Research Paper on Abraham Lincoln (Racism and Slavery)

Our 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, served his time as president during the Civil War from 1861-1865. In 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation was issued under an executive order by the president, effectively announcing freedom for all slaves in the United States. Many people think of Abraham Lincoln as the man who freed millions of slaves from the south, but is he the great and civilized man we have all been taught?  

Born on February 12, 1809, Abraham Lincoln started his life humbly within a one-room log cabin in Kentucky. In 1816, his family moved to Indiana, where Lincoln received some schooling but had to work to help his family. Even though he received minimal education in his youth, Lincoln self-taught himself the law and, in 1837, he was acquitted to the bar allowing him to practice law in Illinois. 

After starting his career as a lawyer, Lincoln begins to make clear distinctions that he “hates slavery.1” In 1837, Lincoln joined with County Legislator Dan Stone to make his first denunciation of slavery. At a protest in Illinois, Lincoln said, “the institution of slavery is founded, on injustice and bad policy,2” which was the beginning of his public thoughts on the topic. Again, many times before becoming president, Lincoln would talk about slavery, which gives us a view of his beliefs. 

Abraham Lincoln said he was against slavery, but he was not an abolitionist. Instead of calling for immediate emancipation, Lincoln would work for years in the slow legal process of initiating freedom for slaves. He was a man of the law; he knew how important the constitution was and how the founding fathers allowed slavery to exist in southern states. Lincoln, not knowing how to address the situation, made a speech in Peoria, Illinois, in 1854, where he explained his resistance to slavery but also his confusion. 

Lincoln believed slavery to be morally wrong; he said this many times throughout his career. He would also express several times how difficult it would be to free all slaves. It is noticeably clear that he was against slavery to a great extent, but he did not necessarily believe that blacks and whites should have the same rights. In 1858, during the fourth debate between Lincoln and Stephan Douglas, Lincoln says, “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,3” along with this he followed saying he opposed Blacks having the right to vote, sit on a jury, and to hold office.  

Many abolitionists had tensions with Lincoln because of his ideology. Even though Abraham was very anti-slavery, he did not want blacks to have the same rights as whites. Although Lincoln was not for total equality, he did believe that black men and women had the right to improve the condition of their lives. He believed they had the right to better the state of their lives rather than the position they held in society. In the early years of his career, his views on emancipation were a counter to abolitionist beliefs, but over the course of his life, they began to resemble each other increasingly more. Similarly, his position on equality changed over time; he even argued for some black suffrage. During one of his last speeches, he said black men who served should have the right to vote. 

In the summer of 1862, Congress passed an Act, making slavery illegal in all federal territories. Lincoln had signed the Act, believing it to be unconstitutional, but legal within the presidential powers as commander-in-chief. Around the time the Act passed, Lincoln was reviewing a draft of the Emancipation Proclamation. The freedom of slaves was beginning to fall in order as these were the first of several legal moves towards emancipation; the 13th4, 14th, and 15th amendments would later be based on these early moves working for freedom.  

Lincoln’s primary goal as president was to maintain peace and unity within the country. One substantial reason for his opposition to emancipating all slaves would be resistance from the south. If slaves were to be released via military action and in an immediate response, the relationship with the south would completely shatter. Lincoln knew this, so his answer to the problem was emancipating slaves over a sizable period, rather than one quick movement. In the middle of the civil war, the Emancipation Proclamation was issued under the executive order of President Lincoln. Several European nations had their opinions swung, increasing the popularity of the Union in countries that had already outlawed slavery.  

Amid the war, the Emancipation Proclamation was declared. Beginning in January 1863, slaves began to escape from slavery. There was not a large slave rebellion, but instead, slaves would escape in small groups. Slaves that made it out of confederate control and into the Union were made permanently free. It would have been difficult for slaves to make it out of confederate land; it would sometimes take weeks in camps along the underground railroad, many would turn back to their masters after coming close to starvation. 

As mentioned earlier, Lincoln’s beliefs about emancipation changed as he matured. His plan for freedom changed too, and what used to be small steps toward the looming goal turned into great leaps for the good of all people. In the course of his presidency, more than 3.9 million slaves were set free and escaped out of confederate jurisdiction and into the north, where they could live life experiencing freedom. 

Lincoln is known as the Great Emancipator. Many people today might not be under the same opinion; they might think that he only did because he had to for him to maintain power. Others might be under the impression that Lincoln didn’t want to free slaves, as he was against it in his younger years, and he said that he didn’t necessarily believe blacks should be allowed the same rights that white people had. Lincoln never said that he did not want black people to be free; Lincoln only ever said it would be unconstitutional to suddenly free slaves. Abraham Lincoln always said he hated slavery, and even though he declared he didn’t think equal rights ought to be given in totality, he did care for black men and women. Former slaves had been interviewed after being freed, and dozens said that Abraham Lincoln came to their plantation disguised as a beggar to tell them they would soon be free. There are no official records he ever visited these plantations, but almost forty accounts say he did. Along with these stories, hundreds of slaves would go and try and meet with Lincoln after being freed; Fredrick Douglass would get to meet with President Lincoln several times, and in a lot of his writing, he showed great respect for Lincoln. 

Lincoln may receive some dissenting responses from a vast amount of abolitionists, but I believe that Lincoln has been given the credit he deserves. Lincoln showed his hatred for slavery, and he even began to expound authorization to increase black suffrage later in his life. Candidly, I believe that Abraham Lincoln was anti-slavery. 


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