From the events leading up to his presidential election until the emancipation of slaves, Abraham Lincoln’s political viewpoints on slavery were always changing. However, his feelings about the actual slaves and blacks living in America remained the same. Lincoln had always been opposed to the idea of slavery, calling it a “monstrous injustice” (Lincoln 16) and “morally wrong”(Johnson 39). He recognized slavery as a severe issue in our country, yet later on in his presidency felt it was essential to the southern way of life.
Lincoln’s standpoints on the issues of slavery varied throughout his many political positions and as the nation’s political situation shifted, but his concern for the well-being of the slaves themselves was constant. Even from when Abraham Lincoln was a young man he had formed strong oppositions towards slavery and felt it was “founded on both injustice and bad policy” (Lincoln 16). Lincoln’s earliest views were formed from where he was raised and his education as an adolescent. Born in the slave state of Kentucky, his family was one of few farms that didn’t own slaves.
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Lincoln’s father was a firm believer in manual labor, and his time spent splitting logs on his father’s farm “taught him to work but never learned him to love it” (Romine 2). Seeking a career path that required more of Lincoln’s skill with words, Lincoln moved to Illinois, a free state that still retained a strong discrimination towards blacks. In 1854 during the time of the Mexican-American War, Lincoln was elected to Congress. At this time, the expansion of slave states further west was a hot topic in American legislature.
In this same year, Senator Stephen Douglas passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act through Congress, repealing the Missouri Act of 1820 and allowing many states in the Midwest to decide whether or not they wanted to own slaves. Lincoln, Douglas’s political rival, was completely opposed to this idea, and spoke out against it several times stating that it “is wrong; wrong in its direct effect, letting slavery into Kansas and Nebraska???and wrong in its prospective principle, allowing it to spread to every other part of the wide world, where men can be found inclined to take it” (Lincoln 16).
It was the passing of this bill where Lincoln planted a firm political standpoint on the issue of slavery and began his campaign. In 1858, Lincoln ran for Senate against Douglas, arguing his opinions in the Lincoln-Douglas debates now famously known today. Although he recognized the idea of slavery was immoral and should not be allowed to spread to new states, he was opposed to treating blacks as equal and “did not intend to interfere with slavery where it existed, protected by the federal Constitution and state laws” (Lincoln 62-63).
Seeing other perspectives on slavery, such as the slave markets in the South, helped Lincoln form a more rounded viewpoint and look at slavery from all sides of the spectrum. This change in his opinions started as Lincoln began to gain more and more political influence serving in Congress. Southerners soon became convinced that the election of Lincoln would lead to them to secede from the Union, something Lincoln desperately wanted to avoid. Secession was anarchy” he declared, “safety, peace, and democratic order lay within the Union, while secession offered danger, bloodshed, and lawlessness” (Johnson 63). He now firmly believed that if our country remained divided on the issue of slavery, we would not last. Lincoln once famously said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free” (Lincoln 32). During his election in 1860, Lincoln was secretly shifting his standpoint on slavery closer to that of abolition.
He knew that the true problem with slavery was the morality of it and the consequences of slavery in the future. Lincoln began to realize that allowing the southern slave states who currently owned slaves to remain as they were, but not allowing any new states to have slavery, would not work. However, if he were too quick to free the slaves, the Border States would join the Confederacy. If he waited too long, he might never have this opportunity again, and slavery might have remained a permanent fixture in the United States.
Though his personal beliefs may have led him in one direction, Lincoln needed to appease both the North and South, and despite his “inflexible” (Lincoln 61) opposition, he had to accept slavery in the states where it had already been established. After the 1860 election, Lincoln made the final decision prohibiting slavery from spreading any further across the country. In his first inauguration as president, Lincoln publicly announces that slavery would remain in the current slave states but could not expand to new states or territories.
He promised also to support an amendment that would guarantee slavery from further government interference. Lincoln’s views at this time were politically motivated, and focused on ending the war and preserving the “indestructible” (Johnson 71) Union. He felt the South should not be allowed to secede or to continue to destroy “human freedom and equality for all men” (Lincoln 68), and should try to maintain togetherness throughout the nation. In conclusion, Lincoln’s views on slavery did quite often seem to contradict one another.
On one hand, he allowed current slave states in the south to keep their slaves and carry on life as normal. On the other hand, he realized that a country divided on this major issue would never survive. For four years, Lincoln argued that the issue of slavery must not be allowed to end the Union. In January 1863, Lincoln formed his final position on slavery when he signed the Emancipation Proclamation, constitutionally abolishing slavery from the United States and sparking the flame for a long and bloody civil war.