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Lincoln’s Emancipation: Pros and Cons

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Lincoln’s stance on emancipation and slavery were clear. As Divine makes known in the text, “Lincoln had long believed slavery was an unjust institution that should be tolerated only to the extent that the Constitution and the tradition of sectional compromise required.” (Divine, et al., 340) Lincoln’s commitment to that ideal, also, is clear: “Lincoln was also effective because he identified wholeheartedly with the northern cause and could inspire others to make sacrifices for it.” (Divine, et al., 342) The pros and cons of emancipation for Lincoln personally, however, are less clear.

The emancipation’s primary drawback at the time for someone like Lincoln who personally supported it was that it did not apply to slave states within the Union and therefore freed no slaves at the time. However, as Divine states, “…it did commit the Union to the abolition of slavery as a war aim. It also accelerated the breakdown of slavery as a labor system, a process that was already well under way by 1863.” (Divine, et al., 355) Vitally, however, the emancipation did allow eventually freed African-Americans to serve in the Civil War for the Union, and, as Divine makes clear, “Without them it is doubtful that the Union could have been preserved.” (Divine, et al., 355-356) Effectively, the Emancipation Proclamation not only acted as a roadmap by which the institution of slavery would decisively be ended, it also certainly preserved the Union from disintegrating from southern secessionist forces.

As an additional, interesting footnote, the emancipation proclamation at the time did not serve the purpose of a momentous, moral statement of the time so much as it served as a tactical (if brilliant one) measure on President Lincoln’s part to rally the Northern cause and weaken the South’s. Divine makes this clear, stating “The language and tone of the document—one historian described it as having ‘all the moral grandeur of a bill of lading’—made it clear that blacks were being freed for reasons of state and not out of humanitarian conviction.” (Divine, et al., 355)

Despite the fact that that “humanitarian conviction” would come (much) later, and despite the proclamation initially having been done for military and tactical reasons, it served as an important jumping-off point for the ending of arguably the worst institution in American history, crushing once and for all the ultraconservative south’s ugly ambition to preserve it even as the union splintered around them.

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