Did the Emancipation Proclamatino help the North with the Civil War?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In the final analysis, how one answers this question relates much to the importance of ideas in wartime and military conflict.  There are some who genuinely believe that ideas and documents play little, if any, part in determining wars because these "things" do not hold a weapon, fire a cannon, kill another person.  For these individuals, the real battle during the Revolutionary War was fought at Lexington or Concord, at Trenton, or at Valley Forge.  However, there are others who believe that ideas and documents help to galvanize people into action.  These individuals suggest that wars are fought only when people understand in a clear and articulate manner the reasons for fighting and can only be displayed in writings and legislation.  For this camp, Lexington and Concord was only set up by The Declaration of Independence and Paine's Common Sense.  Patrick Henry's speeches about tyranny in the legislature helped to set the stage for the musket being fired in the field.  For these individuals, the Emancipation Proclamation helped the North win the Civil War because it reconfigured the battle to a moral end.  Prior to the document, the North had been fighting to keep the nation intact and to preserve the state of the Union.  Yet, when Lincoln determined the right time to issue his decree, the Emancipation Proclamation helped to give a moral vision to the war.  Northern soldiers were no longer fighting for a vague cause, as much as they were for the freedom of another human being.  Abolitionists were now passionately involved in the crisis of humanity being fought on the battlefield.  Even in Southern states, the impact was quite significant for while they were criticized for leaving the Union, they were never called "evil."  This moral judgment, that slavery was immoral and against American law, came as a result of the Emancipation Proclamation, a document that helped the North win the Civil War in defining purpose and creating a moral argument as to why fighting was not only needed but ethically demanded.

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