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Lincoln, Slavery, and the Emancipation Proclamation

“I never in my life felt more certain that I am doing right than I do in signing this paper…If my name ever goes into history it will be for this act, and my whole soul is in it.”–President Abraham Lincoln, on signing the Emancipation Proclamation, January 1, 1863

The First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation Before the Cabinet Painted by F.B. Carpenter ; engraved by A.H. Ritchie via Library of congress [public domain]

The First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation Before the Cabinet
Painted by F.B. Carpenter; Engraved by A.H. Ritchie via Library of Congress [public domain]

The Republican Party’s platform in the 1860 election specifically pledged not to extend slavery any further westward into the territories. When its candidate Abraham Lincoln was elected as the 16th president of the United States, it led to the secession of eleven slave-holding Southern states and the beginning of the Civil War. In a letter to Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, dated August 22, 1862, he wrote: “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy slavery.” Despite this letter, just one month later, on September 22, Lincoln issued a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln’s executive order basically stated that if the rebels did not end the fighting and rejoin the Union by January 1, 1863, all slaves in the rebellious states would be freed. It applied to some 3 million of the 4 million slaves in the United States at the time, and allowed them to join the Union Army.

While Abraham Lincoln is often viewed as the Great Emancipator, his ultimate political aim was to restore and preserve the Union. But as a politician, he was also acutely aware of public opinion. Lincoln’s stated views on slavery, and how they evolved over time to include the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation, are reviewed below

Lincoln Wasn’t an Abolitionist.

In a speech at Edwardsville, Illinois, on Sept. 13, 1858, Lincoln said, “Slavery is an unqualified evil to the negro, to the white man, to the soil, and to the State.” While Lincoln did believe that slavery was morally wrong, it was sanctioned by the “the supreme law of the land,” the U.S. Constitution, which he had sworn to “preserve, protect and defend” as President. In his first inaugural address, on March 4, 1861, he stated “I have no purpose directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so.”

Lincoln Didn’t Believe Blacks Should Have the Same Rights As Whites.

Though Lincoln argued that the founding fathers’ phrase “All men are created equal” applied to blacks and whites alike, this did not mean he thought they should have the same social and political rights. His views became clear during an 1858 series of debates with Stephen Douglas, his opponent in the Illinois race for U.S. Senate. In their fourth debate held in Charleston, Illinois, on September 18, after Douglas had accused him of supporting “negro equality,” Lincoln made his position clear. “I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races, that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people.”

Lincoln Thought Colonization Was the Best Way to Confront Slavery.

For much of his career, Lincoln believed that that if a majority of the African-American population would leave the United States and settle in Africa or Central America, it could resolve the issue of slavery. Lincoln first publicly advocated for colonization in 1852 and in a speech delivered in Peoria, Illinois, on October 16, 1854, Lincoln said, “My first impulse would be to free all the slaves, and send them to Liberia, to their own native land.” As president in early 1863, Lincoln also discussed with Register of the Treasury Lucius E. Chittenden his plan to “remove the whole colored race of the slave states into Texas.”

Emancipation Was a Military Strategy.

Band of 107th U.S. Colored Infantry, Arlington, VA, November 1865. Photo by William M. Smith via Library of Congress [public domain]

Band of 107th U.S. Colored Infantry, Arlington, VA, November 1865.
Photo by William M. Smith via Library of Congress [public domain]

Lincoln didn’t see the Civil War as a struggle to end slavery, but as an effort to preserve the Union. But as the war dragged on into its second year in 1862, thousands of slaves had fled Southern plantations to Union lines. Since slaves made up a majority of the South’s labor force, Lincoln viewed emancipation as a way to weaken the Confederacy, while at the same time providing the Union with a new source of manpower to crush the rebellion. By the end of the war, over 200,000 African-Americans would serve in the Union Army and Navy. He issued the preliminary proclamation to his Cabinet on September 22, and it was published the following day. On September 24, Lincoln addressed a cheering crowd from a White House balcony: “I can only trust in God I have made no mistake….It is now for the country and the world to pass judgment on it.”

The Emancipation Proclamation Didn’t Actually Free the Slaves.

Since Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation as a military measure, it didn’t apply to border slave states like Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky and Missouri, all of which had remained loyal to the Union. In practice, the Emancipation Proclamation didn’t immediately free a single slave, since the only places it applied were those where the federal government had no control–the Southern states that had seceded and were currently fighting against the Union. The proclamation was a presidential order and not a law passed by Congress, so Lincoln then pushed for an antislavery amendment to the U.S. Constitution in order to make slavery illegal. Nearly eight months after Lincoln’s assassination, on December 6, 1865, the 13th Amendment was ratified, abolishing slavery throughout America, and fulfilling Lincoln’s original proclamation that “all persons held as slaves…are, and henceforward shall be free.”

To learn more about Lincoln’s views on slavery, the social and political climate that led to his issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation, its impact on the Civil War and the eventual passage of a Constitutional Amendment abolishing slavery, check out these Research Topic pages available on ProQuest’s eLibrary:

13th Amendment

Abraham Lincoln

Civil War

Emancipation Proclamation

Slavery

150 Years Ago: The 13th Amendment Abolishes Slavery

13th Amendment to the Constitution National Archives of the United States [Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons]

13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by the National Archives of the United States [Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons]

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

With these words, the Congress of the United States formally abolished slavery — the Senate on April 8, 1864 and the House of Representatives on January 31, 1865.  President Abraham Lincoln’s approval of the joint congressional resolution paved the way for the proposed constitutional amendment to go to the states for ratification.  In swift manner, with Georgia’s passage on December 6, three-fourths of the states (27 of 36) had ratified what would become the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution.  Once and for all, slavery was dead.

Almost three years prior on January 1, 1863, President Lincoln signed into law the Emancipation Proclamation.  Despite outlawing slavery in the rebellious states, it would take political maneuvering by the Lincoln administration to see the full effects of the president’s order recognized.  Interestingly, the 13th Amendment would not see full ratification until 148 years later in 2013 when Mississippi became the last of the 36 states to certify the abolition of slavery.

Exploring the Causes of the Civil War

On the eve of the 151st anniversary of the destruction of Atlanta and the commencement of Sherman’s March to the Sea, considered one of most decisive and brutal campaigns to go through the Civil War South, it’s helpful to reflect on how and why our ancestors could inflict and endure such scorched earth brutality. By no means was the South the lone victim of brutality, but Sherman’s March, more commonly known at the time as the Savannah Campaign, was especially brutal. However harsh this campaign was, it also spurred the Union forces to victory and hastened the end of the war.

Accordingly then, it is valuable to step back and look at some of the issues for the cause of secession and the Civil War, and what may be deemed (depending on your loyalties) the central thread that bound most all of the other reasons: Slavery. Exploring eLibrary’s resources is a great place to start.

Although there are myriad of subordinate reasons for the war many consider important, in your research it’s well worth exploring what many scholars consider the four major reasons the South seceded from the Union: slavery, sectionalism, protectionism, and states’ rights. Some may add the election of Abraham Lincoln to the presidency in 1860 as the chief contributing factor, but of all these issues, debate today usually centers around slavery and states rights. And more often than not, when any of these causes are debated, the issue of slavery is interwoven through them all.

Since the end of the Civil War, for many southerners states rights, not slavery, was the foremost reason for the war. Even though states’ rights can be traced back to the Tenth Amendment of the Constitution, it had never been much of an issue until the western territories began to open up for migration in the mid 1820s and 1830s. It was then that the issue of extending slavery to the other territories west of the Mississippi came to a boil between the north, who had by that time abolished slavery, and the south, who had become dependent on slavery as its economic backbone and for its agrarian lifestyle.

The Missouri Compromise of 1820 attempted to solve the problem of the new territories by establishing land west of the Mississippi and below the parallel  of 36°30′, as slave territory and — except for Missouri — those west of the Mississippi and above 36°30′, as free territory. However, this law would not last, and in 1854 it was repealed and replaced with the Kansas-Nebraska Act, championed by Stephen A. Douglas, the Democratic Senator from Illinois. Under the agreement, settlers in the new territory would decide on whether or not to permit slavery under Douglas’ principle of popular sovereignty. During a course of two months in 1858, as they vied for the senatorial seat of Illinois, Douglas and Abraham Lincoln debated the merits of the Kansas-Nebraska Act (sectionalism), with Lincoln arguing against slavery and the other elements of the act, and Douglas arguing for popular sovereignty. Douglas went on to win the seat, but when Douglas was defeated by Lincoln for the presidency in 1860, it was then that South Carolina and Mississippi immediately issued their resolutions of succession from the Union, where it spelled out its central reason for succession: the federal government’s continued hostility toward the institution of slavery. After months of tension, on April 12, 1861, the first shots of the costly and bloody war began at Fort Sumter in South Carolina.

eLibrary has a vast repository of resources on the Civil War and its causes, and you can explore more about slavery and states’ right, along other issues such as sectionalism and protectionism. An excellent place to start your research is with eLibrary’s ProQuest Research Topic Guide: American Civil War. Here you will find many, many Research Topics about the war, such as important Union and Confederate political and military figures, battles and campaigns (such as Sherman’s March to the Sea), and other general topics about the war.

There is also a Topic Guide for Slavery in the United States, which includes Research Topics on Antislavery efforts.

Here are more resources for your research:

ProQuest Research Topic Guides

African-American History
American Civil War
American Revolution
Slavery in the U.S.

Other ProQuest Research Topics

10th Amendment (States Rights)
Abraham Lincoln

Bleeding Kansas
Confederate States of America
Emancipation Proclamation
Fort Sumter
Frederick Douglass
Jefferson Davis
Kansas-Nebraska Act
Missouri Compromise
Stephen A. Douglas

Browse Topics

Civil War Era
History of Slavery
Prelude to Civil War
Secession and States Rights

150 Years Ago: The Nation Loses Its President

John Wilkes Booth in a casual seated pose

John Wilkes Booth [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons

It was a desperate plan to save the Confederacy. In the waning days of the Civil War, Confederate sympathizer, John Wilkes Booth, and several associates forged a plan to kidnap President Abraham Lincoln and take him to Richmond, Virginia, the capital of the Confederacy. The plan was thwarted when President Lincoln did not come to where the kidnapping was to take place. Richmond would fall two weeks later.

After his original plot was averted, John Wilkes Booth and his co-conspirators devised a new plan. Upon learning the president was to attend a performance of Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theatre on April 14, Good Friday, the plan progressed to assassinate the President, his Vice President Andrew Johnson and his Secretary of State William Seward. Killing Lincoln and his top two successors would, Booth surmised, throw the country into chaos.  Between 10:00-10:30 as President Lincoln was watching the play from his official box, Booth entered and shot the him once in the back of the head.

John Wilkes Booth leaning forward to shoot President Abraham Lincoln as he watches Our American Cousin at Ford's Theater in Washington, D.C.

Lincoln Assassination Slide, c. 1900 [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons

President Lincoln succumbed to his injury the following morning, April 15, 1865.  The president’s body lay in state from April 17 until his funeral on April 19.  Mourners solemnly waited in line over a mile long to pay their respects to the fallen leader.  On April 21, a train carrying Lincoln’s body left Washington for the journey to his final resting place in Illinois.  President Abraham Lincoln would be “the final casualty of the war.”

While his fellow conspirators were giving into the force of the federal government’s pursuit, Booth remained on the run heading to Maryland and finally to Virginia.  It was there in a tobacco barn he would be felled by soldier’s bullet on the morning of April 26.

Shortly after the president’s assassination Walt Whitman wrote a mourning poem for President Lincoln — O Captain! My Captain!  A metaphor for the Union and the death of the president, it would lift up a grieving nation.

 My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still,
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will,
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,
From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won;
Exult O shores, and ring O bells!
But I with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

Presidents Day … or Whatever It’s Called

Washington's Birthday Research Topic via eLibrary

Washington’s Birthday Research Topic screencap via ProQuest eLibrary

No matter what your calendar says, there is no federal holiday called “Presidents Day.” It is still officially “Washington’s Birthday.” While many states have adopted their own holidays to honor various combinations of presidents, the third Monday in February, technically, honors our first president.

George Washington’s birthday is February 22, which was celebrated even when he was still alive, and in 1879 the date was made an official holiday by an act of Congress. This continued until the 1968 Uniform Monday Holiday Act shifted the holiday to its place on the third Monday of the month, consequently ensuring it would never fall on the actual date of Washington’s birth. The term “Presidents Day” (or “Presidents’ Day,” depending on where you are and how you feel about apostrophes) was first coined in the 1950s during an effort to create a holiday to honor all presidents, and it was considered in a rejected version of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act that would have changed the holiday to honor Abraham Lincoln as well. Over the years, many states began declaring their own Presidents Days to honor Washington, Lincoln and their own native sons, and in the 1980s advertisers began promoting the term “Presidents Day,” adding to the confusion about the holiday. There continue to be efforts to return to focus to George Washington and to move the date back to February 22, with many complaining that the holiday, which most associated with a day off of work and discount sales, has lost its effect as a way to honor Washington and Lincoln and as a tool to foster historical literacy.

However you feel about the name of the holiday and whom it should honor, eLibrary has all of the bases covered. First, we stuck to the federal designation when we created our Washington’s Birthday Research Topic page, which can give you the basics on the holiday itself. Then, there are RT pages on George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and all of the presidents (if you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings). Just type the name in the eLibrary search box. (You can watch for autocomplete drop-downs to aid you while typing.) We also have many RTs related to presidential elections, aspects of the presidency and even the often-forgotten vice presidents. Examples: U.S. Presidential Election, 1960, American Presidency, Vice Presidency, Charles Curtis.

Research Topics and other resources can be topics button smallfound by clicking the “Topics” button in the bar at the top of the page in eLibrary. Here, you can search for and click on underlined words to drill down into subject headings. You can always click on underlined words in the topic string at the top of the page to widen or narrow the scope. An item with a star next to it in the outline or in the topic string will display a Research Topic page directly related to it. Here are some headings to get you started on this topic: Presidents, Vice Presidents, First Ladies, Presidential Elections, Holidays.

 

Juneteenth

Juneteenth

Juneteenth.  It sounds like a made-up word.  However, Juneteenth is indeed real.  It is the recognition of the abolition of slavery in Texas on June 19, 1865.  On this date, Union troops landed at Galveston and brought news of the emancipation which had been suppressed for 2 ½ years.  The Emancipation Proclamation issued by President Abraham Lincoln had become official on January 1, 1863, but it had little impact in Texas because there were not enough Union troops to enforce it.  That was until June 19, 1865.

US NEWS JUNETEENTH 4 PHToday 42 states recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday or a day of observance.  All former Confederate and slave holding states observe Juneteenth in some fashion.  It is the oldest known celebration commemorating the end of slavery in the United States.  Festivities include picnics and prayer services with a focus on African American achievement.

As the United States celebrates the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, let us not forget those who endured 2 ½ more years for their day of freedom to come.  Also, let us not forget those who labored for the passage of a law abolishing slavery, the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which became official December 6, 1865.

Honest Abe

Abraham Lincoln
[Public Domain]
Photo from Library of Congress

Considered by many to be the greatest president in U.S history, Abraham Lincoln is as relevant today as he was 150 years ago. His Gettysburg Address is one of the most famous and influential speeches in U.S. history. Countless biographies have been written about him, a new movie was recently released and there is always something new to learn about his life and accomplishments as president. Lincoln was a man on humble beginnings and he rose through U.S. government by being a strong politician, debater and statesman. Students who are researching President Lincoln will learn more about him on SIRS Discoverer in articles and websites as well as photographs, maps and illustrations.