The Political Climate

Lincoln, under much pressure from abolitionists, saw his main objective as saving the Union, regardless of how the slavery issue played out. With the political climate simply too volatile, Lincoln trod carefully so as not to offend slaveholding Border States, very key to the North. Kentucky was one of these. Because of its strategic location on the Ohio River, it had to remain in the Union. Besides, in his inaugural address, Lincoln had promised not to interfere with slavery. To do so would have meant additional states joining the Confederacy.

The Emancipation Proclamation

On April 16, 1862, Lincoln signed a bill abolishing slavery in Washington, D.C. Lincoln wanted to free all the slaves in the seceding states, but Secretary of State William Seward advised him to make such a momentous announcement only after a Union victory. When the Battle of Antietam brought that opportunity, and as he became more confident of Border State support, Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation. On September 22, 1862, he announced that on January 1, 1863, all slaves residing in the Confederate states would be free.

The proclamation didn't apply to the Border States, which were not in rebellion against the Union, though Lincoln did urge voluntary compensated emancipation. In fact, Lincoln did not have the power to free slaves except under the powers granted during war to seize enemy property. As president, he had to abide by the Constitution, which protected slavery in slave states. Due to their rebellion, he could act in states that had seceded. The 100-day warning in the proclamation was intended to give Rebel states ample opportunity to rejoin the Union with slavery intact.

Lincoln pushed for the Thirteenth Amendment, which made up for the limitations of the Emancipation Proclamation: it barred slavery from the United States in perpetuity. Later, it became a condition that Southern states had to accept the amendment to be readmitted to the Union. It became law in January 1865.

When Abraham Lincoln was working on drafts of his Emancipation Proclamation, he had the foresight to say, “If my name ever goes down into history, it will be for this act, and my whole soul is in it.” Drafted in 1862, it went into effect by presidential signature on New Year's Day, 1863. A portion of this proclamation is as follows:

Now, therefore I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, by virtue of the power in me vested as Commander-in-Chief, of the Army and Navy of the United States in time of actual armed rebellion against authority and government of the United States, and as a fit and necessary war measure for suppressing said rebellion, do, on this first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty three, and in accordance with my purpose so to do publicly proclaimed for the full period of one hundred days, from the day first above mentioned, order and designate as the States and parts of States wherein the people thereof respectively, are this day in rebellion against the United States, the following, to wit:

Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, (except the Parishes of St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Jefferson, St. Johns, St. Charles, St. James[,] Ascension, Assumption, Terrebonne, Lafouche, St. Mary, St. Martin, and Orleans, including the City of New-Orleans) Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South-Carolina, North-Carolina, and Virginia, (except the forty-eight counties designated as West Virginia, and also the counties of Berkley, Accomac, Northampton, Elizabeth-City, York, Princess Ann, and Norfolk, including the cities of Norfolk & Portsmouth [)]; and which excepted parts are, for the present, left precisely as if this proclamation were not issued.

And by virtue of the power, and for the purpose aforesaid, I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States, and parts of States, are, and henceforeward shall be free; and that the Executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons.

Usually, Lincoln signed bills in abbreviated form using “A. Lincoln.” However, he signed his full signature onto the Emancipation Proclamation, and said to those cabinet officers standing near, “Gentlemen, I never, in my life, felt more certain that I was doing right than in signing this paper.”

Lincoln's proclamation gave slaves a beacon of hope. As they spotted Union troops approaching their towns, slaves simply refused to work for their masters. Further along in his address, Lincoln invited slaves to join the Union army. By the end of the Civil War, one Union soldier in eight was African-American. This hastened the South's demise, and foreign governments (namely France and Great Britain) took notice as well.

Signs of the Times

The draft (conscription) began in 1862 when the Confederacy called all men between eighteen and forty-five to serve in the army. In March 1863, the Union passed a similar act calling men between twenty and forty-five into military service. However, you could hire a substitute or pay $300 instead. The act was branded a rich man's law, and troops had to quell riots that flared, but Lincoln dared not suspend the draft.

The Union faced additional burdens with financing the war. As a result, new federal taxes were levied on inheritances, legal documents, and personal income. The government also printed paper money, dubbed “greenbacks” because of the color. By 1863, $450 million worth of greenbacks were in use. The value of these greenbacks varied and was usually lower than that of gold. And because there was an increase in the money supply, prices rose.

Grief Overwhelms the Lincoln Family

Besides the daunting burden of war, Lincoln endured many personal trials during his White House years. Mrs. Lincoln lost four of her brothers who fought for the Confederacy, but the ultimate blow was the death of the couple's son Willie in 1862. The strain left Mrs. Lincoln depressed and morbidly afraid to allow her eldest son Robert to sign up with the army (though at the war's end, Lincoln secured Robert a fairly safe post on Grant's staff). Yet despite the family turmoil, the president worked long hours seeing to his duties, greeting White House visitors, and personally reviewing matters unrelated to the Civil War. When reviewing court-martial sentences, he urged leniency by scrawling on one such case, “Let him fight instead of being shot.”

Did Karl Marx communicate with President Lincoln?

Yes. In November of 1864, Karl Marx and the International Workingmen's Association wrote the following congratulations to President Lin-coln: “We congratulate the American people upon your re-election by a large majority. If resistance to the Slave Power was the reserved watchword of your first election, the triumphant war cry of your re-election is Death to Slavery.”

Lincoln easily won the 1864 election against Democratic candidate General McClellan. McClellan's followers felt Lincoln unjustly relieved him of his military command following Antietam. Showing himself to be a staunch fighter, McClellan ignored his party's platform, which called for the war's immediate end. Instead, he urged that the fighting continue. Lincoln chose Andrew Johnson as his vice president and ran on the platform of abolishing slavery and ending the war.

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