Abraham Lincoln Essay Research Paper Many Americans

Abraham Lincoln Essay, Research Paper

Many Americans believe that Abraham Lincoln was the

“Great Emancipator, the sole individual who ended slavery,

and the man who epitomizes freedom. In his brief

presidential term, Lincoln dealt with an unstable nation,

with the South seceding from the country and in brink of

leaving permanently. The differing ideologies between the

North and South about the economy and slavery quickly lead

to civil war. It was now the duty of Lincoln to maintain

the unity of the nation. Therefore, Lincoln is not the

“Great Emancipator” because his primary goals throughout his

presidency was always to maintain the unity of the nation

and not achieve the emancipation of slaves.

First of all, by looking at Lincoln’s road to the white

house, one can see that Abraham Lincoln was a man undecided

on the issue of slavery. He wisely used the issue of

slavery to appeal to both the abolitionists and to

Negrophobes, Northerners who were afraid of living side-by-

side with Negroes and competing with them for jobs. For

example, on July 10th of 1959, Lincoln gave a speech in

Chicago, a primarily abolitionist town. Lincoln stated that

inequality was unnecessary in this country. If all men were

created equal then were should look past race, saying, “Let

us discard all these things, and unite as one people

throughout this land, until we shall once more stand up

declaring that all men are created equal” (Hofstadter, pg.

148). On the other hand, Lincoln gave a speech in

Charleston, on September 18, 1858, a primarily pro-slavery

town and gave a totally contrary opinion. Lincoln stated

that he is not, or has ever been, in favor of freeing slaves

and giving them social equality. Lincoln stated, “I am not,

nor ever have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of

Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office” (Hofstadter,

pg. 150). Clearly, Lincoln was an undecided politician who

was merely looking for votes. He never had any intention of

ending slavery, but was rather looking for his own personal

gains, and by appealing to both ideologies; he gained the

necessary support to elect his president.

From the beginning of his presidency, at Lincoln’s First

Inaugural Address, it is clear to see he was not the “Great

Emancipator,” but a man trying to maintain the unity of the

nation. Lincoln believed that he had “no purpose, directly

or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery

in the States where it exists.” Lincoln continues and says,

“I believe that I have not lawful right to do so, and I have

no inclination to do so” (Majewaki, pg. 70). Lincoln was a

humble politician. He in no way wanted to endanger the

unity of the nation. But it is important to see that his

First Inaugural Address was given in March of 1861, already

after the Southern states had succeded from the nation.

What Lincoln was trying to accomplish was to return the

Southern states to the union. Lincoln even goes as far as

notifying the South that certain Legislatures have been

passed to ensure their state rights, and the

constitutionalism of slavery, “holding such a provision to

now be implied constitutional law,” and that “(he) has no

objection to its being made express and irrevocable.”

(Majewski, pg. 75). Also, in a letter to Horace Greeley,

Lincoln sates that unity of the nation is his primarily

goal, with or without slavery. “My paramount object in this

struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or

to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without

freeing any slave I would do it.” Lincoln goes on and says,

“What I do about the slavery, and the colored race, I do

because I believe it will help save the Union” (Majewski,

pg. 77). Thus, it is clear to understand that Lincoln’s

primary goal was to save the union and not achieve the

emancipation of slaves.

Even during the civil war, when the slavery issues were

at its most debated, Lincoln still looked for national unity

over emancipation of the slaves. First of ll, the Critteden

Resolution, which declared that the war with the seceded

states was not based on conquest or subjugation, had failed.

Secondly, Lincoln’s plan of compensated emancipation had

also failed. Lincoln had an alternative idea of dealing

with the Negro. By colonizing the Negroes in Central

America, Lincoln would be doing two things: one unifying the

nation, and secondly was allowing more work for the free

white worker. But this also failed. Lincoln was not in a

tough predicament. Losing popular sentiment among

Northerners, Lincoln had to take an alternative position,

something that he had never wanted to do, side with anti-

slavery. “Until I felt that we had reached the end of our

rope on the plan of operations we had been pursuing; that we

had played our last cards, and must change our tactics, or

lose the game. I know determined upon the adoption of the

emancipation policy.” (Hofstadter, pg. 169).Once Lincoln’s

original plan had failed he had no choice but to look

towards emancipation, otherwise national unity

would be impossible. This was the basis for Lincoln’s

Emancipation Proclamation.

The Emancipation proclamation was written in 1863, in a

time when northerners felt that the Civil War was coming to

an end. Most importantly, for the unity of the nation,

Lincoln used this document as a military necessity. This

document in other terms was also a justification of the

Civil War. It states that such a war had taken place

because certain states had joined in an armed rebellion

against the unity of the United States. Lincoln was a man

who seized on timely events to emphasize his point. As

Lincoln states himself, “I claim not to have controlled

events but confess plainly that events have controlled me”.

(Hofstadter, pg. 171). Thus, Lincoln’s original intent was

never the emancipation of slaves, but the unity of a nation.

Lincoln was not the “Great Emancipator”, but a man who was

made by the events that occurred around him.

Lincoln was a politician. His goal since his

inauguration was to maintain the unity of a nation and not

to achieve the emancipation of the slaves. He tried to

achieve this goal by any means necessary, by appealing to

both the abolitionists and the pro-slavery southerners. Only

in a last attempt, when unity seemed unachievable did

Lincoln compose the Emancipation Proclamation. But if

Lincoln is not deserving of the “Great Emancipator” title,

then who freed the slaves? The emancipation of the slaves

was achieved by various factors, which included the

abolitionist movement, the direct effect of the civil war,

and the role of slaves themselves.

One of the greatest influences in the emancipation of

the slaves was the role of the abolitionists. Forms of

abolitionism came in many different ways. For example, the

Quakers played an important role in portrayed ex-slaves were

good workers; men who were said to “work well”. Also , they

noticed that thy were very religious. “When we entered,

they were all kneeling, at prayer”. This depiction allowed

allowed many northerners to better understand these ex-

slaves, since most of them had never seen them before.

(Majewski, pg.64).

Another great influence was Frederick Douglas. Douglas

pushed for the rights of the Negro and demanded their right

to vote. He believed that it was a contradiction of what

the American government stood for, this ideal of “universal

suffrage”, if the Negro himself could have the right to

vote. “No class of men can, without insulting their own

nature, be content with any depravation of their rights.”

As more and more Negroes began to be educated, they

understand that they were being denied their basic right,

the right to vote. “We want it, again, as a means for

educating our race” (Majewski, pg. 86). People like

Frederick Douglas were one the key reasons for the

emancipation of slaves. He was educating not only his

fellow Negroes, but the Northerners as well.

Finally, there was the Civil War. The civil war was the

most important factor deciding the issue of slavery, Lincoln

cannot be called the “Great Emancipator” because he had no

direct control over the soldiers that fought the battles.

It is also important to understand that many fugitive slaves

began to fight on the Northerner side. Slaves were willing

and able to put their lives on the line for freedom. The

civil war determined the issue of slavery. What would have

happened if the South had been victorious? The union would

have permanently been divided and slavery would probably

still exist today. No matter all the ideologies that

Lincoln believed in, he was not the “Great Emancipator.” A

southern victory would have left him powerless and his

Emancipation Proclamation would have been void.

Lincoln cannot be called the “Great Emancipator” because

his ideologies were conflicting with his true intentions.

In pursuing the presidency, he gave conflicting beliefs

about slavery to attain the necessary votes to elect him to

office. Then, once the Civil War began, he was merely

trying to preserve what was left of an unstable union. The

true “Emancipators” of slavery lie in the grass roots people

of that time, the abolitionists, Frederick Douglas, and the

slaves themselves. The slaves earned their freedom.

Lincoln was merely a man who let the events of his era

determine his policy.

“I claim not to have controlled events but confess plainly

that events controlled me.”


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