Lincoln's Views on Slavery

NFB22

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So I'm writing a paper for one of my classes on Lincoln's views on slavery between 1858 and 1865. My stance is in this time period he was always opposed but was never really prepared to put up a good fight on the subject until after he had actually taken office.

Obviously he wanted to abolish slavery, hence the 13th Amendment but earlier in his career although he had opposed slavery he wasnt exactly gung-ho at abolishing it. Just wondering if anyone has any other views on the subject?
 

Drew

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Oct 22, 2012
Just wondering if anyone has any other views on the subject?

I've none, on this 150th anniversary of the Battle of Chancellorsville. But the facts are below, decide for yourself.


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 them. If there be in it any inferences which I may believe to be falsely drawn, I do not now and here, argue against them. If there be perceptable 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 to destroy slavery. 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. 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 morewhenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause. I shall try to correct errors when shown to be 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 every where could be free.
Yours,
A. Lincoln.
 
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Lincoln wrote Greeley his letter about his options concerning slavery with the Emancipation Proclamation in his hand. He was simply waiting for a military success to publish it. Understand the point of the letter to Greeley: Lincoln is not saying he might choose one or the other, he's saying that the destruction of slavery is now on the table.

Lincoln hated slavery his whole life. But until the unique circumstances of the war arose, no one could, constitutionally, directly attack slavery where it lived: in the slave states. Slavery could only be confronted in areas where the federal government held sway: the smuggling of African captives in the slave trade, and the expansion of slavery into the Western territories, and that's where Lincoln was challenging it.

With the war, conditions changed. As a war measure, in the role of commander in chief, Lincoln could attack slavery in the seceded states, and did so. The EP was a milestone on the road to the destruction of slavery, but there's also Butler's contraband policy, the Confiscation Acts, Attorney General Edward Bates opinion that freed slaves were American citizens. Finally the nuclear bomb of American politics: a constitutional amendment.
 

ole

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Matthew speaks well and straight. Lincoln hated the very idea of slavery, but there was nothing he could do about it until armed rebellion entered into the equation. At that time, he was constitutionally authorized to put down the rebellion by whatever means he thought necessary. One of those means was depriving the Confederacy of slave labor.

So the EP didn't imediately free all the slaves, but day by day, they were freed. And day by day the Confederay got hungrier.
 

jgoodguy

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Matthew speaks well and straight. Lincoln hated the very idea of slavery, but there was nothing he could do about it until armed rebellion entered into the equation. At that time, he was constitutionally authorized to put down the rebellion by whatever means he thought necessary. One of those means was depriving the Confederacy of slave labor.

So the EP didn't imediately free all the slaves, but day by day, they were freed. And day by day the Confederay got hungrier.

The South discovered that Slavery is a very fragile institution when in the presence of a hostile army.
 

ole

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The South discovered that Slavery is a very fragile institution when in the presence of a hostile army.
True enough. It's not like the southern ladies couldn't help themselves without slaves; it's just that it became more difficult.
 

Walterm140

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Remember what Frederick Douglass said:

"I have said that President Lincoln was a white man, and shared the prejudices common to his countrymen towards the colored race. Looking back to his times and to the condition of his country, we are compelled to admit that this unfriendly feeling on his part may be safely set down as one element of his wonderful success in organizing the loyal American people for the tremendous conflict before them, and bringing them safely through that conflict. His great mission was to accomplish two things: first, to save his country from dismemberment and ruin; and, second, to free his country from the great crime of slavery. To do one or the other, or both, he must have the earnest sympathy and the powerful cooperation of his loyal fellow-countrymen. Without this primary and essential condition to success his efforts must have been vain and utterly fruitless. Had he put the abolition of slavery before the salvation of the Union, he would have inevitably driven from him a powerful class of the American people and rendered resistance to rebellion impossible. Viewed from the genuine abolition ground, Mr. Lincoln seemed tardy, cold, dull, and indifferent; but measuring him by the sentiment of his country, a sentiment he was bound as a statesman to consult, he was swift, zealous, radical, and determined. "

(My emphasis)

-- 1876

http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/index.asp?documentprint=39

Walt
 

Walterm140

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Here is a great Lincoln quote on the relation of the races:

"If A can prove, however conclusively, that he may, of right, enslave B. -- why
can not B. snatch the same argument, and prove equally, that he may enslave A.?
--
You say A. is a white, and B. is black. It is --color--, then; the lighter,
having the right to enslave the darker? Take care. By this rule, you are to
be the slave to the first man you meet, with a fairer skin than your own.
You do not mean color exactly? -- You mean the whites are --intellectually--
the superiors of the blacks, and therefore, have the right to enslave them?
Take care again. By this rule, you are to be slave to the first man you meet,
with an intellect superior to your own.
But, say you, it is a question of --interest--; and, if you can make it your
--interest--, you have the right to enslave another. Very well. And if he can
make it his interest, he has the right to enslave you."

1854

-- from "Mystic Chords of Memory; a Selection of Lincoln's works." edited by
Larry Shapiro.

Consider also this letter.


"Dear [Joshua] Speed:

You know what a poor correspondent I am. Ever since I received your very
agreeable letter of the 22nd. of May I have been intending to write you in
answer to it. You suggest that in political action now, you and I would
differ. I suppose we would; not quite as much as you might think. You know I
dislike slavery; and you fully admit the abstract wrong of it. So far there is
no cause of difference. But you say that sooner than yield your legal right to
the slave--especially at the bidding of those who are not themselves
interested, you would see the Union dissolved. I am not aware that anyone is
bidding you to yield that right; very certainly I am not. I leave that matter
entirely to yourself. I also acknowledge your rights and my obligation, under
the Constitution, in regard to your slaves. I confess that I hate to see the
poor creatures hunted down, and caught, and carried back to their stripes
and unwarranted toils; but I bite my lip and keep quiet. In 1841 you and I had
together a tedious low-water trip, on a Steam Boat from Louisville to St.
Louis. You may remember, as I well do, that from Louisville to the mouth of
the Ohio there were, on board, ten or a dozen slaves, shackled together with
irons. That sight was a continual torment to me; and I see something like it
every time I touch the Ohio, or any other slave-border. It is hardly fair for
you to assume, that I have no such interest in a thing which has, and
continually exercises, the power of making me miserable. You ought rather to
appreciate how much the great body of the Northern people do crucify their
feelings, in order to maintain their loyalty to the Constitution and the
Union."

8/24/1854

Ibid.

Walt
 

unionblue

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James B White

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Viewed from the genuine abolition ground, Mr. Lincoln seemed tardy, cold, dull, and indifferent; but measuring him by the sentiment of his country, a sentiment he was bound as a statesman to consult, he was swift, zealous, radical, and determined. "


The first part of the sentence seems to sum up the Greeley letter pretty well. It's worth remembering that he was writing an abolitionist and responding to the relentless pressure that abolitionists were putting on him.
 

jgoodguy

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jgoodguy said:
The South discovered that Slavery is a very fragile institution when in the presence of a hostile army.​
True enough. It's not like the southern ladies couldn't help themselves without slaves; it's just that it became more difficult.

Much more difficult.

When a people rebels to keep a particular labor system in place to maintain its wealth, when armies come through and that labor system runs off, lots of folks lost lots of money and lots of cotton, the basis for Southern wealth don't get picked. It negates the reason to rebel.
 

OpnCoronet

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To Lincoln, slavery was the ultimate cause of the War and to his mind it was the height of folly to win the war, without dealing with the cause of the war. Thus ,almost immediately after war began, he was negotiating with border state leaders to begin a process of gradual of emancipation as a necessaary measure which he believed would help shorten the war.
The exigencies of winning the war dove-tailed with his own, already well known, anti-slavery convictions.
 

KeyserSoze

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Slavery? Lincoln was against it. And he did all within his powers under the law to oppose it at every stage of his professional life.
 

ForeverFree

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Lincoln was anti-slavery, but not an abolitionist. He believed that slavery was morally wrong, and that a free labor society made for the best society. However, he agreed with the prevailing sentiment that states had the right to keep property in man, and was respectful of those rights from a policy standpoint (at least until the war came).

- Alan
 

Walterm140

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After he took office, Lincoln tried for months and months to keep the Union 'as it was' before the so-called secession of the southern states. He thought that Union sentiment in the south would swell up and do away with the traitors. That is why some of his actions seem ambiguous as when he revoked Fremont's actions in freeing slaves in 1862. But he finally got tired of that after one last try at enlisting border state representatives in the idea of compensated emancipation in July 1862:

"By conceding what I now ask, you can relieve me, and much more, can relieve the country, in this important point. Upon these considerations I have again begged your attention to the message of March last. Before leaving the Capital, consider and discuss it among yourselves – You are patriots and statesmen; and, as such, I pray you, consider this proposition; and, at the least, commend it to the consideration of your states and people. As you would perpetuate popular government for the best people in the world, I beseech you that you do in no wise omit this. Our common country is in great peril, demanding the loftiest views, and boldest action to bring its speedy relief. Once relieved, it's form of government is saved to the world; it's past beloved history, and cherished memories, are vindicated; and it's happy future fully assured, and rendered inconceivably grand. To you, more than to any others, the previlege [sic] is given, to assure that happiness, and swell that grandeur, and to link your own names therewith forever."

But they essentially blew him off. It was then that the Emancipation Proclamation became the instrument of choice, at least while the federal government was resisted.

Walt
 

Drew

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Oct 22, 2012
Understand the point of the letter to Greeley: Lincoln is not saying he might choose one or the other

Oh, my. That is exactly what he is saying.

It's worth remembering that he was writing an abolitionist and responding to the relentless pressure that abolitionists were putting on him.

This buttresses "the point of the letter to Greeley." It was not a letter to Greeley, per se, but a letter to the public that would be read through Greeley's New York Tribune. Lincoln wrote it as a statement reaffirming the paramount war aim, preservation of the Union. It put "slavery on the table," yes, but only within the parameter of preserving the Union. The letter reassured the public of and reaffirmed this paramount goal. The North was not asked to fight and die over slavery. In modern parlance, the letter "winks at the left" insofar as it puts slavery on the table, yes, provided everything works out in a way it can be dealt with.

The letter was a master stroke on Lincoln's part and I understand his "poll numbers" jumped over it.
 
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Oh, my. That is exactly what he is saying.



This buttresses "the point of the letter to Greeley." It was not a letter to Greeley, per se, but a letter to the public that would be read through Greeley's New York Tribune. Lincoln wrote it as a statement reaffirming the paramount war aim, preservation of the Union. It put "slavery on the table," yes, but only within the parameter of preserving the Union. The letter reassured the public of and reaffirmed this paramount goal. The North was not asked to fight and die over slavery. In modern parlance, the letter "winks at the left" insofar as it puts slavery on the table, yes, provided everything works out in a way it can be dealt with.

The letter was a master stroke on Lincoln's part and I understand his "poll numbers" jumped over it.


Since he had already composed the Emancipation Proclamation and would be releasing it soon, I don't think he was mulling over his options, he had already decided what he was going to do. He was signalling slavery was on the chopping block, framing it as a war winning measure.
 

Drew

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Oct 22, 2012
Since he had already composed the Emancipation Proclamation and would be releasing it soon, I don't think he was mulling over his options, he had already decided what he was going to do. He was signalling slavery was on the chopping block, framing it as a war winning measure.

I did not say he was "mulling over his options." I said and President Lincoln flatly stated, that he would free the slaves in order to preserve the Union. He also said he would free none of the slaves to preserve the Union.

Read the letter. The Emancipation Proclomation was in his desk, not in his hand. And you are right, he would be "releasing it soon" had he a victory, which he did not when the letter was written. But it was a war aim and not the paramount goal, preserving the Union. The entire point of the letter, as uncomforatable as it may make you feel, was to reassure the Northern people their primary fight was to preserve the Union, not to free the slaves.

"Wink at the left" has been going on for years, but it does no good without the full support of the "center," to whom Lincoln was speaking.
 

OpnCoronet

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I did not say he was "mulling over his options." I said and President Lincoln flatly stated, that he would free the slaves in order to preserve the Union. He also said he would free none of the slaves to preserve the Union.
Read the letter. The Emancipation Proclomation was in his desk, not in his hand. And you are right, he would be "releasing it soon" had he a victory, which he did not when the letter was written. But it was a war aim and not the paramount goal, preserving the Union. The entire point of the letter, as uncomforatable as it may make you feel, was to reassure the Northern people their primary fight was to preserve the Union, not to free the slaves.
quote]

The fact that anything or everything was not exempt, including slavery, in the struggle for the preservation of the Union, was the clear message. No thinking Unionist could believe the South would abandon slavery, when most northerners believed that was why the south seceded in the first place.
 

clara_barton

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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.

A bit off-topic, but this quote brings a question to mind. Had the South not seceded when it did, if they had remained in the Union, sour, unhappy, belligerently vocal; nevertheless, still in Union; would the abolitionists have been so extreme as to secede a few States from the Union?

Were the abolitionists simply the Northern version of the Fire-Eaters intent on their own righteous agenda regardless of what that meant for the rest of the country?
 
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