Robert Kennedy's  United States History Class


Learning Objective Three: Discuss Lincoln’s motives for fighting the Civil War and his plan for emancipation and Discuss the primary reasons for the Emancipation Proclamation and show HOW its use and TIMING helped overcome the problems the country faced in 1862.  Discuss how the issue of "preserving the union" shifted to abolishing slavery as the main motivation for the war.

There were three basic problems that faced Lincoln and the country in 1862:

Even with its great manpower, manufacturing, and transportation advantages, the North in mid-1862 was losing the war. And, as the war dragged on longer than expected, this had a great demoralizing effect on the North and the willingness of Northerners to support it.  The second problem was the desire of both England and France to see the political power of the United States weakened. This along with their need for southern cotton created the possibility of both countries entering the war on the side of the South.

For example with Great Britain, whose cotton manufacturing was its largest industry employed 900,000 workers and received 80 percent of its cotton from the South. Four million people , a fifth of the population of the British Isles, directly or indirectly depended on the industry .

The South felt that if Europe did not recognize the Confederacy, a sudden termination of cotton exports would compel intervention. Finally, Lincoln's unwillingness to make the abolition of slavery the key issue of the war caused some of his own party members to attack him and thus his own party was splitting behind him. Thus the Emancipation Proclamation was an attempt by Lincoln to keep Europe out of the war, unite his party and the country, and gain the support of the abolitionists and radical Republicans. For the Proclamation to be successful TIMING was an important factor. According to fairly reliable sources, Lincoln was persuaded by Secretary of State Seward to withhold the Proclamation so that it could be issued on the face of victory . Otherwise, if it came out sooner it might appear to be only a clumsy attempt to draw public attention away from the military blundering and defeats that the Union was experiencing. Lincoln thus laid aside the Proclamation for two months and waited for a victory before making the Proclamation public. The day finally came. On September 22, 1862, five days after Lee's defeat at the battle of Antietam, Lincoln issued his preliminary Proclamation. The preliminary Proclamation provided that slavery would end on January 1, 1863 when Lincoln announced his final Proclamation .

The political results of Lincoln's action was to deliver a one, two combination punch that became the psychological turning point of the war. First, was the success at Antietam coupled with Lincoln's clear indication that the conflict was no longer merely a campaign for the restoration of the Union but also a crusade for the eradication of slavery. The war was lifted to a new emotional level and became a war of morality and freedom . Thus the problem of demoralization was solved.  Second, both England and France had long been critical of the practice of slavery in the United States before the Civil War. Although a Southern victory would have continued the institution, it would have also split a potential great power in the western hemisphere and made it easier for both countries to exercise their influence in the region. Taking into consideration the amount of cotton the South supplied England , it was only logical that she was rooting for the South.

With the early military victories of the South during the first two years of the war, England and France were ready to support the Confederacy However, the combination of the victory at Antietam and Lincoln's announcement that the North was fighting the war to end slavery made it almost politically impossible for either country to enter the war on the side of the South. One mouth earlier too the day, on August 22, 1862, in a response to Horace Greeley's editorial "A Prayer of Twenty Millions," which urged emancipation, Lincoln replied, "My paramount to save the Union, and it is not either to save or to destroy slavery ." Although Lincoln had already written the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation the need for TIMING led him to make such a statement to the press.

Finally, since Lincoln supported the abolitionist cause, there was little the radical Republicans could do but to support him. After all he was doing as they wished.   Lincoln's calculations proved correct even with the cotton famine in Europe . The issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation and the increased evidence of federal military success kept England , France and any other power from recognizing the Confederacy . Also all of the border states remained loyal to the Union. THE DOCUMENT THUS STANDS AS A MONUMENT TO LINCOLN'S SENSE OF TIMING , HIS SKILL IN MANEUVERING, AND HIS ABILITY TO COMPROMISE.