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Forever Free”


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Forever Free: Abraham Lincoln's Journey to Emancipation
Racial slavery, along with the lingering prejudice that slavery fostered, remains the central tragedy of American history. Slavery condemned millions of Americans to lives of bleak captivity. Slavery brought about a terrible civil war. Yet the American Revolution had dedicated the new republic to ideals of liberty and equality. How could it be that a nation founded on freedom was also home to one of the harshest labor systems the modern world has known? The exhibition "Forever Free" looks for answers in the progress of Abraham Lincoln towards a higher realization of America's ideals. Lincoln himself embodied the contradictions of the slaveholding republic. Lincoln hated slavery. Yet he was not an abolitionist who demanded immediate emancipation. The cautious moderate was transformed into the great emancipator only when he and his nation were recast in the fiery crucible of war.

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Section 1.

Young Lincoln's America
Background illustration: Henry Berckhoff, watercolor painting, “Homeward Bound. Hop’s Landing on Aquia Creek, May 3, 1863.” (Gilder Lehrman Collection)
I believe that the institution of slavery is founded on both injustice

and bad policy; but that the promulgation of abolition doctrines tends

rather to increase than to abate its evils.— Abraham Lincoln, 1837
We are proclaiming ourselves political hypocrites before the world, by

thus fostering Human Slavery and proclaiming ourselves, at the same time,

the sole friends of Human Freedom.— Abraham Lincoln, 1854.
The American Revolution left a contradictory legacy of freedom and slavery. Most of the founding fathers thought slavery was wrong, but could envision no peaceful way to end it. They hoped that their descendants would somehow achieve gradual emancipation. Instead, as the United States grew, slavery flourished. No longer did slaveholders lament slavery as a "necessary evil." They began to celebrate it as a "positive good."

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This view from an abolitionist broadside drives home the dreadful contradiction: "The Land of the Free" was also the home of the slave.
Graphic:

"Reading the Declaration of Independence," from Slave Market of America, New York, American Anti-Slavery Society, 1836. (Gilder Lehrman Collection)

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Abolitionism

Beginning their campaign in about 1830, the abolitionists soon succeeded in dragging slavery out of shadows where white America had tried to hide it. Earlier opponents of slavery had proposed a gradual process of emancipation linked with plans to remove the freed blacks from America. The abolitionists, in contrast, demanded immediate, unconditional freedom. They also said that blacks deserved citizenship. Most white Americans hated abolitionists. In the North as well as the South, antislavery leaders were considered dangerous, unpatriotic fanatics out to destroy the Union. Whites also feared that racial equality would degrade them to the level of slaves.

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Most Northern whites opposed abolition. Prejudiced against blacks, many feared that emancipation would flood their states with freed slaves. The antislavery editor Elijah Lovejoy was murdered by a mob in Illinois, Abraham Lincoln's own state. Like all aspiring politicians, Lincoln understood that a candidate linked to abolitionism had no chance of winning office.
Graphic:

"The mob attacking on the night of the 7th of November, 1837, at the time Lovejoy was murdered," from Henry Tanner, The Martyrdom of Lovejoy, Who was Killed by a Pro-Slavery Mob, Chicago, 1881. (Huntington Library)

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Frederick Douglass stands out as one of the most heroic figures in all American history. Born into slavery in Maryland in 1817, Douglass escaped to freedom. Self-educated, he won fame in the North as a powerful abolitionist writer and orator. Douglass avowed his creed in this note penned a few days after Lincoln's election:
"I am for Liberty, the Right of each man to own his own body and Soul. Whatever may be his Colour. Wherever he may be born. Whether of one Race or another. I am for Liberty now, and always—to the weak as well as the strong. I am for Liberty—universal liberty, wherever the haughty tyrant rears his head or the dejected Slave drags a Chain."
Graphics:

Frederick Douglass, autograph sentiment signed, November 10, 1860. (Gilder Lehrman Collection)


Frederick Douglass, photograph. (Gilder Lehrman Collection)

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Abolitionists flooded the North with antislavery literature. This little hand-colored book taught children their ABC's and the evils of slavery at the same time.
Graphic:

The Anti-Slavery Alphabet, Philadelphia, Printed for the Anti-Slavery Fair, 1847. (Huntington Library)

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The Defense of Slavery

As slavery came under increasing attack in the North, white Southerners grew more militant in the defense of the institution they saw as the cornerstone of their society. The Bible justified slavery, they said. Southern agriculture required the coerced labor of a race suited for work in hot climates. Blacks were better off as slaves in America than as free people in Africa—enslavement had given them the benefits of religion and civilization. And Southerners claimed that true equality among whites was possible only in a slave society.

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Bible-quoting slaveholders found "proof" that God wanted white Americans to enslave black Americans. But other students of the Scriptures drew different conclusions. The abolitionist crusade against slavery drew much of its passion from the revivalism then sweeping Christian communities across America.
Graphic:

Slavery a Moral institution, Sanctioned by the Scriptures... and the Preaching and Practice of the Saviour and His Apostles, By a Southern Farmer, Macon, Georgia, 1837. (Huntington Library)

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Slaveholders needed racism—the belief that the enslaved blacks were an inferior race. How else could they justify holding other people in bondage? As its title makes clear, this book advanced familiar proslavery, white supremacist arguments.
Graphic:

Negroes and Negro "Slavery": The First and Inferior Race; the Latter its Normal Condition, Baltimore, 1853. (Huntington Library)

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Slavery condemned generations of Americans to lives of unpaid labor, deprivation, and brutal punishment. Family was the slave community's greatest source of strength and comfort. But slaves had to live with the fear that their families might be broken up by sale.
Graphic:

Five generations of an enslaved family. Photograph made by Timothy O'Sullivan at the J.J. Smith plantation near Beaufort, S.C., 1862. (Gilder Lehrman Collection)



Section 1. Young Lincoln's America


Timeline, 1619-1830
1619. First enslaved Africans arrive in British North American colonies at Jamestown, Virginia.
1675-1808. Period of greatest importation of Africans to enslavement in North America; succeeding generations of American slaves are native born.
1776. Americans declare independence from Britain. Slavery is legal in all states from New England to Georgia, but slave population is concentrated in the South.
1777-1804. Northern states abolish slavery.
1787. U.S. Constitution drafted, several clauses address issues of slavery.
1803. Louisiana Purchase expands U.S. New slave states will be created from territory.
1809. Abraham Lincoln born in Hardin County, Kentucky, a slave state.
1816. Lincoln family moves to Indiana, a free state.
1820. Missouri Compromise: Congress admits slave state of Missouri and free state of Maine. Slavery is banned in western territory north of a line at 36 30' latitude.
1830. Abraham Lincoln moves to Illinois.

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Section 2.

The House Dividing
Background illustration: Henry Berckhoff, watercolor painting, “Railroad Guard near Brooks Station, February 1863.” (Gilder Lehrman Collection)
A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government

cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free.— Abraham Lincoln, 1858
I think the negro is included in the word "men" used in the Declaration of Independence.

I believe the declaration that "all men are created equal" is the great fundamental

principle upon which our free institutions rest.— Abraham Lincoln, 1858
Conflict over the spread of slavery into the western territories was the wedge that finally split the Union. Opposition to slavery's expansion was also the cause that carried an obscure Illinois politician named Abraham Lincoln to the White House. An antislavery moderate, Lincoln had always hoped that slavery would slowly die away. In 1854, the Kansas-Nebraska Act shattered his complacency. The Act opened vast new territories to slavery. People throughout the North reacted as Lincoln did—with outrage and new determination to resist the encroachments of the "Slave Power." The new Republican Party sprang up in the free states. The party's defining mission was the restriction of slavery.

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Abraham Lincoln and "the Right to Rise"

Slavery was a threat to the ideals Abraham Lincoln held most dear. Despite humble origins, the ambitious Lincoln had made himself a successful Illinois lawyer and politician. His brand of ambition was more than a desire for his own personal success. Getting ahead was also the principle that became the cornerstone of his political philosophy. He called it "the right to rise." For Abraham Lincoln, an equal chance to succeed was the great promise of America. He said that "I want every man to have the chance—and I believe a black man is entitled to it—in which he can better his condition." Yet Lincoln was not an abolitionist who demanded immediate emancipation. He believed that a direct attack on Southern slavery would split the Union and end the American experiment in self-government. Confined to the South, slavery would have to die a natural death.

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The Lincoln-Douglas Debates

Republican Abraham Lincoln challenged Democrat Stephen A. Douglas for a U.S. Senate seat in 1858. To win reelection, all Senator Douglas had to do was convince enough voters that Lincoln was tainted by abolitionism. Anti-black prejudice in Illinois was strong enough to assure the defeat of any candidate seen as a friend to African-Americans. So Douglas relentlessly hammered away on the race issue. Lincoln fought back by stressing that slavery was "a vast moral evil." He declared his determination to keep slavery out of the western territories. But Lincoln also had to fend off his opponent's charges that he that he was a radical abolitionist who favored "negro equality."

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Abraham Lincoln had sadly concluded that American slavery would have to be eliminated gradually. But no one could ever persuade Lincoln that slavery was a "good thing." Here he has written that "although volume upon volume is written to prove slavery a very good thing, we never hear of the man who wishes to take the good of it, by being a slave himself."
Graphic:

Abraham Lincoln, autograph manuscript, fragment on slavery and government,

c. 1857-1859. (Gilder Lehrman Collection)

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Many believed that slavery could not survive if it was confined to the old South. Antislavery moderates like Abraham Lincoln would accept the continuation of slavery for many more years, just so long as isolating it in the South put it "on a course to ultimate extinction."
Graphic:

"Freedom and Slavery and the Coveted Territories," woodcut map in The Border Ruffian Code in Kansas, New York, New-York Tribune, 1856. (Huntington Library)

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Senator Stephen A. Douglas as he appeared at the time of the famous debates with Lincoln in 1858. Douglas was the frontrunner for the Democratic party presidential nomination in 1860. The challenger was little known outside of Illinois. Lincoln described the campaign as one "between the men who think slavery is wrong and those who do not think it is wrong."


Graphic:

Stephen A. Douglas. Photograph. (Huntington Library)

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The "House Divided" speech launched the astonishing ascent of Abraham Lincoln. In 1858, he was an Illinois lawyer little known beyond the borders of his state. Two years later, he was elected president. In the "House Divided" speech, Lincoln suggested that America had reached the final crisis. If slavery were allowed to spread into the West, it would soon become legal throughout the United States—even in the Northern free states.

Graphic:


Abraham Lincoln, autograph manuscript, early draft of the "House Divided" speech, c. 1858. (Gilder Lehrman Collection)

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In the debates, Stephen Douglas said that Lincoln favored immediate abolition in the South and racial equality in the North. Not to refute such charges would be political suicide. Lincoln denied "all intention to bring about social and political equality between the white and black races." But he went on to affirm,
"I think the negro is included in the word `men' used in the Declaration of Independence—I believe the declaration that `all men are created equal' is the great fundamental principle upon which our free institutions rest."
Graphic:

Abraham Lincoln, autograph letter to James N. Brown, October 18, 1858. (Huntington Library)

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Democrats campaigned against Lincoln and the Republicans in 1858, 1860, and 1864, by branding them "Black Republicans" or radical abolitionists who wanted to destroy slavery and promote racial equality. This cartoon suggested that the Republicans tried unsuccessfully to hide their party's pro-black ideology.
Graphic:

"`The Nigger' in the Woodpile," New York, Currier & Ives, 1860. (Huntington Library)

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With the Democratic Party fatally split over slavery, Abraham Lincoln won election with just 39 percent of the popular vote and with no support in the South. Though determined to bar slavery from the West, Lincoln and his party had promised not to interfere with the South's "domestic

institutions." But white Southerners did not believe the promises.


Graphic:

"Hon. Abraham Lincoln, Born in Kentucky," Harper's Weekly, November 10, 1860.


Section 2. The House Dividing

Timeline, 1831-1860
1831. Beginning of the abolitionist movement: William Lloyd Garrison starts publishing The Liberator in Boston.
1831. Nat Turner slave rebellion in Virginia, Southern whites come together in the defense of slavery and white supremacy.
1837. When Illinois House of Representatives passes anti-abolitionist resolution, Lincoln and colleague enter protest stating that "the institution of slavery is founded on both injustice and bad policy."
1847-1849. Lincoln serves single term in U.S. House of Representatives, the only national office he will hold before becoming president in 1861.
1854: The Kansas-Nebraska Act overturns ban on slavery in lands north of the 36 30' line. Lincoln speaks out against expansion of slavery.
1858. Lincoln-Douglas Debates: Republican Party nominates Lincoln to challenge Democrat Stephen A. Douglas for U.S. Senate. Lincoln loses election, but establishes national reputation.
1859. Abolitionist revolutionary John Brown attacks Harpers Ferry, Virginia, greatly increasing Southern fears of Northern aggression.
1860. Lincoln's reputation as antislavery moderate allows him to defeat more prominent candidates for Republican presidential nomination in May. Elected president in November.
1860, December-1861, February. Outraged by election of antislavery president, South Carolina secedes. Other lower South slave states Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas quickly follow, unite as "Confederate States of America."

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Section 3.

War for the Union
Background illustration: Henry Berckhoff, watercolor painting, “Camp at Roache’s Mill, August 1861.” (Gilder Lehrman Collection)
I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery

in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so,

and have no inclination to do so.— Abraham Lincoln, 1861
This is essentially a people's contest—On the side of the Union, it is a struggle

for maintaining in the world, that form, and substance of government, whose

leading object is to elevate the condition of men, to afford all an unfettered start,

and a fair chance, in the race of life.—Abraham Lincoln, 1861
When the Civil War broke out in 1861, President Lincoln quickly declared that the North was fighting only to restore the Union, and not to free the slaves. Lincoln moved cautiously, struggling to hold together a fragile coalition. He feared that moving against slavery would push the border states of Maryland and Kentucky into the arms of the Confederacy. Lincoln also recognized that white racism was powerful and widespread in the North. The president thought that the Northern war effort could be fatally damaged if he appeared to be a champion of black freedom.

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Secession

The Republican Party platform of 1860 promised to respect slavery in the South. But Southern slaveholders charged Lincoln was an abolitionist fanatic with a mission to end slavery and bring about racial equality. With remarkable speed, the seven lower South slave states left the Union and united as the Confederate States of America. In 1861 the Confederacy's vice president declared that "our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea of equality of the races.... Its cornerstone rests upon the great truth that the Negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery... is his natural and normal condition."

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The preservation of slavery and white supremacy was the motive for secession, as revealed by the pamphlets exhibited here. One tract argues that slavery is "doomed" in the Union. Another suggests that the South will be "Africanized" unless the slave states form a new nation. South Carolina's "Declaration of Independence" claimed that secession was justified by the election of Abraham Lincoln, a man "whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery."
Graphics:

John Townsend, The Doom of Slavery in the Union. Its Safety out of It, Charleston SC, 1860.


William Henry Holcombe, The Alternative: A Separate Nationality, or the Africanization of the South, New Orleans, 1860.
J. D. B. De Bow, The Interest in Slavery of the Southern Non-Slaveholder: The Right of Peaceful Secession: Slavery in the Bible, Charleston, 1860.
"THE UNION IS DISSOLVED!" Charleston Mercury Extra and Ordinance of Secession. December 20, 1860.

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President-elect Lincoln opposed any compromise with Southern slaveholders that would have allowed slavery to spread into new territories. When Southerners threatened to leave the Union after Lincoln's election, some Northern politicians proposed schemes to placate the South by extending slavery. But Lincoln insisted:
"Let there be no compromise on the question of extending slavery—If there be, all our labor is lost, and, ere long, must be done again.... Have none of it—Stand firm. The tug has to come, & better now, than any time hereafter."
Graphic:

Abraham Lincoln, autograph letter to Lyman Trumbull, December 10, 1860. (Huntington Library)

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In this letter, Lincoln promised again not to interfere with slavery in the South. But, he added, Southerners "think slavery is right,... while we think it is wrong...."
"Do the people of the South really entertain fears that a Republican administration would, directly, or indirectly, interfere with their slaves, or with them, about their slaves? ... there is no cause for such fears.... I suppose, however this does not meet the case—You think slavery is right, and ought to be extended; while we think it is wrong and ought to be restricted—That I suppose is the rub."

Graphic:


Abraham Lincoln, autograph letter to Alexander H. Stephens, December 22, 1860. (Huntington Library)

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Colonization

The colonization movement proposed removing blacks from America as a condition for the abolition of slavery. The premise of colonization was starkly racist: Blacks and whites could never live together if slavery ended. Colonization was as impractical as it was unfair. The African-American population exceeded 4 million and was growing at a rate of 100,000 each year. And, by the time of the Civil War, almost all black people in the United States, free and slave alike, were native-born Americans. Eminent statesmen like Thomas Jefferson and Henry Clay had supported colonization. So did Abraham Lincoln—right up to the time he issued the Emancipation Proclamation.

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The mission of the American Colonization Society was to get rid of slavery by getting rid of black people. The Society founded an African nation, Liberia, and set about trying to persuade blacks to relocate. There were few volunteers. By 1860, only about 15,000 had agreed to go.


Graphic:

Henry Clay, document signed, American Colonization Society membership certificate for Millard Fillmore, President of the United States, September 9, 1850. (Gilder Lehrman Collection)

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In 1861 and 1862, Abraham Lincoln proposed plans for freeing the slaves over many years, with the government paying slaveholders for their human property. The president himself drafted this plan for emancipation for the loyal slave state of Delaware. Under its terms, the last slaves would not have been freed until 1893. When the border states rejected his plan, Lincoln decided on immediate emancipation.
Graphic:

Abraham Lincoln, autograph document, November 1861. Draft of a bill for gradual, compensated emancipation in Delaware. (Huntington Library)



Section 3. War for the Union


Timeline, 1861-1862
1861, March. Lincoln inaugurated, promises not to interfere with Southern slavery, but vows to preserve the Union.
1861, April. Civil War begins: South fires on Fort Sumter, Lincoln calls for troops to put down rebellion. Upper South slave states Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas secede.
1861, May. U.S. Army refuses to return escaped slaves to masters, calling them "contraband of war," or seized enemy property.
1861, September. Lincoln overturns General Frémont's emancipation order for Missouri, fearing that it will prompt border slave states to join Confederacy.
1861, December-1862, March. Lincoln urges border slave states to end slavery, offering a plan for gradual emancipation with federal compensation to slaveholders and provisions for voluntary relocation of freed blacks to foreign country.
1862, May. Lincoln overturns General David Hunter ordering freeing slaves in South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.

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Section 4

A New Birth of Freedom
Background illustration: Henry Berckhoff, watercolor painting, “Attack on the Outposts near Annandale, Va., December 5, 1861.” (Gilder Lehrman Collection)

We must free the slaves, or be ourselves subdued.— Abraham Lincoln, 1862.
I am naturally anti-slavery. If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong.

I cannot remember when I did not so think, and feel.— Abraham Lincoln,1864
For more than a year, Lincoln had left slavery alone. Abolitionists and radical Republicans demanded emancipation and condemned the president as a weak leader. But Lincoln's caution was grounded on hard political realities. He had built a coalition around a war to restore the Union. Emancipation might shatter it. As the war dragged on, however, Lincoln came around to the idea that emancipation was "a military necessity: We must free the slaves or be ourselves subdued." Abraham Lincoln had decided to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree completely transformed the character of the Civil War. After the Emancipation Proclamation, the North fought not just for national integrity, but also to end the centuries-old evil of slavery.

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"Self-Emancipation"

Whatever President Lincoln said, enslaved people understood immediately that this was a war between freedom and slavery. Many thousands of them quickly escaped to the Northern armies. They struck for their liberty long before the president was willing to tackle the explosive issue. These "self-emancipated" people created an irresistible momentum. They chose freedom. Lincoln chose the timing and devised a political strategy to win over the white North.

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Thousands of Southern slaves proclaimed their own freedom with their feet. They not only escaped their masters, but also forced the reluctant North to see that the only hope for victory lay in the destruction of slavery.
Graphic:

"Stampede of Slaves from Hampton to Fortress Monroe," Harper's Weekly, August 17, 1861.

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At first the North treated escaped slaves as "contraband of war," or confiscated enemy property. The "Contrabands" were put to work. But their legal status remained uncertain. Were they really free? Each individual fugitive's case would have to be decided in the courts, and reenslavement was a real possibility.
Graphic:

"Mustering of the `Contrabands' on the Way to Their Day's Work, Under the Pay and Protection of the U.S.," Frank Leslie's Illustrated Weekly, November 2, 1861.

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Frederick Douglass understood that black soldiers fighting for the Union would help to defeat the slaveholders' Confederacy, while at the same time making a powerful case for African-American citizenship.
"We are fighting the Rebels with only one hand when we should be striking with both. Unchain that black hand!"
Graphic:

Frederick Douglass, autograph sentiment signed, December 11, 1861. (Huntington Library)

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Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation

The Emancipation Proclamation was the most revolutionary action ever taken by an American president. On January 1, 1863, it declared "forever free" all the enslaved people in the rebelling Southern states. Lincoln had embraced emancipation both as a way to weaken the Confederacy by depriving it of slave labor and as a sweeping expansion of Union war aims. No longer would the North fight merely to restore the old Union—­a Union with slavery to mock America's democratic ideals. Now it would fight to give that Union "a new birth of freedom."


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Although Lincoln had decided to issue the Emancipation Proclamation in July 1862, he waited until the North won a victory at battle of Antietam in September before revealing the decision. When he signed the final proclamation on January 1, 1863, Lincoln said, "If my name goes down in history it will be for this act."
Graphic:

Abraham Lincoln, printed document signed, President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, San Francisco, 1864. One of three copies of this souvenir printing signed by Lincoln. (Gilder Lehrman Collection)

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Thomas Nast's inspirational woodcut contrasts the horrors of slavery with the promise of freedom.
Graphic:

"Emancipation," Harper's Weekly, January 24, 1863.

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This Southern cartoon reveals the power of proslavery sentiment. Lincoln held back from emancipation because he feared the outrage he knew it would inspire. To some, freeing the slaves seemed so evil that Abraham Lincoln is depicted here as Satan himself. This is a Confederate cartoon, of course, but numerous white Northerners felt the same way.
Graphic:

"Masks and Faces. King Abraham before and after issuing the Emancipation Proclamation," The Southern Illustrated News, Nov. 2, 1862.

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For months Lincoln kept secret his decision to free the slaves as he worked to prepare public opinion. He continued to act as if emancipation was only one option, and an unlikely one at that. He down played his own antislavery convictions. At the same time, he spoke of his determination to save the Union by any means necessary—even emancipation. Though created for other purposes, the cartoon from the 1860 presidential campaign seems to illustrate Lincoln's strategy.
Graphic:

"Honest old Abe on the Stump, Springfield, 1858. Honest old Abe on the Stump, Springfield, 1860." (Huntington Library)

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Frederick Douglass recruited hundreds of African-American soldiers, including two of his own sons. This ringing appeal is addressed mainly to free blacks. Douglass tells them they must fight for the Union not only to free Southern slaves, but also to disprove racist claims that blacks were an inferior people.
Graphic:

Frederick Douglass, "Men of Color to Arms! To Arms! To Arms! Now or Never.... Failed Now, & Our Race Is Doomed...." Recruiting Poster, Philadelphia, 1863. (Gilder Lehrman Collection)

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Lincoln's critics have charged that the Emancipation Proclamation gave immediate freedom to no one. The assertion is false. The Proclamation settled the uncertain status of the tens of thousands of fugitive slaves who had escaped during 1861 and 1862: No longer were escaped slaves mere "contraband of war," now they were free people.
Graphic:

"Contrabands Coming into Camp in Consequence of the Proclamation," Harper's Weekly, January 31, 1863.



Section 4. A New Birth of Freedom

Timeline, 1862-1863
1862, July. Union war effort falters, border slave states reject Lincoln's proposals for gradual emancipation.
1862, July. Emancipation: Lincoln decides to use presidential war powers to declare freedom in rebelling states. Waits for military victory to make decision public.
1862, September. Union victory at Antietam, Lincoln issues preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.
1863, January 1. Lincoln signs Emancipation Proclamation, freeing all slaves in rebelling states and allowing enlistment of black soldiers in Union army.
1863, January. Lincoln ceases to promote plans for colonization of African-Americans to foreign country.
1863, June-July. Black soldiers fight for Union in Louisiana and South Carolina.
1863, December. Reconstruction begins: Lincoln offers pardon and restoration of property (except slaves) to Confederates who take an oath of allegiance to the Union and agree to accept emancipation.

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Section 5.

War for Union and Freedom
Background illustration: The Gallant Charge of the Fifth Fourth Massachusetts (Colored) Regiment, on the Rebel Works at Fort Wagner July 18th, 1863,” New York: Currier & Ives, 1863. (Gilder Lehrman Collection)
We cannot escape history. The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down,

in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation. In giving freedom to the slave,

we assure freedom to the free—honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve.

We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best, hope of earth.— Abraham Lincoln, 1862
Once let the black man get on his person the brass letters U.S., let him get an eagle

on his button, and a musket on his shoulder and bullets in his pocket, there is no power on earth that can deny he has earned the right of citizenship.— Frederick Douglass, 1862
The greatest obstacle Abraham Lincoln faced on his journey to emancipation was racism. In Lincoln's America, anti-black prejudice was widespread and powerful. Worse still, it was made to seem legitimate. Today, white supremacy is espoused by a small minority that most Americans regard as evil-minded extremists. But in Lincoln's time, leading scientists, clergymen, and political thinkers endorsed racist doctrines. The presidential election of 1864 was hotly contested. George McClellan, Lincoln's Democratic opponent, ran as an avowed white supremacist. McClellan's supporters spewed forth some of the ugliest racist propaganda in American history. But Lincoln won in a landslide.

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Black Warriors

Enlisting black soldiers in the Northern army was one of the most important provisions of the Emancipation Proclamation. By war's end, some 200,000 African American soldiers and sailors had fought for the Union. Most of them—about 140,000—were escaped slaves, and nearly 40,000 gave their lives. The Union's black warriors did more than win battles, they also changed minds. The bravery of black volunteers helped to change white people's preconceptions of the character and abilities of an entire race of oppressed Americans. It was enormous step toward freedom and equality.

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President Lincoln said that the North could not have won the war without the black fighters. In this letter, Lincoln told a general charged with "raising a colored brigade" that: "To now avail ourselves of this element of force, is very important, if not indispensable.... The necessity is palpable."
Graphic:

Abraham Lincoln, autograph letter to Nathaniel Banks, March 29, 1863. (Huntington Library)

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One Confederate leader had said "if slaves make good soldiers, our whole theory of slavery is wrong."
Graphic:

"Teaching the Black Recruits How to Shoot the Minie Rifle," Harper's Weekly, March 24, 1863.

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An unidentified private soldier from the 54th Massachusetts Colored Regiment, one of the first black regiments to fight. In July 1863, the regiment attacked Fort Wagner outside Charleston, South Carolina. The charge ended in bloody defeat, an action vividly portrayed in the 1989 movie "Glory." But the soldiers had won another kind of victory by proving their courage.
Graphic:

Ambrotype photograph, 1863. (Gilder Lehrman Collection)

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Confederates were outraged by black soldiers in the Union armies. The Southern high command threatened reprisals, then backed down. But troops in the field showed little restraint. The most notorious episode was the mass murder of black soldiers and white officers after their surrender at Fort Pillow, Tennessee. Commanding the rebel troops that day was Nathan Bedford Forrest—a former slave dealer and the future founder of the Ku Klux Klan.
Graphic:

"The Massacre at Fort Pillow," Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, April 24, 1864.

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The Democrats had traditionally presented themselves as "the white man's party." The Democratic Party platform in 1864 called for negotiations to let the South come back into the Union with slavery intact.
Graphics:

"The White Man's Ticket, George McClellan," Democratic Party presidential electoral ticket, 1864. (Gilder Lehrman Collection)


"Unconditional Union Ticket. Abraham Lincoln, "Republican Party presidential electoral ticket, 1864. (Gilder Lehrman Collection)

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Slavery's defenders—and Lincoln's opponents—often wrapped themselves in the mantle of white supremacy. These two anti-Lincoln tracts show the poisonous racial hatred the Democrats used in their attempts to defeat the president's reelection in 1864.
Graphics:

The Lincoln Catechism wherein the Eccentricities & Beauties of Despotism Are Fully Set Forth: A Guide to the Presidential Election of 1864, New York: J.F. Feeks, 1864. (Gilder Lehrman Collection)
Abraham Africanus I. His Secret Life,... Mysteries of the White House. [1864] (Huntington Library)

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The Democrats argued that they were defending the Constitution. Lincoln, they said, had exceeded his lawful authority when his emancipation policies transformed the Civil War a crusade against slavery. This pro-Republican woodcut suggests that the real defenders of the Constitution were the men who were dying to preserve it.
Graphic:

"True Defenders of the Constitution," Harper's Weekly, November 11, 1865.

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The election of 1864: This pro-Republican cartoon depicted the two candidates and their contrasting approaches to the great issues of Union and emancipation.
Graphic:

"Your Plan and Mine," New York, Currier & Ives, 1864. (Huntington Library)

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This pro-Democratic cartoon suggested that President Lincoln was needlessly prolonging the war by his insistence on freeing the slaves. The Democratic candidate, George B. McClellan, could bring about a peaceful reunification by offering the South some compromise to save slavery. The idea was bogus: The Confederates had no intention of returning to the Union, even with guarantees on slavery.

Graphic:


"The True Issue or `Thats Whats the Matter'" New York, Currier & Ives, 1864. (Huntington Library)

Section 5. War for Union and Freedom


Timeline, 1863-1864
1864, March. New Arkansas state constitution, abolishing slavery, is ratified,
1864, April. Senate approves constitutional amendment (13th Amendment) abolishing slavery, sent on to House of Representatives.
1864, June. House of Representatives fails to approve 13th Amendment.
1864, June. Lincoln nominated for second term.
1864, July-September. Prospects for Lincoln's reelection and attainment of emancipation are uncertain. Democratic candidate George B. McClellan's platform calls for peace negotiations and preservation of slavery. McClellan appears likely to win until Union victories strengthen president's hand.
1864, September. New Louisiana state constitution, abolishing slavery, is ratified.
1864, October. New Maryland state constitution, abolishing slavery, is ratified.
1864, November. Lincoln reelected in landslide.

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Section 6.

Legacies
Background illustration: Anton Hohenstein, “Lincoln’s Last Reception,” 1865. (Library of Congress: LC-USZC4-2438)
Let us discard all this quibbling about this man or the other man—this race or

that race—and unite as one people throughout this land, until we shall once more

stand up declaring that all men are created equal.—Abraham Lincoln, 1858
From a genuine abolition point of view, Mr. Lincoln seemed tardy, cold, dull,

and indifferent, but measuring him by the sentiment of his country—

a sentiment he was bound as a statesman to discuss—he was swift, zealous,

radical, and determined.—Frederick Douglass, 1876
As Northern armies crushed the life out of the Confederacy, Lincoln pushed through Congress the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, abolishing slavery forever. Slavery and racism had brought about secession and the war that followed. Race hatred also lay behind Lincoln's murder. On April 11, 1865, in his last speech, Lincoln spoke in favor of voting rights for some African American men. In the audience was John Wilkes Booth, a famous actor and an ardent white supremacist. "That means nigger citizenship!" Booth snarled, vowing to kill Lincoln. Three days later, at Ford's Theatre, he made good on his promise.

___________


Here was a scene from the slaveholders' worst nightmares: Black soldiers marching triumphantly through in the streets of Charleston, the birthplace of secession. For generations, Southern whites had dreaded a mass slave rebellion. They had envisioned a terrible race war, darkened by murder, rape, and arson. The great American slave rebellion finally came to pass in the Civil War. But instead of coming as stealthy assassins, the rebelling blacks came as U.S. soldiers.
Graphic:

"Marching on!—The 55th Massachusetts Colored Regiment singing John Brown's march on the streets of Charleston," Harper's Weekly, March 18, 1865.

___________
The 13th Amendment was slavery's death warrant. The constitutional amendment completed the great work of freedom begun by the Emancipation Proclamation. It was ratified by the states in December 1865.
Graphic:

Abraham Lincoln, document signed, February 1, 1865. Souvenir copy of the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery in the United States. (Gilder Lehrman Collection)

___________
Crowds at the U.S. Capitol celebrated a new birth of freedom when Congress passed the 13th Amendment. The Amendment states, "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment of crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."
Graphic:

"Scene in the House on the Passage of the Proposition to Amend the Constitution," Harper's Weekly, February 18, 1865.

___________
Momentum for freedom grew when the border slave state of Maryland abolished slavery. Maryland had never been in rebellion against the United States. So the Emancipation Proclamation had not applied in the state.
Graphic:

"Celebrating the Abolition of Negro Slavery in Maryland," Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, November 19, 1864.

___________
Lincoln required that the former Confederate states abolish slavery before they could rejoin the Union. In this letter, Lincoln instructed his military governor in Arkansas to move ahead with a new state constitution that would ban slavery. The President gave the wording, set off by quotations in the middle of the page: "There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude."

Graphic:


Abraham Lincoln, autograph letter to Frederick Steele, January 20, 1864. (Huntington Library)

___________


Lincoln suspected that the Emancipation Proclamation, a war powers measure by the president as commander in chief, could be overturned by the courts after the war ended. He wanted the 13th Amendment to make sure slavery was really dead.
Graphic:

"Uncle Abe's Valentine Sent by Columbia," Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, February 1865.

___________
The Second Inaugural Address is Abraham Lincoln's masterpiece—a meditation on history and the divine punishment of an entire nation for the crime of slavery. "American Slavery" was an offense to God, Lincoln suggested, and as punishment, God gives to "both North and South, this terrible war." The most powerful passages appear in the second-to-last paragraph.
Graphic:

"The Inaugural Address of President Abraham Lincoln, Delivered at the National Capitol, March 4, 1865." (Gilder Lehrman Collection)

___________
John Wilkes Booth was a pro-Confederate white supremacist. He called slavery a "blessing" and explained that he "acted for my country and my race." Booth expected that killing Lincoln would make him a national hero. Instead, he died a miserable fugitive when federal troops trapped and shot him two weeks after the assassination.
Graphic:

Edwin M. Stanton, Secretary of War. $100,000 REWARD THE MURDERER of our late beloved President, Abraham Lincoln IS STILL AT LARGE ... Washington, April 20, 1865. (Huntington Library)

___________
“I never knew a man who wished to be himself a slave. Consider if you know any good thing that, no man desires for himself.”
For years before the Civil War, Southern whites had defended slavery as a "positive good." Some had even convinced themselves that the enslaved people were well off—happy and protected in captivity. Abraham Lincoln knew better, and as usual, he had a memorable way of putting it.

Graphic:


Abraham Lincoln, autograph quotation signed, March 22, 1864. (Huntington Library)

___________



Aftermath

The future of more than three million freed blacks remained uncertain. What would be their place in the reunited nation? Black rights were backed by Northern bayonets during the period of Reconstruction. But Southern whites were implacably opposed to equality. The North was largely indifferent. When U.S. soldiers left the South in 1877, the experiment of Reconstruction was over. With it ended the promise of justice. The betrayal of Reconstruction meant that America still had not realized the ideal that Abraham Lincoln had invoked in 1858 when he declared "I believe the declaration that `all men are created equal' is the great fundamental principle upon which our free institutions rest."

___________
This view shows what Southern whites feared—black men lining up beneath the stars and stripes to cast their votes. When federal Reconstruction ended in 1877, whites quickly regained control of state governments in the South. Southern blacks lost the right to vote for almost a century.
Graphic:

"The First Vote," Harper's Weekly, November 16, 1867.

___________
The 14th and 15th amendments gave African Americans citizenship, equal protection of the law, and the right to vote. But when Reconstruction ended, the Southern states defied the Constitution, denying the rights of black Americans. The Civil War amendments proved to be the high water mark for black freedom until the great civil rights crusade of the mid-twentieth century.
Graphic:

"The 15th Amendment. Celebrated May 19th 1870." (Gilder Lehrman Collection)

___________
In this remarkable passage, Abraham Lincoln spoke of his "humble" contribution toward the eventual end of slavery. He could not imagine, in 1858, that emancipation was only five years away, and that he, Abraham Lincoln, would be its greatest champion. "I can not but regard it as possible that the higher object of this contest [for abolition] may not be completely attained within the term of my natural life. But I can not doubt either that it will come in due time. Even in this view, I am proud, in my passing speck of time, to contribute an humble mite to that glorious consummation."
Graphic:

Abraham Lincoln, autograph manuscript, speech fragment, [1858]. (Gilder Lehrman Collection)



Section 6. Legacies

Timeline, 1865-1877
1865, February. Congress passes constitutional amendment abolishing slavery, sent to states for ratification.
1865, March. Lincoln inaugurated for second term.
1865, April. Lee surrenders to Grant, effectively ending Civil War.
1865, April. Abraham Lincoln assassinated, Vice President Andrew Johnson of Tennessee becomes president.
1865, December. Ratification of 13th Amendment abolishing slavery.
1866, June. Congress passes 14th Amendment affirming citizenship of African Americans. Ratified June 1868.
1869, February. Congress passes 15th Amendment affirming voting rights for black men. Ratified March 1870.
1875, March. Congress passes Civil Rights Act of 1875 outlawing racial discrimination.
1877. Reconstruction ends, federal troops withdrawn from South. Southern blacks are deprived of most civil rights.

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