LINCOLN AND THE ABOLITIONISTS

History records Abraham Lincoln as the Great Emancipator, yet ardent abolitionists of his day such as William Lloyd Garrison viewed him with deep suspicion. That the 16th president eventually achieved the abolitionists' most cherished dream, says biographer Allen Guelzo, happened through a curious combination of political maneuvering, personal conviction, and commitment to constitutional principle.
One of the ironies of the Civil War era and the end of slavery in the United States has always been that the man who played the role of the Great Emancipator was so hugely mistrusted and so energetically vilified by the party of abolition. Abraham Lincoln, whatever his larger reputation as the liberator of two million black slaves, has never entirely shaken off the imputation that he was something of a half-heart about it. "There is a counter-legend of Lincoln," acknowledges historian Stephen B. Oates, "one shared ironically enough by many white southerners and certain black Americans of our time" who are convinced that Lincoln never intended to abolish slavery--that he "was a bigot...a white racist who championed segregation, opposed civil and political rights for black people" and "wanted them all thrown out of the country." That reputation is still linked to the 19th-century denunciations of Lincoln issued by the abolitionist vanguard.
It has been the task of biographers ever since to deplore that image of Lincoln as the sort of extremist rhetoric that abolitionism was generally renowned for; or to insist that Lincoln may have had elements of racism in him but that he gradually effaced them as he moved on his "journey" to emancipation; or to suggest that Lincoln was an abolitionist all along who dragged his feet over emancipation for pragmatic political reasons.
Still, not even the most vigorous apologists for Lincoln can entirely escape the sense of distance between the Emancipator and the abolitionists. Indeed, they

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