Abraham Lincoln's Presidency

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What were some of the major issues Abraham Lincoln faced while he was in office?  

Some of the major issues that Abraham Lincoln faced while he was in office included the secession of many of the Southern states, the outbreak of the Civil War, worry over whether the Emancipation Proclamation could withstand a legal challenge, and a low approval rating from his constituency.

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One of Lincoln's earliest and most serious challenges was the secession of Southern states. Before he took office, South Carolina had already seceded, and it was followed by Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee in 1861. Lincoln was against expanding slavery, but the American South depended on it to support its largely agrarian economy. When South Carolinians attacked Fort Sumter in April of 1861, the Civil War began. It raged until April of 1865 when General Lee of the Confederacy surrendered to General Grant of the Union.

In 1863, Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing slaves, but he remained concerned that after the war ended the judiciary could overrule his proclamation. Lincoln wanted a Constitutional amendment to protect it, and it came in December of 1865, months after his death.

Though there were not approval polls for the president's performance like there are now, Lincoln was fairly unpopular by 1863. He faced the challenge of maintaining control of the Union army and building support for his presidency. He was widely regarded as being indecisive; he was said to give his generals too much latitude to make their own strategic decisions. He was forced to revise his leadership style, and in doing so, soon saw victories at Vicksburg and Gettysburg, though casualties reached catastrophic numbers. In his address at Gettysburg, Lincoln not only dedicated the military cemetery but also emphasized the need to finish the was so that the casualties would not have died in vain and that the nation would be reunified.

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In addition to the major issues that Lincoln grappled with—secession, slavery, and the danger of Peace Democrats suing for peace with the confederacy—Lincoln also faced a number of other issues that were greatly concerning.

For a good portion of the Civil War, Lincoln faced the constant threat that Great Britain would enter the war on the side of the Confederacy. Britain had close mercantile ties to the South and was generally sympathetic to the South's aims. But with the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863 and the Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg six months later, the threat that Great Britain would ever actively support the Confederacy was greatly diminished.

Lincoln also dealt almost daily with a cabinet that often did not support his policies, especially regarding the ultimate fate of slavery. As Doris Kearns Goodwin makes clear in her fine book on Lincoln and his cabinet—A Team of Rivals—Lincoln chose his cabinet to include several of his rivals during the election so that he could have the full impact of their expertise and viewpoints as the nation moved toward civil war. But it was a constant struggle dealing with their high opinion of themselves and their low opinion of Lincoln.

Finally, Lincoln spent a great deal of time during the war making sure that the border states—Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri—all stayed with the Union, even though by geography and cultural ties they were more Southern than Northern. A good example of how he managed this situation is the Emancipation Proclamation. The issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation carefully only included the freeing of slaves in states in rebellion against the Union (the Confederacy) and not the pro-union border states, whose support for the Union would have been seriously called into question had slavery been eliminated within their borders during the war.

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While Abraham Lincoln was President, he faced many issues. One issue dealt with the secession of some of the southern states. Since the United States had forts in the South, President Lincoln was going to need to send supplies to these forts. He knew this could start the Civil War. President Lincoln decided to announce he was sending unarmed ships with supplies to Fort Sumter. This would force the South to decide if they would attack our ships and start the Civil War.

When the Civil War began, President Lincoln had to ensure that certain states remained in the Union. For example, if Maryland seceded, Washington, D.C. would have been in Confederate territory. President Lincoln arrested those members of the Maryland legislature that supported secession. As a result, Maryland remained in the Union.

President Lincoln had to deal with a lack of success in the Eastern Front of the Civil War. General McClellan hesitated at times to move his army. Opportunities were lost to attack the South as a result of this failure to move the army. President Lincoln eventually replaced General McClellan.

There were people, called Peace Democrats, who believed we should stop fighting in the Civil War and make an agreement with the Confederacy. President Lincoln refused to do that, and eventually, the Union prevailed.

President Lincoln also needed to make a statement regarding slavery. He issued the Emancipation Proclamation. This symbolically freed the slaves in the South. It also made it clear that President Lincoln wanted to end slavery.

There were many issues facing President Lincoln while he was President.

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