Lincoln and Slavery

Lincoln and Slavery

A reader brought up a common Southern criticism of Lincoln saying: “Lincoln’s stated goal was to preserve the union, not to eliminate slavery. In his State of the Union address of 1861 (March 4), he promised not to touch slavery where it existed.

“When Lincoln did have the chance to ‘eliminate slavery’ by edict, where did he eliminate it? According to the Emancipation Proclamation, slavery was only eliminated in federally-held territories. It took a Constitutional amendment to officially free the slaves. This amendment wasn’t ratified until after Lincoln’s death.”

JJ: Please note what I do say, not what I do not say. Examine my wording and you’ll note that I accurately stated that “one of his goals” was to eliminate slavery. I did not say this was his only goal, his prime goal or the stated goal of the war.

However, slavery was the underlying cause of the war for without it the North and the South would not have been divided into two nations.

Lincoln had publicly stated a number of times, even from his youth, that he had a desire to eliminate slavery and would do so if he ever had the opportunity. His most famous stance was made during the Lincoln Douglas debates where he stated that the United States was a house divided and as such cannot stand . It cannot exist half free and half slave. This famous debate brought him to national attention in a significant way for the first time.

The South remembered his views when he became President and this was the main reason they seceded from the union, causing slavery to be a strong underlying cause of the war.

During the war Lincoln made many comments , wrote many letters and had many debates with individuals about slavery and he definitely expressed a strong desire to eliminate the problem.

As far as the Emaciation Proclamation goes. He took this step as far as was possible. He had the wisdom to realize that you can’t make major change in one giant leap so he always did what he could one step at a time.

The next major step was taken in his second bid for the presidency, and keep in mind this was done during the heat of the war. At his urging the Republican platform supported the complete abolition of slavery and the introduction of the thirteenth Amendment.

The platform stated that the President’s Proclamation aimed a “death blow at this gigantic evil,” and that a constitutional amendment was necessary to “terminate and forever prohibit it.”

Lincoln was thus reelected on this platform making slavery a main issue of the continuance of the war during his second term.

While Lincoln was still alive the 13th Amendment was passed by Congress and sent to the States for ratification. Ratification by the states was a sure thing at his death.

Reader: I know that your view is commonly taught in public schools, but it is very simplistic and not entirely correct.

JJ: My view is what is written in the history books. Whatever is historically accurate is my view and this is not taught much in the schools. Many of the current school textbooks only have one paragraph on Lincoln and dedicate most of the learning to politically correct history, giving students a lopsided view.

Much of the current system wants to discredit Lincoln so he is given little or no credit for the elimination of slavery by some. They use one major quote he made as he became extremely weary of war and is thrown in our faces again and again while ignoring all his references to his passion (and most important his actions) to end slavery. Here is the controversial quote from 1862:

“If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.”

This one statement given at a frustrating time where it looked like he may lose the war is emphasized and all his work to free the slaves is marginalized by revisionists of history. He was basically saying that he would do most anything to avoid defeat resulting in the pro slavery leaders of the South running the country. His tone changed though as a winning began to look more promising.

Both saving the Union and the freeing of the slaves were indeed close to his heart. The general populace were not as energized to fight for their slaves as they were for the Union so he placed the greater emphasis on the Union during his first term. During his s second term the emphasis was openly shifted, but his heart remained the same.

Reader: When slaves escaped from the South to the North, they were called “contraband” by the Yankee solders and were treated as slaves.

JJ: This was due to the law that Lincoln inherited, not something he initiated

Reader: To the southerners, the Civil War was about states’ rights. Slavery was on its way out anyway. Mechanized farm equipment was right around the corner, and a tractor would have been much more efficient than a bunch of slaves.

JJ: I don’t think so. Slaves can operate equipment just like non slaves. I can find no evidence that slavery was on it’s way out. The book, Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson presents solid evidence to the contrary – that the South had designs to expand slavery within as well as outside the United States.

Slavery was as strong as ever as an institution when the war began. If not for Lincoln I believe the slaves would not have been freed for some time. I think the civil rights movement of the Sixties could have been over this issue instead of civil rights.

Reader: Here’s another question. If slavery was so evil, why didn’t the North just buy the slaves’ freedom and compensate the southern slaveholders for the loss of their property?

JJ: Two reasons. No president was that concerned about the issue until Lincoln and he had no time to make such a proposal. The South made an attack and the war started right after he became president.

Secondly, the South would not have accepted any reasonable payoff.

Quotes From Lincoln:

”Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves; and, under a just God, can not long retain it.” The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln edited by Roy P. Basler, Volume III, “Letter To Henry L. Pierce and Others” (April 6, 1859), p. 376.

“I leave you, hoping that the lamp of liberty will burn in your bosoms until there shall no longer be a doubt that all men are created free and equal.” The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln edited by Roy P. Basler, Volume II, “Speech at Chicago, Illinois” (July 10, 1858), p. 502.

“In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free – honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth. Other means may succeed; this could not fail. The way is plain, peaceful, generous, just – a way which, if followed, the world will forever applaud, and God must forever bless.” Lincoln’s Second Annual Message to Congress, December 1, 1862.

“…that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom; and that this government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, November 19, 1863.

Here is an appropriate ending quote from Lincoln:

“Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally.”

DK says this about Lincoln:

“Racial Avatars. These Appearances are evoked by the genius and destiny of a race. The typical man (in quality and consciousness, not necessarily physically) foreshadows the nature of some race. Such a man was Abraham Lincoln, coming forth from the very soul of a people, and introducing and transmitting racial quality—a quality to be worked out later as the race unfolds.” Externalization of the Hierarchy, Pages 297-298

Copyright by J J Dewey

April 21, 2003

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