Lincoln and the Strategy of Emancipation

By DeAnna Lockett, Class of 2017

For Abraham Lincoln the Emancipation Proclamation was primarily useful in providing a political and military advantage in the Civil War. But it was slavery, Lincoln believed, that had divided the country: “I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction or its advocates will push it forward till it shall become lawful in all the states, old as well as new, North and South.” For Lincoln there was no middle ground. Either the North would prevent the practice of slavery from spreading any further into the West and eventually eliminate it in the entire country, or the South would fight until the practice of slavery was acceptable everywhere in the country including the North. The conflict was inevitable. There was no way to win the war without eliminating slavery.

Although Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation mainly as a military tactic, he strongly despised slavery. Lincoln made the claim to Stephen Douglas, that he believed blacks were equally deserving of the “right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, which included the right to the fruits of their labor.” Lincoln also believed blacks were entitled to the right to pursue their interests and indeed strive for the American dream.

Ironically, though he believed in the equality of the races, Lincoln seems not to have been a true abolitionist. In a letter sent to Horace Greeley, the editor of the New York Tribune, Lincoln stated, “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union.” Abraham Lincoln’s primary goal in fighting the Civil War was to reunite the country. However, slavery was the main cause of the South’s seceding from the Union. Therefore, there was no way to win without abolition.

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