Lincoln And Emancipation


He comes to us in the mists of legend as a kind of homespun Socrates,
brimming with prarie wit and folk wisdom. There is a counterlegend 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 lawyerís 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 itís evils firsthand. What could be done? So went Lincolnís 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 Lincolnís 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 racebaiting. 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 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 Lincolnís 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, Lincolnís 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