Lincoln’s Evolved Stance on Congress’ Role

       Abraham Lincoln evolved abundantly through his career as a politician, especially during his years as president. While this area of change for Lincoln may be seen as one of the most obvious; I believe that Lincoln evolved most on his opinions towards the constitution’s and the United States Congress’s role in abolishing slavery. Lincoln stated that he could not recall a time when he was not against slavery (Gienapp, This Fiery Trial, 8). Although Lincoln was always opposed to slavery he did not always feel that the federal government had a role in eradicating it. Throughout many years in public office Lincoln dealt with countless public debates that, in regards to, would find the united states divided. One such issue was in 1837 that pertained to the United States Congress’ role relating to abolishing slavery in states and territories. Lincoln stated in a letter of protest that while “the institution of slavery is founded on both injustice and bad policy…the congress of the united states has no power, under the constitution, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the different states” (8-9).

       In later years Lincoln, somewhere along the line, changed his opinion on the role of the U.S. Congress’ role in this matter. In August of 1862 Lincoln is quoted in a letter to Horace Greeley, an anti-slavery advocate, stating “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” (135). Lincoln explains that his chief goal in the war was to preserve and re-unify the Union (135). Around a month later Lincoln issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, giving the rebelling states until January first to return to the Union or he would free the slaves contained within these states. On January first he did so and declared the slaves in the rebelling states free. As well as this proclamation, in 1865 Congress passed the 13th amendment to abolish slavery in the United States. Lincoln had decided in the years of through the war that the federal government, indeed, had a role to play in abolishing slavery even though he had explicitly stated that this was not congress’s role.


SOURCE: Gienapp, W.E. (2002). This Fiery Trial: The Speeches and Writings of Abraham Lincoln. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


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