On January 1, 1863, Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclimation, which declared all slaves in Confederate territory to be free. The proclamation stated that, as of that day, “all persons held as slaves within any State, or designated part of a State … in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.”
Those words changed the Civil War from a fight to save the Union into a battle for human freedom. They meant that the United States was finally facing the fact that it could not tolerate the evil of slavery if it really believed that all people had the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. With the Emancipation Proclamation, the U.S. started down the path of becoming a truly great nation, one that could try to live up to the soaring ideals on which it was founded.
Source: The American Patriot’s Almanac, by Bennett & Cribb
For a fascinating account of what life was like after the signing, follow this link to the National Archives Emancipation Proclamation page and at the bottom of the page you’ll see a link entitled “Audio: Former slave Charlie Smith discusses work and living situation after the Emancipation Proclamation”
Also on this day, Ellis Island opens January 1, 1892 and begins processing immigrants in New York Harbor. The first immigrant to pass through Ellis was a “rosy-cheeked Irish girl,” Annie Moore, age 15, from County Cork. She came with her two younger brothers to join their parents in New York City. That first day, three large ships were waiting to land, and 700 immigrants passed through Ellis Island. In the first year, nearly 450,000 immigrants passed through the Island. Source: Ellis Island – Timeline
Interestingly, it is reported that January 1st, her day of arrival, was also her 15th birthday.