Lincoln’s Answer to the Emancipation Question
Prior to the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, the freeing of slaves was an existential threat to the integrity of the Union. Lincoln contemplated over this issue and he was inclined to renege on this promise to secure the reunification of the Southern states. He introduced to the Delaware Legislature a proposal for gradual, compensated emancipation of the slaveholders willing to release their slave. However, he faced pressure from anti-expansionists in the North who felt that the quest for reunification did not justify compensated emancipation or the Civil War carnage that was taking place. For them, only abolitionism was more important than the sanctity of the Union. As a result, Lincoln’s proposal did not become a law because it lacked legislative approval. Nevertheless, the president remained under pressure from the abolitionists and free slaves in the North to end slavery.
Lincoln also faced pressure from the South to rescind the Proclamation to save the Union. He considered allowing the confederacy to retain slaves for labor if the region could cease its rebellion and unite with the North. Lincoln also faced pressure from peace activists opposed to the Civil War. However, his belief in racial justice made him include ending slaveholding as a precondition for negotiations. He also proposed compensated emancipation to Southern farmers once the war ended. For political reasons, he pondered over whether to free only a few or all slaves. The South was vehemently opposed to Lincoln’s quest for full emancipation, and thus, it refused to honor the president’s directive to abandon slavery. As a result, only slaves in the Northern states and those fleeing the confederacy gained freedom.