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Emancipation is freedom from a controlling influence, with one of the most well-known examples being the freedom given to African-American slaves during the US Civil War. The war, while caused by complex socio-economic factors, revolved around the issue of slavery. States in the South that relied heavily on cotton production were pro-slavery and supported the Confederate Army. In the Northern states, abolitionists adamantly believed that African Americans should be free and supported the federal government, the Union.
In a document known as the Emancipation Proclamation, issued on 1 January 1863, President Abraham Lincoln decreed African-American slaves in the Confederate states to be free. Lincoln, through the additional executive power he gained during the Civil War, decided upon this course of action for many different reasons, the primary one being that he was personally opposed to slavery. At the end of the war, Lincoln worked tirelessly to ensure that freedom of African Americans was written into the constitution.
Other reasons behind the decree were strategic. The proclamation decreased the number of people available to serve in the Confederate Army, since most freed slaves escaped to the North for a better life. Furthermore, Britain and France, which were staunchly opposed to the system of slavery in the United States, switched their allegiance from the Confederacy to the anti-slavery Union.
In 1865, the Union went on to win the Civil War, and a year later, the Emancipation Proclamation was written into the Constitution through the 13th Amendment. Slavery was abolished throughout the nation, although by 1866, the only state that had not freed African-Americans through some means or another was Kentucky.
Another example of emancipation is that of the Jews in Europe during the 19th century. Rules were enacted to end discrimination against Jews and declare them to be citizens equal to Christian Europeans. Before they were emancipated, Jews were not allowed to vote and required to distinguish themselves from Christians by wearing yellow badges representing a Star of David. Men were required to wear a judehut, a yellow hat in the shape of a cone. After being freed, Jews were able to participate in civil society and practice their religion freely.
While the above are clearly defined historical examples, the importance of giving self-determination to those who are oppressed and tyrannized continues today. The United Nations' work to end human trafficking and the Human Rights Watch’s efforts to strengthen the rights of prisoners everywhere serve as examples for the continued struggle for emancipation.
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