Lincoln and The Just Cause

I bought this original 1867 Currier & Ives lithograph from a little shop in Maine last weekend. Not because I collect Lincolnia – It will likely never be displayed.

It reminded me that Juneteenth was coming up and of Abraham Lincoln’s role in Emancipation.

Between neo-Lost Causers, and the Lerone Bennett inspired historians of Black history, Abraham Lincoln’s reputation has taken a beating.

Quite simply, if Stephen Douglas or John C. Breckinridge had been elected President in 1860, no shots would have been fired at Ft. Sumter and there would have been no secession of states.

With no secession of states in 1861, Congress would have been overwhelmingly run by pro-slavery states, empowered by the three-fifths clause which counted the enslaved as 60% of a person for the purposes of congressional representation – though the enslaved had no voting rights. The pro-slavery faction ruled Congress with their allies from places like New York, New Jersey and Ohio – hotbeds of anti-Black sentiment. Suffice it to say, the abolishment of slavery had 0% chance of passing Congress.

Even after Lincoln’s election, Confederate secession and the ascendancy of anti-slavery* Republicans in Congress, there was still not enough legislative support for emancipation. Pro-slavery Democrats in the North and border state Republicans blocked the 13th amendment.

Enter the Emancipation Proclamation. Seemingly toothless, it was the only legal means by which the enslaved achieved freedom. Frederick Douglass (a sometime Lincoln critic) and millions of others knew this on December 31, 1862 (the first Watch Night) while waiting for the Emancipation Proclamation to be read. Contrary to popular belief, many enslaved were freed because of the proclamation. After battlefield victories in 1863, the enslaved would be liberated under the proclamation’s authority. This went on up to Juneteenth 1865.

I’m thankful for the radicals like Thaddeus Stevens and Charles Sumner and Frederick Douglass who constantly pushed Lincoln towards the “Just Cause”. I’m even thankful for the secessionists who irrationally left the Union out of a fear that the squishy anti-slavery expansion moderate like Lincoln would be their undoing.

Whether an instrument in God’s or the moral universe’s hand, Lincoln’s election set in motion Emancipation. As lucrative as American slavery and cotton production was to the world’s economy (e.g. England, France), that institution would have lasted as long in this country as it did in Brazil – 1888, or perhaps into 1900’s.


Edward A. Sanders, Guest Contributor

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