Only a few months after his proposals were rejected by the border states, Lincoln floated the idea of emancipation for the first time to his cabinet members. Surprised, they suggested he wait to announce such a radical change in policy until after a military victory. That victory came on Sept. 17, 1862, when an invading Confederate army was turned back at the Battle of Antietam in Maryland. Five days later, Lincoln issued a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.
That winter, when he gave his annual address to Congress, Lincoln seemed to acknowledge that the war's purpose had been irrevocably altered. "The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present," he said. "The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country." On Jan. 1, 1863, Lincoln's proclamation went into effect, freeing the slaves held in the South. In a final nod to the political importance of the border states, though, it did not apply outside the Confederacy.
In the years to come, Lincoln would continue pursuing his slow progress toward civil rights, allowing black soldiers to fight for the Union and ultimately pushing for black citizenship. But it was with emancipation that he first pushed, and was pushed, into history.