NOTE FROM DR. WAYNE BAKER: This week, we welcome back our popular contributing columnist Terry Gallagher.
When is waiting the best policy? And when can we not wait any longer?
One of the most challenging questions for admirers of Abraham Lincoln (and there are many of them among OurValues readers) is why he waited so long to emancipate slaves.
Although he denounced slavery in his campaigns for the Senate and the presidency, Lincoln took no steps to end the oppression when he became president. When his generals freed slaves owned by rebels in their regions, Lincoln ordered them to stop.
He made his priorities clear: “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.”
Most biographers agree now that Lincoln’s equivocation was a complex balancing act to keep slave-holding border states in the Union, to keep Britain from coming into the war in support of the Confederacy, to encourage enlistment among Northerners who supported the Union but not racial equality.
After the Union victory at Antietam, Lincoln felt the time had come when he could issue the Emancipation Proclamation. But even that was equivocal, freeing only slaves in rebel-held territories, and months away.
For the nation’s 4 million slaves, how much waiting was enough?
This song cited in his memoir by one-time slave Frederick Douglass provides a clue:
Run to Jesus — face the danger—
I don’t expect to stay
Much longer here.
During the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, we’ve all seen and read a lot about Lincoln: What do you think about his decisions?
SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS THIS SUMMER: In recent years, Terry Gallagher has written about a wide range of topics; you can read more than 100 of his past columns by clicking on this link. We invite you to comment (below) or to share this column on Facebook (use the blue-“f” icons).
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