Lincoln on Slavery

gem

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Oct 26, 2012
President: Executive Mansion

Washington, August 22, 1862

Hon. Horace Greeley:

Dear Sir – I have just read yours of the 19th, addressed to myself through the New York Tribune. If there be in it any statements or assumptions of fact which I may know to be erroneous, I do not now and here controvert it. If there be in it any inference which I believe to be falsely drawn, I do not now and here argue against it. If there be perceptible in it an impatient and dictatorial tone, I waive it, in deference to an old friend, whose heart I have always supposed to be right.

As to the policy I “seem to be pursuing,” as you say, I have not meant to leave any one in doubt. I would save the Union. I would save it the shortest way under the Constitution. The sooner the national authority can be restored, the nearer the Union will be the Union as it was.
If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them. If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them. My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union with the freeing of 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. What I do about slavery and the colored race I do because I believe it helps to save the Union. And what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union.

I shall do less whenever I shall believe what I am doing hurts the cause, and I shall do more whenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause. I shall try to correct errors, and I shall adopt new views so fast as they shall appear to be true views.
I have here stated my purpose according to my view of official duty, and I intend no modification of my oft expressed personal wish that all men everywhere could be free.

Yours,
A. Lincoln
 

OpnCoronet

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Feb 23, 2010
The point to be remembered concerning this particular ltr(to Greely) is that Lincoln had not only decided Emancipation was necessary, but had already written it.
 

AndyHall

Colonel
Joined
Dec 13, 2011
The point to be remembered concerning this particular ltr(to Greely) is that Lincoln had not only decided Emancipation was necessary, but had already written it.
Yes, and the other thing to remember is that one can't point to any single document or quote on the subject, and say "this is what he believed" as if his views were fixed and unchanging, especially after he became president. The war itself did a lot to radicalize him, in that respect. The man who wrote, "if I could save the Union without the freeing of any slave I would do it" in August 1862, was the same man who in April 1865 publicly endorsed voting rights for at least some Freedmen.
 

lakertaker

First Sergeant
Joined
Oct 14, 2012
Thought the letter did a nice job of outlining Lincoln's priority, in general. Save the Union. Everything else was secondary and open to debate (at least for the time being).
 

OpnCoronet

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Feb 23, 2010
Thought the letter did a nice job of outlining Lincoln's priority, in general. Save the Union. Everything else was secondary and open to debate (at least for the time being).


In regards to slavery; Not really. The4 above may be a true statement, as far as it goes, but, like his ltr to Greely, does not truly reflect the reality of the situation facing Lincoln at the time.
To Lincoln, secession was the result of slavery and to successfully end the war, its cause must be elminated.
One of the earliest priorities of Lincoln was to help the Border State leaders to agree to initiate viable programs of emancipation(including offers of Federal money) as a means of shortening the war.
It was the failure of getting an agreement on state sponsored emancipation that decided Lincoln on his Emancipation Proclamation.
So, as indicated by Andy Hall, the war did change Lincoln's views on slavery, but was, instead, the war was seen by Lincoln, as not only as an opportunity to initiate emancipation, much sooner than later, than even he could have expected before the war, but as necessity if another CW was to be prevented.
 

OpnCoronet

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Feb 23, 2010
OOOPs, on my post #6, In the last para. please chng. "So, as indicated by Andy Hall the war did change.." to ... did not change..." Sorry about that..
 

lakertaker

First Sergeant
Joined
Oct 14, 2012
Yes, and the other thing to remember is that one can't point to any single document or quote on the subject, and say "this is what he believed" as if his views were fixed and unchanging, especially after he became president. The war itself did a lot to radicalize him, in that respect. The man who wrote, "if I could save the Union without the freeing of any slave I would do it" in August 1862, was the same man who in April 1865 publicly endorsed voting rights for at least some Freedmen.
In regard to the war "radicalizing" Lincoln, you could be correct. However, recently caught part of a NPR segment and a historian was discussing Lincoln. His premise was Lincoln's views didn't change much during the course of the war, but he was a shrewd enough politician to not publicly think too far ahead of his constituents.
 

gem

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Oct 26, 2012
There are a number of things the letter allows us to understand about Lincoln. He had the appearance of a malleable man and was ready to change as needed to meet the current needs of the country. We see a number of different sides of Lincoln in this letter.

Lincoln the man and the human - the last line of the letter where he acknowledges that he wished slavery did not exist and all men could be free. Thus one can see that he could not help but wrestle with the moral side of slavery.

The bulk of the letter talks about preservation of the Union, first and foremost, above all else. Thus, he states he doesn't really care if slavery is kept or destroyed or even partially kept is it keeps the Union together.

His actions were going to be dictated by the needs of the Union. Thus one can infer by Lincoln's actions particularly in regards to the emancipation proclamation as he saw slavery as the key breaking force in the Union. Eliminate the poison and the Union will come back together.

Of course, its impossible for us to know if this was his view all along, or did he mold as times went on.

In other words was he just a good politician who was carefully playing his cards to do so at the right time. Or did his views really evolve as time went on.

Did he really at one point think the Union could be preserved with slavery? or was just saying that to get the support he needed.
 

AndyHall

Colonel
Joined
Dec 13, 2011
Thus, he states he doesn't really care if slavery is kept or destroyed or even partially kept is it keeps the Union together.
He's not saying that he "doesn't really care" at all. He's saying what he would be willing to accept in exchange for what was, to him, the larger goal of retaining the Union, undivided.
Did he really at one point think the Union could be preserved with slavery?
In the short term, at least, yes, he did. He said so, in varying ways, many times. Here is what he said in his first inaugural speech, regarding the Corwin Amendment:

I can not be ignorant of the fact that many worthy and patriotic citizens are desirous of having the National Constitution amended. While I make no recommendation of amendments, I fully recognize the rightful authority of the people over the whole subject, to be exercised in either of the modes prescribed in the instrument itself; and I should, under existing circumstances, favor rather than oppose a fair opportunity being afforded the people to act upon it. I will venture to add that to me the convention mode seems preferable, in that it allows amendments to originate with the people themselves, instead of only permitting them to take or reject propositions originated by others, not especially chosen for the purpose, and which might not be precisely such as they would wish to either accept or refuse. I understand a proposed amendment to the Constitution—which amendment, however, I have not seen—has passed Congress, to the effect that the Federal Government shall never interfere with the domestic institutions of the States, including that of persons held to service. To avoid misconstruction of what I have said, I depart from my purpose not to speak of particular amendments so far as to say that, holding such a provision to now be implied constitutional law, I have no objection to its being made express and irrevocable.

I have seen some claim that Lincoln supported the Corwin Amendment, but it's clear from this passage that while he is supportive of the process for making the amendment, he is endeavoring to remain officially neutral on its content.
 

Battalion

Banned
Joined
Dec 30, 2005
The point to be remembered concerning this particular ltr(to Greely) is that Lincoln had not only decided Emancipation was necessary, but had already written it.
He had a Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation holding out the opportunity to states "in rebellion" to return to the Union thereby keeping their slaves (so Lincoln was consistent in his statement- "If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it"). It didn't take. The Confederate aim was Independence.
 

gem

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Oct 26, 2012
thats interesting. it seems like he had an open mind to do what was needed to keep the Union together.
 

OpnCoronet

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Feb 23, 2010
thats interesting. it seems like he had an open mind to do what was needed to keep the Union together.


Except from the historical evidence, after the failure of Border State agreement to emancipation, Emancipation became his goal(and this was little more than a year into the war) from which he never deviated, for any reason.

He had a Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation holding out the opportunity to states "in rebellion" to return to the Union thereby keeping their slaves (so Lincoln was consistent in his statement- "If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it"). It didn't take. The Confederate aim was Independence.

From Lincoln's perspective, if the loyal slave states in the Union would not(or could not) accept Emancipation, what chance was there that the Slave states, who seceded specifically to preserve slavery, would accept it? In other words, Lincoln could already be assured of the seceded states reply to his Preliminary Proclamation would be, from his experience with the Border States, i.e., they would refuse and the necessity for the Proclamation itself was already assured.
 
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