All Nonfiction Bullying Books Academic Author Interviews Celebrity interviews College Articles College Essays Educator of the Year Heroes Interviews Memoir Personal Experience Sports Travel & CultureAll Opinions Bullying Current Events / Politics Discrimination Drugs / Alcohol / Smoking Entertainment / Celebrities Environment Love / Relationships Movies / Music / TV Pop Culture / Trends School / College Social Issues / Civics Spirituality / Religion Sports / Hobbies
- Summer Guide
- College Guide
- Author Interviews
- Celebrity interviews
- College Articles
- College Essays
- Educator of the Year
- Personal Experience
- Travel & Culture
- Current Events / Politics
- Drugs / Alcohol / Smoking
- Entertainment / Celebrities
- Love / Relationships
- Movies / Music / TV
- Pop Culture / Trends
- School / College
- Social Issues / Civics
- Spirituality / Religion
- Sports / Hobbies
- Community Service
- Letters to the Editor
- Pride & Prejudice
- What Matters
Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation: The Myth
Every American knows the story of the Great Emancipator, and how Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves with the stroke of his pen, but this great American story is false. The Emancipation Proclamation was not a revolutionary document that freed the slaves and nor did it provide hope for the future treatment of African Americans. Lincoln was no emancipator. He was simply a politician, whose main goal was to preserve the Union. The Emancipation Proclamation was a politically motivated device Lincoln used to accomplish this goal. History has transformed Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation to the image worthy of exaltation because of false assumptions and misunderstandings of their true character.
Before Lincoln wrote the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln’s ideas about the black and white races were far from what one would expect from the “great emancipator.” Lincoln said, “I am not, nor have I ever been, in favor of bringing about any way the social and political equality of the black and white races.” Most historians assumed that since Lincoln wrote the Emancipation Proclamation, then he must have had sympathy towards African Americans. He was believed to have had great knowledge about race relations and had always been “a friend of the negro.” In reality, Lincoln was no different than other White American males during his time, in which most were racists. A major part of the Lincoln myth is that he was a strong supporter of equality and despised slavery, but honestly his feelings were at least indifferent if not actually the opposite of what is believed. Some historians even go as far to say that Lincoln was actually a white supremacist. They find their support in Lincoln own words. In a debate between Lincoln and Stephen Douglas, Lincoln said, “I, as well as Judge Douglas, am in favor of the race which I belong having the superior position.” And for more evidence he also added, “Free them [slaves] and make them politically and socially our equals? My own feelings will not admit of this. We cannot, then, make them equals.” Lincoln was also a supporter of the Illinois Black Codes, which refused citizenship to free blacks and the Illinois Constitution, which prohibited the emigration of black people into the state. He was also an advocate of the Fugitive Slave Law. Lincoln strongly defended the right of slave owners “to own their property.” He said, “when they [slave owners] remind us of their constitutional rights [to own slaves], I acknowledge them, not grudgingly but fully and fairly; and I would give them any legislation for the reclaiming of their fugitives.” His racial ideas continued to affect his politics in his early presidency as well. In his First Inaugural Address, he showed his support of the proposed constitutional amendment to prohibit the federal government from ever having the power to abolish or interfere with slavery in the States.
Lincoln said, “What I would most desire would be the separation of black and white races.” Lincoln didn’t feel that blacks could be “equal” in America. Lincoln believed former slaves should colonize some other part of the world. He proposed free slaves go to colonize in Africa, Central America, Haiti – basically anywhere but America. Liberia was created so free blacks could go back to recolonize in Africa. Lincoln pressed his cabinet and Congress to accept and implement his view, and tried to urge blacks to realize that it would be best for all if they left the U.S. Lincoln invited 5 local black leaders to the White House to get their support for colonization. He said, “You and we are different races. Whether it is right or wrong I need not discuss, but this physical difference is a great disadvantage to us both, as I think your race suffers greatly, many of them by living amongst us, while ours suffer from your presence. In a word we suffer on each side. If this be admitted, it affords a reason at least why we should be separated.”
Lincoln felt he had no direct way of ending slavery. After repeated failures of colonization, Lincoln proposed a new idea. An indirect way was to offer federal buy-outs to slaveholders. The government would pay slave owners for their loss of property. Lincoln realized that slavery could no longer exist in the Union – they were fighting a war because of it. When speaking to a group of blacks at the White House, Lincoln said, “But for your race among us there could be no war, although many men engaged on either side do not care for you one way or the other. Nevertheless, I repeat, without the institution of slavery and the colored race as a basis, the war could not have an existence” Lincoln sent a message to Congress recommending compensated emancipation in the border states, where Delaware being the border state with the least amount of slaves, would serve as the testing ground for ending slavery in all of the border states. In 1861, Lincoln made a plan for Delaware, where Delaware legislature would receive US bonds in exchange for making a bill to setup a timetable for abolishing slavery. If the plan was successful, Lincoln was sure other border states would follow, and “gradual emancipation and governmental compensation” would end slavery. Lincoln felt that gradual emancipation and compensation would be the best way to end slavery and preserve the Union in the process because both sides – abolitionists and slaveholders – would benefit, but Delaware turned down the buy-out plan. Lincoln’s first emancipation bills called for the government or states to execute gradual emancipation:
And I hereby make it known that it is my purpose, upon the next meeting of congress, to again recommend the adoption of practical measure for tendering aid to the free choice or rejection of any and all States, which may then be recognizing and sustaining the authority of the United States, which may then have voluntarily adopted, or thereafter voluntarily adopt, gradual abolishment of slavery within such State or States – that object is to practically restore, thenceforward to be maintain[ed], the constitutional relation between the general government, and each, and all states, wherein that relation is now suspended, or disturbed; and that, for this object, the war, as it has been, will be, prosecuted.
He tried to get his cabinet to approve of $400,000,000 compensation plan to slave masters, but it was also a failure, and thus the end of gradual emancipation and compensation.
Lincoln and the Union defined their policy during the war as “restoration of the Union.” Congress announced on July 22, 1861, that the purpose of the war was not “interfering with the rights or established institutions of those states,” otherwise known as slavery, “but to preserve the Union with the rights of the several states unimpaired.” Lincoln’s main objective was always to restore the Union. He wrote in letter to Horace Greely saying, “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and it is not either to save or destroy slavery.” Slavery was never Lincoln’s concern. When Lincoln entered the war, there were only seven states that had seceded, and there were more slaves in the Union than in the Confederacy, and Lincoln didn’t have any plans of freeing them. He only entered the war to regain the states in secession.
Congress and the Union generals were already leaning towards emancipation, but the president was holding them back. Lincoln drafted different emancipation bills at different times for different situations, but they were all alternatives to other emancipation plans that called for immediate emancipation, which shows his reluctance towards emancipation. The 1st replaced the Gott Amendment. The Delaware bills were to replace Charles Fremont’s emancipation decree. The Emancipation Proclamation replaced the Second Confiscation Act. Fremont was the Union general during the guerilla warfare in Missouri. In an attempt to weaken the Confederate Army, he issued the Fremont Proclamation, which declared martial law throughout the state. It stated that any person who resisted the federal army would have their property confiscated and their slaves declared free. Unionists were of course exempt from the emancipation of their slaves. When Lincoln found out about the proclamation, he nullified the emancipation part and stripped Fremont of his command. Union general David Hunter also tried to emancipate slaves in Union- controlled territory in Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina, but Lincoln responded with similar actions. In 1862, Congress passed the Second Confiscation Act. The law declared confederates traitors and called for the confiscation of their property and freedom of their slaves. The Emancipation Proclamation was actually regressive because it didn’t go as far, but it would nullify the act.
Lincoln explained his hesitation on emancipation because the Constitution clearly forbade him to act “on the moral question of slavery.” Lincoln defenders say if Lincoln were to issue an emancipation decree, the southerners would have brought it up in courts, and eventually the Supreme Court where Justice Taney could possibly end emancipation for good. Slavery was a “matter of law” in the south, and Lincoln couldn’t do anything about it because the laws for slavery were state laws, and a legal “firewall” separated the states powers from the power of federal government. Lincoln said, “I have never understood that the presidency conferred upon me an unrestricted right to act officially upon this judgment and feeling,” when talking about his feelings toward slavery. Lincoln described his position on slavery using the words of Henry Clay, “opposition to slavery in principle, toleration of it in practice, and a vigorous hostility toward [the] abolition movement.” Lincoln thought he abolitionist were zealots, who would never succeed in their cause and die out. Lincoln defenders claim Lincoln was reluctant because he had no constitutional power, and Lincoln was a devout supporter of the constitutional government and defender of the Constitution. If this were true, how does that explain why he suspended writ of habeas corpus? Or how he unconstitutionally created West Virginia? Lincoln also had the military arrest many political opponents, including newspaper editors. He all communication censored, and elections were rigged – Democratic voters were intimidated by soldiers. He also had the Border States disarmed, which violates the Second Amendment. If Lincoln really wanted to free the slaves, he would’ve freed them even without the constitutional power.
The Union was on the verge of losing the war, and many were blaming Lincoln because of his soft slavery policies and inactivity of the military, but Lincoln needed the support of the Border States and the Democrats. Lincoln admitted he was starting to feel the pressure for emancipation. Pressure came from black and white abolitionists, like Frederick Douglass and Wendell Phillips, governors, congressmen, and other men with high political power. They threatened to withhold their soldiers, weaponry, and money if Lincoln didn’t stop his “soft-on slavery policy.” Foreign nations, including England, were also threatening to recognize the Confederate States Independence. Making Slavery a reason for the war effort would counteract the rising outcry in Britain for recognition of the Confederacy. Lincoln was very desperate. He said the Union had “reached the end of our rope on [military] plan of operation. Lincoln’s cabinet agreed that nothing could be lost from the Emancipation Proclamation because it could hardly even be enforced, but it would help facilitate the prosecution of the war and secure sympathy of Europe for the Union, who would agree with the new anti-slavery/emancipation motive. Also, due to the lack of Union success, Lincoln hope that emancipated slaves would help the army need for manpower. Lincoln also thought it might incite a slave insurrection or at least the threat of one. Either way, the Confederacy would be scared, like the South after Nat Turner’s Rebellion, and it would benefit the Union. Lincoln decided it would be less of a lost if he freed the slaves, than gave up the Union, so in late spring of 1862, he decided to write the Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln saw no contradiction between his previous statements about blacks and slavery and the Emancipation Proclamation because he felt that in order to save the Union; he would have to free the slaves, despite how he felt. Lincoln said “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that. What I do about slavery and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union…”
Lincoln saw no legal objection to the Emancipation Proclamation because of his rights and duties as commander-in-chief “to take any measures which may best subdue the enemy. As a result, it had no effect on nearly half a million slaves in the border states, and more than three hundred thousand slaves in areas of the Confederacy occupied by Union soldiers – Tennessee, and parts of Virginia and Louisiana. Most slaves lived in places where the proclamation couldn’t be enforced, because it could only be applied on states in rebellion because of how Lincoln derived its power. It constitutional legality is derived from the president’s authority as military commander in chief. The proclamation applied almost exclusively to areas under Confederate control. After signing the Emancipation Proclamation, Secretary of State Seward said, “I mean that the Emancipation Proclamation was uttered in the first gun fired at Fort Sumter, and we have been the last to hear it. As it is, we show our sympathy with slavery by emancipating slaves where we cannot reach them, and holding them in bondage where we can set them free.” Blacks responded with joy to the Proclamation, but the document is more celebrated than read. They read it selectively. Most Blacks couldn’t read, and even those who could, didn’t understand it, and chose to ignore the language. Quarles said, “In a document proclaiming liberty, the unfree never bother to read the fine print.” Blacks saw the Emancipation Proclamation as a document of freedom. They didn’t make distinctions between the areas that were included and those that weren’t.
Lincoln viewed the Emancipation Proclamation as a tool he used to accomplish his real objective: restoration of the Union. The Emancipation Proclamation holds its place as one of America’s most important documents, “not because of the perfection of the goal to which it aspired.” At most, the proclamation tried to save the Union by freeing the some of the slaves. In many ways the Emancipation Proclamation is really a hoax. It is covered in “language of equality and freedom,” but its actual legal power is very limited. In reality it just disguises Lincoln’s true political motives with the ideal of universal liberty and equality. The language of the proclamation doesn’t show any real change in the Lincoln’s objective. He said it was “a fit necessary war measure for suppressing said rebellion.” He regarded the proclamation as a war measure to defeat the rebellion and save the Union. The language of the proclamation has the sound and quality of a legal contract. Lincoln focuses on the role of the military and constantly mentions the rebellion. Any confusion over whether the proclamation was merely a tactic to advance the Union cause or the creation of a new cause toward universal liberty was erased when Lincoln added the exceptions:
Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, (except the Parishes of St. Bernard, Plaquemine, Jefferson, St. John, St. Charles, St. James Ascension, Assumption, Terrebonne, Lafourche, St. Mary, St. Martin, and Orleans, including the City of New Orleans) Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia, (except the forty-eight counties designated as West Virginia, and also the counties of Berkley, Accomac, Northampton, Elizabeth City, York, Princess Ann, and Norfolk, including the cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth) and which excepted parts, are for the present, left precisely as if this proclamation were not issued.
The Border States were also considered exceptions to the proclamation. Lincoln defenders claim since the Border States were not in rebellion he had no power over them, and that’s why he left those slaves in captivity . But what they failed to realize is that Lincoln did have control over them as commander-in-chief. They claim Lincoln could only free slaves in rebellion, because of his power as commander-in-chief, but he could have also free the slaves the in the Border States because his war powers. Lincoln had the authority to suspend normal operations of civil law, and rule by decree. Lincoln took advantage of these powers in other cases – suspension of writ of habeas corpus. This shows the proclamation was just part of Lincoln’s strategy during the war.
During Lincoln’s time, most Americans followed a common path of their view of Lincoln. First, they distrusted him, and were disappointed in the election of a small town lawyer with no prior political experience. It gradually changed to acceptance of his skills during the Civil War. After his assassination, it changed to near deification. In 1865, Americans gave Lincoln credits so high, they were nearly flawless for his political skills and talents, military strategies, speechmaking abilities, and general great leadership qualities.
African Americans praised Lincoln for his commitment to emancipation and racial equality. Early biographers assumed Lincoln’s emancipation policies were indistinguishable from his personal feelings toward African Americans. They said Lincoln was racially pure of heart. Lincoln is said to “met head-on the greatest challenge of his country as the land of the free – the challenge of the Negro.” Although, W.E.B. Dubois said Lincoln wasn’t always anti-slavery. He said, “The scars and foibles and contradictions of the Great do not diminish but enhance the worth and meaning of their upward struggle.” Abolitionist, William Lloyd Garrison, first saw Lincoln as a “politician with compromised antislavery credentials.” After the proclamation, he believed Lincoln would work hard to end slavery, and give rights to the free black slaves. After Lincoln’s death, he followed suite and became a full pledge follower of Lincoln or the “Great Emancipator.”
Lincoln defenders use various techniques to hide the real Lincoln, and the actuality of the Emancipation Proclamation. “By omissions and evasions, by half-truths and quarter-truths and lies, by selective quotations and suppressed quotations, by begging the question and forgetting the question and ignoring the question, by committing all the logical fallacies in the book, and by inventing new ones, by all these methods and others,” Lincoln defenders have managed to transform a man into an image worthy of praise. Lincoln is more than just a president. He is a “religion” and the Emancipation Proclamation is the “Bible.” Lincoln has become such an American icon that one discovers that much of Lincoln historiography is not an attempt to explain history but an attempt “to devise rationalizations or excuses for Lincoln’s behavior.” Lincoln supporters refuse to believe that Lincoln was fueled by political motives, or that he was actually a racist as heart. It would ruin their culture and religion. The truth is blasphemy to them.
It is generally difficult to find facts about true character of Lincoln, without looking at his works themselves. Like most politicians, Lincoln was not above saying one thing to one audience and something else to another. Lincoln speeches and writings usually offer support for both sides of an issue. Lincoln could be considered the “text-book example” of a gifted and talented fence-straddling politician wanting to have it both ways – in favor of and opposed the racial equality at the same time – as an attempt to maximize political support. But why isn’t this kind of information available? In most cases, the information has been deliberately overlooked, and in other cases it is accidently overlooked from generations of practice of not associating certain things with the beloved president.
Many people changed their view, and sometimes records, of Lincoln after his assassination. They were appalled by the deed, and “afflicted by varying degrees of remorse and guilt.” Before his assassination, Lincoln had many critics and few disciplines, but after his assassination it was vice versus. It became necessary to “get right with Mr. Lincoln and the myth.” People felt guilty if they spoke the truth about Lincoln, because of his tragic death. This was the beginning of the Lincoln discipleship, where follower would find many ways to create and keep the grand image of Lincoln intact.
One technique historians use to portray the iconic Lincoln is called anticipatory absolution. The historian would anticipate a racist or anti-emancipation move by Lincoln, and give him an absolution the act. They’ll say something like “Lincoln is going to act like a racists but not to worry because he is only responding to the racism of his constituents.” When in reality Lincoln was just a racist, and against emancipation. One historian using this technique when describing Lincoln’s cherished idea of colonization. He said, “Because one of the chief objections to emancipation was the widespread belief that whites and blacks could never live together harmoniously, he [Lincoln] revived his long-cherished idea of colonizing blacks outside of the United States.” Actually Lincoln didn’t believe blacks and whites could live together, and nor did he want them to. Other scholarly absolution is to say the Lincoln “knew” or was “aware” or “recognized that he had to do certain things. In example would be that Lincoln was hesitant to issue an emancipation proclamation because he knew there would be a lot of opposition. Another major technique used by Lincoln defenders is the isolated quotes. They take his words out of context, like modern-day tabloid reports, and make him say exactly the opposite of what he really said. Many scholars used the same quotations from Lincoln, and nearly all leave out any part that make Lincoln seem like a racists or otherwise taint his image. Almost every historian uses the “We Cannot Escape History” speech, but they never mention that the reason Lincoln gave the speech was as an attempt to persuade Congress to pass constitutional amendments calling for a federally funded deportation plan of African Americans. The quotation mostly used from the Emancipation Proclamation is, “declare that all persons held as slaves… are, and henceforward shall be free.” This is the only part of the proclamation that adds the image of the Great Emancipator, because the rest of the proclamation language is bland, and has unnecessary limitations that would take away from its greatness. The Emancipation Proclamation is views as the beginning of racial equality and advancement in America, when it really didn’t do anything. Lincoln defenders recognize that no slave was actually freed by the proclamation, but they argue that it still had a moral influence. Though it didn’t effectively do anything, they said it changed racial ideas of the time. They fail to realize the document was not a treatise on racial equality to bring about freedom of the slaves, but merely a war decree.
By generations and generations of varying techniques Lincoln defenders have managed to transform of a talented politician into a Great Emancipator, a president to a savior, and a man to an icon. The true Lincoln is not the popular image every American knows about. That is the image Lincoln defenders have created – the Lincoln myth. Lincoln was a normal politician whose main goal was to save the Union in a time of war. He never had any intentions to end slavery. It just happened because he felt it was necessary to preserve the Union. The Emancipation Proclamation isn’t a revolutionary document that freed the slaves. No slaves were freed by the proclamation. It was written as a war measure by Lincoln in order to further his cause. He covers it in language of equality and freedom only to hide its true politic motives. Lincoln was above all a politician, not a great humanitarian. The idea that Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation because his own deep feelings of hatred toward slavery and kindness to the slaves is all part of the Lincoln myth. The real Lincoln was a true racist, who strongly defended white superiority over blacks, and believe that blacks should colonize in some other part of the world. In conclusion, Lincoln main goal was to save the Union, and the Emancipation Proclamation was his tool in doing so, but history has transformed it into something greater.
Huntington, New York