Why did Lincoln finally free the slaves?

2/5/2013 • Ask Mr. History

Lincoln said he didn’t think the U.S. Could survive while being made of 1/2 slave states and 1/2 free states. So why did he finally decide to free the slaves?

A. H. Adams

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Dear Ms. Adams,

Although Abraham Lincoln had always had a personal dislike of slavery, he was indeed willing to tolerate it in the states in which it was well established if it could preserve the Union—and if it did not spread to other states in future. After the South seceded, however, Lincoln decided that they’d had their chance and all bets were off. Always balancing pragmatism with idealism, he waited for a convincing enough victory to give the impression of dealing from a position of strength, which Antietam provided, and then issued the Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863. That proclamation was not only aimed at the Rebels, however—it was designed to force the moral factor of slavery into the forefront before Britain (which had banned the slave trade in 1831) and France—both of which had been considering recognizing the Confederacy. In doing this, Lincoln turned a battle that on the tactical level had been an unsatisfyingly marginal victory for the North into a major strategic victory.



Jon Guttman
Research Director
World History Group
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