What Did Lincoln Believe?
After viewing Lecture One, review the documents and consider what they suggest about Lincoln's beliefs and political positions. Use the questions to guide your reflection.
Note: This activity has two sets of questions: those that relate to specific documents and appear on each document page and more general, "big picture" questions listed below. You may begin with general or specific questions depending upon your preference.
Consider These Questions
Did Lincoln's opinions about African Americans and slavery change over time?
As you examine Lincoln's attitudes about slavery, what emerges from his public and private comments?
What distinction did Lincoln make between "official" duty and "personal" wishes?
What factors affected Lincoln's public stance toward slavery?
"At the precise moment [Lincoln] told Greeley that he would save the Union without freeing any slaves, he had a draft of the Emancipation Proclamation in his desk. That always astonishes me. It always makes you then go back and think about that letter."
Primary Sources: Documents
(Click here for information on using primary source documents)
First Debate, August 21, 1858
Fourth Debate, September 18, 1858
Seven 1858 campaign debates between Illinois Senator Stephen A. Douglas and challenger Abraham Lincoln focus on the question of whether slavery should be extended to the territories.
Appeal to Border State Representatives for Compensated Emancipation, Washington, D.C., July 12, 1862
President Lincoln proposes a plan for gradual, compensated emancipation in the slave states that have remained loyal to the Union.
Address on Colonization to a Committee of Colored Men, Washington, D.C.
President Lincoln discusses plans to colonize freedmen and -women to lands outside the United States.
An Appeal from the Colored Men of Philadelphia to the President of the United States, August 1862
Prominent African American citizens reply to Lincoln's "Address on Colonization."
Lincoln's letter to Horace Greeley, August 22, 1862
President Lincoln responds to the editor of the New York Tribune, who publicly criticized him for failing to free all slaves who escaped to the Union Army.
Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, September 15, 1862
In this proclamation, Lincoln declares that unless rebellious states return to the Union by January 1, slaves in those states will be emancipated.
Emancipation Proclamation, January 1, 1863
Lincoln fulfills the promise of the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation and declares all slaves in rebel states free.
Letter to James C. Conkling, August 26, 1863
In a letter to be read to a mass meeting of loyal Union men, Lincoln addresses the anger and frustration that many Unionists feel over the Emancipation Proclamation and the length of the war.
Primary Sources: Images
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Gordon Cotton photo
Taken during the Civil War, this photograph is of a slave named Gordon who took advantage of the dislocations of war to run away from a Mississippi plantation and into Union lines. An assistant surgeon general took his photograph and circulated it as evidence of the barbarity and cruelty of the slaveholding class. The image also appeared in Harper's Weekly magazine, where it was used as a recruitment poster to enlist black soldiers.
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Lincoln Freedmen Memorial
This statue was commissioned by emancipated African Americans as a memorial to Abraham Lincoln. It was sculpted by Thomas Ball and dedicated in 1876 in Washington, D.C., by Frederick Douglass. A replica of the statue requested by Massachusetts legislator Moses Kimball was dedicated in 1879 in Boston. The statue was based on a picture of Archer Alexander, the last slave captured in Missouri under the fugitive slave law, and was supposed to be a depiction of the slave breaking his own chains, an agent of his own deliverance. Many people, however, including Frederick Douglass, saw it differently: The African American man was kneeling, a supplicant for his freedom, and his face showed no apparent appreciation of his new dignified position in society. Speaking at the unveiling of the statue, Douglass gave Lincoln credit for his achievements, but remarked that the statue was a white man's monument to a white man's president.
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