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Lincoln And The Emancipation Proclamation

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Lincoln and Emancipation

He comes to us in the mists of legend as a kind of homespun Socrates, brimming with prairie wit and folk wisdom. There is a counter legend of Lincoln, one shared ironically enough by many white Southerners and certain black Americans of our time. Neither of these views, of course, reveals much about the man who really lived--legend and political interpretations seldom do. As a man, Lincoln was complex, many-sided, and richly human. He was an intense, brooding person, he was plagued with chronic depression most of his life. At the time he even doubted his ability to please or even care about his wife. Lincoln remained a moody, melancholy man, given to long introspection about things like death and mortality. Preoccupied with death, he was also afraid to insanity. Lincoln was a teetotaler because liquor left him "flabby and undone", blurring his mind and threatening his self-control. One side of Lincoln was always Supremely logical and analytical; he was intrigued by the clarity of mathematics. As a self-made man, Lincoln felt embarrassed about his log-cabin origins and never liked to talk about them. By the 1850s, Lincoln was one of the most sought after attorney in Illinois, with a reputation as a lawyer's lawyer. Though a man of status and influence, Lincoln was as honest in real life as in legend. Politically, Lincoln was always a nationalist in outlook, an outlook that began when he was an Indiana farm boy tilling his farther mundane wheat field. Lincoln always maintained that he had always hated human bondage, as much as any abolitionist. He realized how wrong it was that slavery should exist at all in a self-proclaimed free Republic. He opposed slavery, too, because he had witnessed some of its evils firsthand. What could be done? So went Lincoln's argument before 1854. To solve the ensuing problem of racial adjustment, Lincoln insisted that the federal government should colonize all blacks in Africa, an idea he got from his political idol, Whig national leader Henry Clay. Then came 1854 and the momentous Kansas-Nebraska Act, brainchild of Lincoln's archrival Stephen A. Douglas. At once a storm of free-soil protest broke across the North, and scores of political leaders branded the Kansas-Nebraska Act as part of a sinister Southern plot to extend slavery and augment Southern political power in Washington. The train of ominous events from Kansas-Nebraska to Dred Scott shook Lincoln to his foundations. Lincoln waded into the middle of the antiextension fight. By 1858, Lincoln, like a lot of other Republicans, began to see a grim proslavery conspiracy at work in the United States. The next step in the conspiracy would be to nationalize slavery: the Taney Court, Lincoln feared, would hand down another decision, one declaring that states could not prohibit slavery. For Lincoln and his Republican colleagues, it was imperative that the conspiracy be blocked in its initial stage - the expansion of slavery into the West. Douglas fighting for his political life in free-soil Illinois lashed back at Lincoln with unadulterated race baiting. Forced to take a stand against Douglas ruin him with his allegations, Lincoln conceded that he was not for Negro political or social equality. Exasperated with Douglas and white Negrophobia in general, Lincoln begged American whites "to discard all this quibbling about this man and the other man---this race and that race and the other race as being inferior. Lincoln lost the 1857 Senate contest to Douglas. Yet for the benefit of the Southerners, he repeated that he and his party neither would nor hurt slavery in the South. But Southerns refused to believe anything Lincoln said. At the outset of the war, Lincoln strove to be consistent with all that he and his party had said about slavery: his purpose in the struggle was strictly to save the Union. There were other reasons for Lincoln's hands-off policy about slavery. He was also waging a bipartisan war effort, with Northern Democrats and Republicans alike enlisting in his armies to save the Union. But the pressures and problems of civil war caused Lincoln to change his mind and abandon his hands policy about slavery and hurl an executive fist at slavery in the rebel states. Sumner, Lincoln's personal friend was especially persistent in advocating the freeing of the slaves. Sumner, as a major Lincoln adviser on foreign affairs, also linked emancipation to foreign policy. Black and White abolitionists belabored that point too. The pressure on Lincoln to strike at slavery was unrelenting. On that score slaves themselves were contributing to the pressures on Lincoln to emancipate them. Lincoln however stubbornly rejected a presidential move against slavery. Nevertheless he was sympathetic to the entire rage of arguments Sumner and his associates rehearsed for him. In March 1862, he proposed a plan to Congress he thought might work: a gradual, compensated emancipation program to commence in the loyal border states. At the same time, the federal government would sponsor a colonization program, which was to be entirely voluntary. If his gradual state-guided plan were adopted, Lincoln contended that a presidential decree---federally enforced emancipation---would never be necessary. The plan failed. Most of the border men turned him down. He had given this a lot of grave and painful thought, he said, and had concluded that a presidential declaration of



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