On this day, January 1, 1863, 150 years ago, President Abraham Lincoln released his official Emancipation Proclamation. The measure was an executive pronouncement given as a wartime declaration freeing the slaves in the states of rebellion. The exact wording of the proclamation was “that on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, 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.”
Of particular interest to West Virginians was that although they were still part of Virginia at the time, clearly a state in rebellion, the proclamation exempted the 48 counties that would become West Virginia on June 20, 1863. The president, in fact, has just signed the West Virginia statehood bill into law the day before on December 31, 1862.
Western Virginia’s slaves therefore were not freed by the proclamation.
Congress had insisted that the new state constitution be re-written to include the Willey Amendment which said -- all slaves younger than twenty-one years old on July 4, 1863 would become free when they reached their 21st birthday.
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