Abraham Lincoln: The Abolishment of Slavery Through Dialect Abraham Lincoln was a dialogic rhetorician who seemed intent on prompting others to discussion and action through the power of words. The one great consistency that exists across the rhetoric of Lincoln’s early administration is that, in conversations with friends and critics, in his written correspondence and in his public speeches, he listened, considered, and then replied to the arguments of others.
With the determination to abolish slavery, Abraham Lincoln, practiced law and politics, and served as president of the United States in a society that lacked any modern day theories of race. It is necessary to recognize the enormous odds blacks faced in a society seemingly dedicated to the preservation of white superiority. It is equally important to understand how difficult it was for whites to endorse black freedom and equality. To be identified as an abolitionist or a proponent of black rights was not socially or politically expedient.
In fact, it was often dangerous. Young Abe’s first real exposure to human bondage came in 1828, when he was nineteen years old. He and Allen Gentry were hired to float farm produce down the Mississippi to New Orleans. The two youths were mesmerized by the Crescent City, with its fabulous French Quarter and docks lined with steamboats. But they also saw the infamous slave markets of New Orleans, where black men, women, and children were bough and sold like animals. These were sights that Lincoln would never forget.
Growth is indeed a word often used to describe Lincoln’s position on race and slavery in a state, which had little sympathy for ex-slaves even if it had little support for slavery. Lincoln neither grew up in nor lived in a racially tolerant society. Historian Richard N. Current wrote: There were black laws in Illinois indeed-laws that denied the Negro the vote and deprived him of other rights. Illinois in those days was a Jim Crow state. That was where Lincoln had spent most of the years of his manhood, among people who had migrated from slave country farther south, as he himself had done.
Naturally he had shared some of the negrophobic feeling of his neighbors in Kentucky, in southern Indiana, in central Illinois. That was where, in geography, and in sentiment, he came from. But he did not stay there. The most remarkable thing about him was his tremendous power of growth. He grew in sympathy, in the range of his humaneness, as he grew in other aspects of the mind and spirit. In more ways than one he succeeded in breaking through the thin bounds of his early environment. Lincoln detested slavery, but he was no abolitionist. He hoped it would peacefully die out of its own accord, without bloodshed or violence. Lincoln felt that slavery, however objectionable, was protected by the Constitution of the time. As a passionate Unionist, the young lawyer also felt that forced abolition would break up the United States. Lincoln started his political career in 1832 when he made the decision to run for Illinois General Assembly. Unfortunately the Black Hawk Indian War broke out before he was able to campaign.
But, in 1834 Lincoln established himself as a member of the Illinois General Assembly in which he would stay apart of until 1842. As representative from Sangamon County, he represented the emerging Whig Party, which devoted itself under the national leadership of Senators Henry Clay and Daniel Webster. As a member of the General Assembly, Lincoln took an early stand on the question of slavery. He opposed a piece of legislation that condemned the activities of local abolition societies and lent general support to the institution of slavery.
For support Lincoln joined Dan Stone, a representative also from Sangamon County, and together they expressed their protest to the resolution adopted by the Illinois General Assembly. They expressed their disapproval of the formation of abolition societies and proclaimed, “The right of property in slaves is sacred to the slave holding states under the Federal Constitution”. Lincoln appears to be taking a cautiously anti-slavery position, consistent with his other legislative activity at the time. “As a young legislator, Lincoln reflected majority opinion in opposing African American suffrage. This was followed by the publication of a paper that expressed their shared belief “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 abate its evils. ” Both Lincoln and Stone knew Congress had the power, through the Constitution, to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia but that power did not run concurrent in different states. Lincoln was very popular among his fellow legislators, and in 1838 and in 1840 he received the complimentary vote of his minority colleagues for the speakership of the state House of Representatives.
After Lincoln had finished his last term in the General Assembly of Illinois he decided to pursue a career in law. John Todd Stewart, a political friend and practicing attorney assisted Lincoln with textbooks making it possible study for him to obtain his license to practice. Between 1849 and 1854 he took little part in politics, and instead devoted himself to the law. He quickly became one of the frontrunners of the Illinois bar. Although he himself was morally opposed to the institution of slavery, Lincoln as lawyer and politician was frequently forced to separate personal views from professional stances.
As such, he represented both slaves and slave owners in courts of law, but while he was successful in gaining freedom for a slave sold in Illinois, he failed to restore a slave family to a slave owner who attempted to reclaim them. And although Lincoln was willing to defend either side of the slave question as a prairie lawyer, the time was fast approaching when such compromises with regard to the “peculiar institution” would no longer be possible. In 1854, several debates between Senator Stephen Douglas and Abraham Lincoln clearly revealed the major contrast between the candidates running for a seat in the United States Senate.
Richard Yates was a vigorous Anti-Nebraska Representative who was honored to have Lincoln join him in an effort to be re-elected into the Senate. Stephen Douglas was a senator from Illinois who rose quickly up the ranks of the Democratic Party. Douglas proposed his controversial Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. Douglas’s Bill included a provision that would repeal the Missouri Compromise, no longer prohibiting slavery north of the line of 30-30’. The Bill was proposed in January and after five months of debate; Douglas’s Kansas-Nebraska Bill was passed and signed.
The territory was now legally entitled the power to choose pro or against the institution of slavery for themselves under the system of popular sovereignty. Douglas defending the Bill arguing that the people of the territory should have the right to form and regulate their own domestic institutions. His delusion was the assumption that slaves did not differ from other types of property. Before the Kansas-Nebraska Bill was proposed Lincoln was content with his career as an attorney. He even considered the idea that politics were an item of the past.
To his surprise his passion returned even stronger than in the past when he learned the Missouri Compromise had been repealed. Douglas and his Bill quickly became motivation for Lincoln to get back into politics. In the fall, Lincoln took the stump with no broader practical aim or object than to secure the reelection of Yates to Congress. His speeches at once attracted a more marked attention than they had ever before done. He spoke on the aggressiveness of the slave-holding party and their eagerness to acquire more slave territory.
Lincoln’s speeches were marked with a new seriousness that soon attracted attention beyond the Congressional district. ” Up until this point, Lincoln had been known as a Whig of anti-slavery but had not been asked to address the national political issue in a debate. The campaign had come to a climax in October and it was Lincoln’s time to address the issue. In Springfield, IL he filled his speech with astonishing facts, logical strategy, and a raw description of slavery. For four hours, Lincoln spoke with a deep emotional attachment never losing his grip on how strongly he felt slavery needed to be restricted, not abolished.
He felt that if given it time slavery would naturally go through the process of abolishment. Instead of dwelling on the cruelty slavery depicted he discussed the legal aspect. He said Douglas and his political party violated the pledge of the Missouri Compromise, and for opening the way for the growth of slavery into new territory. Listeners were unquestionably impacted by his simple but direct style of speech. Horace White, a witness to his entire speech, declared Lincoln far superior than any other politician he had ever witnessed.
White described the profound impression of Lincoln’s speech as powerful as being cast under a spell. Lincoln was able connect with audience member’s emotionally. On October 16, 1854, Abraham Lincoln gave another speech denouncing the Kansas-Nebraska Act in Peoria, Illinois. He stated that it was too modified and it was a repeal to the Missouri Compromise. Lincoln, felt that the vitality of slavery depended upon its ability to expand. But he also felt that prohibiting the expansion of slavery by fiat would enflame sectional resentments.
Lincoln’s Peoria speech opens by dissociating the cause of free soil in the territories from the cause of abolition in the states. In making the distinction between toleration of slavery where it exists already and hostility to its extension into the territories. “This declared indifference, but as I must think, covert real zeal for the spread of slavery, I can not but hate. I hate it because of the monstrous injustice of slavery itself. ” Lincoln’s honesty made clear political motivation was to transform the north and the south into one unitized country with a government system that guaranteed all citizen equality and liberty.
Lincoln treats such slave- holders not as demonic and endlessly resourceful oppressors but as those who have bound themselves upon the wheel of necessity and can’t imagine any easy way off of it. There is an appealing modesty, and a lack of moral pretense, in Lincoln’s presentation of this case. When southern people tell us they are no more responsible for the origin of slavery, than we; I acknowledge the fact. When it is said that the institution exists; and that it is very difficult to get rid of it, in any satisfactory way, I can under- stand and appreciate the saying.
I surely will not blame them for not doing what I should not know how to do myself. If all earthly power were given me, I should not know what to do, as to the existing institution. Early in his political career, Lincoln put himself on record as opposed to slavery, but he was never technically an abolitionist. He preferred to associate himself with those who believed that slavery should be fought within the Constitution. He also respected the power individual states maintained exempt from the national government. States had the choice to write their own constitutions and he believed strongly it was not to be interfered with.
A true democracy and the equal division of power motivated Lincoln to exclude slavery from any territory over which the national government had jurisdiction. Lincoln also understood America’s founders had put slavery on the way to “ultimate extinction” by preventing its spread to new territories. He saw this act, which had been sponsored by Democratic Senator Stephen A. Douglas, as a new and alarming development. With the introduction of Douglas’s popular sovereignty, Lincoln aired his fears that the African slave trade would presently be revived, turning America into vast slave empire. On August 24th 1855, in a letter to Joshua F.
Speed, Lincoln discusses his respect for the subject and real object of law but also his modern discovery that Senator Douglas was In your assumption that there may be a fair decision of the slavery question in Kansas, I plainly see you and I would differ about the Nebraska-law. I look upon that enactment not as a law, but as violence from the beginning. It was conceived in violence, passed in violence, is maintained in violence, and is being executed in violence. I say it was conceived in violence, because the destruction of the Missouri Compromise, under the circumstances, was nothing less than violence.
It was passed in violence, because it could not have passed at all but for the votes of many members in violence of the known will of their constituents. It is maintained in violence because the elections since clearly demand it’s repeal, and this demand is openly disregarded. This letter also identifies Lincoln’s frustration concerning the Whig party. “You inquire where I now stand…I think I am a Whig; but others say there are no Whigs, and that I am an abolitionist. When I was in Washington I voted for the Wilmot Proviso as good as forty times, and I never heard of any one attempting to un-Whig me for that.
I now do no more than oppose the extension of slavery. ” The glitches over Kansas-Nebraska shattered the old Whig-Democratic association. Whigs like Lincoln, Free Soilers, dissatisfied Democrats, and a host of antislavery politicians of varying stripes gradually conformed over the subject of slavery and transformed the political space. “As a nation, we began by declaring that, “all men are created equal. ” We now practically read it “all men are created equal, except negroes” When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read, “all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics. Lincoln personally despised slavery and did not want racial or ethnic prejudice to govern the political principles of the nation. But publicly, Lincoln never veered far from the racial prejudices of white America. This contradiction piece has be the subject and evidence supporting the thought that Lincoln hasn’t always consistent. Before the start of the September 18th debate at Charleston, Illinois, an elderly man approached Lincoln in a hotel and asked him if the stories were true.
Recounting the encounter later before a crowd of 15,000, Lincoln declared: I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races; I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people. In 1856 Lincoln joined the newly formed Republican Party made up of a mixture of various factions united by their opposition to the spread of slavery. Two years later he campaigned for the Senate against Senator Douglas.
In his speech at Springfield in acceptance of the Republican senatorial nomination, Lincoln suggested that Douglas, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, and Democratic presidents Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan had conspired to nationalize slavery. In the same speech he expressed the outlook the nation would portray if they came together on the subject of slavery. He implied that as long as the states were all in agreement it wouldn’t matter if slavery was abolished or required by all members of the Union. Throughout his bold speech, Lincoln constantly blames the Nebraska Act and its supporters for current unconstitutional rule.
A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this Government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become alike lawful in all the states, old as well as new — North as well as South.
Lincoln’s words illustrated a legitimate dejection of the nation and left concept many did not want to hear. The Republicans depreciated the unflinching messages and friends wrote to him predicting that he would be defeated. Lincoln ignored the feedback and stated with pride, “If I had to draw a pen across my record, and erase my whole life from sight, and I had one poor gift or choice left as to what I should save from the wreck, I should choose that speech and leave it to world un-erased. Lincoln’s political motivation to construct the Union was now clearly achievable transformation the north and the south into one unitized country. Once the Union was restored, Lincoln anticipated other elements of a productive and peaceful nation would be effortless to achieve. A democratic government that prized its laws, particularly the constitution because it guaranteed all citizen equality and liberty among many other rights. For much of the Civil War, Lincoln juggled conflicting pressures and politicians on the issue of slavery. But the movement toward emancipation of all black Americans was unavoidable.
It is true that Lincoln never, prior to 1862, advocated federal action to end slavery in the states where it existed. Constitutional obligations were important to him, and he hoped that putting an end to the expansion of the institution would in the end cause its demise in the South. The more one recognizes the centrality of enslaved and free people of color in the process of emancipation, however, the more one becomes aware of the significance of Lincoln and his historic document to the people who were most directly affected by its provisions.
Despite its shortcomings (and there were many), contemporary African Americans saw in the Emancipation Proclamation a document with limitless possibilities. To them, it represented the promise not only of freedom and an end to their degradation, but it encouraged the hope for full citizenship and inclusion in the country of their birth as well. Although liberating in theory rather than in reality, people of color saw the proclamation as a watershed in their quest for human dignity and recognition as Americans.
It is clear that the Emancipation Proclamation was not simply the product of political pressures concluding in 1862. Lincoln had already thought of this “thunderbolt. ” He had been waiting for the proper time, all the while working hard to avoid resorting to an executive proclamation to do what the Border States could more rightfully accomplish under the Constitution. In his letter to a group of Unionist President Lincoln defended the Emancipation Proclamation against its critics: ” But the proclamation, as law, either is valid, or is not valid.
If it is not valid, it needs no retraction. If it is valid, it cannot be retracted, any more than you can bring the dead can be brought to life. Some of you profess to think its retraction would operate favorably for the Union. Why better after the retraction, than before the issue? There was more than a year and a half of trial to suppress the rebellion before the proclamation issued, the last one hundred days of which passed under an explicit notice that it was coming, unless averted by those in revolt, returning to their allegiance.
The war has certainly progressed as favorably for us, since it’s issue of the proclamation as before. ” The Emancipation Proclamation reads, “And I further declare and make known, that such persons of suitable condition, will be received into the armed service of the United States to garrison forts, positions, stations and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service. ” I feel that these should be the greatest, that these are the first and perhaps most important words ever uttered by a president to a majority of the nation’s people of color.
Unlike the comments and correspondence that I have discussed to this point, these words acknowledged the Southern slave population, excluding the border states, as a united community with the capacity to act as citizens, to enlist in the military, support military operations, and if necessary, sacrifice their lives for country and freedom. African Americans heard and responded to Lincoln’s words. Lincoln worked enduringly within the limits of the Constitution to free the slaves and that he was not compromised by the ideology of white supremacy.
The important message in Lincoln’s discussion with the black delegation was not the question of colonization, but Lincoln’s reflections on white prejudice and the universal desire for equality. In these comments the president reveals that he was no longer thinking in the narrow terms of slavery’s demise, he was thinking more broadly about equality, which would become the true test of freedom after emancipation. He understood that emancipation required something closer to black citizenship and equal participation.
Fused with the Douglas debates and the Cooper Union speech of 1860, Lincoln’s lectures on Discoveries and Inventions tend to be censored out of history. Endlessly consumed in natural rights rhetoric, it is unlikely that the issue of slavery was far from Lincoln’s mind while he considered the issues of technology and progress. Together with Lincoln’s Address Before the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society in September of 1859, the Lectures on Discoveries and Inventions illustrate Lincoln’s reflections on the nature of labor, technology, and progress and their relation to the slavery question.
In these pieces Lincoln argues for a “right to rise,” that the use of technology and education can liberate man from the soil by allowing him to improve his own labor. Far from being digressions from Lincoln’s antislavery project, these addresses give a deeper insight into Lincoln’s natural rights argument against slavery. His lectures portray Lincoln as arguing for the subduing of nature by human intellect. Lincoln’s view of science is that “humankind’s destiny, it seems, is to master nature by acquiring knowledge that can be put to use. ”
Lincoln’s emphasis on education suggests: “all mastery or domination rests finally on ‘slavery of the mind. ’” Education represents liberation from that slavery, allowing a person to be truly free. Education provides the tools to master nature, emancipating one’s self from the drudgery of physical labor. Education produces invention, and these inventions make labor more efficient. Lincoln had enunciated his belief in regard to the evil of slavery in a passage long since famous: “A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free.
I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other. ” With this belief as a key, Lincoln’s policy becomes clear. From beginning to end, his purpose was to preserve the Union. The final abolition of slavery by constitutional amendment, Lincoln urged because it was his belief that the only hope of the Union was in the abolition of slavery. History, in providing a narrative to events past, makes the world seem as though they it could not have happened otherwise.
A voracious reader, Lincoln himself recognized the power of the written word, and was highly wary of its tendency to distort. Today, many view Lincoln’s most significant action as president to be his Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863, which paved the way for the Thirteenth Amendment and the abolishment of slavery in the United States. He also became noted for his pithy way with words, giving such memorable speeches. Together with his trademark beard and stovepipe hat, Lincoln’s talent for simple eloquence has become a part of popular legend.
The work of reconstruction would carry on without Lincoln, but his memory would live on in the nation’s imagination. For his work in preserving the union and bringing an end to the institution of slavery, Abraham Lincoln would come to earn a place of honor among the greatest of American conquerors. Works Cited Angle, Paul M. The Lincoln Reader,. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1947. 229. Print. Bastler, Roy. “The Complete Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1858. ” Selected Speeches and Writings. By Abraham Lincoln. New York: Vintage, 1992. 235. Print. Boritt, G. S. The Lincoln Enigma: the Changing Faces of an American Icon.
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