Abraham Lincoln and Slavery during the Civil War

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Abraham Lincoln once said, “I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me” (“Letter to Albert G. Hodges” 281 as qtd. in R.J. Norton 1). In accordance with his quote, when President Lincoln issued the unprecedented Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, Lincoln freed slaves in the Southern states, but he and his actions were being controlled by Civil War. The Civil War was fought between 1861 and 1865 between the Northern states, or the Union, and the Southern states, or the Confederacy. On September 22, 1862, in the midst of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln put forth a Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation (Tackach 45). The document stated that after January 1, 1863, slaves belonging to all Southern states that were still in rebellion would be free (Tackach 45). However, the Emancipation Proclamation had no immediate effect; slavery was not legally prohibited until the Thirteenth Amendment was added to the Constitution in 1865, about three years after the Emancipation Proclamation was decreed (Tackach 9-10). If the Emancipation Proclamation did not completely abolish slavery, what was the point of the document? Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was not actually written for the purpose of freeing any slaves. Rather, it was a war tactic to militarily weaken the South, add soldiers to the Union cause, and please abolitionist Northerners.

From the start of the Civil War, Lincoln clarified that the goal of the war was not “`to put down slavery, but to put the flag back,’” and he refused to declare the war as a war over slavery (Brodie 155 as qtd. in Klingaman 75-76). In a letter to Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, in August 1862, Lincoln wrote: “My paramount object in this struggle is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing [any] slave I would do it…” (Selected Speeches 343 as qtd. in Tackach 44). Lincoln also refused to declare that slavery was the Civil War’s main focus because many Whites in the North and in the much-valued Border States would not agree with a war to free slaves since they believed Blacks were inferior to Whites (Wheeler 225-226). The political and military advantages of the Border States made Lincoln reluctant to proclaim the Civil War to be a war about slavery (Wheeler 225-226). Even Jefferson Davis, president of the en...

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