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Lincoln: Conservative or Revolutionary?

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    Abraham Lincoln was president from 1860-1865. During this time span the Civil War began causing Lincoln to make some radical changes to the nation. Although the Emancipation Proclamation freed virtually no slaves, Abraham Lincoln was a revolutionary because it gave the Union a reason to fight and the slaves a reason to resist, allowed Lincoln to show he still had power over the confederacy, and allowed Lincoln to prove that the only way to preserve the Union was to emancipate slaves. Admittedly, the Emancipation Proclamation freed virtually no slaves.

    Lincoln issued this proclamation for the states in the Confederacy, which he had no jurisdiction over. While the slaves were technically freed because Lincoln did not view the South as a legitimate nation, most Southerners did not uphold it. On the other hand, the Emancipation Proclamation did give the Union a reason to fight the Civil War. Previously, the North had no idea why this war was being fought. The Union believed that if the South wanted to secede then the South should be allowed to because otherwise the confederates would cause too many problems.

    The North saw no purpose for this war Lincoln: Revolutionary or Conservative? 3 and it was very hard to risk a life for a cause that was not supported. The Emancipation Proclamation gave the Union a cause to fight for, the abolition of slavery and the reformation of the Union, which the North was struggling to find. The Emancipation Proclamation also gave the slaves a reason to fight for the Union cause. Before the EP slaves saw no way out of bondage. This proclamation gave the slaves hope that one day, freedom would be accessible.

    The proclamation made slaves plan for the future and finally see a life outside of the plantation, which was not possible before the EP was issued. Furthermore, the Emancipation Proclamation allowed Lincoln to prove that the Confederacy was not a separate nation, but rather a rebellious sector of the nation. “Secession was not a just revolution, but an unjust counterrevolution. The right of revolution, is never a legal right… At most, it is but a moral right, when exercised morally for a justifiable cause.

    When exercised without such a cause, revolution is no right, but simply a wicked exercise of physical power (McPherson, 1990, p. 28). ” This quote from Lincoln in James M. McPherson’s, a professor at Princeton University, book shows us that Lincoln never believed that the South was allowed to secede because of a Union pact made between any territory that joined the United States and the Union. The South, however, believed that the elastic clause provided them the justification needed to Lincoln: Revolutionary or Conservative? 4 ecede if a convention was held in each state. Lincoln never believed that the Confederacy left the Union, which made him think he still had power over the Confederacy. Lincoln also realized that the only way to win the war was to weaken the Confederacy, and the best way to do that was economically. The Emancipation Proclamation was issued to do just that. The South was completely dependent on slave labor to keep their economy going. By taking that away, Lincoln was asserting his power as the president and undermining the foundation of the entire Southern empire.

    Finally, Abraham Lincoln’s EP showed that the only way to re-form the Union was to go to war with the Confederacy and emancipate the slaves. In order to stay in office Lincoln had to keep the four border states, Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware, that remained in the Union, from seceding to the Confederacy. In these four states, there was a large pro-Confederate sentiment. Any impulsive decision by the northern government against slavery, would cause those states to secede to the South.

    In the North, nearly half of the voters were Democrats, who supported a war for the Union, but might not support a war for anti-slavery (McPherson, 1990, p. 31). Lincoln knew that the South was too far gone for any peaceful negotiations for reformation to be made. Lincoln realized the only way to bring back the Union was to go to war with the Confederacy and make sure that his four border states stayed with the Union. Also Lincoln: Revolutionary or Conservative? 5 allowing no slavery to take place was a way to destroy the Confederacy.

    The EP lowered the moral of the people fighting and resisting. One of the largest reasons the lower class of the South, which made up the majority of the people in the army, were fighting, was because the lower class wanted to continue slavery. It was the only way the poor could be equal to the rich because slaves equaled wealth and power. If Lincoln took slavery away by issuing the EP, then the vast majority of the people would see no reason for the war and want to give up. Lincoln also felt he had to free the Union from the curse of slavery, and egalitarian view points.

    This was revolutionary because it was the first time a president had linked slavery with the ending progress and new ideas, such as complete male suffrage and equality (Paludan, 1995, p. 46, 48, 54). The Union had to survive and change with the times and the only way to do that, was to end slavery forever. Undoubtedly, Abraham Lincoln was a truly revolutionary man because he proved that the only way to reform the Union, was to end slavery completely. By issuing the Emancipation he united the Union and gave them a cause, and asserted his executive power over the Confederacy. Lincoln changed the face of America forever and that is why he is one of the most revolutionary presidents in history. Lincoln: Revolutionary or Conservative?


    McPherson, J. M. (1990). Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution. In Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution (pp. 23-42). Retrieved from http://virtualschool. bths201. org///. php? id=9934 Paludan, P. S. (1995). Emancipating the Republic: Lincoln and the Means and Ends of Antislavery. In J. M. McPherson, We Cannot Escape History: Lincoln and the Last Best Hope of Earth (pp. 45-58). Retrieved from http://virtualschool. bths201. org///. php? id=9935

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