From the beginning of the Civil War in 1861, President Abraham Lincoln repeatedly stated that his primary objective of the war was not to abolish the institution of slavery, but rather to preserve the Union. Lincoln knew that the Constitution protected slavery in any state where the citizens wanted it. As the war progressed, the abolition of slavery was seen as a military strategy for the Union army, as the newly freed slaves would then fight for the cause of their own freedom. Since it was a military necessity, it was warranted by the constitution. Because of this, and pressure from both fellow Republicans as well as Northern abolitionists, Abraham Lincoln issued an Emancipation Proclamation, freeing all slaves in rebellious states and permitting them to join the Union army, effective as of January 1, 1863.
Although the Constitution refrained him from abolishing slavery entirely, it empowered him to seize any enemy property being used to wage war against the United States. The most valuable property that the Confederacy possessed were slaves. Their slaves toiled in the fields, tendering to crops that were used for food and clothing in the Southern war effort, keeping food and factories running smoothly so men could be free to fight in the army. By taking the slaves away from the Confederacy, Abraham Lincoln was not only diminishing the embers of hope for victory that the South had, but also rekindling the flame of strength for the Union army.
General Benjamin Butler, a commander of Union forces occupying Fortress Monroe in Virginia on the James River, provided a legal rationale that sparked the idea of emancipation, and opened up a door way for Union army success. When three slaves escaped unto his lines on May 25 1861, he declared them all “contraband of war” and refused to return them to their Confederate owner. After hearing word of the chance for freedom that this new idea created, hundreds of
“contrabands” escaped to...
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