A War to End Slavery

Roughly 150 years later, the war fought on American soil by Americans against Americans, which, including civilian deaths, cost over 700,000 American lives is still a very sensitive subject.

Much changed in American society as a result of the war. America went from being a nation of individual States with a limited government to an amalgamation of States with a near absolute government; from a diverse nation with a variety of local laws to a homogeneous nation with uniform local laws dictated by a central government. From a government that regulated commerce to protect the weak against the strong to one that interferes with commerce to protect the strong against the weak. From a nation that tempered the excesses of big business to protect citizens to one that promotes the excesses of big business that exploit citizens. From a nation that listened to the voices of all constituencies to one that rides roughshod over constituencies based on the unrestrained will of the majority. These changes are made somewhat palatable if Americans believe the war was fought for a good cause and so school children are still taught the war was fought to end American slavery.

Consequently, one of the most widespread modern misunderstandings about the war is that it was fought to abolish slavery. Although, it is true slavery caused irritation between Northern abolitionists and Southern slave owners prior to the war and slavery, as an American institution, ended after the war, this in itself does not prove the war was conducted for this end. To scholars of historical fact, the reason for the war may seem complex, but Lincoln’s own words tell a more direct story.

Lincoln,  the President at the time, is responsible for taking the nation to war and as the leader of the Republican Party, his policies and ideas best represent the party in 1860. From Lincoln’s words and actions, we gain an understanding of the reasons he resorted to war and for what the 1860 Republican Party stood.

Lincoln called forth the militia of the several States of the Union in an address to the nation, via the Secretary of War, on April 15, 1861. The sole purpose he stated for doing so was to restore the laws of the United States by suppressing the States of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas. Conspicuously absent from his entire address is any mention of slavery much less calling an end to it.

Lincoln further explained his actions for calling forth the militia in his July 4, 1861 address to Congress but never once mentioned ending slavery as an objective or reason for taking the nation to war. As a matter of fact, there is nothing in Lincoln’s 28 year political career that would so much as insinuate this was a goal of his, but he said many things over that time to clearly prove ending slavery was not his concern.

In his March 4, 1861 inaugural address, he reiterated something he said in his first Douglas debate, “I do but quote from one of those speeches when I declare that—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 I have no inclination to do so.” In his address he went on to re-affirm his support for the fugitive slave law which he had endorsed in the Lincoln-Douglas debates.

At this point if anyone still believes Lincoln went to war to free the slaves, Lincoln himself dispelled all doubt in his August 22, 1862 letter to Horace Greely in which he stated, “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, and 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. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union.”

In the face of this evidence, some people would hold up the Emancipation Proclamation as proof of his intent, but his proclamation did not mandate the freedom of even one slave within Northern controlled territory. His proclamation only ordered slaves to be freed in Southern controlled territory, where he had no means of enforcing his executive order. Oddly, he did not demand freedom for slaves in slave-States that remained in the Union, or even in Southern territory occupied by Federal troops. Although, Lincoln symbolically signed the 13th Amendment on January 31, 1865, no slaves were freed until its ratification by the Northern States after the war and after Lincoln was dead.

Throughout Lincoln’s political career, he made many remarks that show he was not concerned for the welfare of Africans. In the first Lincoln-Douglas debate he said, “I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and black races. There is a physical difference between the two, which, in my judgment, will probably forever forbid their living together upon the footing of perfect equality; and inasmuch as it becomes a necessity that there must be a difference, I, as well as Judge Douglas, am in favor of the race to which I belong having the superior position. I have never said anything to the contrary.”

In the fourth Lincoln-Douglas debate, Lincoln said he was not or never had been “in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people.” “Anything that argues me into his [Douglas’s] idea of perfect social and political equality with the Negro is but a specious and fantastic arrangement of words, by which a man can prove a horse chestnut to be a chestnut horse.”

Lincoln made many other such remarks, but Ebony magazine editor Lerone Bennett, Jr., said it best when he cited that, “On at least fourteen occasions between 1854 and 1860 Lincoln said unambiguously that he believed the Negro race was inferior to the White race.”[1] Clearly, Lincoln’s own words prove he was not concerned for the welfare of African slaves and he did not execute the war to free them.


[1] The Real Lincoln, T. DiLorenzo, p. 12

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