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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

This Day in History: July 19

For your entertainment and enlightenment, here are five historical events that occurred on July 19. Follow the links in the text to Research Topics pages and other documents in eLibrary.

1. 1848: Seneca Falls Convention–Organized by Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and others, this meeting was held “to discuss the social, civil, and religious condition and rights of woman.” A third of the attendees of the convention signed the Declaration of Sentiments, which laid out grievances about the standing of women in a male-dominated society. The convention, which an editorial at the time deemed “the most shocking and unnatural incident ever recorded in the history of womanity,” is considered the beginning of the women’s rights movement.

2. 1863: Battle of Buffington Island–Brigadeer General John Hunt Morgan‘s 1,700-strong group of Civil War “raiders” clashed with Union forces in Ohio, a battle that marked the beginning of the end of their Great Raid through four states. After having made raids and engaged the enemy a number of times in Tennessee and Kentucky in a campaign to distract Union forces, Morgan–disobeying an order from General Braxton Bragg not to cross the Ohio River–invaded Indiana and ransacked numerous towns before moving into Ohio. But, Morgan’s campaign ran into great trouble as he tried to evade Union pursuers by crossing into West Virginia. The Battle of Buffington Island, which included the involvement of the U.S. Navy ironclads, resulted in the capture of half of his men. The Great Raid was finally ended a week later with Morgan’s surrender after the Battle of Salineville, but not before striking fear into northerners and attaining mythical status.

3. 1864: Third Battle of Nanking Ends–The Taiping Rebellion, which raged from 1850 to 1864 was one of the bloodiest wars in history, resulting in between 20 million and 70 million deaths. The rebellion was waged by the Heavenly Kingdom of Peace, a Christian millenarian movement led by Hong Xiuquan, who claimed to be the brother of Jesus Christ, against the ruling Qing dynasty. While the Third Battle of Nanking resulted in a victory for the government and effectively ended the rebellion, China was changed forever. The imperial government was severely weakened and, having accepted assistance from France and Britain, had opened China to foreign influence.

4. 1870: The Franco-Prussian War Begins–Looking to regain prestige lost in the Austro-Prussian War a few years earlier and concerned about the power of an alliance between the German states and Spain, French emperor Napoleon III wanted war. The French Parliament voted for it on July 16, and hostilities commenced three days later. Napoleon’s advisers had been very confident that France could prevail, in part because of new weapons–the breech-loading chassepot rifle and early form of machine gun called the mitrailleuse. This confidence was mistaken, and the Germans won a stunningly quick victory in about 10 months. In the aftermath of the war, Prussian Chancellor Otto von Bismarck achieved his goal of creating the German Empire.

5. 1903: The First Tour de France Concludes–The Tour de France was conceived as a way of boosting the sagging sales of the magazine L’Auto. The first race in 1903 comprised six stages averaging about 250 miles and saw favorite Maurice Garin lead from start to finish of the 1,509-mile contest. The race was a success, and L’Auto’s readership skyrocketed. Today, the Tour is even longer at around 2,100 miles, but it is made up of 21 shorter stages over 23 days. Of course, many of us know the Tour de France largely because of Lance Armstrong, the American cyclist who won seven consecutive Tours, only later to be stripped of them because of admitted doping, or use of banned performance-enhancing substances.

Attack on Fort Sumter: The Civil War Begins

On the night of December 26, 1860, six days after South Carolina became the first state to secede from the union, Major Robert Anderson, commander of the federal forces in Charleston Harbor in Charleston, South Carolina, stealthily moved his small band of troops from Fort Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island to Fort Sumter, an artificial island-fort built on rocks in the middle of the harbor. Fort Sumter was not even fully constructed when the federal troops moved there under the cover of night. But the alternative of staying at Fort Moultrie was implausible for Anderson, as it proved to be an inadequate defense. Fort Moultrie was an old fortification built in 1776 during the American Revolutionary War, but years of neglect and defenseless walls forced Anderson to rethink his strategy for defending federal fortifications in Charleston Harbor.

When news spread in Charleston that Fort Sumter had been occupied, South Carolina governor Francis Pickens sent Colonel J. Johnston Pettigrew to Fort Sumter to order Anderson and his troops to return to Fort Moultrie. Anderson, already a seasoned veteran of three wars, declined the offer. On learning of Anderson’s decision, Pickens ordered state troops to occupy Fort Moultrie and Castle Pinckney, along with Morris Island, which had its cannons trained on the shipping channels coming into the harbor. On January 5, 1861, then-president James Buchanan ordered the dispatch of the Star of the West, an unarmed paddlewheeler aimed at resupplying Fort Sumter, to Charleston Harbor. As the Star of the West entered the harbor’s main channel on January 9, the cannons at Morris Island, manned by cadets from the Citadel, fired upon the paddlewheeler. The shots mostly missed their mark, with one causing only slight damage; but it was enough to cause the steamer to turn back toward the sea. The first shots of the Civil War had been fired!

On April 6, newly inaugurated president Abraham Lincoln, realizing that supplies were about to run out at Fort Sumter, ordered a fleet of ships to Charleston Harbor in an attempt to once again resupply the fort. And the effort, once again, proved fruitless.

Surrounded by well-armed fortifications controlled by the Confederates and cut off from any supply channels, Anderson and his troops had run out of food and ammunition. By the time the ships arrived on April 12, 1861, Confederate troops had already fired upon Fort Sumter. Firing for 34 straight hours, the Confederates battered Fort Sumter. Anderson and his troops, nearly empty of ammunition, were unable to return in kind. With the shipping channels into Charleston Harbor cut off with no hope for fresh supplies, Anderson was eventually forced to surrender. The Civil War had begun.

You can find out more about Fort Sumter and the Civil War in eLibrary. A host of Research Topic pages and other resources are available for your research needs.

Research Topics:

Abraham Lincoln
Charleston, South Carolina
Civil War
Confederate States of America
Fort Sumter
ProQuest Research Topic Guide: American Civil War

Browse Topics:

1850-1870 Civil War Era
Abraham Lincoln
Fort Sumter
James Buchanan
Major Battles & Campaigns
Prelude to the Civil War
Secession
South Carolina History
United States History

Publications:

America’s Civil War (Magazine)
Civil War and Reconstruction: A Student Companion (Reference Book)
Civil War Battlefield Guide (Reference Book)
Civil War History (Magazine)
Civil War Times (Magazine)
Civil War Times Illustrated (Magazine)
The Civil War: A History in Documents (Book)

This Day in History: Jefferson Davis Inaugurated As Confederate President

This day in history marks the inauguration of the first and only president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis. After being named President of the newly-formed Confederate States of America, he delivered his inaugural address from the portico of the Alabama state capitol building in Montgomery on February 18, 1861. Most people know that Davis was the Confederate president. But did you know he was also a West Point graduate, a war hero, the son-in-law of a future U.S President, a U.S. Congressman, a Cabinet member and a U.S. Senator? While Davis did support slavery, he advocated for states’ rights and argued against secession.

Jefferson Davis

Jefferson Davis, Senator from Mississippi, Thirty-fifth Congress, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing right (public domain) via Library of Congress

Davis graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1828. He then served as an infantry Lieutenant at various posts in Missouri, Illinois, and in the Iowa and Wisconsin territories. He also took part in the Black Hawk War of 1832, along with a Captain of the Illinois volunteers named Abraham Lincoln. While serving under Colonel Zachary Taylor (later elected the 12th President of the United States), he met and fell in love with Taylor’s daughter, Sarah Knox Taylor. Taylor disapproved of the relationship, and Davis resigned his military commission in 1835 in order to marry her against her father’s wishes. She died only three months later, after contracting malaria in Louisiana.

He was elected as a Democrat to the Twenty-ninth Congress and served from March 4, 1845, until June 1846, when he resigned to command the First Regiment of Mississippi Riflemen in the Mexican-American War. He distinguished himself by contributing to victories in the Battles of Monterrey (1846) and Buena Vista (1847), where he was wounded. Returning to Mississippi as a war hero, Davis was elected to the U.S. Senate, serving from 1847-1851 and again from 1857-1861. During his time there, he was a key supporter of the creation of the Smithsonian Institution, and a member of its Board of Regents.

President Franklin Pierce selected Davis as his Secretary of War in 1853. During his tenure in office, he helped design the National Capitol and the Statue of Freedom atop its dome. At the close of Pierce’s term in 1857, Davis reentered the Senate and became a prominent spokesman for the South.  On June 27, 1850, while the Senate was debating the Compromise Bill, Davis had stated, “God forbid that the day should ever come when to be true to my constituents is to be hostile to the Union.” That day came on January 21, 1861, when he joined four of his colleagues who resigned their seats in the U.S. Senate after their states had seceded from the Union. A month later, he was chosen by acclamation to be the Confederate president.

After the Civil War ended, Davis was captured by Union forces near Irwinville, Georgia on May 10, 1865. Charged with treason but never tried, he was detained in a military prison for two years at Fort Monroe, Virginia. President Andrew Johnson issued a pardon on Christmas Day, 1868 to all persons who participated in the “rebellion.” Davis refused to take the oath of allegiance to regain his American citizenship, which was restored only posthumously by the U.S. Congress and President Jimmy Carter in 1978.

Davis died in New Orleans on December 6, 1889. Over 70,000 people paid their respects at New Orleans City Hall, and he was buried there on December 11. His body was moved to the former Confederate Capital of Richmond, Virginia in 1893.

To learn more about the life and legacy of this often misunderstood American statesman, visit these sites available on SIRS WebSelect:

You can find even more information in these Research Topic pages available on ProQuest’s eLibrary:

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.

TDIH: The Civil War Ends (April 9, 1865)

150 years ago, with the country in its fourth year of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln had been re-elected to a second term. On March 4, 1865, he gave his second inaugural address, and spoke about the war:

“Both parties deprecated war; but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive; and the other would accept war rather than let it perish. And the war came….Fondly do we hope–fervently do we pray–that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away.”Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1865

Lee Surrenders to Grant

Gen. Lee Surrenders to Gen. Grant at Appomattox
by Library of Congress via Wikimedia Commons [Public Domain]

Just over a month later, on April 9, 1865, the American Civil War effectively ended when Confederate Army Commander General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at a private home in Appomattox Court House, Virginia. The terrible war that saw the Nation suffer over a million casualties and the deaths of than 620,000 American soldiers–from combat, accident, starvation, and disease–was finally coming to an end. The next day General Lee wrote in a farewell address to his men, known as General Order No 9:

“After four years of arduous service, marked by unsurpassed courage and fortitude, the Army of Northern Virginia has been compelled to yield to overwhelming numbers and resources.”

Using primary sources to engage students in learning and building critical thinking and constructing knowledge is emphasized in the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). For example, the CCSS require secondary students toAnalyze in detail how a complex primary source is structured, including how key sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text contribute to the whole.

Educators, you can help your students explore the Civil War and other topics in U.S. history through primary source documents with SIRS Government Reporter’s Historic Documents feature. Over 325 documents are available–including speeches, legislation, treaties, and others of historical value. Search for documents by title or subject, or browse through an alphabetical list. Each contains the full text of the document, as well as a brief summary explaining its background and significance. Some historic documents that are available on SIRS Government Reporter and related to the Civil War include:

  • Lincoln’s “House Divided” Speech (1858)
  • Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address (1861)
  • Constitution of the Confederate States of America (1861)
  • Emancipation Proclamation (1863)
  • The Gettysburg Address (1863)
  • Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address (1865)
  • Andrew Johnson’s Proclamation of Amnesty and Pardon for the Confederate States (1865)

Start using the primary source historic documents available on SIRS Government Reporter in your Common Core-based lesson plans and classroom activities today!

Discoverer Spotlight: The Battle of Gettysburg

Gettysburg Address Draft <br \> by Library of Congress, via ProQuest SIRS Discoverer [Public Domain]

Gettysburg Address Draft
by Library of Congress, via ProQuest SIRS Discoverer [Public Domain]

The American Civil War was fought 150 years ago. At that time, in 1863, the country was divided over the issue of slavery. Many people in the northern states believed that slavery was wrong and that slaves should be granted their freedom, while many Southerners felt that slavery was integral to their region’s economy. As a result of this disagreement, the country went to war. The North, represented by the Union Army, fought against the South, represented by the Confederate Army. The war raged for four years, ending by presidential proclamation in 1865.

There were many battles during the war, and all were significant. But there is one that is considered to be the war’s decisive conflict: the Battle of Gettysburg. On July 1, 1863, General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army invaded the North near the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. General George Meade’s Union army held their ground and the Confederate troops retreated on July 3. More than 51,000 soldiers were killed or injured during combat. This year, the nation is honoring the battle’s 150th anniversary. Gettysburg National Military Park oversees the battlegrounds, its memorials, and commemorative sites, providing a place of education and remembrance. Take some time this summer to learn about this pivotal event in American history in this month’s Discoverer Spotlight of the Month.