000 legislative cuts over years or decades to avoid what would become the most costly war in American lives in history. But once the war was upon him he had the opportunity to sacrifice emancipation to bring the war to an early conclusion but declined. Once war was upon him, Lincoln had paid the price and ensured personally slavery would end with the end of the war.


The Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 was but a single step in the long march for Justice. The struggle continues. 137 characters:

The 1863 Emancipation Proclamation 'all persons held as slaves… are, and henceforward shall be free' is one step in the march for Justice

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