The second most important war in American history, the Civil War marked a cultural turning point in U.S. history, and has influenced events in the 21st century and will continue to influence events in the future. In order to find the answer to who freed the slaves, it’s important to go over the historical context of what the world looked like before the slaves were freed. During the summer of 1862, Abraham Lincoln was plagued with a weakened military, fears that France and Great Britain might recognize the Confederates, and party infighting. Just for vocabulary knowledge, the Confederates were the group of 11 Southern states that seceded from the United States. Part of the Union, Abraham Lincoln wanted to preserve the country that was threatened by infighting but was also a staunch advocate for equal rights. On September 22, Lincoln issued one of the most famous speeches in the history of this country: The Emancipation Proclamation. In it, Lincoln stated that all slaves in areas not returned to federal control by January 1, 1863 would be free. This proclamation did not count the slave states who stayed loyal to the Union and some parts of Virginia (now West Virginia). The Emancipation Proclamation turned foreign countries against the Confederacy and enabled more slave to flee to the Union.
The speech also helped rally support among northerners, who were very tired of seeing death and destruction. With this speech, the north applauded Lincoln and it gave them a noble cause to keep fighting. So it was indeed Abraham Lincoln who spearheaded the movement against slavery, and without him the U.S. may still have slaves today.
Referencing today, the U.S. has been lucky to have someone like Lincoln come along at the right time, but people in other areas of the world have still fallen victim to slavery. There are approximately 30 million slaves today, and most of them are in places like West Africa and Central Asia.
Now the south, border state unionists and Democrats condemned the Emancipation Proclamation as trying to initiate an even bloodier war. These people viewed Lincoln as a radical, anti-Constitutional rabble rouser who wanted to destroy their way of life. Looking at this in their shoes, it would be a huge economic hit if slaves were freed. If slaves were freed, who would pick their crops? Freeing the slaves was unheard of to these southerners and signaled a change of culture that they didn’t want to happen.
Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves in the areas against the U.S., and it eventually helped form a solid coalition to win the war. Lincoln rebranded the purpose of this war to ‘save the Union’ to ‘ending slavery.’ This restructuring of the messaging rallied supports behind him politically and geographically.
Therefore, while Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation did not free all slaves, it did pave the way for the end of all slavery in the U.S. over time. The Emancipation Proclamation most likely won Lincoln’s Union the war, or really helped him to. This is because it helped him rebrand the purpose of going to a civil war, and gave everyone a reason to rally behind him.
Today, we still see slaves all across the world in places like Asia and Africa. Until these countries become more developed, it is highly unlikely that these will states will ban slavery. What would the present look like if the Confederates had won? That seems to be the million-dollar question that no one seems to be asking regarding the Civil War. Perhaps another Civil War would have broken out, or maybe African Americans would still be slaves. Nevertheless, with all the complaining that people do, the 21st century is the most equal rights era in the history of the world. Women seem to be more independent than ever, and African Americans and other minorities are attaining high level positions everyday.
James M. Mcpherson’s “Who Freed the Slaves” is one of the most sophisticated views of the civil war, and Mr. Mcpherson is one of the leading historians regarding the Civil War. Professor Mcpherson seems to reject what many other historians say, and this is because he rejects this notion that Lincoln didn’t really help the slaves free themselves. Mcpherson brings forward this argument between who actually freed the slaves? Themselves or Lincoln? Mcpherson says that the Civil War would never have happened if Lincoln accepted the terms of succession. Mcpherson says that all of these events should be credited to Abraham Lincoln because he was the one who, in theory, started the war by not recognizing the succession of the South. Mcpherson also points out that Lincoln ran for President under an anti-slavery agenda and the South started to secede because they were afraid that he’d outlaw slavery. Mcpherson shows through this that Lincoln hated the prospect of slavery, and this in turn sparked secession.
People who say that the slaves freed themselves simply don’t understand that the catalyst for all of the resistance and turning the tide against the South was the Abraham Lincoln himself. When push came to shove, it was Lincoln who rejected the breaking up of the union, and this triggered war. Yes, there were slave uprisings and demonstrations. However, without the help of Lincoln, they wouldn’t have started a war, period. If Lincoln did in fact recognize the legitimacy of the secession, we probably would still have slaves today, and that’s simply just the reality of what history has told us. Without the war, there wouldn’t have been a confiscation act, no Emancipation Proclamation, and no Thirteenth Amendment. There wouldn’t have even been a Fourteenth or Fifteenth Amendment. Mcpherson points out that there had been no real self-emancipation by the slaves, and this is probably one of the biggest reasons why Lincoln was responsible for the freeing of the slaves.
- McPherson, James M. Who freed the slaves?: Lincoln and emancipation. Redlands, Calif.?: Lincoln Memorial Association?, 1993.
- “Virginia Historical Society.” Who Freed the Slaves? | Virginia Historical Society. Accessed May 19, 2017. http://www.vahistorical.org/collections-and-resources/virginia-history-explorer/american-turning-point-civil-war-virginia-1/wh-0.