, Research Paper
The True Greatness of Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln is known as one of the greatest presidents in the history of The United States, mainly for his emancipation of slaves. But was Lincoln really an advocate of the rights of blacks? Lincoln had the intention of preserving the Union and satisfying the American people, yet he was indecisive about his racial views of mid-nineteenth century America. Although Lincoln freed some slaves, he had a very negative view towards the black race. Lincoln was not a great president because he emancipated the slaves, but a great president because he preserved The Union.
Lincoln was indecisive on the issue of slavery. He did not want to abolish the entire institution of slavery but he also did not want it to spread. He believed that slavery was a moral wrong and stated this when he spoke in front of abolitionists in Chicago saying “Let us discard all this quibbling about this man and the other man, this race and that race and the other race being inferior, and therefore they must be placed in an inferior position. Let us discard all these things, and unite as one people throughout this land, until we shall once more stand up declaring that all me are created equal.” But he also felt that abolitionists were also wrong in trying to do away with slavery. Hofstader states that Lincoln believed that “…the institution of slavery is founded on injustice and bad policy, but that the promulgation of abolition doctrines tends to increase rather than abate its evils.” This means that Lincoln thought that slavery was wrong but proposing to do away with it is also wrong because it makes slavery worse.
Lincoln also believed that slavery was wrong because it might endanger the working class. Lincoln believed that every person, no matter how poor, had a chance to succeed in life. He thought that the expansion of slavery would endanger this. His thoughts are shown when he says
“…One of the reasons why I am opposed to slavery is just here. What is the true condition of the laborer? I take it that it is best for all to leave each man free to acquire property as fast as he can. Some will get wealthy. I don;*t believe in a law to prevent a man from getting rich; it would do more harm than good. So while we do no propose any war upon capital, we do wish to allow the humblest man an equal chance to get rich with everybody else. When on starts poor, as most do in the race of life, free society is such that he knows he can better his condition; he knows that there is no fixed condition of labor for his whole life…That is the true system.”
Lincoln was first and foremost a politician. After giving an anti-slavery speech to abolitionists in Chicago a few months before, Lincoln reversed his position on slavery and argued for the right of the institution of slavery to exist. Lincoln showed his beliefs on the inferiority of the black race in his speech to Southern slave holders in Charleston. “I will say, then, that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races: that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people… And inasmuch as they cannot so live, wile they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.”
Many people believe that Lincoln fought The Civil War to free the slaves but that is far from true. In fact, Lincoln himself stated that “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and it is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without any slaves, I would do it, 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.” Lincoln demonstrated this belief during The Civil War. In the beginning of the war, Lincoln avoided the slavery issue because “He did not want to lose the support of the war effort that existed among Unionist slave holders in the border states and antiblack citizens elsewhere in the North.” But as the war went on, Lincoln knew that the North needed a cause worthy of the sacrifices the war required. The Emancipation Proclamation provided Lincoln with the cause that he needed. This is the true reason Lincoln freed the slaves.
In conclusion, Abraham Lincoln was a great man not for his beliefs on slavery but for preserving The Union. Lincoln did not hold a strong view on slavery and therefore should not be known for his decisions on slavery. If Lincoln was not president during The Civil War, he might not have been viewed and honored as one of the greatest presidents in American History.
Blum, John M. The National Experience A History of The United States New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich College Publishers, 1963.
Hofstadter, Richard The American Political Experience And The Men Who Made It New York: Vintage Books , 1948
Neely, Mark The Abraham Lincoln Encyclopedia New York: McGraw Publishings, 1982