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If Lincoln’s ideas about race were complex, on the topic of the government of the United States,

his ideas were crystal clear. He genuinely loved the principles stated in the Declaration of

Independence with a reverence that bordered on religious devotion, and he regarded

the Constitution and the Union as the necessary safeguards for those principles.



Can Soldiers Tell Us Anything about Lincoln?
By Chandra M. Manning


In this bicentennial year of Abraham Lincoln’s birth, it is easy to feel a little overwhelmed by the deluge of books, articles, and newspaper columns on the sixteenth president, and to begin to wonder if there could possibly be anything left to say. Yet for all of what a later age might call “exposure”—for all that we can find books on Lincoln’s friends, marriage, summer home, speeches, and more besides—stubborn mysteries persist. One of them is, how did a man who genuinely hated slavery but who was also worried about the legality and aftereffects of its sudden destruction, become a President willing to wield federal power to achieve the immediate destruction of slavery?

It is very easy, in trying to answer that question, to get trapped into a tiresome and uninspiring debate about whether Lincoln was a near-mythic superhero, singlehandedly saving the nation and ridding it of evil in a single bound, or a hypocritical racist forced by circumstances beyond his control to take actions that he would preferred not to have taken, but at least cheered by the opportunity to wield power, which pleased his tyrannical side. Neither caricature really tells us very much about Lincoln, or about emancipation. Yet if we widen our angle of inquiry to look at Lincoln and emancipation in a broader frame that also includes Union soldiers, we might see new possibilities. It would be too much to claim that soldiers convinced Lincoln to end slavery, but the war in which both Lincoln and soldiers were swept up changed all of them in similar and related ways.

In short, Union soldiers’ firsthand observations of slavery, interactions with slaves, and experience of a war far more terrible than they expected convinced them that the only way to win the war and save the Union was to end slavery. The length and ferocity of the war later convinced many of them that the end of slavery had to be for principled rather than simply utilitarian reasons, because the whole nation, and not just the South, was implicated in slavery. Lincoln’s own observations of slaves and freed people in the nation’s capital, the changing attitudes of Union soldiers, and the profound and pervasive loss brought by a terrible war propelled Lincoln along a path from sincere dislike of slavery and an abstract desire for it to end someday to a willingness to use federal power to emancipate immediately. His path also went from a pragmatic stage to a principled one. One of his greatest accomplishments as leader was to recognize that soldiers and slaves had blazed that path, and then to bring the nation as a whole along it, too.

That Abraham Lincoln hated slavery is undeniable. As he put it, “if slavery is not wrong, then nothing is wrong.”1 He hated it for all sorts of reasons. He hated it because it concentrated too much power and wealth in the hands of too few people. He hated it because it violated his basic belief in the right of every human being to rise in the world. He hated it because it went against the grain of his economic principles. He hated it because it made a mockery of the nation’s Founders and their ideals, and because it shamelessly elevated self-interest into an accepted justification for individual behavior. Above all, he hated it “because of the monstrous injustice of slavery itself.”2

Lincoln’s attitudes toward race were more complicated. On numerous occasions before the war, he insisted “very frankly that I am not in favor of negro citizenship,” even though several states did recognize African Americans as citizens.3 His early support for ending slavery was accompanied by the supposition that freed slaves would leave the country, and as late as 1862 he had not entirely let go of his preference for that outcome. The supposition was based less on vicious antipathy toward people who looked differently than he did than on a fatalistic presumption that whites and blacks could not coexist harmoniously. He stated pointblank, “there is a physical difference between the two [races], which, in my judgment, will probably forever forbid their living together upon the footing of perfect equality, and . . . I . . . am in favor of the race to which I belong having the superior position.”

That presumption grew in part from his doubts that white people could overcome their own deep-seated prejudices. “A universal feeling,” which he believed white prejudice to be, “whether well or ill-founded, cannot be safely disregarded,” he cautioned in 1858, and he made a similar point in 1862 when he told a delegation of black men who visited him in the White House that “there is an unwillingness on the part of our people, harsh as it may be, for you free colored people to remain with us.”4 But whatever its source, the result was that for most of his life Lincoln saw whites and blacks as separate, unequal, and bound to stay that way.

For white Northerners, including Lincoln, slavery and race were two distinct subjects, and therefore it was entirely possible to hate slavery and believe in black inferiority at the same time. Lincoln’s belief for most of his life in racial inequality does not somehow invalidate his desire for slavery to end. That belief did, however, prevent Lincoln from advocating immediate emancipation for much of his life, partly because he lacked a clear plan for what should follow slavery in a land where he doubted that whites and blacks could live as equals.

If Lincoln’s ideas about race were complex, on the topic of the government of the United States, his ideas were crystal clear. He genuinely loved the principles stated in the Declaration of Independence with a reverence that bordered on religious devotion, and he regarded the Constitution and the Union as the necessary safeguards for those principles. In his view, the survival of the Union was far more than a matter of political power or territorial sovereignty. It mattered not just for Americans. It mattered for all humanity.  In his First Message to Congress, Lincoln affirmed that the war “embraces more than the fate of these United States. It presents to the whole family of man, the question, whether a constitutional republic, or a democracy—a government of the people, by the same people—can, or cannot” succeed. The Union had to survive in order to prove that republican government, established by the Founders on principles of liberty and equality and administered though free and fair elections, could survive. If the Union was destroyed, human beings everywhere would be forced to draw the grim conclusion that self-government based on ideals enunciated in the Declaration of Independence could not work.5

The view that Lincoln articulated in the Message was not unique to him, but rather was shared by many Northerners, and was especially prevalent in the ranks of the Union Army. From the very beginning, soldiers like Indiana private W.D. Wildman insisted, “the Union is not only the citadel of our liberty, but the depository of the hopes of the human race.”6 Nearly three years later in the darkest days of the war, Corporal George Cadman continued to urge his wife to remember that if he was hurt or killed, “it will be not only for my Country and my Children but for Liberty all over the World . . . for if Liberty should be crushed here, what hope would there be for the cause of Human progress anywhere else?”7

Right from the very beginning, some Americans recognized that if the Union was supposed to stand for universal principles, then it could not be separated from the issue of slavery. Most such Americans were black. Just weeks after the fall of Fort Sumter, a black newspaper in New York admonished, no adjustment of the nation’s difficulty is possible until the claims of the black man are first met and satisfied . . . If you would restore the Union and maintain the government you so fondly cherish, make way for liberty, universal and complete.”8 By the time those words made it into print, enslaved black Southerners had already begun making their way into Union Army camps; they knew full well that the fact of their bondage had brought the two halves of the nation to blows, and they further knew that their fate and that of the Union were intertwined.

It did not take long for much of the Union rank-and-file to draw the same conclusion. As a group of Wisconsin soldiers put it, “the fact that slavery is the sole undeniable cause of this infamous rebellion, that it is a war of, by, and for Slavery, is as plain as the noon-day sun.”9 For them, there was nothing complicated about the coming of the war: Confederates seceded from the Union in order to protect slavery from a President who opposed its extension. Like it or not, that made the war about slavery. And the more they saw slavery with their own eyes, the more convinced they became. Between August and December 1861 a striking pattern took shape, as soldier after soldier began to insist that since slavery had caused the war, only the destruction of slavery could end the war. “You have no idea of the changes that have taken place in the minds of the soldiers in the last two months,” one enlisted man told his neighbors back home in October 1861. Seeing the South and slavery with their own eyes forced men who cared little about slavery “to face this sum of all evils, and cause of the war.” As a result, “men of all parties seem unanimous in the belief that to permanently establish the Union, is to first wipe [out] the institution” of slavery.” In short, “The rebellion is abolitionizing the whole army.”10

Interactions with the hundreds, and then thousands, of slaves who ran to Union Army camps—the so-called “contrabands”—made many men in blue even more sure. Sometimes the plight of the contrabands simply touched the humanity within a hard-bitten soldier. A Michigan officer had “always been very bitter on the abolitionists,” but when 20 contrabands proved themselves willing to face a treacherous river to get to freedom, he spent “more than 3 hours in water up to his waist” to help them get across, and when asked about his actions merely shrugged “he had to help them.”11 Frank necessity also changed soldiers’ minds. They needed former slaves. Contrabands were willing to labor to keep camps running. Union troops did not know the local terrain. Black Southerners did. Blacks coming into Union lines also often knew what the enemy was up to. Army records are full of officers’ reports about close calls averted thanks to reports from “intelligent contrabands.” Ordinary soldiers commented on the phenomenon frequently, as well. A Wisconsin private noted that a company in his regiment “was probably saved from destruction while on picket two weeks ago, by a slave giving them notice that they were to be attacked.” “Our only friends here are the slaves,” the private concluded, and any good soldier knew to look out for his friends.12

In sum, throughout the rank-and-file, enlisted soldiers reasoned that only elimination of the war’s cause would end the rebellion and prevent its recurrence. Further, seeing the reality of slavery impressed upon them how much crueler it was than they imagined, and their own reliance on the aid of local blacks taught them that their interests and the ultimate success of their cause were closely allied with the interests of the enslaved. For these reasons, many in the Union Army championed the destruction of slavery a full year ahead of the Emancipation Proclamation, well before most civilians or political leaders did. And they did not just do so in the privacy of their own minds or in the camaraderie of camp. They wrote vociferous letters—to families, neighbors, and friends, to local newspapers, to their elected officials, to the President—arguing forcefully that if the Union wanted to win, it had no choice but to get rid of slavery. 

Now for the obligatory caveats. First the obvious one: at no point did the entire Union Army agree on anything at all, let alone a matter as weighty as emancipation. From beginning to end, a vocal minority of Union soldiers objected to emancipation. Second, calling for emancipation was not the same as calling for racial equality. Especially in the war’s early seasons, Union troops found it very easy to oppose slavery and insist on black inferiority all at the same time. A soldier named Adelbert Bly was quite direct about it: “I have a great deal of sympathy for the slave,” he told his sweetheart, “but I like the Negro the further off the better.”13

And third, Lincoln did not move as fast as the men in the ranks did. He had a more complex array of duties than they did, and chief among those duties in 1861 was keeping the Border Slaves states of Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri in the Union. He knew that the surefire way to lose them was to threaten slavery. When Union Army commanders like John C. Frémont and David Hunter made bold moves against slavery, the President rescinded them. Lincoln also knew some civilians bitterly opposed emancipation. Union soldiers could try to preach the reluctance out of anti-emancipation stay-at-homes, but Lincoln needed political support too badly to risk alienating them.

Beyond the many political demands on him, Lincoln personally had to think the emancipation question through a little more carefully than the soldiers calling for immediate action did. He was no less anxious for slavery to die—at least in the abstract—but how mattered to him more than it did to soldiers, as did long-term questions about what should happen—after slavery. His reservations meant that where Union soldiers urged action, Lincoln maintained a look-before-you-leap attitude. As late as 1862, he still harbored reservations about whether black and white could co-exist peacefully, as he made quite clear when he summarily dismissed the delegation of black men who visited the White House that August.14 Lincoln was also a genuine devotee of legal process, with equal emphasis on “legal” and “process,” so he initially favored ending slavery through some sort of gradual, compensated program. The end result was that well into the second year of the war, Lincoln endeavored to keep the focus of the war on what was for him the less ambiguous question: the survival of the Union as the world’s last, best hope for self-government and the triumph of principles like human equality.

Yet Lincoln could not keep the questions of Union and emancipation separate indefinitely. The utter conviction that slavery was wrong was a genuine constant in his life, and it did not disappear even when it seemed to get buried by other wartime problems. Events in 1862 helped to bring that ingrained conviction closer to the surface. The war did not go as planned, and that meant he would have to consider new alternatives. Moreover, three groups of people saw to it that even if he had wanted to duck the slavery question, he could not. One consisted of northern abolitionists, black and white, who comprised a tiny minority of the northern population, but who kept pressure on the slavery question high.15

Another group was slaves themselves who saw through, ignored, or were otherwise undeterred by official pronouncements about a war for Union but not slavery. They kept running to Union Army camps, kept making themselves indispensable, and kept the slavery question squarely in the face of officers, who in turn kept writing to Washington for guidance on what to do about slaves and slavery. Even if all that Lincoln wanted to read was plain, unadorned war news on the telegraph wires that he checked almost as obsessively as modern-day Americans check their e-mail, he could not escape the slavery question because runaway slaves would not let him. Generals in the field were constantly informing the President that they had acted on news from an “intelligent contraband,” or asking how to handle the clashes between local civilians and runaway slaves.

By the summer of 1862, the contraband phenomenon had literally hit home for Lincoln. He spent much of that summer with his family in a cottage on the grounds of the Soldiers’ Home on the outskirts of Washington, and commuted into the White House each day. One of the routes he commonly took went right past a contraband camp. His family’s cook at the cottage, Mary Dines, had herself passed through that camp.16 Elizabeth Keckley, dressmaker and confidant to Mary Lincoln, worked for the Contraband Relief Association in Washington, and at her urging, Mrs. Lincoln lobbied the President to channel some war relief funds toward blankets and other supplies for contrabands in Washington.17 Simply put, contrabands gave Lincoln little choice but to take them seriously, and to begin to treat slavery less as an abstraction and more as a concrete reality that needed addressing.

The third group was Union soldiers. By 1862, the average soldier in blue was genuinely fond of the President. As a Connecticut soldier put it, Lincoln’s “popularity in the army is and has been universal.”18 Yet that fondness did not prevent impatience with the dawdling federal government for failing to grasp what to soldiers was the plain fact that winning the war meant ending slavery. Frustrated with Lincoln’s caution, a Wisconsin soldier spat, “Great God what a system!  And still, our Government handles slavery as tenderly as a mother would her first born.  When shall it be stricken down as the deadly enemy of freedom, virtue and mankind?”19  Lincoln called soldiers “thinking bayonets” and had genuine respect for their opinions. Lincoln often stopped to speak to the enlisted men who guarded him, which got him into the habit of taking soldiers’ ideas seriously. He brought that habit with him when he went to visit troops in the field.   

One such visit took place in June 1862, when Lincoln went to see General George McClellan’s Army of the Potomac. We remember that visit partly for the “Harrison’s Landing” letter in which McClellan warned Lincoln that a “declaration of radical views” on the slavery question would “rapidly disband” the Army.20 Had Lincoln not gone to visit the troops himself, he might have taken McClellan’s letter at face value; historians certainly have. But McClellan consistently over-estimated the odds against any plan he opposed personally, and he opposed emancipation.21

In stark contrast to McClellan, Union soldiers like Luther Furst were saying things like, “The more I see of slavery the more I think it should be abolished,” or, in the more poetic words of Thomas Low, “As long as we ignore the fact (practically) that Slavery is the basis of this struggle so long are we simply heading down a vigorously growing plant that will continually spring up and give new trouble at very short intervals.  We must emancipate.”22  These men had tied together Union and emancipation, and as that summer progressed, Lincoln did too.

For a time, Lincoln kept that recognition to himself. When abolitionist newspaper editor Horace Greeley chastised him in the summer of 1862 for not taking a definite stand against slavery, Lincoln replied with what looked like the same Union-first line he had been employing all along. “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery,” Lincoln told Greeley. “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union.”23

What is really significant about that letter is the linking of Union with emancipation: Lincoln would act as he acted because he saw the fates of slavery and the Union as somehow linked. He sounded a similar note on September 13, 1862 when a delegation of ministers presented emancipation petitions. Lincoln firmly told the ministers, “I view the matter as a practical war measure, to be decided upon according to the advantages or disadvantages it may offer to the suppression of the rebellion.”24

At the very time that he wrote that letter to Greeley, at the very time he answered the pro-emancipation ministers, Lincoln had sitting in his desk a draft of what would become the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, a document that declared “forever free” all slaves located in areas still in rebellion against the Union as of January 1, 1863. The Proclamation did so by defining such a move as military necessity, which is to say as a move necessary for the life of the Union.

After the Battle of Antietam in September, Lincoln issued the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, and he publicly credited “those who, upon the battle field, are endeavoring to purchase with their blood and their lives the future happiness and prosperity of this country,” because their efforts made the Proclamation possible.25 From then on, emancipation was an official Union war aim. Then Lincoln went back to the field to see McClellan, to be sure, but also to see the regular soldiers whose attitudes more closely aligned with his own, men like Hervey Howe who admitted to his brother, “I have seene [sic] fighting enough but if necessary will stay my whole term of enlistment” in order to achieve the “noble end” of the Proclamation, which was “to let the oppressed go free.”26

Some soldiers were impatient that it had taken the President so long to finally move on the slavery question. Iowan Quincy Campbell, remarked, “his proclamation would have been in better time. . .  if it had been made a year ago.  But better late than never.”27 Still, by and large, Lincoln must have been gratified to encounter men who shared the outlook of one Levi Hines, who was so excited that even though he knew he would have to fall in for drill before he could finish a complete sentence in a letter to his parents, scribbled down “The late proclamation of the President makes it a war on Slavery and I am as ready to die fighting” before dashing out of his tent. He later finished the thought by writing “for the purpose of ending that hellish curse of our country.”28

For the rest of the year, the practical links between Union and emancipation remained prominent for Lincoln, in big ways and small. The biggest was that he issued the final version of the Proclamation on January 1, but other ways abounded. When a Kentucky slaveholder wrote to complain that nearby Union soldiers were harboring runaway slaves and to ask Lincoln to intervene, Lincoln refused, because to return escaped slaves to bondage would be to act against “the life of the nation.”29  That same idea comprised a main theme of Lincoln’s December 1862 Message to Congress, in which he asserted, “in giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free.” For the more hardheaded, Lincoln underscored his practical belief that emancipation “would shorten the war."30

Response to the Final Emancipation Proclamation was mixed, as Lincoln knew it would be, but despite a few notable exceptions, soldiers embraced Lincoln’s move as exactly the medicine they had been prescribing for what ailed the Union. Thanks to the “great proclamation of President Lincoln Jan. 1st,” a Vermont corporal explained to his parents, “Human liberty is to be planted on a firmer basis than ever before.”31

To recap: Union and liberty for all were linked in a utilitarian sense for Union soldiers by the fall of 1861 and for Lincoln by the fall of 1862. But the unrelenting ferocity of the war insisted that a mere utilitarian linkage was not enough. As early as the summer of 1862, a Kansas private had wondered, “if all this untold expense of blood and treasure, of toil and suffering, of want and sacrifice, of grief and mourning is . . . to result in no greater good than the restoration of the Union as it was,” then the war would “result in no real and lasting good.” Only “the rights of human nature and universal human freedom” could justify the sacrifice.32 For Lincoln, too, the scale of the war and the awful ever presence of loss, seemed to demand more than utilitarianism, more than pragmatism.

By the war’s midpoint, loss was simply everywhere for Lincoln.33 Day after day, the telegraph transmitted unrelenting lists of lives cut short.34 Lincoln was still grieving for the loss of his own young son, Willie, who had died of disease the previous year. How could endless lists of other people’s dead sons not affect him? Lincoln’s summer cottage at the Soldiers’ Home overlooked an ever-growing soldiers’ cemetery; 8,000 fresh graves confronted the President every day as he left in the morning and came home in the evening.35 In the face of all that terrible loss, he would need to tie Union and emancipation together not merely in the guarded, hedge-one’s-bets realm of practicality, but in the riskier realm of principle.

The need to do so crystallized in the summer of 1863, for Union soldiers and for their Commander-in-Chief. On the 4th of July, Vicksburg, Mississippi fell to Union forces after a long siege, finally delivering the Mississippi River into Union hands. On that same day, General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, which had recently seemed unstoppable, began its retreat after the Battle of Gettysburg, a Union victory that cost more human life than any other single event in U.S. history.36 Nobody interpreted these events as coincidence. To Quincy Campbell, the “glorious Fourth,” a day made sacred in 1776, was now “made doubly ‘glorious’” by military events “too important to not be followed by important results.” But the glory was not purely celebratory. The high and horrible cost of Gettysburg told Campbell and men like him that the July 4th victories had been sent by God not so much to congratulate smug Northerners as to remind them that “the chastisements of the Almighty are not yet ended” and would not end until “we ‘break every yoke’ and sweep every vestige of the cursed institution [of slavery] from our land.”37

Much as Lincoln and Northerners wanted Gettysburg and Vicksburg to be turning points, they heralded the onset of another long and difficult period again characterized chiefly by loss. After the battle of Gettysburg, Lincoln badly wanted Union General George Meade to pursue and crush the Army of Northern Virginia, and Meade’s failure to do so devastated the President. That same month, deadly riots protested the draft and terrorized African Americans in New York and elsewhere, signaling pockets of deep opposition to the military prosecution of the war, and to emancipation. To top it all off, Lincoln’s wife was injured in a carriage accident that summer, and suffered a close enough call that eldest son Robert was called home. When Robert arrived at the White House, he found his father with his head down on his desk, crying.38 The paralyzing defeat of Union forces at Chickamauga did little to cheer Lincoln up. No wonder the adjective that people who saw Lincoln that summer were most likely to use to describe him was “careworn.”39

Much was being asked of Lincoln, and that summer, he began to answer. One year after coldly dismissing a delegation of black men who visited him at the White House, Lincoln invited Frederick Douglass to the first of what would be three visits, and he genuinely listened to Douglass’s views on tying the course of the war more closely to the goals of ending slavery and improving the lot of African Americans. He also solicited Douglass’s help in increasing the recruitment and deployment of black Union soldiers, a policy that Lincoln had regarded warily when it was first adopted in the summer of 1862.40

Lincoln’s response to anti-war and anti-emancipation critics began to change subtly, too. In a letter intended for nationwide dissemination, Lincoln frankly addressed those “who are dissatisfied with me about the negro.” At first, the President seemed to repeat the practicality theme. Simply put, freeing slaves “helps us” and “hurts the enemy.” But this time, Lincoln did not stop there. He gently urged even vociferous opponents of emancipation toward higher principles. Black soldiers were risking their lives for the “great republic –for the principle it lives by, and keeps alive—for man’s vast future” and “if they stake their lives . . . they must be prompted by the strongest motive—even the promise of freedom. And the promise being made, must be kept.”41

Later that fall, Lincoln would continue to draw Union and liberty together on principled rather than merely practical grounds. After walking past rows of fresh graves every day, he would be heading North, to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to dedicate a soldiers’ cemetery there. His Gettysburg Address would open with reference to the nation’s founding, a theme he often invoked, but this time he particularly emphasized the United States’ origins as a “nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” Right away, the essence of the speech was not one of mere necessity, but of transcendent idea. In the final line of his Address, Lincoln admonished listeners that ensuring that “government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth” could be achieved only through “a new birth of freedom.”42 In light of the year’s events, that new birth of freedom had to mean an end to slavery for Lincoln. 43  

It certainly did for many of the soldiers who had been foreshadowing Lincoln’s words at Gettysburg in their own writings for months, men like an Ohio soldier who had applauded the Emancipation Proclamation specifically because it showed that the President finally understood that “the Union under the old construction” would never do, and that only the birth of “a new one, that knows nothing about slavery” could really lead to success in the republican experiment begun by the nation’s founders.44  It would have been difficult for Lincoln not to  have had all the countless men like that soldier in mind as he  looked out over the newly dug graves at Gettysburg. As the year 1863 drew to a close, Lincoln again subtly nudged Union and emancipation closer together when he told Congress that “under the sharp discipline of civil war, the nation is beginning a new life.”45

Not everyone was convinced that Union and emancipation were connected. The Democratic Party’s strategy for beating Lincoln in the election of 1864 was to portray Union and emancipation as separate, antithetical goals. Spring and summer 1864 were filled with setbacks and appalling casualty lists from places like the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, and Cold Harbor. Armies in the West stalled in the campaign to take Atlanta. The summer brought another draft, and prospective peace negotiations with the Confederacy went nowhere.46 Democratic strategists seized on emancipation as the real stumbling block, combined it with war-weariness, and built a campaign around charges that the Lincoln Administration was postponing restoration of the Union to promote racial mixing and to advance black rights at the expense of whites. When the Democratic Convention met in August, its platform proposed a negotiated end to the war, and promised that states would retain all rights enjoyed before the war: that included slavery.47

That platform earned little but scorn from the majority of Union soldiers, who noticed that Lincoln’s actions insisted on the connection between Union and emancipation. Democrats “might as well try to catch fish with a naked hook, scoffed one.48 Meanwhile, concerned that he might lose the election and that an Administration guided by the Democratic Platform could achieve neither Union nor emancipation, Lincoln again summoned Frederick Douglass  and asked for help in getting as many slaves into Union lines as possible, where their freedom could be secured before a new president took office. He was willing to retreat to practical rather than principled rationales for emancipation when necessary, for example to keep War Democrats on his side.49

But even when he doubted his own chances of success, he maintained the connection between Union and emancipation. His platform called for full restoration of the Union, and for a constitutional amendment abolishing slavery.50 It was precisely that connection that won him the avid support of men in the Union rank-and-file, because it said to them that the President saw the war in the same light that they did. As Quincy Campbell put it, Lincoln stood out as a model of “Loyalty, Liberty, and Union,” specifically because the President understood that in order to prove that “this war is not a failure, that Slavery must die.”51 When it came time to vote, nearly 80% of the men in blue cast their ballot for Lincoln, and Connecticut soldier Henry Hart had no trouble explaining why. “It is not reasonable to suppose that men will fight for, and vote against, the same principles.”52

Re-election granted Lincoln the opportunity to deliver his strongest articulation of the bond between Union and emancipation, the Second Inaugural Address. The terrible struggle of the war had continued to strengthen that bond for Lincoln. When he delivered the Gettysburg Address in late 1863, he reminded listeners that the survival of the Union mattered for all people everywhere, and he implied that its survival depended upon ending slavery. But as 1864 brought more and more horror, Lincoln increasingly suspected that polite hints were no longer enough. The hard truth, Lincoln had come to believe, was that a just God would not allow the Union to be saved until the sin of slavery, in which a whole guilty nation was complicit, had been atoned for by the whole nation. 

At least some enlisted Union troops had already drawn that identical conclusion, and for much the same reason; the fury, pain, and loss of the war made it inescapable. War was horrible because slavery was horrible, and so war must continue until those responsible for slavery repented. It would be convenient to lay all responsibility at the feet of white Southerners, but if doing so were sufficient, than the war would have ended with the Emancipation Proclamation. But instead the war got worse, and forced men like Amos Hostetter to interpret slavery as a shared national, not simply southern, sin, for which the whole nation must repent.

“When I came into the service myself and many others did not believe in interfering with slavery but we have changed our opinions,” Hostetter told his sister and brother-in-law. “Any country that allows the curse of Slavery and Amalgamation as this has done, should be cursed and I believe in my soul that God allowed this war for the very purpose of clearing out the evil and punishing us as a nation for allowing it.”53 When it looked like the war was finally approaching an end, Ohio soldier John Moore felt sure that God had delayed Union victory until Americans (not just Southerners) came “to see that slavery is and has been a national evil and God will not bless a nation who are guilty of such gross evil.”54

Lincoln had been inching toward that conclusion since 1862, when he reflected privately on the possibility that “God wills this contest, and wills that it shall not end yet.”55 By September, 1864, he was willing to try such ideas out in personal correspondence.56 In the Second Inaugural Address, delivered March 1865, he made the dependence of the Union’s survival on the elimination and atonement for the sin of slavery fully public, and absolutely central. “If we shall suppose that American Slavery is one of those offences which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which . . . He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South, this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offence came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a Living God always ascribe to Him?,” asked Lincoln.

Like many of the men who had survived its battlefields, Lincoln made sense of the war by viewing every drop of blood “drawn with the sword” as national penance for “every drop of blood drawn with the lash.” Gone were protestations that his sole purpose was to sustain the government.  Gone were the limited claims to “do no more than to restrict the territorial enlargement” of slavery, with which Lincoln admitted he had begun the war. Gone were shrewd calculations of emancipation as a logistical tactic to hasten victory. For a man who never lost sight of human fallibility and who was almost always deeply suspicious of certainty, Lincoln was, in his Second Inaugural certain of one thing: there could be no Union, no “just and lasting peace, among ourselves and with all nations,” without a more “fundamental and astounding” eradication of slavery than anyone had dreamed possible when the war began.57 

We are so used to the Second Inaugural that we can lose sight of how radical it was to insist that North and South shared responsibility for the sin of slavery, and so must share in atonement for it. The insistence was not Lincoln’s alone, but neither was it unanimous among Northerners. To enlisted Union soldiers, the Address echoed the convictions they had come to during and because of the war, but their loved ones at home did not necessarily share those convictions. Disagreements with family members hurt because men missed their families so much, and wanted to be understood and appreciated by them. “I supose that the reason [father] is tired of writing to me is that he don’t like the way that I wrote to him” about Lincoln, slavery, and the war, a Missouri private confided to his brother.  Before the war, he, like his father, had opposed emancipation, but now he saw it as an absolute necessity. He pretended not to care if his father “wants to go to the devil,” but for his part, the soldier would “as leave cut my throat and go to hell at once” as return to his prewar views.58 

Wartime experiences convinced most white Union troops that slavery must be destroyed in order to win the war, and they believed that the President’s views had evolved along a similar trajectory, one not necessarily shared by loved ones at home.59 At first, Lincoln had seemed slower to make that ideological journey, but he had made it, and for reasons connected to the magnitude of the war. By the time he delivered the Second Inaugural Address, Abraham Lincoln articulated a vision of the war’s causes and purpose that resonated deeply with soldiers’ own, and he also intimated that he had arrived at that vision in much the same way soldiers had: through uncertainty, hardship, and suffering, and through confrontation with the enormity of slavery. 

None of these points diminishes Lincoln’s greatness or denies his leadership; rather, these insights help explain Lincoln and his leadership more satisfactorily than focus on a single mythologized individual does. Moreover, they ground his achievements squarely in qualities that I believe Lincoln most valued in himself. He was a man who genuinely had faith in the people, who truly believed in the importance of public opinion, and who was proud of what he saw as his ability to understand others. Lincoln was able to read people, not in a manipulative or opportunistic way, but with genuine respect for what people thought, and with the ability to be guided by their ideas, and then to harness them and channel them toward noble ends. To either dismiss the importance of Lincoln, or to set Lincoln up as a solitary figure boldly striding forth guided solely by his own inner lights is to impoverish our understanding of Lincoln’s leadership, as well as our understanding of the war and emancipation. Far better to see Lincoln in the company of his fellow-travelers, the men of the Union Army, all of them shaped profoundly by loss, and by the devastating experiences of war.

End Notes

1Abraham Lincoln to Albert G. Hodges, April 4, 1864, in Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1953) Volume VII, p. 281-82. Hereafter cited as CW.

2 Speech at Peoria, Illinois, Oct. 16, 1864 CW II, p. 255. Countless works treat Lincoln’s attitudes toward slavery. A good starting point, because it surveys the existing literature, is George Frederickson, Big Enough to Be Inconsistent: Abraham Lincoln Confronts Slavery And Race (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2008).

3 For one of many iterations of this point, see Lincoln’s rejoinder to Stephen Douglas in the Fourth Joint Debate at Charleston, Illinois, Sept. 18, 1858 in Robert W. Johannsen, ed., The Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1858 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1965), 197.

4 First Joint Debate, Ottawa, Aug. 21, 1858 in Johannsen, ed., The Lincoln-Douglas Debates , 51-52; Address on Colonization to a Deputation of Negroes, August 14, 1862 in CW V, 372.

5 Abraham Lincoln, “Message to Congress in Special Session,” July 4, 1861, CW IV, 426, 438.

6 Pvt. W.D. Wildman, 12 IN, to teacher, Miss Susan Griggs, Nov. 2, 1861, near Sharpsburg, MD, Virginia Southwood Collection, Western Historical Manuscript Collection, University of Missouri, Columbia. See also “The Results of this War,” The American Union July 5, 1861, Martinsburg, VA, (American Antiquarian Society) in which soldiers stationed in Martinsburg, Virginia in July 1861 explained that the Union must be preserved in order to certify the success of “the experiment of our popular government.”

7 Cpl. George Cadman, 39 OH, to wife, March 6, 1864, Athens, AL, George Hovey Cadman Letters, Tennessee State Library and Archives. There are countless more of these examples. To take just a couple: “Where are the oppressed and down-trodden millions of the earth to look for hope” if the Union’s “experiment of self-government by the people shall fail?” (Pvt. Charles Henthorn, 77 IL, to sister, March 7, 1864, recuperating in hospital in Quincy, IL, Charles Henthorn Letters, Schoff Civil War Collection, Clements Library, University of Michigan); “If we fail now, the hope of human rights is extinguished for ages,” (Pvt. Leigh Webber, 1 KS, to friends, the Brown family in Kansas, April 24, 1862, Tipton MO, John S. Brown Family Papers, Reel 2, Kansas State Historical Society); “Destroy this Union and what can republics hope for?”(The Illinois Fifty-Second 1:1, Jan. 15, 1862, Stewartsville, MO, p. 3, Illinois State Historical Library).

8 Anglo-African, May 11, 1861, p. 1.

9 The Wisconsin Volunteer, Feb. 6, 1862, Leavenworth, KS, p. 3, Kansas State Historical Society. Newspaper of the 13th WI.

10 “Enlisted soldier” 3 WI, to State Journal, Oct. 1861, near Harper’s Ferry, VA, Quiner Papers, Reel 1, Vol. 1, p. 176, State Historical Society of Wisconsin. Similarly identifying slavery as “the cause of all our animosities, and wranglings and this acursed rebellion,” a Vermonter in the ranks hoped, “the dark stigma upon our nation may be wiped out.” Pvt. Jerome Cutler, 2 VT, to fiancee Emily, Nov. 11, 1861, Camp Griffin, Fairfax Co., VA, Jerome Cutler Letters, Vermont Historical Society. Missouri Union soldier John Boucher agreed: because “it was slavery that caused the war,” he insisted, only “the eternal overthrow of slavery” could win the war (See Sgt. John Boucher, 10 MO, to wife, Dec. 7, 1861, Camp Holmes, MO, Boucher Family Papers, Civil War Miscellany Collection 2nd Ser., United States Army Military History Institute.)

11 Lt. Charles Haydon, 2 Mich, journal, March 24, 1862, near Fortress Monroe, in Stephen W. Sears, ed.  For Country Cause and Leader:  The Civil War Journal of Charles B. Haydon (NY:  Ticknor & Fields, 1993), 212.

12 Pvt. “M” 1 WI, to the Times, March 23, 1862, Nashville, TN, E.B. Quiner Correspondence of Wisconsin Volunteers, Reel 1,  Volume 2, p. 151, State Historical Society of Wisconsin.

13 Pvt. Adelbert Bly, 32 WI, to Anna, Nov. 9, 1862, Memphis, TN, Adelbert M. Bly Correspondence, State Historical Society of Wisconsin.

14 Address on Colonization to a Deputation of Negroes, August 14, 1862 in CW V, 372.

15 The influence of this “Group One” should be neither ignored nor overstated. Lincoln was fairly accomplished at ignoring radical abolitionists and I know of no evidence that he read black newspapers such as the Anglo-African and the Christian Recorder, which kept up the drumbeat. Yet James Oakes has convincingly shown that the influence of prominent African American abolitionist Frederick Douglass on Lincoln grew over the course of Lincoln’s presidency, and certainly by the summer of 1864, Douglass had made a strong enough impression that Lincoln, when worried about losing the upcoming presidential election, specifically asked Douglass for help in getting as many slaves as possible into Union lines before a new Administration likely to oppose and even reverse emancipation took office. See James Oakes, The Radical and the Republican: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and the Triumph of Antislavery Politics (New York: Norton, 2007) and Frederick Douglass to Abraham Lincoln, August 29, 1864, in which Douglass spelled out the plan he generated in response to Lincoln’s “suggestion that something should be speedily done to inform Slaves in the Rebel States of the true state of affairs in relation to them, and to warn them as to what will be their probable condition should peace be concluded while they remain within the Rebel lines: and more especially to urge upon them the necessity of making their escape.” Douglass to Lincoln letter reprinted in Harold Holzer, editor and compiler, Dear Mr. Lincoln: Letters to the President (New York: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1993), 268-70.

16 For the Washington, D.C. contraband camp, see RG 92, the  Consolidated Correspondence File of the Records of the Quartermaster, NARA. For the map of Lincoln’s routes between the Soldiers’ Home Cottage and the White House, see Matthew Pinsker, Lincoln’s Sanctuary: Abraham Lincoln and the Soldiers’ Home (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003) Map 1, p. 6. For Mary Dines, see Pinsker, pp. 16, 66-68,

17 Mary Lincoln to “My Dear Husband,” New York, Nov. 3, 1862, in Holzer, Dear Mr. Lincoln, 313.

18 Chaplain Joseph Twichell, 71 NY, to father, July 9, 1862, Harrison’s Landing, VA, reprinted in Twichell, “Army Memories of Lincoln,” Congregationalist and Christian World, Jan. 30, 1913, 154.

19 Lt. P.V. Wise, 1 WI, to WI. State Journal, Jan. 20, 1862, Camp Wood, KY, E.B. Quiner Correspondence of Wisconsin Volunteers, Reel 1, Volume 2, p. 139-140, State Historical Society of Wisconsin.

20 General George McClellan to President Abraham Lincoln, July 1862, Harrison’s Landing, VA, in Stephen Sears (ed.), The Civil War Papers of George B. McClellan (New York: Ticknor and Fields, 1989), 344-46.

21 The men in his command loved their General, but on this point, more of them diverged from Little Mac than Lincoln could have imagined had he not made the trip. There were, in fact, already limits to Army of the Potomac soldiers’ devotion to McClellan: Sergeant Felix Brannigan claimed that the General’s “popularity among the soldiers . . . will never measure the 1/100th part of Honest Old Abe’s.” Sgt. Felix Brannigan, 5 NY, to sister, July 16, 1862, Camp Harrison Landing, VA, Felix Brannigan Papers, People At War microfilm version of Library of Congress Collections, Collection 22, Reel 4. 

22 Sgt. Luther Furst, Signal Corps, 39 PA, Diary, May 11, 1862, York river, VA, Luther Furst Diary,  Harrisburg Civil War Round Table Collection.  USAMHI, Carlisle Barracks; QM Sgt. Thomas Low, 23 Independent NY Artillery, March 29, 1862, Washington, D.C., Special Collections, Duke University.

23 Lincoln to Greeley, Aug. 22, 1862, CW  V. p. 388-89.

24 “Reply to Emancipation Memorial Presented by Chicago Christians of All Denominations,” September 13, 1862, in CW V, pp. 419-24. quotations from 420 and 421.

25 Reply to Serenade in Honor of Emancipation Proclamation, September 24, 1862, CW V, p. 438.

26 Corporal Hervey Howe, 89 NY, to brother Judson, Oct. 2, 1862, near Antietam Creek, MD, Hervey Lane Howe Letters, Bird Library, Syracuse University. It is even easier to find approval and enthusiasm for the Proclamation in other theaters of war, since men who had not just fought in the Battle of Antietam had more leisure to write about the Emancipation Proclamation. See (among many others, “President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation received:  delivered on the 24th of last month. Thank God, the word has at last been spoken.  Light begins to break through.  Let the sons of earth rejoice.  Sing paeans to Liberty.  Let tyranny die,” (Cpl. Rufus Kinsley, 8 VT, in diary, Oct. 3, 1862, New Orleans, LA, Rufus Kinsley Diary, Part I.  Vermont Historical Society); “my oppion of lincolns proclamation is that it is the only means by wich the Traitors can bee maid feal their injustis that they have been guilty of disloyality and treason. . .  The army as far as I know likes his (lincolns) proclamation very well and think that the plan will work so well that wee that are a live yet will be at Home against June next,” ( Pvt. Jacob Behm, 48 IL, to sister and brother-in-law, Oct. 1, 1862, Bethel, TN, Jacob Behm Correspondence, Civil War Times Illustrated  Collection, USAMHI, Carlisle Barracks); and “My hopes are somewhat revived since Old Abe has come out with his proclamation, I do now believe the war will be over in six months and the government restablished on truly republican principals the curse of slavery has got to go by the board and no mistake. . . . emancipation is becoming popular through out the whole Union evry boddy knows that slavery was the cause of this war and slavery stands  in the way of putting down this rebelion and now let us put it out of the way,” (Sgt. John Boucher, 10 MO, to mother, Sept. 29, 1862 Benton Barracks, MO, Boucher Family Papers. Civil War Miscellaneous Collection, 2nd Ser., USAMHI, Carlisle Barracks). It is notable that after that trip to see soldiers in the field, Lincoln got discernibly tougher in his communications to and about McClellan. Compare the gentle, cajoling tone of Lincoln’s telegrams to McClellan on Aug. 29, 1862 (CW V, p. 399), Sept. 6, 1862 (CW V, p. 407), and Sept. 15, 1862 (CW V, p. 426) with the much harsher tone of Lincoln’s Oct. 13, 1862 letter to McClellan (CW V, 460-61).

27 Lt. JQA Campbell, 5 IA, in diary, Sept. 25, 1862, Iuka Miss, in Mark Grimsley and Todd D. Miller (eds.),  The Union Must Stand:  The Civil War Diary of John Quincy Adams Campbell, Fifth Iowa Volunteer Infantry  (Knoxville:  University of TN Press, 2000), 61. See also Lt. Joseph Trego, 3 KS Cav, to wife,  Sept. 30, 1862, Helena, Ark., (Trego Collection Kansas State Historical Society): “We are rejoiced to learn that Abraham has, at last begun at the bottom of the difficulty to solve it.”

28 Pvt. Levi Hines, 11 VT to parents, Sept. 26,1 862 Ft. Lincoln, Washington, DC, Levi Hines Papers, Schoff Civil War Collection, Clements Library, University of Michigan.

29 Lincoln to George Robertson, Nov. 26, 1862, CW V 512. For whole affair, see pp. 502-503 and 512-514

30 Abraham Lincoln, Annual Message to Congress Dec. 1, 1862, in Basler, CW V, 537.

31 Cpl. N. Newton Glazier, 11 VT (aka 1 VT Heavy Art) to folks at home, Feb. 8, 1863, Fort Slocum, D.C., Nelson Newton Glazier Letters, Vermont Historical Society.

32 Pvt. Leigh Webber, 1 KS, to Brown Family, July 24, 1862, Gibson Co., TN, John S. Brown Letters, Reel 2, Kansas State Historical Society.

33 I would especially like to thank the students who took History 480, “Lincoln” in the fall of 2008, and Frank Milligan of the Lincoln Cottage at the Soldiers’ Home who invited me to speak in the fall of 2008. About halfway through that semester of unfailingly lively discussion, we noticed that the theme of loss seemed to be entering our discussions of Lincoln with notable frequency.  It was already clear to me that loss was a central aspect of soldiers’ experiences of the war, but I am certain that those discussions, coupled with my visit to the Lincoln Cottage at the same time, helped heighten my own attention to the specific ways in which loss surrounded Lincoln throughout the war. 

34 For thoughtful reflection on the enormous toll exacted by the Civil War, see Drew Gilpin Faust, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War (New York: Knopf, 2008).

35 The number 8,000 comes from Pinsker, Lincoln’s Sanctuary, 94.

36 Actually, a small Confederate garrison at Port Hudson, Louisiana still held, but only barely and everyone knew that as Vicksburg went, so would Port Hudson. It did a few days later, on July 9, and then the “Father of Waters” truly did flow “unvexed to the sea,” as Lincoln would note in his public letter to Democratic detractors. As for Gettysburg’s unenviable claim to casualty fame (23,000 Union casualties and 28,000 Confederate casualties), Gabor Boritt has gone so far as to call the battle and its aftermath “the greatest man-made disaster of American history.” See The Gettysburg Gospel: The Lincoln Speech that Nobody Knows (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006), 9.

37 Sgt. J.Q.A. Campbell, 5 Iowa, near Vicksburg, MS, in Grimsley and Miller, The Union Must Stand, 110. See also See also Surgeon Thomas Hawley 111 Ill, to parents, July 5, 1863, Young's Point, LA, Thomas S. Hawley Papers Folder 6, Missouri Historical Society. When exuberant citizens in Washington, D.C. called upon Lincoln for some fitting response to the fortuitous war news, the President’s response hit similar notes. As in 1776, Lincoln suggested, “Almighty God” had used July 4th to vindicate the idea that “all men are created equal.” See “Response to Serenade,” July 7, 1863, Washington, DC, in CW VI, p. 319-320.

38 Pinsker, Lincoln’s Sanctuary, 106.

39 In both June and August 1863, Walt Whitman, who observed the President heading to the White House almost every day, noted that Lincoln “looks even more careworn than usual” and seemed “very sad.” See Roy P. Basler, ed., Walt Whitmans Memoranda During the War & Death of Abraham Lincoln (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1962), pp. 6-7 and Whitman, Specimen Days in David McKay, ed., Prose Works (1892).  Soldiers who saw Lincoln also commonly remarked on his “careworn” appearance. When Joseph Twichell got his second glimpse of Lincoln at Falmouth, Virginia, in 1863, he found the President “pale and careworn,”(Chaplain Joseph Twichell, 71 NY, to father, April n.d. 1863, Falmouth, VA, Twichell, “Army Memories,” 54.) James Knight also mentioned the “pale, care worn face of our President” in “Some Experiences of a Soldier and Engineer,” unpublished memoir, 1890, Wisconsin Veterans Museum, Madison, WI. Corporal Abial Edwards observed after the President’s visit to ambulances full of wounded soldiers that Lincoln “looks sad and care worn.” See Cpl. Abial Edwards, 10 ME, to Anna, September 5, 1862, Washington, D.C., Beverly Hayes Kallgren and James L. Crouthamel (eds.), “Dear Friend Anna:” The Civil War Letters of a Common Soldier from Maine (Orono: University of Maine Press, 1992), 32. In Lincoln’s Men: How President Lincoln Became Father to an Army and a Nation (New York: The Free Press, 1999). William C. Davis notes the influence on troops of Lincoln’s “careworn” appearance (pp. 141-44).

40 Oakes, The Radical and the Republican, 210-17.

41 Lincoln to James C. Conkling, Aug. 26, 1862, CW VI, pp. 406-410.

42 Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address, November 19, 1863, CW VII, p. 23.

43 A close look at the hours before delivering the Address strongly suggests that Lincoln had emancipation, not just some abstract notion of freedom, in mind in the Gettysburg Address. On the train ride from Washington, and in Gettysburg the evening before the dedication, Lincoln had talked with Secretary of State Seward, a trusted companion with whom Lincoln enjoyed talking about ideas and what we might now call “the writing process.” Seward had also prepared remarks for the occasion, so the two men almost certainly discussed and compared their remarks. When Seward delivered his own address, he explicitly identified “the removal of that evil,” slavery, as a necessary component of “establishing the principle of democratic government.” Speech of William Seward, Nov. 18, 1863, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, quoted in Boritt, The Gettysburg Gospel, pp. 76-77. Boritt’s explanation for why Lincoln was not as explicit as Seward was that Lincoln was still worried about the divisive effects of mentioning emancipation on the civilian population of Gettysburg, and probably the whole North, in what he hoped would be a unifying speech.

44 Pvt. Thomas Covert, 6 OH Cav, to wife, Jan. 11, 1863, Stafford Co., VA, Thomas Covert Papers, Western Reserve Historical Society. For one of many more examples of soldiers anticipating the “new birth of freedom” theme, and championing Lincoln because they assumed he too shared that point of view even though he had not yet articulated it publicly, see Pvt. Ransom Bedell, 39 IL, to cousin Theoda, summer 1863, Morris Island, SC (Ransom Bedell Papers, Illinois State Historical Library), who wrote “we are not for the Union as it was But as it will Be. . .  . 'Hurrah' for A. Lincoln.” In The Gettysburg Gospel, Gabor Boritt laments that few Union soldiers seemed to have much to say about the Gettysburg Address in their private correspondence (see pp. 136-38, and note on p.336), but the reason was quite simple: they themselves had already been saying the same thing for some time. Lincoln’s remarks might herald a welcome recognition of what they already knew, but they were also old news especially when the absolutely crucial Battle of Lookout Mountain and the capture of Chattanooga occurred just days after the Address.

45 Abraham Lincoln, “Annual Message to Congress,” Dec. 8, 1863, CW VIII p. 40. It should be noted that Lincoln also reiterated the emancipation-as-practical-necessity theme in this Message, see esp. pp. 49-50.

46 Jefferson Davis’s conditions  for peace were independence and slavery: Lincoln’s were “the integrity of the whole Union” and “the abandonment of slavery,” See the “To Whom it May Concern” Letter, July 18, 1864, CW VII, 451.

47 “Democratic Platform of 1864,” Kirk H. Porter (compiler), National Party Platforms (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1924), 59-60.

48 Major W.W. Boatright, 71 USCT, to friend Harper, Sept. 8, 1864, Natchez, MS, in Crawford Co. [IL] Argus, Sept. 22, 1864.

49 See, for example, Lincoln to Charles D. Robinson (editor of a Democratic newspaper in Green Bay, Wisconsin), Aug. 17, 1864, CW VII, 499-502.

50 “Republican Platform of 1864,” Porter (compiler), National Party Platforms, 60-63.

51 Lt. J.Q.A. Campbell, 5 IA Cav., diary, Nov. 16, 1864, Nashville, TN, Grimsley and Miller, The Union Must Stand, 193.

52 Sgt. Henry Hart, 2 CT Artillery, to wife, Nov. 4, 1864, New Orleans, LA, Henry Hart Letters, Union Miscellany, Emory University. A New York Private, jubilant at the President’s re-election, felt such a strong sense of kinship with Lincoln’s views of the war that he sent the President his re-enlistment stripes as a way of marking that both were signing on for another tour of duty in the same struggle. See Pvt. William Johnson, 184 NY, to Lincoln in Holzer, Dear Mr. Lincoln, 232.

53 Capt. Amos Hostetter, 34 IL, to sister and brother-in-law, Jan. 29, 1863, Murfreesboro, TN, Illinois State Historical Library. See also Ransom Bedell, who agreed that “where our nation,” not just the southern half of it, “has failed to act in putting the abomination away from among them that God has allowed war and carnage to operate,” (Pvt. Ransom Bedell, 39 IL, to cousin Theoda, summer 1863, Ransom Bedell Papers, Illinois State Historical Library). Similarly, a New Hampshire private opined that the “durstructive war” had been visited upon the whole nation for the sin of slavery, and it would not end until Americans repented. Then, and only then, “in God’s own good time He will save our Country,” the private contended. See Pvt. Roswell Holbrook, 14 NH, to cousin Malinda, Jan. 11, 1864, Washington, D.C., Roswell Holbrook Letters, Vermont Historical Society.

54 Ass’t Sgn. John Moore, 22 United States Colored Troops, to wife, Feb. 7, 1865, Federal Point, NC, James Moore Papers, Special Collections, Perkins Library, Duke University.

55 Lincoln, “Meditation on Divine Will,” Sept. 1862, CW V, 403-404.

56 See, for example, Lincoln to Eliza P. Gurney, an English Quaker abolitionist, Sept. 4, 1864, in which Lincoln reflected, “The purposes of the Almighty are perfect and must prevail, though we erring mortals may fail to accurately perceive the in advance. We hoped for a happy termination of this terrible war long before this; but God knows best, and has ruled otherwise. We shall yet acknowledge His wisdom and our own error therein. Meanwhile we must work earnestly in the best light He gives us, trusting that so working still conduces to the great ends He ordains. Surely He intends some great good to follow this mighty convulsion, which no mortal could make, and no mortal could stay.” CW VII, 535.

57 Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1865, CW VIII, 332-33.

58 Pvt. William Kesterson, formerly 7 MO Cav and 1 MO Cav, now Invalid Corps (USA), to brother, Oct. 28, 1864, hospital, Springfield, MO, William H. H. Kesterson Letters, Missouri Historical Society.

59 In fact, Union troops’ affections for President Lincoln ran so deep, that many referred to him in explicitly familial language. Private Constant Hanks called “Uncle Abraham” while Pennsylvania soldier George Shingle assured a friend that no matter what happened, soldiers would stand by “Father Abraham.” See Pvt. Constant Hanks, 20 NY Militia, to mother, Sept. 13, 1863, with Army of Potomac in eastern VA, Constant Hanks Papers, Special Collections, Perkins Library Duke University; Pvt. George Shingle, 53 PA, to friend Seth Evans, April 2, 1864, near Germanna Ford, VA, Evans Family Papers, Civil War Miscellany Collection, United States Army Military History Institute, Carlisle Barracks. For just a few of the many additional examples of soldiers referring to the President as “Uncle” or “Father,” see Pvt. John Brobst, 25 WI, to Mary, Sept. 27, 1864, near Atlanta, GA, Margaret Brobst Roth (ed.), Well, Mary: Civil War Letters of a Wisconsin Volunteer, (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1960), 92; Pvt. Wilbur Fisk, 2 VT, to Green Mountain Freeman, April 9, 1865, City Point, VA, Emil and Ruth Rosenblatt, eds., Hard Marching Every Day: The Civil War Letters of Private Wilbur Fisk, (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1992), 322-33; Pvt. Amos Breneman, 203 PA, to friend, Oct. 25, 1864, near Richmond, Amos Breneman Letters, Civil War Miscellany Collection 2nd Series, United States Army Military History Institute; Pvt. Justus Silliman, 17 CT, to brother, April 24, 1864, Jacksonville, FL, Edward Marcus (ed.), A New Canaan Private in the Civil War: Letters of Justus M. Silliman, (New Canaan: The New Canaan Historical Society, 1984), 100.

Source: SoldierStudies

Chandra Manning teaches 19th century U.S. History and co-directs the Georgetown Workshop in 19th Century U.S. History with her colleague Adam Rothman. Her first book, What This Cruel War Was Over: Soldiers, Slavery, and the Civil War won the Avery Craven Prize awarded by the Organization of American Historians, earned Honorable Mention for the Lincoln Prize, the Jefferson Davis Prize, and the Virginia Literary Awards for Non-fiction, and was a finalist for the Frederick Douglass Prize. Currently, she is working on a book about Civil War contraband camps, freedpeople's post-Civil War migration, and the struggle over the meaning of citizenship in the 19th century United States. She is also busily brainwashing her two young sons into Red Sox fans.

Ph.D. (2002) Harvard University, History / M.Phil (1995) University College, Galway, Ireland, Irish history and literature / B.A. summa cum laude (1993) Mount Holyoke College, History Explore.Georgetown

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Civil War Letters—Union and Confederate Soldiers' Letters / Civil War Letters—A Confederate Soldier's Letter

Civil War Letters—Introducing the Letters  /  Civil War Letters—A Black Union Soldier's Letter

Lincoln, Race, and the American Presidency Chandra Manning: What This Cruel War Was Over Book TV

 Chandra M. Manning on Soldiers and Slavery: Part 1 / The Permanence of Racism (1992)

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What the troops really thought about slavery—15 April 2007—Glenn C. Altschuler—Manning's work supports the prevailing view among historians that race trumped class in the Confederacy. Although her analysis of the role of religion is weak, she demonstrates that nonslaveholding soldiers believed that the "peculiar institution" protected white manhood, family, property rights and a stable social structure with blacks on the bottom. Issued in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation unified Rebel troops recently demoralized by bread riots at home and a law which exempted from military service an owner or overseer with 20 or more slaves. The soldiers did break ranks, but only when in 1865 a desperate Confederate Congress authorized the enlistment of no more than 25 percent of black male slaves between the ages of 18 and 45, with hints of manumission. If slaves "are put in the army," Pvt. Joseph Maides told his mother, "they will be on the same footing with white men."

Northern troops, Manning emphasizes, grew more likely to support emancipation the longer they remained in the field. Some believed that secession undermined the electoral process. Others that it would take "the eternal overthrow of slavery" to win the war. As they traveled through the South and observed human bondage at close range, many soldiers were appalled, especially by the sexual abuse of slave women. The performance of black troops helped as well: They "whipped the rebels handsomely" in Florida, Pvt. Orra Bailey noted, "fighting like tigers" and "striking horror into the enemy." With their consciousness raised, Union soldiers voted overwhelmingly to re-elect Lincoln in 1864.

Manning's most controversial—and least convincing—claim is that "many" Union troops embraced racial equality and civil rights. . . . Manning makes an admirable effort to quantify soldiers' sentiments. Before concluding that one position dominated, she stipulated that it had to outnumber dissenting views by at least three to one. This method works relatively well for measuring support for the Emancipation Proclamation, though, of course, it cannot capture the attitudes of soldiers who said nothing about the measure in letters and diaries. But it's much more difficult to count proponents of "radical stances on racial equality." And so, perhaps inevitably, Manning makes more subjective judgments, delivered with the adjectives "some," "many" and "most."

Even if she's right, and Union troops were willing to work with blacks "to change laws, build schools, and lay foundations for a more equitable society," their commitment was shallow at best. By her own account it ebbed and flowed between 1863 and 1865. And after they laid down their arms, the soldiers returned home to oppose black suffrage and integrated schools. For many of them, it seems, emancipation was not a prelude to equality.BaltimoreSun

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What This Cruel War Was Over: Soldiers, Slavery, and the Civil War, by Chandra Manning (New York: Knopf, 2007).Reviewed by Kevin M. LevinManning surveys the archival records of 657 Union and 477 Confederate soldiers, along with regimental newspapers, to tell the story of how slavery and race influenced the men who volunteered and fought through the Civil War.  She surveys soldiers from all theaters, native-born and immigrant Union enlisted men, non-slaveholding and slaveholding Confederate soldiers, and United States Colored Troops.  For those familiar with the relevant historiography, many of Manning’s interpretive points will sound familiar.  In 1997 James McPherson published With Cause and Comrades (Oxford University Press), which provided one of the most sophisticated accounts of how slavery and race shaped the political and ideological outlooks of soldiers in both armies.  Manning adds to the debate by analyzing these views over time, in hopes of uncovering the often-subtle ways in which soldiers’ statements about slavery evolved.

Perhaps one of the most interesting claims made in this book is Manning’s contention that Union soldiers advocated for emancipation as early as the second half of 1861, ahead of civilians, political leaders, and officers, and a full year before the Emancipation Proclamation.  “Enlisted soldiers came to the conclusion that winning the war would require the destruction of slavery,” writes Manning, “partly because soldiers’ personal observations of the South led many to decide that slavery blighted everything it touched” (47).  Her claim that soldiers’ reactions to the horrors of slavery became useful to the Union war effort compliments research by Ira Berlin, who also maintains that interaction between slaves and soldiers steered the Lincoln administration towards emancipation.  Such a bottom-up analysis places Civil War soldiers at the very center of the events that led Abraham Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation in September 1862.  Most Northerners had little direct contact with slavery before the war, apart from various printed sources, so whom and what Union troops saw in the South dramatically shaped their thinking. . . .

While the notion that Union soldiers did in fact pay careful attention to the issues of slavery, race, and emancipation is an important corrective to our tendency to see Civil War soldiers as apolitical, Manning’s conclusions about Confederate soldiers are also important.  By placing slavery at the center of her analysis of Confederate soldiers, she challenges readers to rethink assumptions about how slavery figured into the lives of most white southerners.  While other issues certainly animated Confederates at different times, Manning argues that the issues of race and slavery served to focus the army.  She examines how even non-slaveholding Confederates were motivated to fight by the belief that abolition would erase the privileges of white manhood, endanger their families, and destroy the very fabric of Southern society.  Internal fissures may have threatened the unity of the Confederacy, but these problems never trumped the importance of defending the “peculiar institution.”  Regardless of status, white southerners held to the belief that the survival of slavery guaranteed their respective place in the political/social hierarchy.  Most important, they feared that defeat would likely lead to race wars and miscegenation.AmbroseBierce

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Why They Fought—Civil War Soldiers and Slavery—Randall M. Miller—Confederate soldiers, [Chandra] Manning insists, were bound together by the shared belief in the dangers of abolition, which powerfully united Confederate soldiers and motivated them to fight, even when they shared little else (31). Defending slavery was at the root of the Confederacy's reason to exist and the common soldier's commitment to the cause. Even as onerous conscription policies, inflation, and impressment of farmers' produce and livestock eroded popular support for the Confederate war effort and led to many desertions, the common soldiers' fears of the consequences of defeat and the freeing of slaves kept them from quitting altogether. The chants about a rich man's war and a poor man's fight notwithstanding, white nonslaveholding southerners stood up for slavery.

To their mind, the Union advance heralded their world turning upside down, much like Haiti, with rape and pillage following emancipation. When they fought to protect their hearth and home, it was not because Union armies were invading in a literal sense though that came to be as the war progressed but because Union armies invaded white privilege and racial hierarchy with the threat of abolition and all its attendant evils. For them, God demanded their defense of what they believed was a divinely sanctified way of life. For them, Manning writes, black slavery was vital to the protection of their families, interests, and very identities as men, and they relied on it to prevent race war (39). Thus, Manning concludes that slavery, [f]ar from splintering Confederates along class lines, provided the cement that held Confederates together even under almost trying circumstances (6). The Union's resort to using black troops further hardened white southerners' in the conviction of a diabolical abolitionist North bent on the complete destruction of southern society and Christian order. Simply put, whites of all classes feared a loss of mastery should slavery end.—CivilWarBookReview

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Moochers Against Welfare—Paul Krugman—February 16, 2012—Cornell University’s Suzanne Mettler points out that many beneficiaries of government programs seem confused about their own place in the system. She tells us that 44 percent of Social Security recipients, 43 percent of those receiving unemployment benefits, and 40 percent of those on Medicare say that they “have not used a government program.”

Presumably, then, voters imagine that pledges to slash government spending mean cutting programs for the idle poor, not things they themselves count on. And this is a confusion politicians deliberately encourage. For example, when Mr. Romney responded to the new Obama budget, he condemned Mr. Obama for not taking on entitlement spending—and, in the very next breath, attacked him for cutting Medicare. The truth, of course, is that the vast bulk of entitlement spending goes to the elderly, the disabled, and working families, so any significant cuts would have to fall largely on people who believe that they don’t use any government program.

The message I take from all this is that pundits who describe America as a fundamentally conservative country are wrong. Yes, voters sent some severe conservatives to Washington. But those voters would be both shocked and angry if such politicians actually imposed their small-government agenda.—NYTimes

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Racism, Wealth and IQI.Q. is a measure of wealth. The children of gangsters and war criminals (i.e., national politicians, corporate executives, race-favored Americans, Europeans, and others from outposts of Pan-Whiteness, e.g., Israel, Australia, New Zealand) will have higher I.Q. because they have been brought up in material comfort, physical security, and they have experienced the best educational systems in existence. There is no genetic basis for this, but there is certainly a racist one. Since the days of Columbus, Pan-Whiteness has used technology (primarily explosives) and piracy (now called finance) to steal world resources, and enslave and exterminate "colored" people. "High" I.Q. is merely a developmental indicator of race-based physical plundering by their elders and ancestors in the children of the Race Warriors of the White Supremacy Crusade. The religious core of capitalism is white supremacy, which is why the nations mentioned are bonded so tightly, and why the U.S. Government will often pursue policies vis-a-vis Israel that logically seem to be at odds with "U.S. interests" (e.g., the pursuit, with U.S. casualties, of war with Iraq and Iran, not just for oil but in Israel's interest). It may be objectively true that a particular policy (e.g., bankrolling Israel's theft of Palestine—"settlements"—backing Israel's stonewalling and aggression (e.g., Lebanon) and blocking U.N. and international efforts to settle the Palestinian issue) seems more to Israel's benefit than to "us." But, when viewed through the emotive religious-mythical lens of white supremacy, the apparent inconsistency dissolves.  Counterpunch

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The Fiery Trial

Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery

By Eric Foner

A mixture of visionary progressivism and repugnant racism, Abraham Lincoln's attitude toward slavery is the most troubling aspect of his public life, one that gets a probing assessment in this study. Columbia historian and Bancroft Prize winner Foner (Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men) traces the complexities of Lincoln's evolving ideas about slavery and African-Americans: while he detested slavery, he also publicly rejected political and social equality for blacks, dragged his feet (critics charged) on emancipating slaves and accepting black recruits into the Union army, and floated schemes for colonizing freedmen overseas almost to war's end. Foner situates this record within a lucid, nuanced discussion of the era's turbulent racial politics; in his account Lincoln is a canny operator, cautiously navigating the racist attitudes of Northern whites, prodded--and sometimes willing to be prodded--by abolitionists and racial egalitarians pressing faster reforms.

But as Foner tells it, Lincoln also embodies a society-wide transformation in consciousness, as the war's upheavals and the dynamic new roles played by African-Americans made previously unthinkable claims of freedom and equality seem inevitable. Lincoln is no paragon in Foner's searching portrait, but something more essential--a politician with an open mind and a restless conscience. 16 pages of illus., 3 maps.—Publishers Weekly

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Salvage the Bones

A Novel by Jesmyn Ward

On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake.

She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.WashingtonPost

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What This Cruel War Was Over

Soldiers Slavery and the Civil War

By Chandra Manning

For this impressively researched Civil War social history, Georgetown assistant history professor Manning visited more than two dozen states to comb though archives and libraries for primary source material, mostly diaries and letters of men who fought on both sides in the Civil War, along with more than 100 regimental newspapers. The result is an engagingly written, convincingly argued social history with a point—that those who did the fighting in the Union and Confederate armies "plainly identified slavery as the root of the Civil War." Manning backs up her contention with hundreds of first-person testimonies written at the time, rather than often-unreliable after-the-fact memoirs. While most Civil War narratives lean heavily on officers, Easterners and men who fought in Virginia, Manning casts a much broader net. She includes immigrants, African-Americans and western fighters, in order, she says, "to approximate cross sections of the actual Union and Confederate ranks."

Based on the author's dissertation, the book is free of academese and appeals to a general audience, though Manning's harsh condemnation of white Southerners' feelings about slavery and her unstinting praise of Union soldiers' "commitment to emancipation" take a step beyond scholarly objectivity.—Publishers Weekly

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Lincoln on Race and Slavery

Edited By Henry Louis Gates and Donald Yacovone

Generations of Americans have debated the meaning of Abraham Lincoln's views on race and slavery. He issued the Emancipation Proclamation and supported a constitutional amendment to outlaw slavery, yet he also harbored grave doubts about the intellectual capacity of African Americans, publicly used the n-word until at least 1862, and favored permanent racial segregation. In this book—the first complete collection of Lincoln's important writings on both race and slaveryreaders can explore these contradictions through Lincoln's own words. Acclaimed Harvard scholar and documentary filmmaker Henry Louis Gates, Jr., presents the full range of Lincoln's views, gathered from his private letters, speeches, official documents, and even race jokes, arranged chronologically from the late 1830s to the 1860s.

Complete with definitive texts, rich historical notes, and an original introduction by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., this book charts the progress of a war within Lincoln himself. We witness his struggles with conflicting aims and ideas—a hatred of slavery and a belief in the political equality of all men, but also anti-black prejudices and a determination to preserve the Union even at the cost of preserving slavery. We also watch the evolution of his racial views, especially in reaction to the heroic fighting of black Union troops.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Related files:  Thirteen & Fourteenth Amendments   Theodore W. Allen and His Insights   Which U.S. Presidents Owned Slaves?  Emancipation Proclamation 

Derrick Bell Law Rights Advocate  Dies at 80  Lincoln on Race and Slavery