Abraham Lincoln - "The Great Emancipator"?

Of the US presidents only George Washington and Abraham Lincoln show up as among "our greatest presidents". Other presidents make one list or another; but, all lists show these two.

As to greatness, "Honest Abe" generally is known for reuniting the Union, separated by the Civil War, and freeing the slaves. Lincoln was adament about the Union and fought hard to bring it back together. Saving the Union alone would make anyone "great". In fact, no president before or after Lincoln has even faced, much less overcome, such a monumental issue as keeping the union together. But, did he free all the slaves? Actually no!

Many of late give Obama a hard time for his numerous "Executive Orders"; i.e., "laws" not passed by Congress. But, Lincoln issued his 'Emancipation Proclamation' by executive order under his "war powers" during the Civil War. The Emancipation Proclamation did NOT free all the slaves. In fact, when it was issued it actually freed no one - nor could it have.


A slight digression:

During Lincoln's time in history his comtemporaries looked not too kindly toward him in general and specifically due to the Emancipation Proclamation.

An interesting aspect of the Emancipation Proclamation was what external effect it had on keeping the union together.

England was involded with the United States in two major ways. England provided to the North manufacturing products and munitions; and England purchased from the South cotton. At this same time England had abolished slavery some 30 years before.

The people of England wanted their cotton AND they hated slavery. There was a strong intention of England entering the Civil War on the side of the South. Had this happened the South would have surely won the war.

Knowing this, of course, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Procalmation to help dissuade England from joining with the South. Lincoln knew that his Emancipation Proclamation could actually free no one (as explained below), but doing so sent the message to a very anti-slavery England that "we were on the right track morally". It did the trick. England did not enter the war.

For more background on England (and other countries) and their involvement in the Civil War era, Click Here, Click Here, Click Here, and Click Here.


Back to the Emancipation Proclamation -

The Emancipation Proclamation stated that whenever a State in rebellion (i.e., States in the South) was brought back into the Union all slaves in the returning state(s) were to be freed. The Emancipation Proclamation did not address the slaves being held in the North; i.e., States not in rebellion. (see the text of the 'Emancipation Proclamation' at the end of this offering.) So, since the Union, at this point in history, did not control the "States in Rebellion", the Emancipation Proclamation had no effect in the South and, as stated above, was not even applicable to States in the North.

As an aside here, I like to characterize "executive orders" via a plagarization of an American Revolution slogan: "Legalization without representation."

Those people held as slaves in the North continued under slavery for months after the Emancipation Proclamation. The Civil War ended on April 9, 1865 (i.e., Lee's surrender). It wasn't until December 6, 1865 that the 13th Amendment was ratified, thus officially freeing all slaves. So, to make ALL slaves free it took the US Congress and the amendment ratification process (see Article V of our Constitution). Note: To amend our Constitution the sitting president has no "active" role, per se.

Further, Lincoln understood that were the Civil War suddenly to end that his "war powers" would become null and void and, thus, would undo the 'emancipation' of those held in salvery. So, he (and others) used corruption, bribes, etc. to gain the passage of the 13th Amendment. Or, nothing has changed re: the legislative process since Lincoln's day.

But remember, Lincoln was totally and always against slavery. Actually, the entire Republican party, to which Lincoln belonged, was adament against slavery. In fact, it was started in 1854 in Ripon, WI to combat the "Kansas-Nebraska Act" which sought to extend slavery into the US "territories of the day".

However, Lincoln was just as adament relative to the inequalities of the Negro and Caucasian races.


NOTE: Before reading further, it is often convenient to pass judgement on prior generations based on the mores of the current generation. This is almost always faulty. Please remember this as you read on.

If you are so inclined, check this out for a brief, historical look at slavery and discrimination in this country.

Also, today there exists much argument over the display of the Confederate flag. Some argue that it is a racist symbol while others argue that it is part of our history. But, consider that the American flag has waved over this nation before AND AFTER the Civil War (which ended slavery in the South but not in the North) and before AND AFTER the Confederate flag had any political importance. Think about that for a minute.


As an aside, the term "Negro" is the correct racial designation for all those we call "black", just as "Caucasian" is the correct racial designation for all those we call "white". Such designations have little relevance to "color". For example, the Aboriginal people of Australia, who are "black" in color, are sometimes called Australoid race. They are not related in any way to Africans, Asians or Polynesians, and are most genetically similar to Caucasians as far as 'race' goes. So, "don't judge, for good or for bad, a book by its color".


At the bottom of this article are quotes made by Lincoln relative to the Negro race. These quotes would make any modern day, true racist cringe. They come across as so abhorrent to our current sensibilities as to make them seem unbelievable - but accurate quotes they are. (Remember the above paragraph on 'passing judgement'.)

Lincoln was a strong advocate of "Colonization". What is this? Using a phrase from today which is considered "anti-politically correct" and racist, it may be summed up as "send 'em back where they came from."

Another Note: Lincoln's abhorrence of slavery extended to what he considered doing the right thing. His advocacy of "Colonization" was meant to be, to him, more humanistic than freeing peoples into a culture and a society for which they were ill equipped.

The American Colonization Society (ACS) was formed in 1817 to send free African-Americans to Africa as an alternative to emancipation in the United States. As hard as it may be to believe, this "Society" was not disbanded until 1964. In 1822, the society established on the west coast of Africa a colony that in 1847 became the independent nation of Liberia. By 1867, the society had sent more than 13,000 emigrants. In fact, it's capital is "Monrovia" is named in honor of U.S. President James Monroe, a prominent supporter of the colonization of Liberia.

Lincoln mentioned colonization favorably in his first Emancipation Proclamation, and continued to support efforts at colonization throughout his presidency.

The first such scheme was attempted in late 1862, and consisted of an attempt to colonize the Chiriquí region of Panama, then a part of Colombia. Lincoln signed a contract with businessman Ambrose W. Thompson, the owner of the land, and appointed Kansas Senator Samuel Pomeroy to administer the project, with plans to send tens of thousands of African Americans.

The plan was suspended in early October 1862 before a single ship sailed though, apparently due to diplomatic protests from neighboring Central American governments and the uncertainty raised by the Colombian Civil War (1860-1862). Lincoln hoped to overcome the latter complication by having Congress make provision for a treaty for African American emigration, much as he outlined in his Second Annual Message of December 1, 1862.

But, the Chiriquí plan appears to have died over the New Year of 1863 as revelations of the corrupt interest of his acquaintance Richard W. Thompson and Secretary of the Interior John Palmer Usher likely proved too much to bear in political terms.

In December 1862, Lincoln signed a contract with businessman Bernard Kock to establish a colony on the Ile a Vache near Haiti. 500 freed slaves departed for the island from Fort Monroe, Virginia, though the project proved to be a disaster. Poor planning, an outbreak of smallpox, and financial mismanagement by Kock left the colonists under-supplied and starving, requiring the rescue of survivors by the United States Navy after only a year.

Lincoln also created an agency to direct his colonization projects. In 1862 he appointed the Rev. James Mitchell of Indiana to oversee colonization, and established a Bureau of Emigration under his head at the Department of the Interior.

In addition to Panama and Haiti, Mitchell's office also oversaw attempts at colonization in British Honduras and elsewhere in the British West Indies. Lincoln believed that by dealing with the comparatively stable British Government, he could avoid some of the problems that plagued his earlier attempts at colonization with private interests.

He signed an agreement on June 13, 1863, with John Hodge of British Honduras that authorized colonial agents to recruit ex-slaves and transport them to Belize from approved ports in Philadelphia, New York, and Boston.

Later that year the Department of the Interior sent John Willis Menard, a free African-American clerk who supported colonization, to investigate the site for the government. British authorities pulled out of the agreement in December, fearing it would disrupt their position of neutrality in the Civil War.

Lincoln Quotes About Blacks:

"I will say, then, that I AM NOT NOR HAVE EVER BEEN in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the black and white races---that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with White people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the White and Black races which will ever FORBID the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together, there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I, as much as any other man, am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the White race."

~ 4th Lincoln-Douglas debate, September 18th, 1858; Vol. 3, pp. 145-146

"I, as well as Judge Douglas, am in favor of the race to which I belong having the superior position. I have never said anything to the contrary."

~ Lincoln, Aug. 21, 1858, in remarks stating his belief that blacks were naturally inferior to whites.

"They (blacks) had better be set to digging their subsistence out of the ground."

~ Lincoln in a War Department memo, April 16, 1863.

"I cannot make it better known than it already is, that I favor colonization."

~ Lincoln, in a message to Congress, December 1, 1862, supporting deportation of all blacks from America.

"What I would most desire would be the separation of the white and black races."

~ Spoken at Springfield, Illinois on July 17th, 1858; from ABRAHAM LINCOLN: COMPLETE WORKS, 1894, Vol. 1, page 273

" You and we are different races. We have between us a broader difference than exists between almost any other two races. Whether it is right or wrong I need not discuss, but this physical difference is a great disadvantage to us both, as I think your race suffer very greatly, many of them by living among us, while ours suffer from your presence. In a word, we suffer on each side. If this be admitted, it affords a reason at least why we should be separated. It is better for both, therefore, to be separated."

~ Spoken at the White House to a group of black community leaders, August 14th, 1862, from COLLECTED WORKS OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN, Vol 5, page 371

"I thought that whatever negroes can be got to do as soldiers, leaves just so much less for white soldiers to do, in saving the Union."

~ Abraham Lincoln in a letter to James C. Conkling dated August 26, 1863.

"My first impulse would be to free all the slaves, and send them to Liberia,—to their own native land. But a moment’s reflection would convince me that whatever of high hope (as I think there is) there may be in this, in the long run, its sudden execution is impossible."

~ "Mr. Lincoln’s Reply". First Joint Debate at Ottawa. bartleby.com.

"It is found in nearly all the published speeches of him who now addresses you. I do but quote from one of those speeches when I declare that I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so."

~ Lincoln's First Inaugural Address, Monday, March 4, 1861.

"My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that."

~ Lincoln in a letter to Horace Greeley, August 22, 1862.

The Emancipation Proclamation

The Emancipation Proclamation - January 1, 1863

A Transcription

By the President of the United States of America:

A Proclamation.

Whereas, on the twenty-second day of September, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-two, a proclamation was issued by the President of the United States, containing, among other things, the following, to wit:

"That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.

"That the Executive will, on the first day of January aforesaid, by proclamation, designate the States and parts of States, if any, in which the people thereof, respectively, shall then be in rebellion against the United States; and the fact that any State, or the people thereof, shall on that day be, in good faith, represented in the Congress of the United States by members chosen thereto at elections wherein a majority of the qualified voters of such State shall have participated, shall, in the absence of strong countervailing testimony, be deemed conclusive evidence that such State, and the people thereof, are not then in rebellion against the United States." Now, therefore I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, by virtue of the power in me vested as Commander-in-Chief, of the Army and Navy of the United States in time of actual armed rebellion against the authority and government of the United States, and as a fit and necessary war measure for suppressing said rebellion, do, on this first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and in accordance with my purpose so to do publicly proclaimed for the full period of one hundred days, from the day first above mentioned, order and designate as the States and parts of States wherein the people thereof respectively, are this day in rebellion against the United States, the following, to wit:

Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, (except the Parishes of St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Jefferson, St. John, St. Charles, St. James Ascension, Assumption, Terrebonne, Lafourche, St. Mary, St. Martin, and Orleans, including the City of New Orleans) Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia, (except the forty-eight counties designated as West Virginia, and also the counties of Berkley, Accomac, Northampton, Elizabeth City, York, Princess Ann, and Norfolk, including the cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth[)], and which excepted parts, are for the present, left precisely as if this proclamation were not issued.

And by virtue of the power, and for the purpose aforesaid, I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States, and parts of States, are, and henceforward shall be free; and that the Executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons.

And I hereby enjoin upon the people so declared to be free to abstain from all violence, unless in necessary self-defence; and I recommend to them that, in all cases when allowed, they labor faithfully for reasonable wages.

And I further declare and make known, that such persons of suitable condition, will be received into the armed service of the United States to garrison forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service.

And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution, upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God.

In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty three, and of the Independence of the United States of America the eighty-seventh.

By the President: ABRAHAM LINCOLN

WILLIAM H. SEWARD, Secretary of State.