the Great Emancipator

the Great Emancipator The title of "Great Emancipator" became Lincoln's with the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation

in September, 1862. Although it actually freed very few slaves - because it applied only to those areas in rebellion against the United States - it earned the enthusiasm of black and white abolitionists throughout the Union. The idea of Lincoln as Great Emancipator was embraced most enthusiastically by those who had the most invested in slavery and in emancipation: the black community. Following his assassination, former slaves together contributed a total of $17,000 for a monument of their gratitude to Lincoln. Unveiled eleven years after the shooting at the Ford Theater, the Freedmen's Monument is important as an expression of the feelings of former slaves for their "best friend." (Braden,89.) Frederick Douglass' speech on the occasion of the unveiling of the statue illustrates the conflict within this myth, the impossibility of being both Savior of the Union and Great Emancipator simultaneously. Overall, when judging Lincoln and his decision to emancipate the slaves one must consider all of the contributing factors which helped influence Lincoln¶s decision. For example, many historians have considered factors such as, his relationship with General George B. McClellan, the degree of pressure he received from his advisors, cabinet members, abolitionists and other anti-slavery advocates, and the value of the black population in the war. However, the most significant factor that influenced Lincoln¶s decision to emancipate the slaves was the respect he had for the Constitution and the principles it stood for. Lincoln disagreed with slavery because it deprived people from life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. He believed slavery was wrong for numerous other reasons, but its violation of democratic and egalitarian principles is the most significant. Critics of Lincoln have argued that Lincoln¶s approach towards emancipation was one of hesitancy and reluctance. This is partially true. Lincoln exhibited racial prejudices regarding African Americans and their abilities to successfully assimilate to being normal participating members of American society. Furthermore, he also opposed the interracial relationships and the amalgamation of the black and white races. However, Lincoln¶s hesitant approach towards freeing the slaves was most heavily influenced by his fear of violating the

After Lincoln witnessed the honor and pride in which African Americans fought for their own freedom. his views of Blacks evolved. process. much like . maybe Lincoln falls somewhere in between both of these extremes in relation to the spectrum of being remembered as the Great Emancipator. The truth is. the main reason he supported this process was because he doubted the abilities of Whites to except Blacks as equals. However. As a result the questions remains. Lincoln¶s respect for the Constitution influenced the timing. Ultimately. and persuaded by others into ending an unpopular and dying institution as a war measure to help preserve the Union and prevail victorious over the South? Perhaps. For example. Moreover. and language of the Emancipation Proclamation. pressured. Critics of Lincoln have argued that Lincoln should have used his power to fight hardier for the enfranchisement of African Americans. who was Lincoln really? Was he secretly an abolitionist attempting to conceal his identity in order to remain politically relevant only to one day be elected to the highest ranking political position in order to strike down the practice that he despised so dearly? Or was he merely forced. he was one of the largest supporters of the idea of colonizing African Americans. After considering the enormous degree of racism exhibited towards African Americans during the mid-nineteenth century.Constitution and abusing his power as President. after Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Or better yet. the opinions Lincoln had regarding African Americans were ones of ambiguity. Lincoln willingly accepted the request of respected abolitionist Fredrick Douglass to increase the wages of Black Union soldiers. the reality was a combination of both of these things. However. African Americans were permitted to actively participate in the military. Lincoln expressed a more pessimistic view of African Americans¶ future in the United States after the Civil War. For example. His respect for them as American citizens grew tremendously.

until ultimately ending slavery by emancipating the slaves in 1863. Lincoln¶s hands were tied when attempting to attack slavery from behind a podium. the Nat Turner rebellion. he risked contributing more harm than good to the possibility of removing slavery from the United States. the solution was far more complex² and not so black and white. Overall. his campaign period for presidential election in 1860. throughout the Civil War. and finally.net/web/creative/lincoln/speeches/cooper. Prior to the start of the Civil war there had been several violent events that occurred over the slavery issue in the United States including Bleeding Kansas. http://showcase. again after the Southern states seceded almost immediately after his election.answering the question of slavery in the mid-19th century. he constantly reminded Southerners that he meant their precious slavery no harm.1 Yet. After the Peoria speech. Lincoln unknowingly and unintentionally continued on his path to the Presidency. However. Lincoln repeatedly faced the obstacle of during the years preceding his presidency. In fact. and John Brown¶s raid Harper¶s ferry. Lincoln was not responsible for any of these events. by speaking out against slavery. Douglass in a series of debates in 1858 in number of slavery related topics including the nationally dividing and controversial Dred Scott Supreme Court decision of 1857 and the violence provoking Kansas-Nebraska act of 1854 1 Abraham Lincoln.htm . he continued to battle slavery¶s expansion by debating Stephen A. at the same time. Lincoln argued against slavery as a violation of the principles which the Constitution and Declaration of Independence were founded upon. Abraham Lincoln Online: Speeches and Writings. Cooper Union Address. He continuously argued against the popular beliefs among slave-owners that slavery was a right protected by the Constitution. these events most certainly helped to perpetuate the feelings of sectionalism among Northerners and Southerners which helped lead to the Civil War¶s beginning. more often than not. At times.netins. Furthermore.

³would consent to the extension of it [slavery] rather than see the Union dissolved [«]´. 1854. In this speech.3He concluded by candidly admitting that he was not angry or resentful towards slavery¶s protectors (Southern slave-owners) for refusing to forfeit their right to own slaves. no other than that. Lincoln willingly admitted that he. as in many others. he expressed sympathy and understanding to their predicament by acknowledging the complexity of ending slavery.2 Additionally. neither that other man nor anybody else has a right to object. vol. as a principle. Basler (New Brunswick. 270. if one man chooses to make a slave of another man. fearing the idea of racially mixed society or the possibility of a race war among blacks and whites. Roy P. 2 Abraham Lincoln. he repeatedly advocated for the gradual and compensated emancipation of African American slaves followed by the policy of colonization² an idea for which he himself had admitted at times to be near impossible to effectively execute without utter disaster. October 16th. In fact. in Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln.J. II.Now what is Judge Douglas' Popular Sovereignty? It is. 3 Ibid. 255. Illinois. 1953). Despite Lincoln¶s clear disapproval of slavery¶s existence this did not necessarily mean he was willing to immediately end it at country¶s expense.: Rutgers University Press. . ed. N. Speech at Peoria.

This is clearly demonstrated by Lincoln when he wrote to Hodges.This is no more evident in a letter Lincoln wrote to Kentucky Editor.net/web/creative/lincoln/speeches/hodges.netins. Letter by Abraham Lincoln to Albert Hodges . I had even tried to preserve the 4 Abraham Lincoln. ³I am naturally antislavery. And yet I have never understood that the Presidency conferred upon me an unrestricted right to act officially upon this judgment and feeling. in the end.´4 Lincoln continued by asserting that he was not acting on his ³judgments or feelings´ regarding slavery when he issued the emancipation. nothing is wrong. in which Lincoln admitted that slavery was an institution which he had always opposed and believed was morally wrong but. Ultimately. to justify this act. I can not remember when I did not so think. Albert Hodges. If slavery is not wrong. according to Lincoln¶s logic. Abraham Lincoln Online: Speeches and Writings. had no right as President to infringe upon its existence. the Constitution depended upon it.http://showcase. the preservation of the nation and. he argued he was acting on his feelings regarding the war and his ability as President to uphold his oath to protect the Constitution. Instead. to the best of my ability. ³I could not feel that. and feel.htm . as a result. he was constitutionally supported by the oath of the office he took when he became President and the threat the war presented to the Union to issue an emancipation freeing the slaves because.

I should permit the wreck of government. willingly admitted his reluctance to free the slaves by the means of an immediate emancipation. or any minor matter. This had always been Lincoln¶s position on the federal government¶s right to interfere with slavery. However.constitution. he concludes. In the letter. he risked losing the war. . if. to save slavery. the last this it necessary to the preserving the Union. and Constitution all together. by acknowledging the benefit African Americans provided to the Union war effort and ultimately winning the Civil War. Lincoln argued that in his best judgments. Lincoln defends his position by pointing out the times he repeatedly defended this 5 Ibid. thus Lincoln was led to seek an alternate route. Furthermore. by allowing slavery to exist. no state ever agreed to such plans.´5 Lastly. However. country. It was Lincoln¶s intention to leave immediate emancipation as a last resort after exhausted all other possibilities and being more supportive of a gradual and compensated emancipation agreed to by state legislatures. even in the United States. in this letter Lincoln. the President confesses his own fear about freeing the slaves and allowing them to actively participate in the military on behalf of the Union cause. Therefore.

Ultimately. the question still remains: Being the constitutional conservative he was. Lincoln did act on his ³judgments and feelings´ regarding African Americans and slavery when he issued the emancipation.6 Yet.position when he repealed orders of emancipation issued by his generals. Lincoln defended his position to issue the emancipation as war necessity by stating he However. why did Lincoln issue the emancipation knowing it more than likely was not in his powers as President to do so? Lincoln answered this in his letter to 6 .

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