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Rhetorical Devices in The Emancipation Proclamation

Lincoln’s Appeals: Because of the enormous changes Lincoln hopes to enact through the proclamation, he makes a series of appeals to various groups. Lincoln appeals to those who would doubt the validity and loyalty of the current Union states. He appeals to the forces of the Union Army to protect the freedom of the newly emancipated slaves and to allow them to serve. Finally, he appeals to the slaves themselves to remain peaceful.

Lincoln’s Claim to Authority: Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation under unusual circumstances. The full abolishment of slavery could only occur through an act of Congress, given that slavery was protected under the Constitution. Lincoln found a temporary means to emancipate the slaves, however. By enacting his powers as commander in chief of the armed forces during a time of war, Lincoln was able to free the slaves as a wartime measure. Knowing that the legitimacy of the proclamation would be questioned, Lincoln clarifies and emphasizes his authority in the proclamation.

Lincoln’s Offer to the Confederacy: In his preliminary version of the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln offers the Confederacy the chance to submit and peacefully rejoin the Union. The offer requires the Confederate states to give up slavery, however. Lincoln gives his offer added emphasis by warning that slavery will be abolished by the beginning of 1863, regardless of whether the Confederacy submits or not.

Rhetorical Devices Examples in The Emancipation Proclamation:

Text of Lincoln's Proclamation


"such persons of suitable condition will be received into the armed service of the United States..."   (Text of Lincoln's Proclamation)

In this paragraph, Lincoln states his plan to enlist freed slaves in the Union Army. This plan would have a twofold effect: the newly freed slaves would receive employment; and the Union Army would receive a much-needed replenishment of soldiers and workers. At the time, the idea of allowing black Americans to serve in the military was unprecedented. This paragraph thus extends the range of rights granted to slaves beyond mere freedom.

"And I hereby enjoin upon the people so declared to be free to abstain from all violence..."   (Text of Lincoln's Proclamation)

With the widespread freeing of Southern slaves, there arose the threat of violent rebellions among slaves. In the wake of the Emancipation Proclamation, some Southerners even accused Lincoln of trying to incite violence. In some cases, these accusations were well founded, and certain slaves did rebel against their owners. However, Lincoln foresaw such violence and attempted to prevent it in this paragraph by “enjoin[ing] upon the people so declared to be free to abstain from all violence, unless in necessary self-defense.”

"by virtue of the power in me vested as Commander-In-Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States in time of actual armed rebellion against the authority and government of the United States..."   (Text of Lincoln's Proclamation)

Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation through unconventional means and under unusual circumstances. Lincoln’s intent was to alter the nation’s laws on slavery. One obstacle to such change was slavery’s legality under the US Constitution, whose rulings may only be shaped by acts of Congress. Lincoln’s solution was to issue the proclamation through the powers granted to him as commander in chief during a time of war. Lincoln emphasizes his own authority in issuing the proclamation in order to strengthen its effects.

"by proclamation..."   (Text of Lincoln's Proclamation)

Lincoln heeded Seward’s appeal to deliver the proclamation after a military victory. The president unveiled the preliminary proclamation shortly after the Union defeated the Confederacy at the Battle of Antietam in September of 1862. This initial proclamation was partly a military move: Lincoln’s intention was to frighten the Confederacy with the looming threat of emancipation. His address offered Confederate states the opportunity to rejoin the Union and thereby avoid the eventual consequences of emancipation.

""That on the 1st day of January, A.D. 1863, all persons held as slaves within any State..."   (Text of Lincoln's Proclamation)

Lincoln opens the Emancipation Proclamation by quoting himself. On September 22nd, 1862, Lincoln delivered a preliminary version of the Emancipation Proclamation, announcing to the Confederacy his intention to free all Southern slaves at the start of 1863. This document, the second and final Emancipation Proclamation, represents the fulfilment of Lincoln’s intentions.

"warranted by the Constitution..."   (Text of Lincoln's Proclamation)

The participle “warranted” refers to an act that has been approved, justified, or sanctioned by a governing body or authority. Lincoln concludes his proclamation by again emphasizing that the Constitution allows him this power. This move not only achieves his aim to emancipate the slaves but also invokes the authority of the US Constitution.

"will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons...."   (Text of Lincoln's Proclamation)

Lincoln has to state specifically that the Executive Government of the United States, with the power of the military, can enforce the freedom granted to the slaves in those states. This proclamation is not enforceable unless it has been authorized by Congress; however, Lincoln uses his power to conduct the military in times of war to enforce his proclamation in the states that are actively rebelling. In stating this, he enforces his proclamation by clarifying the power that he does possess under the Constitution. By leveraging his power as commander in chief, Lincoln was able to free a significant number of slaves and pave the way for the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment.

"countervailing..."   (Text of Lincoln's Proclamation)

The adjective “countervailing” derives from the verb “to countervail,” which means that something is equivalent to another in value or that one force has been balanced against another. Since it modifies the noun “testimony,” Lincoln is stating that without strong evidence against their allegiance to the Union, such states are not considered in rebellion. The inclusion here of the parenthetical phrase “in the absence of strong countervailing testimony” possibly serves as an appeal to particular audience members who would have sought evidence of treason.

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