Lincoln's Conflicting Ideals

By Devon K., Carla D., Sara D.

Lincoln deplored slavery, but his main goal was to restore the Union as quickly as possible. If this could be done with the ending of slavery, so be it. If not, he would sacrifice his beliefs to preserve the Union.

Lincoln's dream was to reunite the Union with as little bloodshed as possible. In a letter to Horace Greeley, the editor of the New York Times, Lincoln wrote:

	"I would save the Union.  I would
	save it the shorest way under the
	Constitution." (Frazier, 137)

With statement he voiced his opinion to the world.

Slavery was the key to the Southern economy, without it the Southern Empire would crumble. The destruction of slavery was a personal wish of Lincoln's and one he would gladly implement if it would help to restore the Union. On the other hand, Lincoln's political ambitions did not include the abolition of slavery unless it helped him restore the Union to its original state. While trying to decide what to do, Lincoln asked himself this question:

	"Would my word free the slaves, when
	I cannot even enforce the Constitution
	in the rebel states?" (Bailey and Kennedy,

Until the rebel states were liberated, Lincoln knew he was powerless to enforce any proclamation of emancipation. But he was well aware of the psychological impact of the declaration on the slave holders, who would become worried that the slaves would see themselves as free human beings. The slaveholding population would become so paranoid about possible rebellions and uprisings which would diverting valuable military and economic resources desperately needed by the Confederate army. The freeing of the South's slaves was primarily a military maneuver, but it was one that carried a moral weight. Lincoln also knew that he would probably loose the valuable border states if he declared all slaves free. In order to prevent alienation of the border states while retaining their military significance, he phrased the Emancipation Proclamation in the following neutral manner:

	"...all persons held as slaves within
	any State, or designated part of a 
	State, the people whereof shall then 
	be in rebellion against the United
	States, shall be then, thenceforth
	and forever free." (Frazier, pg. 138)

This middle-of-the-road approach allowed Lincoln to satisfy everyone (but the Confederacy) with nothing. His statement freed no slaves in reality because his control over the slaves states in rebellion was illusory. And yet, when the general public in the North heard or read the phrase "thenceforth and forever free" they conveniently missed the clause that inflicted the bite of the proclamation on states that had chosen secession. Such a high road quieted opposition to Lincoln and the war while strengthening the Union's moral position abroad. (Baily and Kennedy, pg. 435).

Lincoln also used the Emancipation Proclamation to recruit black soldiers for the dwindling Federal army.

	"And I further declare and make known 
	that such persons of suitable condition 
	will be received into the armed service of 
	the United States..." (Frazier, 139).

Personally, Lincoln detested slavery. Politically, however, he advocated anything that would work to keep the Union together. In the letter to Horace Greeley he stated:

	"What I do about slavery and the 
	colored race, I do because I believe
	it helps to save this Union; and
	what I forbear, I forbear because
	I do not believe it would help
	to save the Union." (Frazier, 138)

Lincoln was an admirable man for his ability to cast aside his personal feelings for the greater good.

The Civil War was a turbulent time. Many sacrificed their ideals, dreams, and even their lives. Lincoln was one of those who had to alter their ideals. He personally believed that all people, black or white, deserved to be free. He also believed in the security of the Union. His actions during the Civil War proved that his love for the Union was the greater of the two.

Devon K.
Carla D.
Sara D.


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

___________________________,  Voices of America
"The Emancipation Proclamation" Houghton
Mifflin Company 1985. (As given January 1,

Bailey, Thomas A. and David M. Kennedy.
The American Spirit "Lincoln Expresses Misgivings"
D.C. Health Company, 1991 (adapted from The Complete Works of Abraham Lincoln).

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