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“On the first day of January … all persons held as slaves within any State, or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.” Balancing the weight of four million lives in his pen, President Abraham Lincoln took advantage of the Battle of Antietam – a tactical draw – to issue the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862. Cloaked in legal verbiage, the president’s message struck like a bold ultimatum: any portion of the United States that remained in rebellion against the federal government by January 1, 1863 stood to lose its most powerful residents’ property and the cause of conflict between North and South. The proclamation declared all slaves in those territories free and under the federal government’s protection to maintain their new status. Lincoln, an astute politician growing into his role as commander-in-chief, realized that the promise would ring hollow without the military might to enforce it. Despite the Union’s near victory at Antietam, the ability of the Army of the Potomac and its commander George McClellan to deliver that support remained highly in question, even in Lincoln’s own mind.
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