Inspiration for Emancipation
Abraham Lincoln was a man of principal and he was determined to help America in any way he could. From his early political days as a Senator in Illinois to the height of his career as the President of the United States of America, Lincoln was a commanding force for social change. This was never more evident than in his rising determination to end the “peculiar institution” of slavery in his United States. Lincoln’s desire to end slavery was very deeply rooted into his morals and his own opinions. Lincoln’s source of determination for this change came from his childhood and the more formative years of his life, he also demonstrates this determination in his developing relationships with abolitionists, and later friendships with them. Finally, it is shown in his conduct among African Americans which is much above the social norm, showing his higher moral values.
Lincoln was not always anti-slavery however during his life he made great strides to the man that would one day issue the Emancipation Proclamation. By 1864 and near the end of the civil war he claimed that "If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong." Lincoln began his political career as a Whig member and ran for the Senate against Stephan Douglas. He lost that election however this gave him a higher profile on the national stage. He showed his growing anti-slavery sentiments during these debates because Douglas was a very pro slavery Senator, this brought out the slavery argument in a big way as Douglas was seeking to show the South how anti-slavery Lincoln was. Lincoln showed his feelings towards slavery, that he was not opposed to slavery staying in the states that it were in, but was opposed to spreading it into the free states or any new states to enter the Union. According to La Wanda Cox, he never stooped to the level of pure racism during these debates, despite the pressure from Douglas. Despite his late start in the ending of slavery it is obvious that he knew it was wrong from the very beginning.
From the beginning, Abraham Lincoln’s childhood obviously influenced his political and moral stances on many issues. To start, Lincoln’s parents were both very anti-slavery, and one can guess that Lincoln grew up with this same sentiment, following his parents’ example. His parents both belonged to a section of the Baptist church that had denounced slavery and looked down upon the Southern states for being slave holders. The particular church Lincoln belonged to was divided on the issue of slavery and Lincoln’s parents stuck with the side that favoured anti-slavery. Lincoln’s views must have been influenced by this action of anti-slavery conviction done by his parents and his fellow church goers. In addition to joining the newly formed anti-slavery section of the Baptist church, also they moved away from Kentucky, Lincoln’s birthplace, to Indiana “partly on account of slavery” Lincoln recalled. This must have been a large move for a young Lincoln who only knew Kentucky. This move was a defining example in young Lincoln’s life that likely gave him an anti-slavery sentiment to use in his later life. Finally Lincoln’s first true encounter with slavery came in his trips to New Orleans, delivering potatoes and other produce to Mississippi via flatboat for a wealthy land owner named James Gentry. On one of these boat trips he was attacked by a group of seven black thieves who Lincoln and Gentry’s son Allen fought off the boat. When they arrived in Mississippi they sold the produce, just like every other trip. However, this time, they decided to take in a slave auction. Once Lincoln saw how the slaves were treated he wrote in a journal was not surprised that the thieves attacked their boat. This first experience could very well have been the founding moments for Lincoln to truly appreciate the slaves’ plight, past what his parents and his church had taught him previously. To summarize, Lincoln’s formative years gave him many perspectives on slavery, some from his church which divided itself based on the issue, some from his parents who went through many different measures to avoid aiding slavery, and finally from his own experience in New Orleans, that gave him true knowledge of what slavery can do to a person. These things all set the groundwork for the conviction he would have against slavery in his later years as President while freeing the slaves by issuing the Emancipation Proclamation.
Secondly, Lincoln’s deep desire to end slavery is expressed in his several meetings with prominent abolitionists and their opinions of him and his conduct. First of all, the most important and arguably most active abolitionist of the time was an African American named Frederick Douglas. The very first time Douglas met with Lincoln he called him an “honest man.” Lincoln showed his dedication to end the “peculiar institution with his several meetings with Douglas after. Douglas wrote about these meetings with Lincoln, saying that his position on slavery was “reasonable.” This was a high praise coming from Douglas, as he was a very tough critic of people that claimed to abolitionists but were really just opportunists. Another abolitionist that Lincoln met with was Martin Delany. Lincoln treated this officer the same as any other officer that was at the same station of Delany. Lincoln read a battle plan that Delany had wrote, and decided that it was good enough for battle and charged Delany with commanding the battle. He was sent to meet with the secretary of war after his meeting with Lincoln. Lincoln would not have put such trust in a Black man if he did not have some abolitionist sentiment. He wanted the African Americans to be known as “a peaceable, inoffensive people” after the war was over, so he put Delany in command, giving him respect and authority helping the cause of the abolitionists. Finally, after Lincoln’s death Douglas spoke at his monument in Washington. Douglas praised Lincoln for being the one that set the slaves free because, “under his wise and beneficent rule, and by measures approved and vigorously pressed by him, we saw that the handwriting of ages, in the form of prejudice and proscription, was rapidly fading away from the face of our whole country.” This is a great honour to have such a famous abolitionist speak this way about you. Lincoln must truly have been a great man and a key contributor to the Emancipation of the slaves if Douglas is giving him such high praise. To conclude, the way Lincoln felt about the abolitionists of the time and the time he took to meet with them and hear their opinions greatly shows his humility and his dedication to the equality of all people and his determination to end the institution of slavery.
Lincoln’s actions and his conduct before, during and after the civil war have shown the character of a man that is not only against slavery, but one that believes in equality and the rights of African Americans. One particular incident from near the end of the war shows Lincoln’s humility and his respect for the African Americans as equals. Lincoln was walking with his son to a general’s headquarters. He happened to cross paths with an African American former slave who said to him in his broken English, “May de good Lord bless you, President Linkum!” and then he bowed to Lincoln out of respect for the man he thought so highly of. Lincoln then did something unexpected. He then bowed to the African American, and tipped his hat to him, as if it was natural. This, however, was a show of respect, and it happened in front of his son, setting an example for him. He showed a great respect for a person that just four years ago the entire South regarded as property. Another instance of respect was shown to his new friend Frederick Douglas who was invited to a party in the White House after the war was over. Blacks were not invited however; Lincoln personally let him into the party. This was an extreme show of humility and respect for this friend whom he met on the road to abolition. The final incident that shows Lincoln’s feelings on the matter of slavery and equality is when he signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. Lincoln paused before signing it, while his Secretary of Stare urged him to sign the document for the press that was waiting outside. Lincoln, who had been shaking hands all day insisted on resting his hand because he did not want people to say that after seeing his shaky handwriting he was hesitant when signing this momentous Proclamation. This event shows Lincoln’s extreme amount of respect for the occasion and the people he is signing this for. All in all, Lincoln shows his respect through his actions throughout his political career and this high level of respect expressed his determination to end the oppression of a whole race of people.
Abraham’s principal and moral values guided his conduct throughout his whole life and, this was never more present than his determination to end the “peculiar institution” of slavery in his United States. Lincoln’s desire to end slavery was very deeply rooted into his morals and his own opinions. Lincoln’s source of determination for this change came from his childhood and his more formative years of his life, also he shows his determination with his meeting with abolitionists, and later friendships with them. Finally, his conduct among African Americans is much above the social norm, showing his higher moral values and showing that he was determined to end the peculiar institution by the time the war was over.
Balich, Christ. “Flatboating Down the Mississippi.” Illinous History: A Magazine for Young People. February 1995, Accessed May 21 2012.
Douglass, Frederick.“Oration in Memory of Abraham Lincoln.” Teaching American History. Accesses May 20, 2012.
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Davis, Kenneth C. Don’t know much about the Civil War. New York: Harper Collins, 1992.
Foner, Eric. "The Fiery Trial." New York: W. W. Norton, 2009.
Jennifer Wheetley, “Two Great Men: Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass,” Appleseeds 11, no. 4 (2009): pp 22.
“Abraham Lincoln.” Ames Lab. Accessed May 19, 2012
“Experiences with Slavery.” Mr. Lincoln and Freedom. 2002, Accessed May 21 2012.
“Frederick Douglass.” Mr. Lincoln and Freedom. 2002, Accessed May 21 2012.
“Martin Delany.” Mr. Lincoln and Freedom. 2002, Accessed May 21 2012.
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