Abraham Lincoln: 2 assessments
Abraham Lincoln is justly celebrated as the Great Emancipator. The Civil War freed nearly 4 million African-Americans from human bondage. It thereby fulfilled the promise of the American Revolution, eradicating a major coercive blight on the country. But unfortunately, Lincoln did almost as much to repudiate as to reaffirm the radical principles of the Declaration of Independence.
To begin with, the 16th president’s determination to hold the Union together with military force was an explicit rejection of the revolutionary right of self-determination. Even the London Times of Nov. 7, 1861, recognized “an exact analogy between the North and the government of George III, and the South and the 13 revolted provinces,” which at the outset of the Revolution, all tolerated slavery. As a legal recourse, the legitimacy of secession was admittedly debatable, but as a revolutionary right, it is universal and unconditional. That at least is how the Declaration reads.
Moreover, Lincoln elevated the suppression of Southern independence above any concern for blacks. As he publicly explained to Horace Greeley, the editor of the New York Tribune: “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.” Fortunate for the slaves that Lincoln ultimately concluded that freeing them offered the most military and political advantages.