Twelveth Day of Black History Month: Lincoln Logs Off

On today, Abraham Lincoln’s birthday I figured that I would entertain you all with a lil bit on whether or not Lincoln freed the slaves.


There was a time when every schoolboy learned that Abraham Lincoln was the “Great Emancipator” who freed the slaves. The Emancipation Proclamation, they also learned, was a critically important step in achieving that goal.

Many historians have called this old conventional wisdom into question, arguing that Lincoln was not really motivated by commitment to end slavery. The proof, they claim, is his famous letter to Horace Greeley in which he wrote that “my paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and it is not either to save or destroy slavery, 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.”

Many of Lincoln’s critics, especially African-Americans, go so far as to claim that he was no friend of blacks and did not want to risk the political fallout that would surely result from emancipation, but was eventually forced by circumstances to do so. In the words of Julius Lester, “Blacks have no reason to feel grateful to Abraham Lincoln. How come it took him two whole years to free the slaves? His pen was sitting on his desk the entire time.”


  1. jameil

    i don’t feel animosity either, though. he acted like thousands of other men of his ilk toward slavery– not at all or indifferently. he’s irrelevant to me save the fact that it eventually happened. perhaps that’s the wrong way to approach it but history is what it is. getting angry about it won’t change it but its important to know the truth.

  2. deesha

    Thanks for this. Mini-Me read it over my shoulder, and we had a great impromptu history lesson. I explained how the Eman. Proc. only freed the slaves in the states still in rebellion at the time, not the ones the North had already defeated. This was a war tactic, not altruism. It took the 13th Amendment to free all slaves. And she got it! 🙂

    Thanks again.

  3. Ivan Ivanovich Renko

    But let us never forget those bastards estimable gentlemen who started the Confederacy did so for the sole purpose of defending their “right” to own human beings.

    Our ancestors.

    Almost all white men of his day were racists; that is ineluctable fact (the only clear exception would seem to be John Brown himself, peace be upon him). However, Lincoln was an abolitionist. While he may never have recognized that a black man might be his equal before God, he at least recognized that no man should be owned by another.

    To southerners the election’s most ominous feature was the magnitude of Republican victory north of the 41st parallel. Lincoln won more than 60 percent of the vote in that region, losing scarcely two dozen counties. Three-quarters of the Republican congressmen and senators in the next Congress would represent this “Yankee” and antislavery portion of the free states. These facts were “full of portentous significance” declared the New Orleans Crescent. “The idle canvas prattle about Northern conservatism may now be dismissed,” agreed the Richmond Examiner. “A party founded on the single sentiment … of hatred of African slavery, is now the controlling power.” No one could any longer “be deluded … that the Black Republican party is a moderate” party, pronounced the New Orleans Delta. “It is in fact, essentially, a revolutionary party.

    –Civil War Historian James McPherson (as quoted in Wikipedia)

    In passing, do please note that the support of slavery was considered conservatism in its time; and never forget that today’s “conservatives” are not so far different from Jefferson Davis and Alexander Stephens.

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