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Until it was abolished in 1865, slavery thrived in the United States since the nation’s beginnings in the colony of Jamestown in 1607. In 1776, the founding fathers stated that “all men are created equal” when they declared independence and started a war that freed the 13 colonies from the oppressive rule of Great Britain. However, after “the land of the free” had been established, slavery had yet to be eliminated. After the war of 1812, sectionalism began to grow prevalent in America. The Industrial Revolution in the early to mid-1800s advanced the country technologically while further dividing it as the North became industrialized and the South became more agrarian and reliant on slave labor.
Sectionalism was increased by westward expansion, and began to manifest itself in American politics. The country could have gone to war by the early 1800s, but various political compromises held the two sections together for another half of a century.
The Missouri Compromise of 1820 and the Compromise of 1850 are two important examples.
Tensions built over the 40 years of compromise. Abolitionists worked to gain support in the North while they caused outrage in the South. In the government, everything had to be compromised and everything was a competition, such as legislature and westward expansion. Fortunately, when sectionalism and tensions around slavery boiled over, Abraham Lincoln came to the forefront of US politics. He created a reputation for himself and the Republican Party with a political platform against the expansion of slavery. He became known in the South as an abolitionist through the Lincoln-Douglas debates, and his election in 1860 sparked the secession of 11 southern states from the Union and the beginning of the Civil War.
Abraham Lincoln was the most important contributor to ending slavery in America because of his actions toward winning the Civil War and emancipating the slaves, and he was able to do this because he was an extraordinary politician who handled the circumstances as nobody else could have managed.
Abraham Lincoln’s ability as a politician was crucial in his role as commander-in-chief of the US army during the Civil War, because to end slavery, Lincoln knew he had to win the war. The first thing Lincoln did as president, in his Inaugural Address, was try to calm the frantic South, re-stating that he had “no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery where it exists,” (Halsall). Lincoln’s primary goal was to preserve the Union. As he put it, “If I could save the union without freeing any slave, I would do it,” (Majerol, 25-26). He needed the support for the war from the Northern citizens, many of whom were not abolitionists. Lincoln was faced with another difficult issue throughout the Civil War. Four states—Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware—held slaves but remained in the Union.
If Lincoln waged a war that strongly opposed slavery, he risked losing those Border States to the Confederacy, which would probably cost him the war. Another issue that Lincoln had to deal with over the course of the war was incompetent generals. Lincoln discharged many of his generals throughout the war, which made it difficult to carry out his plans. In a telegram to General McClellan, Lincoln urged him to attack Lee “The present hesitation to move upon an entrenched enemy is but the story of Manassas repeated,” but McClellan ignored the order (Ayers et. al, 369). It was not until Lincoln appointed Ulysses S. Grant commander of all Union armies that he started having consistent success. If Lincoln had not been elected president, slavery may have continued for much longer in America.
Besides the fact that Lincoln, as commander-in-chief, lead the Union Army to win the Civil War, the many proposed compromises in 1860 and 1861 might have allowed slavery to continue in America, such as the Crittenden Compromise. Another important way that Lincoln’s skill as a politician benefited the Union was his treatment of the Confederacy. Lincoln reasoned that since it is unconstitutional to secede from the Union, the Confederacy and its government was illegitimate, and Lincoln’s administration refused to recognize the Confederacy’s independence. This became important later in the war when other nations refused to recognize the Confederacy’s independence.
When the time was right, Abraham Lincoln masterfully changed the ideology of the war to focus on slavery, and he used the slaves themselves as a powerful force in the war and on the home front. Lincoln did this through the First and Second Confiscation Acts, the Emancipation Proclamation, and his Second Inaugural Address. Early in the war, three slaves escaped to the Union Army, raising the question of what to do with fugitive slaves. Under the Fugitive Slave Act, they had to be returned to their owners in the Confederacy. However, Lincoln adopted an ingenious policy of taking slaves as “contraband of war,” treating them as property as the Confederacy did.
Lincoln went on to sign the First Confiscation Act in August 1861, which emancipated slaves that escaped to Union lines. In July 1862, Lincoln signed the Second Confiscation Act, which essentially gave him the authority to emancipate the slaves in Confederate territory (on the grounds that they helped the war effort and were contraband). This legislation helped the Union Army greatly. Over 190,000 soldiers, sailors, and workers came to the Union Army from the Confederacy (McPherson, 193), and at the end of the war, African Americans made up 20 percent of the Union Army (Majerol, 26). The escaped slaves also influenced soldiers in the army who now “were talking with real men and women who had been (and perhaps still were) slaves,” (Goodheart, 15). However, a vastly more important document was the Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln drafted the document in July 1862 and showed it to his cabinet. William Seward reminded him of the importance of timing, so Lincoln waited until the army won the Battle of Antietam to issue the Proclamation. In a letter Lincoln wrote in 1864, he stated “when, early in the war, Gen. Fremont attempted military emancipation, I forbade it, because I did not then think it in indispensable necessity.” Lincoln then cites two more examples of him holding off efforts at emancipation (Fehrenbacher, 257). When it was issued on January 1, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation was a turning point in the ideology of the war. It took a war that had been officially about preserving the Union and made it about ending slavery. The Emancipation Proclamation was a bold move for Lincoln to make because of the pro-slavery Border States.
Lincoln had made “earnest, and successive appeals” there for compensated emancipation, but was rejected (Fehrenbacher, 257). He then had to make a choice between “surrendering the Union” or “laying a strong hand upon the colored element,” hoping to outweigh losses with benefits (Fehrenbacher, 258). Over a year later, Lincoln said he felt no losses, and a gain of 130,000 soldiers, seamen, and laborers. Lincoln certainly had good timing when he issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Britain and France were coming closer to aiding the Confederacy, and in Britain’s case, they only wanted the Confederacy to win one more battle to prove that they were on the winning side of the war. Antietam was a terrible loss for the South, and Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation prevented Britain and France from aiding the Confederacy because they both had anti-slavery governments, and the war was now about slavery. The Emancipation Proclamation was a wise move for Lincoln as an abolitionist, because it allowed blacks to fight in the military, which might lead to citizenship and the right to vote for blacks (“Civil War Black Soldiers”). Lastly, Lincoln focused public attention on the issue of slavery in his Second Inaugural Address, reminding the people know what their brothers were fighting for.
Abraham Lincoln’s most important quality was that he was a great politician, which allowed him to manage the difficult situations put before him in order to provide actual results that ultimately ended slavery in America. Among these results were Union victory in the Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation, the First and Second Confiscation Acts, the Gettysburg Address, and the Thirteenth Amendment. The Union victory in the Civil War is a simple fact, but it was the most indispensable step to the end of slavery in America. Ending slavery meant nothing if the Union did not win the war and control the South again. Additionally, without a war in the first place, slavery might not have ended. It is possible that a compromise could have held the divided nation together without putting an end to slavery. Lincoln’s talent as a politician was also crucial in the Emancipation Proclamation when he released it in time to prevent any foreign nations from intervening and aiding the Confederacy.
Lincoln showed his skill as a politician in the Lincoln-Douglass debates, when he took a careful stance on slavery that he thought would best suit the needs of the nation at the time. Lincoln was constantly stressing that he was not an abolitionist, and it was ridiculous to assume that “Just because I do not want a negro woman for a slave I must necessarily want her for a wife,” (Fehrenbacher, 106). Lincoln proved himself when he ran against Douglas in the presidential election of 1860 and won. Lincoln orchestrated the defeat of the Confederacy and the end of slavery using his political position as president and commander-in-chief, and his cunning as a politician to influence the people of America.
It could be argued that the slaves played a more vital role in securing their freedom than Abraham Lincoln did. The slaves had influential leaders such as Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass. The Underground Railroad freed hundreds of slaves, and it was led by a former slave, Harriet Tubman. Frederick Douglass wrote a book about his life as a slave which influenced public views of slavery in the North. He also published an abolitionist newspaper, the North Star. He also showed people that slaves were treated like animals and stripped of the quality that defines humans: independent thought. “these words sank deep into my heart, stirred up sentiments within that lay slumbering, and called to existence an entirely new train of thought,” (Douglass, 20).
He told about how he was like other slaves until he learned to read and write, and became a human who was able to create his own destiny. These contributed to raising tensions and starting war, which was a necessary evil for slavery to be abolished and the Union to remain whole. These contributions also put pressure on the government to oppose slavery. Moreover, the 190,000 soldiers, sailors, and laborers who escaped slavery and came to the Union Army contributed greatly to the war effort, fighting valiantly and supporting the Army off the battlefield as well. By the end of the war, these soldiers made up 20 percent of the Union army, as well as influencing public opinion in the North.
These were valuable aids to the end of slavery in America, and without them, slavery might not have ended in 1865. However, they are insubstantial compared to the contributions of Abraham Lincoln. First, the emancipation of nearly 200,000 slaves happened because Lincoln had not issued the Emancipation Proclamation and the First and Second Confiscation Acts. He transformed the ideology of a nation when he directed the war at slavery. In comparison with Lincoln’s monumental tasks, the contributions of slaves are insignificant.
In conclusion, Abraham Lincoln was a more important constituent in ending Slavery in America than the slaves themselves because of his contributions as Commander-in-chief to win the Civil War and emancipate the slaves, and he was able to do this because he was an outstanding politician who handled the circumstances with unparalleled capability. Lincoln dealt with the difficult issue of fighting a war in which he could not make many bold decisions for fear of the Border States seceding, and he applied his ability as a politician to lead the Union to victory.
Lincoln faced another difficult issue of how to treat escaped slaves during the war, and altered the entire ideology of the war so that the focus was slavery. He did this with his First and Second Confiscation Acts and, most importantly, a well-timed Emancipation Proclamation. Lastly, Lincoln’s capability as a politician led to concrete actions he took towards ending slavery, including the Emancipation Proclamation, the Thirteenth Amendment, and of course, winning the Civil War, the element without which the end of slavery in America might not have been possible. Lincoln influenced the history of America and (unintentionally) became a martyr. Today, racial discrimination does not exist in US legislation and America is constantly getting closer to complete racial equality.
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