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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
More Questions at Ask Mr. History


9 Responses to Why did Lincoln finally free the slaves?

  1. Jez L. says:

    Well, I’m surprised but certainly glad that someone today, had the nerve to finally point out what in the past had been an obvious and purely logical reason for Lincoln’s action. If Britan & France, who both wanted the Southern Cotton production, were to have recognized and supported the South, then the war and history certainly would have had a different outcome.
    Northern industrialist and their bought and paid for toadies in Washington had forced through legislation and tariffs to see that no one but Northern factories got the Southern cotton.

  2. Joseph Papalia says:

    Actually, Lincoln did not free the slaves with his Emancipation Proclamation as is commonly believed. It was aimed at those states which were in rebellion against the union which he at the time had no control over simply because they were no longer part of the union. Furthermore, he excluded the border states because he was fearful of losing their support. The thirteenth amendment to the Constitution abolished slavery which was passed during the administration of Andrew Johnson, Lincoln’s vice president and successor.

  3. Bruce P says:

    Folks, Lincoln had no power to free the slaves. You need to read the CONUS!
    I would expect a more accurate response from you, Mr. Guttman!r

    But let me fill in some gaps for you so that you can do your homework later:
    Slavery was a protected constitutional right. Pre and during the CW it was legal throughout the US and was only ended when the individual states voted to restrict it within their borders. Lincoln knew he didn’t have the legal right to amend the CONUS. In fact, per CONUS, the President has no role to play in the amendment process at all. Slavery did not end in the US until the 13th Amendment was passed in 1866 (IIRC).
    The Emancipation Proclamation is a legal document that used the president’s wartime powers to prosecute the war. As those states \in rebellion\ (they were still part of the union, Mr. Papalia) the Lincoln Admin maintained, successfully, that their governments were illegal and that the Federal government was, per CONUS, required to step in and stop the rebellion. Freeing the slaves (contraband) in those areas in rebellion deprived the South of the benefits of slave labor and gave a clear moral grounding to the war.
    Lincoln could not free the slaves in Delaware, Kentucky,Maryland and Missouri because those states were not at war with the Federal government, thus no ground for removing their constitutional right to own slaves.
    Places in the South under Federal control. like New Orleans, did not have their slaves freed by the EP because, by being occupied, they were no longer taking arms against the USA and thus entitled to constitutional protections.

    And Jez L., what you stated is patently untrue…Britain was a major recipient of southern cotton. It fueled their textile industry. They were forced to plant cotton in Egypt during the Civil War because their industries were starving for it.
    The South was unhappy with tariffs and the like, but your explanation is much too simplistic.

  4. Robin Hood says:

    Its my understanding that Lincoln was not an active supporter of slavery but was willing to accommodate its place in American society. Initially the main motivation for his actions was to create a larger United States, no more, no less. Freedom for slaves came secondary to that aim and did not come to the fore until the northern states required more manpower to fight the south. It was only then he offered freedom to the blacks who when fleeing the south also deprived the confederates of their labour.

  5. cocoj says:

    any simple answers? maybe dot points please?

  6. Abe's nemesis says:

    Bro, that is so true nice job on your homework i did not think many people besides me knew that. My main reason for doing this is because 1. I’m a confederate sympathizer, though i don’t believe in slavery i still think they could have fixed it. 2. I’m Texan! What self respecting southerner would not want to find Lincoln’s fouls. 3. I’m in favor of another union secession.
    Thanks for telling some people about this.

  7. Abe's nemesis says:

    By the way on my last comment i was talking to Bruce p. I respect you sir.

  8. […] What an insult to Native Americans!  Given, however, that: […]

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