Thursday, December 3, 2009

Black America (And How It Almost Never Was)

We all know that the Civil War evolved into a war to end slavery. But that isn't how it began. Although he was an abolitionist at heart, President Lincoln was against freeing the slaves. His main intention was to preserve the Union, period. He thought it would be best for the nation if slavery was allowed to exist in slave states, and free states remained free. This had to do with westward expansion, as the South wanted to keep slavery in newly established states for free labor purposes.

Lincoln originally opposed emancipation, and refused to move on the slavery issue. "I would do it if I were not afraid that half the officers would fling down their arms and three more States would rise," he said. "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; 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."

The President backed a plan that called for paying slave owners $400 for each slave that was freed. He also favored sending the freedmen to separate colonies in Africa and South America. In essence, he wanted to do to them what was done to the American Indians. Because Frederick Douglas spoke so adamantly against it, Lincoln was forced to back down on that issue.

Freeing the slaves was essentially an act to undermine the Confederate economy, and although Lincoln personally felt slavery was wrong, he avoided emancipation until the Union had a decisive victory, which didn't happen until the Battle of Antietam (Sharpsburg) in 1862. That fall, he made his Emancipation Proclamation public, and on January 1, 1863, it was put into effect. That is, only in the southern states, where Lincoln really had no influence. In fact, the proclamation didn't apply to slaves in northern states, and in Illinois, Lincoln's home state, freed blacks weren't allowed into the state at all.

No comments: