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Abraham Lincoln

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Abraham Lincoln

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 enemy Confederacy, disagreed with a war about slavery (Wheeler 226). Then why did President Lincoln, in the midst of a war he claimed was not about slavery, issue the Emancipation Proclamation?

The Emancipation Proclamation itself answers the question, stating that Lincoln was freeing the Southerners’ slaves, “upon military necessity” (“The Emancipation Proclamation” as qtd. in Klingaman 232). Lincoln freed Southern slaves, “as a fit and necessary war measure for suppressing… rebellion” (“The Emancipation Proclamation” as qtd. in Klingaman 231). President Lincoln took advantage of his position as Commander-in-Chief of the United States, as well as his ability to act without Congress’ consent, and issued the Emancipation Proclamation for military reasons (Heinrichs 15). Lincoln knew that the proclamation would prove to be a useful tool of defense during the fierce Civil War. It can only be concluded that Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation for somewhat selfish reasons, as to increase the North’s chances of victory in the Civil War.

By issuing a document that freed slaves, the North could undoubtedly gain foreign allies, and at the same time deprive the South of their foreign support. Great Britain was supportive of the South’s secession from the Union because Britain relied on the South’s cotton (Tackach 43). Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts claimed to Lincoln that since Great Britain was anti-slavery, if Lincoln would change the Civil War’s main focus to slavery, the abolitionist North would gain Britain’s support (Tackach 43). By issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln changed the Civil War’s focal point from secession to slavery, transferring Great Britain’s support from the Confederacy to the Union (Tackach 43). In fact, the original reason why Jefferson Davis did not want the war to revolve around slavery was to prevent loss of support from foreign governments (Wheeler 226).

In addition, should the Southern slaves be freed, the South would lose certain advantages that slavery presented them with. Some slave owners forced their slaves to aid the Southern war cause by working for the Confederate army (Tackach 45). Also, slaves tended to their owners’ plantations, allowing the owners to enlist in the Confederate army without having to worry about their land’s upkeep (Tackach 43). Should the Emancipation Proclamation be issued, the Confederate army would lose beneficial slave labor, resulting in the loss of many soldiers,

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