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On 150th Anniversary of Emancipation Proclamation, Reflections on Its Philadelphia Impact

(Detail of a lithographic version of the Emancipation Proclamation by Charles Shober of Chicago.)

(Detail of a lithographic version of the Emancipation Proclamation by Charles Shober of Chicago.)

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By Pat Loeb

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Today marks the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, the first document that put the US government in official opposition to slavery.

And it had a profound effect on Philadelphia’s support for the Civil War.

The proclamation did not actually free all the slaves in the United States; it was meant to strengthen the Union’s position in the Civil War, thus it was carefully worded so as not to alienate border states such as Delaware, which was allowed to keep its slaves.

It did, though, make abolishing slavery a goal of the war, giving it a moral underpinning, and that won support among Philadelphians who had been ambivalent about the conflict.

Mike Ruane, a former Philadelphia Inquirer reporter who writes frequently about the Civil War, notes that the city had strong economic ties to the South.

“There were some southern sympathies before the war,” he says, noting that the proclamation changed that.

It also presented a dilemma for Quakers in the city, who were ardent abolitionists but also strict pacifists.

Scholars say some 1,000 Quaker men enlisted after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, though most chose to assist the effort without actually fighting.

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