Abraham Lincoln's Presidency

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How can this 1858 statement of Abraham Lincoln be reconciled with his 1862 Emancipation Proclamation? "I am not, nor have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races."

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I think it's useful to point out that the 1858 statement was made in the context of Lincoln not yet becoming president and not yet facing the challenge of secession. Lincoln did tend to have a pragmatic streak, and considering the political and social context, and just how divisive the...

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I think it's useful to point out that the 1858 statement was made in the context of Lincoln not yet becoming president and not yet facing the challenge of secession. Lincoln did tend to have a pragmatic streak, and considering the political and social context, and just how divisive the issue of slavery was in the country, I don't think it is surprising that he would have taken a more conservative stance on that question, especially within the context of the time.

Beyond that, there are two things which I think should be considered in your question. The first is that the Emancipation Proclamation was in large part a wartime measure made in the context of the Civil War, and it was made with a distinctly military purpose behind it. For one thing, it further isolated the Confederacy, which had been trying to make overtures towards an alliance with Britain (and Britain had by this point become a vehement crusader against slavery worldwide). The Emancipation Proclamation completely closed down any chance for a Britain-Confederacy Alliance.

Furthermore, there was the ideological factor to consider and how it interacted with the Civil War. Abolitionism was a very strong and powerful movement focused in the North, and making the war one about slavery would have had significant impacts on recruitment and morale. That being said, it did alienate a large number of Northerners, but it also bolstered a great deal of support and enthusiasm as well. This kind of political calculus, however, would not have applied to a pre-Civil War context.

Finally, I would repeat a point made by a previous educator: that the two are not actually equivalent positions. The Emancipation Proclamation (as well as the Thirteenth Amendment) was aimed against the institution of slavery, but opposing slavery does not necessarily entail the endorsement of social and political equality.

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There are reasons for Lincoln’s statement in 1858 about not having equality between the races and his issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862. One reason for the difference in these positions was, in 1858, Abraham Lincoln knew he had to get elected to office in order to bring about change. The southerners believed Lincoln wanted to end slavery even though Lincoln never said that. If Lincoln would have announced the Emancipation Proclamation concept in 1858, it is possible the southerners would have worked harder to counter Lincoln’s candidacy in 1860. Additionally, Lincoln knew more southern states would have seceded if he issued the Emancipation Proclamation either before or right after his election as President. It is possible that in 1858, Lincoln wasn’t thinking of the big picture like he was in 1862.

Things had changed in 1862 that allowed Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. As the North got more into the war and its fighting, ending slavery became more of a goal for the North than it was at the start of the Civil War. By the time the Emancipation Proclamation had been issued, the North was much more in favor of ending slavery. Additionally, Lincoln had to be sure the Border States that remained in the Union when the Civil War began would stay in the Union. If he issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1861, he might have lost more Border States to the South. Lincoln also knew that the European countries were ending slavery. By issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, it would signal to Europe that the United States was willing to do the same. There was a possibility that Europe could help the South. By issuing the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862, Lincoln made it clear that the United States was on the same page with Europe regarding the ending of slavery.

There are many reasons for Lincoln’s shifting viewpoints regarding slavery. Each reason made sense at the time for Lincoln taking the position he took at each time period listed in the question you asked.

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There are a number of ways that you could reconcile this.

  • You could say that this was something that Lincoln was saying for political purposes but which he did not mean.
  • You could say that he changed his mind.  Seeing how stubborn the South was being and how it allowed slavery to tear the nation apart might have changed his mind.

For me, though, the best way to reconcile this is to point out that the Emancipation Proclamation did not bring about "the social and political equality of the white and black races."  What it did was to free slaves in the Confederacy as a way of hurting the South and of helping the North win the war.  Taking blacks out of slavery did not make them equal to whites politically or socially.

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