Abraham Lincoln: The Great Emancipator

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Abraham Lincoln is known as "The Great Emancipator" who freed the slaves. Yet in the early part of his career and even in the early stages of his presidency, Lincoln had no objection to slavery where it already existed, namely, in the Southern states. As a savvy politician, he always wanted to maintain the union, and he would use any device to keep the country together. However, his views on slavery evolved during his presidency, and the personal opposition towards slavery that he claimed he always had began to show through in his policy. As Lincoln noted in 1864, "I am naturally anti-slavery. If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong. I can not remember when I did not so think, and feel" (Lorence 306). Despite such strongly worded beliefs, Lincoln policies towards slavery often shifted for the sake of political expedience. For example, he pledged that states would be compensated for their loss of property as a result of emancipation to keep the border states from seceding. Still, by 1862 Lincoln had become firm in his convictions that slavery must be abolished. He even pressed for a constitutional amendment to ensure freedom to all the slaves. Lincoln espoused strong anti-slavery views, but he often put what he viewed as the good of the country ahead of the cause. Despite many detours along the way, he proved himself to be "The Great Emancipator." As a self-made politician from humble origins, Lincoln struggled in his early political life to define his identity. He described his childhood as "The short and simple annals of the poor. That's my life, and that's all you or any one else can make of it" (Oates 4). Lincoln felt extremely embarrassed about his background and worked his entire life to overcome the limitations he faced. He made himself a "literate and professional man who commanded the respect of his colleagues" (Oates 4). It is difficult to assess Lincoln's early views on slavery and race because they were constantly changing in an effort to achieve such respect. In the State of Illinois legislative session of 1835-36, he voted to restrict suffrage to whites only. Although he claimed to be antislavery, he knew that support for black suffrage would ruin his career and he could not take that chance. Lincoln also stated that he did not agree with the tactics of the abolitionists. He believed they were too uncompromising and too quick to punish Southerners. As he put it, the way to win people over is through "persuasion, kind, unassuming persuasion" (Oates 38). In effect, he aimed to portray himself as a friend to slaveowners, who would casually tell them their actions are wrong. It is difficult to gauge the depth of Lincoln's personal views on race early in his career; he was not so strong in his convictions that he was unwilling to compromise to reach an agreement. The Lincoln-Douglas debates marked a turning point in Lincoln's career. The debates gave public expression to his anti-slavery beliefs, and made them known to the nation. In his race against a respected incumbent senator, some even questioned why Lincoln was running against Douglas. Lincoln responded "We have to fight this battle upon principle, and principle alone . . . the higher object of this contest" he said was "the ultimate elimination of slavery." He was proud in his "passing speck of time" (Oates 149) to contribute what he could to that consummation. The election proved a fearsome battle between the two men. Douglas constantly criticized Lincoln's house divided speech and claimed himself to be a defender of self-governing. He even attacked Lincoln's supposed racial views. Lincoln agreed to confront Douglas in defense of these remarks, engaging in the great debates. Douglas claimed that Lincoln did not truly wish for equality among the races, a comment designed to provoke the audience and force Lincoln into an unpopular position. Lincoln responded by saying that slaves "Were not his equal or the equal of Douglas in moral and intellectual...
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