Abraham Lincoln’s Political and Moral Slavery Dilemma
Abraham Lincoln’s Political and Moral Slavery Dilemma
The sixteenth President of the United States of America, the Great Emancipator, Abraham Lincoln casts quite a historical shadow over any other competing figure. Lincoln was brought into the world on February 12th, 1809 to an incredibly modest upbringing in which he would mold himself into a successful lawyer and later a politician. Abraham received little formal education during his childhood, eventually acquainting himself with the law through the apprenticeship system.
After rising through the Illinois legislature structure, Lincoln went on to serve in the House of Representatives on behalf of the state of Illinois before gaining widespread recognition from his debates with competing Senate candidate Stephen A. Douglas in 1858. The expansion of slavery into the United States new territories was the hotly contested issue of these debates, Lincoln’s stance would eventually propel him into the national spotlight and later the Presidency.
Abraham Lincoln’s views on slavery were split between his political obligations and his moral beliefs, his political actions were influenced by his desire to preserve the Union, and his moral stance on the issue largely stemmed from his deep-seeded belief in the power of the Constitution, not the political or social equality of another race. Abraham Lincoln’s view on slavery was segregated in itself, between how he perceived the issue on a political level and as a moral dilemma facing the United States.
Without the understanding of Lincoln’s differentiated objections to the institution that created such a split in the American people, it is difficult to fully grasp how and why Lincoln acted as he did throughout his political career. Lincoln’s first documented objection to slavery began in the Illinois State Legislature, in which he and Dan Stone protested a piece of legislation that disapproved of abolitionism and affirmed that the Constitution made slavery “sacred to the slave-holding states. ” The major objection to this resolution was that the spread of slavery was being advocated based upon the opinions of policy makers, nstead of constitutionally.
Lincoln’s hard and fast belief in the power of the Constitution would be an overarching theme throughout his career. This protest of an exceedingly popular piece of legislation, recall that only Lincoln and Dan Stone objected in the Legislature, is a significant display of what kind of character Mr. Lincoln possessed. In the face of an overwhelming majority, with literally no opportunity of overturning the decision and risking unpopular opinions, Lincoln was unafraid to express his undying faith in the Constitution.
This theme of continual commitment to the Constitution would go even further in 1854 when the Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed. Through Lincoln’s eyes, this Act was a clear violation of the Missouri Compromise of 1830, which in effect prohibited the spread of slavery into any newly acquired American territories. Lincoln, at this time running for the Illinois House of Representatives, especially opposes the Kansas-Nebraska Act because of what it implies about the United States government.
This Act allows popular sovereignty to decide the legality of slavery in Kansas, in theory the people of the new territory may decide for themselves on the issue. On principle, one must consider that Lincoln could have not been a larger promoter of the idea of popular sovereignty, due to his strong belief in constitutionality. However, issues arise when the Act that is passed is in clear violation of another. The practical repealing of the Missouri Compromise is a major sticking point in this case. Lincoln views this as the government of the United States essentially saying one thing, and then doing another.
The so called indifference towards the spread of slavery is in fact a promotion of the institution. This Act simply promotes the profits of the slavery institution, an act of self-interest that deeply disturbs Lincoln. The slavery issue does impact him on a moral level, because of the injustice upon the individual, but this is not where his greatest objection lies. The tendency towards self-interested legislation instead of deriving power from the Constitution is the largest fear of Lincoln during this era.
The entire institution of slavery has manifested this self-interest, Lincoln quarrels much more with the political element of this development rather than the moral. While campaigning for, and serving as the President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln’s view on slavery depended on the most effective way to preserve the Union. When first entering his Presidency, Lincoln in fact did not want to interfere with the institution of slavery as it currently stood. As stated in his letter to George T. M.
Davis prior to becoming President, “Of course the declaration that there is no intention to interfere with slaves or slavery, in the states, with all that is fairly implied in such declaration, is true. ” Lincoln viewed himself as not only the leader of the United States, but also as the protector of the Constitution. Due to this view of himself, Lincoln was a promoter of gradual emancipation of slaves as a way to compromise the raging extremes of abolitionists and those of the promotion of slavery. However, the Southern states were not receptive of the notion of gradually allowing this institution to fall away.
On September 22, 1862 Lincoln issued the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, which claimed, “all persons held as slaves within any state, or designated part of a state, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free. ” The Proclamation declared that the states that were in fact rebelling against the Union, had one-hundred days to cooperate with the government. The Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation in effect, was Lincoln’s final attempt to end the Civil War in a peaceful manner and preserve the Union.
While being a proponent of the gradual emancipation resolution to the slavery issue, Lincoln’s moral stance on the institution largely stemmed from his belief in the power of the Constitution. Lincoln states his response to witnessing slavery in personal letters, “I confess I hate to see the poor creatures hunted down, and caught, and carried back to their stripes, and unrewarded toils; but I bite my lip and keep quiet. ” As well as, “That sight was a continual torment to me. ” Although personally saddened by the harsh realities of slavery, Lincoln’s moral stance was expressed through his plans for colonization of the slaves.
The President’s proposal to a group of highly educated black men on August 14th, 1862 included a plan for a coal colony in Central America. Lincoln’s rationale for colonization as he expressed it to his audience that day, “But even when you cease to be slaves, you are yet far removed from being placed on equality with the white race. You are cut off from many of the advantages which the other race enjoy. The aspiration of men is to enjoy equality with the best when free, but on this broad continent, not a single man of your race is made the equal of a single man of ours. Although he did not explicitly explain to these gentlemen, Lincoln was justifying his plan of colonization through the Constitution.
By stating that the black race would not enjoy the same advantageous of the other race, Lincoln is referencing the Bill of Rights and entitlement to the vote. Lincoln’s intentions seem to be well, he would like the slaves to be in a place where they are not persecuted, but his intentions stem from his deep conviction in the power of the Constitution. Abraham Lincoln’s view of slavery was differentiated between his political obligations and the moral element of the institution.
While in his Presidency, his political actions were influenced by the desire to preserve the Union. Lincoln’s moral stance toward slavery was largely shaped by his fierce belief in the power and importance of the Constitution. The findings of the analysis seem to suggest that Abraham Lincoln may not be the “Great Emancipator” as many elementary history curriculums state. Also, that the primary motives behind the Emancipation Proclamation could have been to coerce the rebelling states into cooperating with the Union, instead of freeing those locked into the institution of slavery.
Subject: Abraham Lincoln,
University/College: University of California
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 5 November 2016
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