Changing Cause

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#1
For the Union soldier on average, did the war at some point become also about putting an end to slavery, or did most of them only see it as a cause of suppressing the Rebellion?
 

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OpnCoronet

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#2
To Lincoln the question had little relevance, as far as winning the war. He questioned whether one fought for Union or Emancipation really mattered as long as they fought. In either case, their goal would be assured by a victorious Union.
 

jackt62

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#4
For those northerners who were politically motivated, the preservation of the Union was the primary cause for which they fought in the early years of the war. There was widespread opposition to emancipation being a war aim (after January 1, 1863). However, as time went on, more and more northern soldiers came around to the idea of ending slavery, some because they believed it would hasten the fall of the confederacy, others because of the valiant example of seeing Black Americans in the ranks of the federal armies, and of course, others because it was the right thing to do.
 

Joshism

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#7
For those northerners who were politically motivated, the preservation of the Union was the primary cause for which they fought in the early years of the war. There was widespread opposition to emancipation being a war aim (after January 1, 1863). However, as time went on, more and more northern soldiers came around to the idea of ending slavery, some because they believed it would hasten the fall of the Confederacy, others because of the valiant example of seeing Black Americans in the ranks of the federal armies, and of course, others because it was the right thing to do.
For many Northerners who became opposed to slavery during the course of the war it was likely due to seeing plantations and slaves for the first time. There were few blacks in the North so until they went into the South with the military many of them had probably never an African-American in their life. Slavery stopped being an abstraction.

A similiar thing happened in the mid-20th century when another generation of white Northerners witnessed blacks serving valiantly in World War II then through the power of TV started seeing the abuses by white Southerners against black Southerners. For many of them the Civil Rights movement stopped being an abstraction.
 

cash

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#8
For the Union soldier on average, did the war at some point become also about putting an end to slavery, or did most of them only see it as a cause of suppressing the Rebellion?
"The New York soldier was beginning to see it. The war was changing, and it was no longer being looked upon as a species of tournament between unstained chivalrous knights. It had reached a point now where the fighting of it was turning loose some unpleasant emotional drives. It had become a war against--against slavery, perhaps against the men who owned slaves, by inevitable extension against that man and his family and his goods and chattels who by living with the hated institution seemed to have made war necessary and who in any case were standing in the road when the avengers came." [Bruce Catton, Glory Road, pp. 86-87]

"Increasingly the men ran into the problem of slavery, and as they did they began to encounter an arrogance in the southern attitude toward slavery that increased their own antagonism. Slavery seemed to be central. It was the one sensitive, untouchable nerve-ending, and to press upon it brought anguished cries of outrage that could be evoked in no other way." [Bruce Catton, This Hallowed Ground, p. 224]

"When fugitive slaves came into camp these boys would shelter them; yet there were not really very many cases of this kind, after all, 'and had the owners been satisfied to exercise a little patience when the fugitives could not readily be found the soldiers would soon have got tired of their new playthings and turned every black out of camp themselves.
"But there was no patience. The slaveholder was driven on by a perverse and malignant fate; he could not be patient, because time was not on his side. Protesting bitterly against change, he was forever being led to do the very things that would bring change the most speedily. He was unable to let these heedless Federals get tired of their new playthings. He had to prod them and storm at them, and because he did, the soldiers' attitude hardened and they grew more and more aggressive." [Ibid., p. 225]

And they even took it out on dogs, which were used to track runaway slaves and escaped Union prisoners. “It was payback time for a number of slaves in the area, who made sure that the Yankee officers heard all about the bloodhounds that tracked anyone trying to escape, including Union prisoners. Said one Illinois soldier: ‘Advance ordered to kill all bloodhounds and other valuable dogs in the country.’ ” [Noah Andre Trudeau, Southern Storm, p. 107]
 

CW Buff

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#9
For the Union soldier on average, did the war at some point become also about putting an end to slavery, or did most of them only see it as a cause of suppressing the Rebellion?
I don't believe there was any disconnect or incompatibility between the two. As the war (which many originally believed would last only a few months) dragged on and on, putting an end to slavery became a tactical measure geared toward suppressing the rebellion/preserving the Union. I wish I could find and quote it, but I remember a Northern Democrat soldier saying something like: 'I'm no abolitionist, but when I go on the battlefield I become an abolitionist because that is what is required to preserve the Union." I will try to relocate the quote: I believe it was in one of McPherson's books on the writings of soldiers (don't have a copy, rely on my library for them).
"The slaveholder was driven on by a perverse and malignant fate; he could not be patient, because time was not on his side. Protesting bitterly against change, he was forever being led to do the very things that would bring change the most speedily. He was unable to let these heedless Federals get tired of their new playthings. He had to prod them and storm at them, and because he did, the soldiers' attitude hardened and they grew more and more aggressive." [Ibid., p. 225]
Pretty much describes the political situation throughout the 1850s too.
 

OpnCoronet

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#11
I don't believe there was any disconnect or incompatibility between the two. As the war (which many originally believed would last only a few months) dragged on and on, putting an end to slavery became a tactical measure geared toward suppressing the rebellion/preserving the Union. I wish I could find and quote it, but I remember a Northern Democrat soldier saying something like: 'I'm no abolitionist, but when I go on the battlefield I become an abolitionist because that is what is required to preserve the Union." I will try to relocate the quote: I believe it was in one of McPherson's books on the writings of soldiers (don't have a copy, rely on my library for them).





I agree, If you were fighting solely for the Union and nothing else, then as the war progressed it was becoming clear, to all those who would see, that Reunion would be almost impossible without eradicating slavery at the same time. This was especially true of those within Union Armies who were seeing first hand, that slavery was one of the pillars of confederate resistance.

It was no accident that Lincoln and the Republicans had few qualms about Union troops having the franchise in the Election of1864.

too.
 
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#12
I generally lean toward the theory that abolition became more of a motivation as the war went on--and I also think this was as much to deprive the south of some of its assets as it was to free oppressed people. But it's fair to assume that different soldiers had different motives and they were probably all as individual as we are today. Some gave us clues in their letters and diaries, but we have to speculate about the majority.
 

jgoodguy

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#14
I generally lean toward the theory that abolition became more of a motivation as the war went on--and I also think this was as much to deprive the south of some of its assets as it was to free oppressed people. But it's fair to assume that different soldiers had different motives and they were probably all as individual as we are today. Some gave us clues in their letters and diaries, but we have to speculate about the majority.
Stripping the South of slaves eliminates an issue that had divided the county for 80 years. Also stripping an enemy of its assets essential to continue its war, is a normal war objective.
 

Zack

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#15
The book What This Cruel War Was Over by Chandra Manning largely tackles this question. She argues that the war was a radicalizing event for many who were otherwise indifferent to the slavery issue.

I will share the summation of her argument as found in the intro to her book:

"Few white Northerners initially joined the Union rank and file specifically to stamp out slavery, and most shared the antiblack prejudices common to their day, especially when the war began. Yet the shock of war itself and soldiers' interactions with slaves, who in many cases were the first black people northern men had ever met, changed Union troops' minds fast. At first, white Union soldiers had little trouble separating their ideas about slavery from their racist attitudes and saw no contradiction between demanding an end to slavery and disputing any notion of black equality or opposing any suggestion of increased rights for black people. Yet as the war dragged on, even attitudes as stubborn as white Union troops' antiblack prejudices shifted with the tide of the war, sometimes advancing and other times regressing. By the end of the war, white northern opinion about racial equality and civil rights, intractable though they had seemed in 1861, were far more malleable and vulnerable to intense self-scrutiny among Union troops than anyone could have imagined when the war began."

She also writes, regarding the end of slavery, "This book argues that the enlisted men in the Union army forged the crucial link between slaves and policy makers. Slaves themselves did force emancipation onto the Union agenda even when most white Northerners would have preferred to ignore it, but one of the most important and earliest ways they did so was by converting enlisted Union soldiers, who, in 1861 and 1862, developed into emancipation advocates who expected their views to influence the prosecution of the war. Slaves convinced enlisted soldiers, who modified both their beliefs and their behavior. In turn, the men of the rank and file used letters, camp newspapers, and their own actions to influence the opinions of civilians and leaders who, lacking soldiers' direct contact with slaves, the South, and the experience of living on the front lines in a war that most people wanted over, lagged behind soldiers in there stances on emancipation."
 
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#17
What should we make of the view that Lincoln really was a modernist in his racial views and only said the things he did about emancipation being only justified to bring an end to the war for political pragmatism?
 

Zack

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#18
I'd say the definitive book on Lincoln's evolving relationship with slavery is Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery by Eric Foner. An excerpt from the preface; I think this answers your questions @David Ireland:

Lincoln was strongly antislavery, but he was not an abolitionist or a Radical Republican and never claimed to be one. He made a sharp distinction between his frequently reiterated personal wish that "all men everywhere could be free" and his official duties as a legislator, congressman and president in a legal and constitutional system that recognized the South's right to property in slaves. Even after issuing the Emancipation Proclamation he continued to declare his preference for gradual abolition. While his racial views changed during the Civil War, he never became a principled egalitarian in the manner of abolitionists such as Frederick Douglass and Wendell Phillips or Radical Republicans like Charles Sumner.

In locating Lincoln within the broad spectrum of antislavery thought, I have paid close attention to his writings and speeches, delineating not only what he said but also what he did not say. Unlike Radicals, for example, Lincoln rarely spoke of the physical brutality of slavery. Unlike conservatives in the Republican party, he forthrightly condemned slavery on moral as well as political and economic grounds. Lincoln consistently sought to locate the lowest common denominator of antislavery sentiment, the bases of agreement within the antislavery public. But Lincoln was well aware of the abolitionists' significance in creating public sentiment hostile to slavery. Despite their many differences on goals and tactics, he came to see himself as engaged, with them, in a common antislavery cause.
.....
In approaching the subject of Lincoln's views and policies regarding slavery and race, we should first bear in mind that the hallmark of Lincoln's greatness was his capacity for growth. It is fruitless to identify a single quotation, speech, or letter as the real or quintessential Lincoln.
....
To be sure, the idea of Lincoln's "growth" has itself become a cliché......The problem is that we tend too often to read Lincoln's growth backward, as an unproblematic trajectory toward a predetermined end. This enables scholars to ignore or downplay the aspects of Lincoln's beliefs with which they are uncomfortable - his long association with the idea of colonization, for example - while fastening on that which is most admirable at each stage of his career, especially his deep hatred of slavery.
......
Much of Lincoln's career can fruitfully be seen as a search for a reconciliation of means and ends, an attempt to identify a viable mode of antislavery action in a political and constitutional system that erected seemingly impregnable barriers to effective steps toward abolition. For most of his career, Lincoln had no real idea how to rid the United States of slavery, although he announced many times his desire to see it end. But in this he was no different from virtually every other antislavery American of his era.
 
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#19
I'd say the definitive book on Lincoln's evolving relationship with slavery is Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery by Eric Foner. An excerpt from the preface; I think this answers your questions @David Ireland:

Lincoln was strongly antislavery, but he was not an abolitionist or a Radical Republican and never claimed to be one. He made a sharp distinction between his frequently reiterated personal wish that "all men everywhere could be free" and his official duties as a legislator, congressman and president in a legal and constitutional system that recognized the South's right to property in slaves. Even after issuing the Emancipation Proclamation he continued to declare his preference for gradual abolition. While his racial views changed during the Civil War, he never became a principled egalitarian in the manner of abolitionists such as Frederick Douglass and Wendell Phillips or Radical Republicans like Charles Sumner.

In locating Lincoln within the broad spectrum of antislavery thought, I have paid close attention to his writings and speeches, delineating not only what he said but also what he did not say. Unlike Radicals, for example, Lincoln rarely spoke of the physical brutality of slavery. Unlike conservatives in the Republican party, he forthrightly condemned slavery on moral as well as political and economic grounds. Lincoln consistently sought to locate the lowest common denominator of antislavery sentiment, the bases of agreement within the antislavery public. But Lincoln was well aware of the abolitionists' significance in creating public sentiment hostile to slavery. Despite their many differences on goals and tactics, he came to see himself as engaged, with them, in a common antislavery cause.
.....
In approaching the subject of Lincoln's views and policies regarding slavery and race, we should first bear in mind that the hallmark of Lincoln's greatness was his capacity for growth. It is fruitless to identify a single quotation, speech, or letter as the real or quintessential Lincoln.
....
To be sure, the idea of Lincoln's "growth" has itself become a cliché......The problem is that we tend too often to read Lincoln's growth backward, as an unproblematic trajectory toward a predetermined end. This enables scholars to ignore or downplay the aspects of Lincoln's beliefs with which they are uncomfortable - his long association with the idea of colonization, for example - while fastening on that which is most admirable at each stage of his career, especially his deep hatred of slavery.
......
Much of Lincoln's career can fruitfully be seen as a search for a reconciliation of means and ends, an attempt to identify a viable mode of antislavery action in a political and constitutional system that erected seemingly impregnable barriers to effective steps toward abolition. For most of his career, Lincoln had no real idea how to rid the United States of slavery, although he announced many times his desire to see it end. But in this he was no different from virtually every other antislavery American of his era.
Also a leader for Colonization.
 

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