Former President Abraham Lincoln is accredited for creating the Emancipation Proclamation and ending slavery in the United States. Due to his actions before and during the Civil War, it seems as though Lincoln always viewed slavery as a terrible thing that must be stopped immediately. But that was not how he always felt. Lincoln’s views on slavery varied during his political career and his plan of action was mostly based off of how he personally felt about slavery. Lincoln admitted in his speeches that he knew slavery was wrong, but the steps that had to be taken to deal with slavery were never concrete in his mind.
Based on Lincoln’s upbringing, political support and knowledge of the nation, he had many different ideas on how to deal with the issue of slavery during his political career. When Lincoln was a young boy, some of his family who lived in Kentucky owned slaves, but his parents were always against becoming slave owners.
In the church they belonged to, there was a divide between the pro-slavery and anti-slavery members. His parents joined the anti-slavery party and they went on to form their own congregation.
His family then moved and settled in the free state of Illinois. Lincoln’s mom died at a young age which forced his father to become the lead parent, and Lincoln grew to resent is father. He only found comfort in books, and stayed away from manual labor. His decision to become a lawyer was directly affected by his hatred for labor. As Lincoln grew to become a important corporate lawyer, he also took on some cases dealing with slavery. He represented both slaves and slave owners. Yet, when he became the Illinois congressman in 1846, he supported Wimot Proviso.
This would have banned slavery in any territory that was acquired from Mexico. During his Peoria Speech Lincoln stated, “I think I may venture to say I voted for it at least forty times; during the short time I was there. ” (Johnson, p. 15) In Lincolns first thirty-seven years of life, he moved from a slave state to a free state, went from two parents to one and changed careers. The fact that Lincoln took on court cases representing both slaves and slave owners shows that all the changes in his life left him unsure of his stand on slavery.
He represented a slave owner in 1847 -who wanted the return of fugitive slaves- directly in the middle of his term as congressman when he was told to have supported an anti slavery act. All of this indecision in the beginning of his political career eventually helped shaped his view of slavery. In 1854 when Senator Stephen Douglas pushed the Kansas Nebraska Act through congress, Lincoln finally spoke his views with a clear mind. In the Peoria Speech given on October 16, 1854, Lincoln clearly explained his objections to the Kansas Nebraska Act.
This speech was the one that re-solidified his political career after he took time away from politics once his term in congress ended. Lincoln brought up the repeal of the Missouri Compromise and posed the question if the repeal of the compromise was right or wrong. Lincoln felt the repeal was wrong; “…it is wrong; wrong in its direct effect, letting slavery into Kansas and Nebraska, and wrong in its prospective principle, allowing it to spread to every other part of the wide world, where men can be found inclined to take it. (Johnson p. 16) He then goes on to say he hates the “monstrous injustice of slavery itself” and feels it makes America a land full of hypocrites because the idea of a “free nation” is only free for people of the correct skin color. After Lincoln makes these statements, his political mindset kicks in over his feelings about slavery. Up to this point, Lincoln had been discussing slavery based off history and his own feelings as to why it was immoral.
He then shifts to discussing how he would deal with the issue of slavery and indecision comes into his words. He states that he understands southerners aren’t responsible for the creation of slavery and he agrees that it will be hard to get rid of slavery; “If all earthly power were given me, I should not know what to do, as to the existing institution. ” (Johnson p. 16) Lincoln clearly stated his dislike for slavery, yet when it comes time for him to discuss what he would do to amend the problem, he does not have a definite solution.
This uncertainty, I feel, comes from a desire to have political support from states in both the North and the South. He says he “agrees with the southerners” on their feelings about slavery but also agrees with the Northern thought that it is immoral. He isn’t an abolitionist who criticizes southerners because he still fully does not understand his feelings on the African American community as a whole. At one point he even suggests to “send them back to Africa. ” (Johnson p. 17) I believe that while Lincoln is eestablishing his political career in 1854, his desire for vast political support is still clouding his view on how to amend the problem of slavery. The longer Lincoln was involved in politics, the more publicity and support he gained. After he campaigned against Douglas for the Senate, he wrote campaign biography to help spread awareness of his ideals. He then traveled to New York in the early 1860’s to give speeches in Manhattan. Northerners took a serious liking to Lincoln and he became a viable Republican candidate for the northeast.
As Lincoln’s support grew, so did his knowledge of the nation and the political system. He realized that slavery was protected in the constitution and an amendment was needed to change slavery. His new position on slavery was not to abolish it all together, but first stop the expansion of slavery and once it was contained to a few states, he could then work on ending the problem all together. I feel his new outlook on how to attack slavery came about through his exploration of America during his debates with Douglas for the senate.
Lincoln went from wanting to stop slavery all at once, to not knowing what to do with the problem, to finally realizing a viable solution. In his Cooper Union Address in New york, New York on February 27, 1860 Lincoln stated that out of the 39 men who signed the Constitution, 21 of them believed that Congress, not the states, should control slavery and not allow it to expand. He used that point to prove the Republican stance was not a new idea, but an idea that was supported by a majority of the founding fathers.
He calls out the southerners for saying they are conservative when really the Republicans are the ones trying to conserve values that were shared with our founding fathers; “But you say you are conservative… while we are revolutionary, destructive, or something of the sort. We stick to, contend for, the identical old policy on the point in controversy which was adopted by “our fathers who framed the Government under which we live;” while you with one accord reject, and scout, and spit upon that old policy, and insist upon substituting something new. (Johnson p. 51) The “something new” Lincoln is referring to is the specific territories controlling slavery, and this statement supports his argument of trying to stay true to the founding fathers wishes.
Once Lincoln is elected president his views change one last time, and this final view on slavery is what he is remembered in history for. When Lincoln issues The Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation in September of 1862, he alerted the Confederacy f his objective to free all slaves within the rebellious states. He announces that “on the first day of January… 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”. (Johnson p. 132) Lincoln also states that the military will help maintain this idea and aid slaves to freedom. In addition to the proclamation, on February 1, 1865, the thirteenth amendment was passed.
It stated “”Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction. ” (Johnson p. 197) Lincoln’s idea of an amendment, which came to him five years ago, was finally put into action. Abraham Lincoln is credited with ending slavery in America. He did accomplish that large feat, yet his views on slavery changed many times during his political career. His upbringing, need for political support and knowledge of America made him have different ideas on how to fix this injustice.
He was signing anti-slavery acts in Congress while defending slave owners in the courtroom. However, once Lincoln gained the political support he needed to establish his name on the political circuit, he was able to form a plan of action. His plan to end slavery started out undefined but after he gained knowledge of America, he was finally able to take his final stand on slavery. Lincoln singed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862 and the thirteenth amendment officially ended slavery in America.
Johnson, Michael P., ed. Abraham Lincoln, Slavery, and the Civil War. 2nd ed. N.p.: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2011. Print.
Sheppard, Jonathan. “Descent to Conflict.” 14 Nov. 2012. Lecture.
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