“If my name ever goes into history it will be for this act, and my whole soul is into it. ”
Abraham Lincoln, January 1, 1863
Lincoln and Slavery
Abraham Lincoln had always opposed slavery, but never sided with abolitionists who called for its immediate end. He sought solutions that would make slavery gradually fade from white society—limit its location, sponsor compensation programs for slave owners, and relocate freed blacks outside the country. The war made these gradual solutions woefully inadequate.
Lincoln and the Drafting of the Proclamation
By 1862, Abraham Lincoln realized that to restore the Union, slavery must end. Politically, Lincoln faced pressure on all sides: from African Americans fleeing slavery; from Union generals acting independently in regards to slavery; from Radical Republicans calling for immediate abolition, and from pro-slavery Unionists who refused to fight to end slavery. Lincoln felt constrained by Constitutional limits on the federal government, which protected private property. Striking a balance, he believed the president only had the authority and political support to free enslaved persons residing within the eleven rebel states. In the summer of 1862, he began to draft the Emancipation Proclamation.
On September 22, 1862, five days after the costly Union victory at the Battle of Antietam, Abraham Lincoln issued the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. He presented the proclamation as a wartime necessity, under his authority as Commander-in-Chief. It ordered that as of January 1, 1863, all enslaved individuals in all areas still in rebellion against the United States “henceforward shall be free,” and under the protection of the military. Those willing to enlist would be received into the armed forces. The proclamation was limited in scope and revolutionary in impact. The war to preserve the Union also became a war to end slavery.