Lincoln was no reformer, liberal, or anything like that.
A lot of Lincon’s proactiveness — the social change aspect of him — was because he had to. Allow me to explain.
A quote, from Lincon’s inaugural address:
I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.
But… but… what about “a house divided against itself cannot stand?” There are multiple prongs to this argument, tracing back to a few things
1) Lincon-Douglass debates. Douglass wanted railroads, which ran through the territory of Kansas and Nebraska. In lieu of going with the line established form the Missouri compromise — which outlawed slavery in this land — they allowed the people to choose. This created a problem, because people came to Kansas and started threatening anyone who wanted freedom (also Nebraska, but…) This created the term “Bleeding Kansas.” The nation was already at war with each other due to the acts of radicals.
2) The north was, for the most part, okay with the act of slavery for a while. Yes, there were some radicals CERTAINLY, but it wasn’t until the Fugative Slave act happened that the people of the north were like… “*@&$.” Works like Uncle Tom’s Cabin swept through, starting to expose the difficulties that slaves felt. You must remember, the north had factories, namely textile mills. They were content with turning their head and looking the other way because they made money, too.
3) Forget slavery for a second, Cotton is WHITE GOLD! There was one or two financial panics in the antebellum period, each of which made the north panic and the south… not so much. This made the south feel fiercely independent, leading up to their secession.
For those three reasons, Lincon wasn’t pointing precisely at slavery when he made the “house divided” statements. It was more than that, but it ended up spreading to slavery. His approach was all or nothing (in lieu of Douglass’ philosophy of regional choosing/popular sovereignty).
Okay, so why did the several states secede after Lincon’s election?
Bucanan. James Bucanan. Nothing else, just… he let the states go.
Which leads past Lincon’s election, to the inauguration, where he does say he’s not in any mood to touch slavery.
But then, war.
Think back to our revolution… we had an ally, France, who we won over after we proved ourselves with battles. Much like our revolution: while the north and Lincon was busy sorting stuff out, the south was winning battles. One of the biggest purchasers of Cotton was Britain, who had outlawed slavery already. Consider, for a moment: the south has to pay for labor (if the north won) and the cotton goes up in price… a lot. So how easy would it be for Britain to start supplying the south at LEAST, if not sending troops? Yes, they were under pressure from their businesses there that relied on the south’s cotton.
Lincon was no dummy, he realized the threat. After the north started winning a little, and the odds started going where they should be, Lincon issues THE PROCLAIMATION. He freed slaves (but the catch: those in the states that never seceded were never freed. Just the ones in the states at war.)
This made it very public that this war was about slavery, not just a quarrel between two parts of a country. This effectively made it political suicide for anyone in Britain to help the south, because of their outlawing of slavery! Brilliant!
Changer? Sure. Lincoln shook things up. But why not free ALL THE SLAVES if it was truly about that? It wasn’t about that though, it was a politician doing political things.
Lincoln maybe did other things, things not about the war, but then again… he was shot a couple of days after the war ended and he was reelected.
I am currently going through AP United States History, and the civil war to be specific. Please feel free to comment with other perspectives. This is a synthesized opinion piece made from someone else’s teaching.