Lincoln, Slavery and Emancipation: The Truth

One of Abraham Lincoln’s most famous letters was composed during the heart of the Civil War. It was written August 22,1862  to Horace Greeley, editor of the influential New York Tribune and clearly revealed his  position on emancipation as purely a military policy.

While a draft of the Emancipation Proclamation was already in his desk drawer, Mr. Lincoln wrote in part:

“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.”

Here are a few other Interesting  facts about Abraham Lincoln, and his policies on slavery.

•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 his opponent in the Illinois race for U.S. Senate, Stephen Douglas, who had accused him of supporting “negro equality.” In their fourth debate, at Charleston, Illinois, on September 18, 1858, Lincoln made his position clear. “I will say then that 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,” he began, going on to say that he opposed Blacks having the right to vote, to serve on juries, to hold office and to intermarry with Whites. 

However. In the last speech of his life, delivered on April 11, 1865, he argued for limited black suffrage, saying that any Black man who had served the Union during the Civil War should have the right to vote.

   •Lincoln thought colonization could resolve the issue of slavery.

For much of his career, Lincoln believed that colonization—or the idea that a majority of the African-American population should leave the United States and settle in Africa or Central America—was the best way to confront the problem of slavery. His two great political heroes, Henry Clay and Thomas Jefferson, had both favored colonization; both were slave owners who took issue with aspects of slavery but saw no way that Blacks and Whites could live together peaceably. Lincoln first publicly advocated for colonization in 1852, and in 1854 said that his first instinct would be “to free all the slaves, and send them to Liberia” (the African state founded by the American Colonization Society in 1821).

  •The Emancipation Proclamation didn’t actually free all of 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. Lincoln also exempted selected areas of the Confederacy that had already come under Union control in hopes of gaining the loyalty of Whites in those states. In practice, then, the Emancipation Proclamation didn’t immediately free a single enslaved African, as the only places it applied were places where the federal government had no control—the Southern states currently fighting against the Union.

By war’s end, some 200,000 Black men would serve in the Union Army and Navy, striking a mortal blow against the institution of enslavement and paving the way for its eventual abolition by the 13th Amendment.

(Excerpted  in part from a documentary by The History Channel)