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To the editor:
In his recent contribution to The Oldham Era’s discussion of conservatism in the United States, guest columnist Galen Clark rightfully urges his readers to “check out the facts” and resist “blindly adopting the thoughts of those you perceive are higher in the pecking order... so that you can base your opinions on facts and good reasoning.”
Fortunately, in looking for an opportunity to practice the application of Mr. Clark’s words of wisdom, one need go no further than his own anachronistic claim that “Abraham Lincoln’s emancipation of African American slaves in the United States was seen as massive governmental regulation and interference in the 1860s leading to our civil war.”
Don’t worry about combing through the entirety of the fuzzy article to find these exact words. They regrettably appear as a boldfaced insert between columns two and three.
Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, issued on Sept. 22, 1862, just days after a costly Union victory at Antietam, certainly impacted the essence and outcome of the Civil War. The “moral bombshell,” in the words of Frederick Douglass, most importantly served as a “worthy celebration of the first step on the part of the nation in its departure from the thralldom of the ages.”
It also had the practical effect of emboldening slaves throughout the South to flee their masters, minimizing the likelihood that either France or Great Britain would ever recognize the Confederacy and hastening the official recruitment and enlistment of black soldiers in the Union army.
It did not, however, lead to a war that had already been raging for almost two years by the time it went into effect on January 1, 1863. In addition to the matter of order of occurrence, it is debatable whether a restrained wartime measure that failed to free those slaves in the loyal border states should even be considered as “massive governmental regulation and interference.”
Secretary of State William H. Seward, who noted, “we show our sympathy with slavery by emancipating slaves where we cannot reach them and holding them in bondage where we can set them free,” acutely recognized the severe limitations of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.
An editorialist for the Chattanooga Daily Rebel, who described the decree as “an invitation to a servile war and an attempt to reduce the South to the condition of St. Domingo,” obviously felt differently. You will have to make your own determination as to the inherent conservative or liberal nature of the executive order.
Should Lincoln have pushed for greater change?
A close reading of Lincoln’s February 27, 1860 Cooper Union Address delivered in New York City, in which the rising political star from Illinois told the people of the South that “we want to maintain things as they were... you advocate new and untried ideas,” leads me to think of Lincoln as a conservative by the standards Mr. Clark identifies in his column.
His Aug. 22, 1862 letter to New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley, in which the President wrote “my paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery,” also lends credit to the notion of Lincoln as a conservative. Your research may lead you to a different conclusion. Primary source documents are the best place to look for answers as you keep asking “why.”
Lincoln’s role in the emancipation of African American slaves, and in a broader sense Mr. Clark’s contention that he embraced the “goal of equality for all people,” are both interesting subjects that will continue to be addressed by professional historians and students of history alike.
I encourage you to take Mr. Clark’s sound advice and properly join these discussions (and countless others) by consistently asking the question “why.” One place you may begin your search for the truth is “Lincoln’s Journey to Emancipation,” a brilliant essay in Stephen B. Oates’ Our Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln, John Brown, and the Civil War era.
I don’t know if Oates’ essay will be of much assistance in determining whether by today’s standards we would categorize Lincoln as a conservative or a liberal. But it will definitely clear up any confusion Mr. Clark’s curious chronology may have created.
Wm. Reed Fendley