Abraham Lincoln's Presidency Abraham Lincoln Term Paper

Length: 10 pages Sources: 15 Subject: Military Type: Term Paper Paper: #87749421 Related Topics: Emancipation Proclamation, Antebellum America, Gettysburg Address, Inaugural Address
Excerpt from Term Paper :

These were all matters that needed consideration and which attracted the support of the North. His Inaugural Address tried to point them out. In this sense, he considered that the "maintenance inviolate of the rights of the States, and especially the right of each State to order and control its own domestic institutions according to its own judgment exclusively, is essential to that balance of power on which the perfection and endurance of our political fabric depend" Therefore, Lincoln's strategy included the rallying of support based on the idea of unity of the entity which was now the essence of the American society. While for the Northern part, the Union was a much more benefic construction, for the South it did not represent the ultimate structure in terms of economic benefits because the North totally despised slavery and its institution.

Another element Lincoln used to engage support for the cause of the Union was the issue related to the power of the Constitution. In general terms, he argued that in itself the Constitution was stronger and older than the Union or the Confederation; hence the authority of the act should be upheld. Form this point-of-view Lincoln viewed the right of every state to decide on whether it is a free or a slave state to be guaranteed by the Fundamental law. This strategy was a motivational text as well as a political one. He tried to rally support for the war against the South, on the one hand; on the other hand, he tries to oppose the South's initiative to decide in a political manner over the slave and Free states, an element which would have given the former more authority in the Congress.

Abraham Lincoln was not a vivid supporter of the antislavery movement. Moreover, the Civil War in itself was not simply related to slavery. It was also a matter of political battle and interpretation from the two sides. One proof of this dissension was Lincoln's definition of liberty expressed during the Civil War, which could very well characterize the state of affairs: "We all declare for liberty; but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing. With some the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself and the produce of his labor; while with others the same word may mean to do what they please with other men and the produce of other men's labor." The moral rupture between the two sides was thus evident in debates over the slavery issue. While the Northern democrats rarely stated their opinion on the moral character of slavery, trying to maintain an alliance of the Northwest with the South ("this alliance gave each wing of the party the prospect of membership in a majority coalition"), the Republicans in the North wholeheartedly condemned it as "a moral, a social, and a political wrong." Therefore, it can be said that the distinction was in terms political rather than of substance.

As a result of these discussions, the Emancipation Proclamation came as a success of the Lincoln strategy. The act in itself stated that "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." In effect, the act declared free the slaves and suggested that the Government would not intervene to go in the pursuit of those who would eventually rebel to gain their freedom.

It can be said that the Proclamation was used by Lincoln with different aims. One of the most important was suggested by the underlying meaning of the act, which could have been interpreted as offering a legitimate right of the slaves to ask, through every means available to them, for their right to be free. In this sense, he indirectly supported slaves to create rebellions in the South and in this way to decrease the power of the Confederation. At the same time, it enabled the Union to have a greater sense of legitimacy and support from the black economy of the war that the Proclamation became inevitable.

It is rather hard to determine the positive and negative effects of the Proclamation. Firstly, it can be said that there were certain limitations in the actual text, taking into account that there were several states omitted from the phrasing. In this sense, "Immediate practical effect it has none; the slaves remaining in precisely the same condition as before. They still live on the plantations, tenant their accustomed hovels, and obey the command of their master (...), eating the food he furnishes and doing the work he requires precisely as though Mr. Lincoln had not declared them free.... [the state courts] do not recognize the validity of the decree on which he [the slave] rests his claim. So long... As the present... status continues, the freedom declared by this proclamation is a dormant, not an actual, freedom." Therefore it can be said that there were no immediate effects of the Proclamation. This can be justified by the fact that the idea of the proclamation, despite the fact that it was a long awaited piece of legislation, it was somewhat imposed to the South. There was no popular legitimacy for its enactment and therefore no power to impose it on the South.

Another reason for the initial lack of power of the act was the fact that the Proclamation was used more in terms of political gains. More precisely, it can be said that Lincoln used this strategy to offer the population a sense of security over the eventual unity of the Union. In the context of the Civil War, the American society needed a sign of assurance that it will not face the same destruction of the war as it was experiencing at that moment. Therefore, taking into account his most important goal of the war, offering unity to the country, Lincoln marched on the moral issue of slavery in his attempt to give the population the security of a peaceful future under the colors of the Union.

However, despite the fact that at the level of the legal implementation, the Proclamation had little effect, it had an important impact for the international opinion. There was an increasing trend that considered the importance of human rights and the need of the individual for freedom. In this sense, the news about the Proclamation was received with great interest in the European countries such as France or Great Britain. While the former was more enthusiastic about the idea in itself, the British did realize that Lincoln's proposal was in fact a mere declarative act without a strong legal power.

Finally, one other reason for which the power of the Proclamation was not visible in terms of the improvement of the lives of the slaves was the fact that indeed, Lincoln had used the idea of the proclamation as a last resort that would have helped him to achieve his initial goal to save the Union. More precisely, "the situation that caused him to take the action was that there was an actual armed rebellion against the authority and government of the United States." Therefore, there were external factors which determined his action. It was not so much a matter of morality, but rather one that included a strategic line of thought. In this sense, it can be said that in fact it represented a war measure rather than an attempt to create equality. Without a doubt, he personally rejected the institution of slavery; however, his political position did not initially allow him to take such a radical stand on the matter. However, as the climax of the war proved the seriousness of the situation and the need for the end of the war, he resulted in taking a decisive measure. This was therefore a decision taken from military reasons with practical implications.

It is rather…

Sources Used in Documents:


Bennett, Lerone. "Differing Perspectives on Abraham Lincoln." Booknotes: Stories from American History. New York: Perseus Books, 2001

David, Ericson. The Debate over Slavery: Antislavery and Proslavery Liberalism in the Antebellum America. New York: New York UP, 2000.

First Inaugural Address of Abraham Lincoln. 1861. Yale Law School. http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/presiden/inaug/lincoln1.htm (accessed 1 February 2008).

Franklin, John Hope. The Emancipation Proclamation. Garden City: Doubleday, 1963.

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