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Principles and Politics

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Michael Clancy

on 10 July 2015

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Transcript of Principles and Politics

Public Opinion
Constitutional Limits
Border States
Lincoln's Moral Code
Founding Principles of the Nation
April 12, 1861
The Civil War Begins

Principles and Politics
To what extent did political realities cause Lincoln to temper his personal convictions?
Lincoln's Letter to Albert Hodges
"I am naturally antislavery. If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong. I can not remember when I did not so think, and feel."
Works Cited

Abraham Lincoln to Albert G. Hodges, April 4, 1864, Washington, DC, in Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (8 vols., New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1953), 7: 281-283, http://quod.lib.umich.edu/l/lincoln/.

Abraham Lincoln to Mary Speed, September 27, 1841, in Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (8 vols., New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1953), 1: 260-262, http://quod.lib.umich.edu/l/lincoln/.

Second Inaugural Address, Washington, DC, March 4, 1865 in Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (8 vols., New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1953), 8: 332-333, http://quod.lib.umich.edu/l/lincoln/.

Abraham Lincoln, Speech at Peoria, Illinois, 16 October 1854, in Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (8 vols., New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1953), 2: 247-283, http://quod.lib.umich.edu/l/lincoln/.

Address at Cooper Institute, New York City in Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (8 vols., New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1953), 3: 522-550, http://quod.lib.umich.edu/l/lincoln/.

Abraham Lincoln, First Debate with Stephen A. Douglas at Ottawa, Illinois, August 21, 1858 , in Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (8 vols., New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1953), 3:1-37., http://quod.lib.umich.edu/l/lincoln/.

Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association "Public Sentiment Is Everything": Lincoln's View of Political Persuasion DAVID ZAREFSKY Volume 15, Issue 2, Summer 1994, pp. 23-40

James Oakes, The Radical and The Republican: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and the Triumph of Antislavery Politics, p. 93.

NPR All things Considered 'Emancipating Lincoln': A Pragmatic Proclamation by MELISSA BLOCK

Abraham Lincoln to Salmon P. Chase, September 2, 1863, in Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (8 vols., New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1953), 6: 429-430, http://quod.lib.umich.edu/l/lincoln/.

Abraham Lincoln to Orville H. Browning, September 22, 1861, in Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (8 vols., New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1953), 4: 532-534, http://quod.lib.umich.edu/l/lincoln/.

Abraham Lincoln "Speech to One Hundred Fortieth Indiana Regiment" - March 17, 1865, in Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (8 vols., New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1953), 4: 532-534, http://quod.lib.umich.edu/l/lincoln/.

Abraham Lincoln "Reply to Delegation of Baptists on May 30, 1864" George Ide et al.

in Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (8 vols., New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1953), 4: 532-534, http://quod.lib.umich.edu/l/lincoln/.

David Herbert Donald, Lincoln (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995), pp. 566-567
Images Cited
Lincoln's Exposure to Slavery
Abraham Lincoln was born in Kentucky, a slave state, but moved with his family to non-slave territory in Indiana when he was young. It is believed that Abraham's father, Thomas, was anti-slavery, but it is doubtful that Lincoln was raised in an abolitionist household. The distinction is important. Many who were "anti-slavery" opposed the expansion of slavery and hoped it would die out, but begrudgingly accepted that slavery was protected by law where it existed. Abolitionists, on the other hand, were committed to bringing about the immediate end of slavery.

In several sources, Lincoln writes about his encounters with slavery. It is through these encounters that we see the young Lincoln's anti-slavery position come into focus. In a letter to a friend (Mary Speed) he observed slaves aboard a boat:

"They were chained six and six together. A small iron clevis was around the left wrist of each, and this fastened to the main chain by a shorter one at a convenient distance from, the others; so that the negroes were strung together precisely like so many fish upon a trot-line. In this condition they were being separated forever from the scenes of their childhood, their friends, their fathers and mothers, and brothers and sisters, and many of them, from their wives and children, and going into perpetual slavery where the lash of the master is proverbially more ruthless and unrelenting than any other where."

Fourteen years later, Lincoln wrote a letter to Joshua Speed, a companion who was aboard that same boat with him.

"In 1841 you and I had together a tedious low-water trip, on a Steam Boat from Louisville to St. Louis. You may remember, as I well do, that from Louisville to the mouth of the Ohio there were, on board, ten or a dozen slaves, shackled together with irons. That sight was a continual torment to me; and I see something like it every time I touch the Ohio, or any other slave-border."

The memories of seeing slavery first-hand haunted Lincoln, and undoubtedly helped forge his anti-slavery stance. It is interesting to note that Joshua, the man Lincoln calls his friend in this letter, was himself a slaveholder. Lincoln was not afraid to express his convictions, even to people who would disagree.

Lincoln's Religious Principles
Many of Lincoln's argument against slavery did not depend on the audience having any specific religious creed or code. Often times he used "golden rule" logic, for instance:

"Whenever I hear any one arguing for slavery I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally."

Nevertheless, like many Americans of his day, Lincoln was well versed in the Christian Gospel. In presenting his anti-slavery argument, Lincoln could readily appeal to a religious sense of right and wrong, invoking God as the final arbiter of justice.

"To read in the Bible, as the word of God himself, that "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, ["] and to preach there-from that, "In the sweat of other mans faces shalt thou eat bread," to my mind can scarcely be reconciled with honest sincerity."

“It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces”

Lincoln wrote of the struggle against slavery in Biblical terms, even suggesting that the horrors of war may be God's retribution for the sin of slavery.

"[it is] probably true—that God wills this contest, and wills that it shall not end"

"Fondly do we hope---fervently do we pray---that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.”
In his writings, Lincoln often expressed his profound love for the Declaration of Independence and the ideals of the founding fathers. Like many Americans, past and present, Lincoln often looked back to the founding era for guidance:

"Near eighty years ago we began by declaring that all men are created equal; but now from that beginning we have run down to the other declaration, that for SOME men to enslave OTHERS is a "sacred right of self-government." These principles can not stand together. They are as opposite as God and mammon; and whoever holds to the one, must despise the other."
Speech at Peoria, Illinois, on October 16, 1854

For some Americans to hold sacred "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" for themselves while denying it to others was the height of hypocrisy. Lincoln, however, was not blind to the fact that Jefferson and many of the founding fathers were slaveholders. Yet, Lincoln thought it far too simple to say "because the founders permitted slavery in their time, they wished to see it continue perpetually in America." Lincoln applied his extensive knowledge of American history to refute this pro-slavery argument:

"The argument of "Necessity" was the only argument they ever admitted in favor of slavery; and so far, and so far only as it carried them, did they ever go. They found the institution existing among us, which they could not help; and they cast blame upon the British King for having permitted its introduction. BEFORE the constitution, they prohibited its introduction into the north-western Territory---the only country we owned, then free from it. AT the framing and adoption of the constitution, they forbore to so much as mention the word "slave" or "slavery" in the whole instrument. In the provision for the recovery of fugitives, the slave is spoken of as a "PERSON HELD TO SERVICE OR LABOR." In that prohibiting the abolition of the African slave trade for twenty years, that trade is spoken of as "The migration or importation of such persons as any of the States NOW EXISTING, shall think proper to admit," &c. These are the only provisions alluding to slavery. Thus, the thing is hid away, in the constitution, just as an afflicted man hides away a wen or a cancer, which he dares not cut out at once, lest he bleed to death;"

Lincoln nicely summarized his belief that the founders were antislavery in the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858.

"In the first place, I insist that our fathers did not make this nation half slave and half free, or part slave and part free. I insist that they found the institution of slavery existing here. They did not make it so, but they left it so because they knew of no way to get rid of it at that time."

Lincoln believed that the founders worked to restrict slavery in the hope that it would gradually die out. To be anti-slavery, therefore, was to uphold the values of the founders and fulfill the promise of the Declaration of Independence. America could be an exceptional nation, an example of a successful republican government for the world to emulate, yet slavery was holding the promise of the nation back.

“I hate it because of the monstrous injustice of slavery itself. I hate it because it deprives our republican example of its just influence in the world-enables the enemies of free institutions, with plausibility, to taunt us as hypocrites-causes the real friends of freedom to doubt our sincerity, and especially because it forces to many really good men against ourselves into open war with the very fundamental principles of civil liberty—criticising the Declaration of Independence, and insisting that there is no right principle of action but self-interest" - Peoria Speech 1854

In a letter to Kentucky newspaper editor Albert Hodges, Lincoln firmly establishes his moral beliefs on the institution of slavery:
Historians have no reason to doubt this strong assertion by "honest Abe." Lincoln believed that the enslavement of humans was an absolute wrong, and here he presents his conviction in no uncertain terms. He establishes his anti-slavery position as part of a universal moral code, a code that is independent of time or place. To be opposed to slavery was Lincoln's duty, not just because he was an American or Christian, but because he was a human being.
This presentation is an exploration that will help us answer our unit question:
Does Lincoln deserve the title "The Great Emancipator?"

As you navigate through this page, keep in mind the "true north" clip from the movie Lincoln, and ask yourself what political, economic and social obstacles stood in the way of America living up to its creed (i.e
...that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
) Note that throughout this presentation, Abraham Lincoln's words appear in a
blue font
By the mid-19th century, an increasing number of Americans shared Lincoln's anti-slavery convictions and wanted to restrict the spread of slavery into the territories. The growing anti-slavery movement, however, did not have
support among national voters - white-males. No President had been elected running on an anti-slavery platform, and even Lincoln himself knew that advocating immediate emancipation could never win in a national election.

"Wrong as we think slavery is, we can yet afford to let it alone where it is, because that much is due to the necessity arising from its actual presence in the nation; but can we, while our votes will prevent it, allow it to spread into the National Territories, and to overrun us here in these Free States?"

In his address at Cooper Union, Lincoln concedes that the Nation is not ready for Emancipation. Lincoln understands that, to accomplish anything lasting in a democracy, you need public opinion on your side.

"In this and like communities, public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed. Consequently he who moulds public sentiment, goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or pronounces decisions. He makes statutes and decisions possible or impossible to be executed."

Lincoln, at times, had to restrain his anti-slavery rhetoric. If he wanted to succeed politically he had to consider his audience and choose his words carefully. Lincoln knew that no one can succeed in a democracy if they are too far ahead of popular opinion, and so part of the genius of Lincoln was his ability mold public opinion and "move the needle" ever so slightly. Historian Harry Jaffa put it best, "Lincoln never attempted to propose what was more than one step ahead of the great body of political public opinion. But he always led the way."

When Lincoln was elected President in 1860, he received only 39% of the vote, the lowest percentage for any winning candidate in history. Without a mandate to govern, Lincoln was in a very weak position from the outset. Many Americans did not see him as "their President," and his lack of legitimacy motivated southern states to break off from the Union.
Lincoln never wavered in regards to his personal desire to see slavery come to an end.

"I think slavery is wrong, morally, and politically. I desire that it should be no further spread in these United States, and I should not object if it should gradually terminate in the whole Union."

If Lincoln could have snapped his fingers to rid the country of slavery he would have, but this was not realistic in a democratic-republic. Even after he assumed the highest office in the land, President Lincoln had limited power to pursue anti-slavery policies, and he said as much in his letter to Albert Hodges

"I have never understood that the Presidency conferred upon me an unrestricted right to act officially upon this (anti-slavery) judgment and feeling."

Lincoln had a deep respect for the Constitution. The executive office did not grant him the power to create a national law ending slavery. That power to legislate belonged solely to Congress. He was also checked by the Judicial branch of government. The Supreme Court during Lincoln's Presidency was led by Rodger Taney, an avid defender of the right to own slaves.
Upon Lincoln's election, seven southern state legislatures voted to secede from the Union. These state legislatures saw in Lincoln a man who threatened the foundations of their economy and way of life. Even though Lincoln attested many times that he had
"no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exist[ed]"
and furthermore, stated that the Constitution did not grant him the legal power to topple slavery in the states where it was protected, the southern states still broke away from the Nation.

At the heart of the conflict was a rather abstract philosophical argument, but it was an argument that would determine whether America would continue to exist. The seceding states believed that the United States were a confederation of independent states, and as they joined the nation, so to could they leave the nation. Lincoln believed that the Constitution established a nation, not of states, but of
. The first line of the Constitution reads "We the people..." not "We the states of..." and in his inaugural address, Lincoln affirms that position:

"I hold, that in contemplation of universal law, and of the Constitution, the Union of these States is perpetual...I therefore consider that in view of the Constitution and the laws, the Union is unbroken; and to the extent of my ability I shall take care, as the Constitution itself expressly enjoins upon me, that the laws of the Union be faithfully executed in all the States."
--March 4, 1861 Inaugural Address
States Rights
Lincoln was often derided by the pro-slavery press as a tyrant or devil, hence "
sic semper tyrannis
Fort Sumter Attacked!
Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky and Missouri were slave states that remained in the Union. West Virginia would "secede" from Virginia during the War, side with the Union, and become a state.
Clip from "Lincoln"
Lincoln. Dir. Steven Spielberg. Perf. Daniel Day-Lewis and Tommy Lee Jones. Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, 2012. Youtube.
Lincoln. Dir. Steven Spielberg. Perf. Daniel Day-Lewis and Tommy Lee Jones. Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, 2012. Youtube.
April 12, 1861
The Civil War Begins
Full transcript