Over the years, the Emancipation Proclamation and President Lincoln himself have been reviewed with both admiration and derision. The shifting viewpoints towards the two reflect the context of the times and that is how the Emancipation Proclamation and president Lincoln must be viewed because each were created in the context of their times
The war for the Union or the Lincoln Administration did not start out as a war to end slavery. Lincoln himself, by modern day standards, was prejudice and believed blacks would be better off leaving the country. The threat that Lincoln represented was political and economic to the South. Lincoln had no intention of interfering with slavery where it already existed but was opposed to the extension of slavery, which represented economic threat to the south as well as the loss of political power. It must be remembered, as the author points out, that there was no great demand among the majority of the people for slavery to end and Lincoln’s racial views on blacks were common. Little, if anything was said about the black man having an equal place in American society, a view shared by many in the military also.
In any event, freeing the slaves would be a radical measure in many Northerners eyes. The author analyzes how Lincoln had to tread thin line because of this... The Border States were a key strategic area and losing those states would make the war even more difficult to fight for the union. Lincoln had to consider the reaction of the army also if a proclamation feeing the slaves was announced The Union had to win the war in any event to give teeth to a proclamation.
The first plans developed by the Lincoln Administration called for compensated emancipation. The plans reflected the viewpoint of Lincoln, sometimes not shared by members of Congress and Lincoln cabinet members, that gradual and compensated emancipation was the best method. Lincoln had to think about the entire Union effort and could not risk making such a radical move. The plans also promoted colonization of the blacks, which was angrily opposed by the blacks themselves.
In time, it was Lincoln came to see that the war would have to be more about just saving the union. Lincoln has had few equals in the skill of using the words of the English language. The Emancipation Proclamation is often criticized for not having the same beautiful and high idealized words of his Second Inaugural Address. The key here is that Lincoln wrote the Emancipation Proclamation in legalistic terms for a reason. First, the Emancipation Proclamation was conditional.
The Emancipation Proclamation only freed slaves in certain areas of the Confederacy and not others. Second, it was also a military measure, a aimed at undermining the economic system of the South, Third, the Emancipation Proclamation might be challenged legally and had to stand up to constitutional scrutiny by the supreme Court, if the union could win the war.
One of the criticisms of the Emancipation Proclamation was the fact that it did not set every slave free. Again, using today’s standards to judge is somewhat unfair because the union had to win the war first. Lincoln had to think about how the army and the Border States would react. Although the army did not dissolve or the Border States did not leave the union, there was not universal rejoicing at the Emancipation Proclamation. The Proclamation also strengthened the Confederate will because Lincoln had struck at the very heart of the south and the way of life the Confederacy was fighting for.
The enlistment of the African-American, both ex-slaves and freed blacks, in Union armies represented turning point because that was the evidence that the war had changed and a new era was beginning. The black man would earn respect in the service of the union but that did not equate to equal treatment. The rights earned in the crucible of warwould be frittered away in the years after the war, giving the Emancipation Proclamation hollow meaniing for many blacks.
The mixed reputation of Lincoln among African-Americans is a demonstration of dashed hopes and the failure of expectations. The failures of Reconstruction and the suppression of African-Americans lowered the stature of Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation. When looked at from a genuine abolition viewpoint, Lincoln was cold and indifferent and did not move fast enough. However, when measured by the sentiments of the country, which Lincoln was bound to consult, he was swift, radical, and determined. And for that Lincoln should and does have a special place in the hearts of all Americans