The Union- the First Priority

On December 20, 1860, South Carolina seceded from the Union. This led to the secession of fifteen other states, which formed the Confederate States of America. Most felt that the Civil War was a disagreement over slavery between the Union and Confederacy. Lincoln recognized at the start of the war that preserving the Union was more important than the issue of slavery.

Lincoln once wrote," My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy slavery." (Frazier, 138.) Lincoln's war aim was to preserve the Union not necessarily by ending slavery or keeping slavery. The North tried to drag the south into the Union but this was not easily done. As the war continued, Lincoln became more of an abolitionist. Lincoln stated that he would save the Union while freeing no slaves, some slaves, or all slaves. The Union was his first priority.

Since the Union was Lincoln's first priority he wrote "I shall do less whenever I shall believe that I am doing hurts the cause and I shall do more whenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause." (Frazier, 138.) One thing that Lincoln did to "help the cause", was to write the Emancipation Proclamation. The Emancipation Proclamation declared that "all persons held as slaves within any state, or designated part of a state, the people where of shall then be whereof shall then be, thenceforth and forever free...".(Frazier, 138). By declaring the slaves of seceded states free, Lincoln was trying to keep the border states with the union. Therefore, if the border states (slave states) remained with the union, they could still have slavery. Even though Lincoln had an "oft-expressed personal with that all men everywhere could be free," (Frazier, 138.) he still went against his personal beliefs and promised slavery to states in the union. To Lincoln anything was worth saving the union.

Lincoln said "Physically speaking we can not separate." (Bailey, 414) In other words, Lincoln felt that if United States were bound together by land, then we get along. Slavery was an issue that caused many people to have strong opposing opinions. The majority of the people were willing to fight for their opinion. Lincoln acknowledged in his second inaugural address that "Both parties [disapproved of] war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came. " (Frazier, 141.)

Congress also agreed with Lincoln that preserving the Union should be the main goal. " defend and maintain the supremacy of the Constitution, and to preserve the Union with all the dignity, equality, and rights of the several stated unimpaired; and that as soon as these objects are accomplished the war ought to cease." (Bailey, 430.)

Overall, Lincoln's first priority was preserving the Union. His efforts are greatly appreciated for helping preserve the government that we take for granted today.

By: Lisa Zaleski
Katie B.
Rhonda L.
Carly W.


Bailey, Thomas, & Kennedy, David. The American Pageant, D.C. Heath and Company, 1983.

Bailey, Thomas, & Kennedy, David. The American Spirit, Congress Voices its Views (House Journal, 37th Congress, 1st session (July 22, 1861), p.123)

---------------------, Lincoln answers Greeley's Prayer (R.P. Basler, edl, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (New Brunswick, NJ. Rutgers University Press, 1953), Vol.5, 388-389 (August 22, 1862), D.C. Heath and Company, 1983.

Frazier, Thomas, R. Voices of America, Readings in American History, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1985 "Lincoln's Letter to Horace Greeley" (Adapted from New York Tribune, August 25,1862)

_______________, "Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation" (From United States at Large, XII (1859-1863))

_______________, "Abraham Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address" (From J.D. Richardson, ed., A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents, 1789-1897 (Washington, D.C., 1899), Vol. 6).

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