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Primary Sources - Workshop in American History Workshop 4 - Concerning Emancipation: Who Freed the Slaves?homesitemap
Introduction -Link Before You Watch - link Lectures and Activities Classroom and Applications - Link

Workshop 4:  Lectures & Activities

Lecture Transcript One:
Lincoln's Beliefs About Slavery

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On August 22, 1862, he responded publicly to a letter that had been printed in the New York Tribune. Horace Greeley, the editor and abolitionist, famous statesman, had published a letter called "The Prayer for Twenty Million" in which he called on the president to transform the goals of the war from that of simply preserving the Union to abolishing slavery. He begged the president to take this action, as many others did throughout the war. And Lincoln responded publicly in a letter printed in all the newspapers. And he said in that letter, among other things, "My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union. And it is not either to save or to destroy slavery. 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 do it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that."

Like other statesmen of the day, he did not believe in racial equality. And some of his statements about racial difference certainly sting when we read them today. "I have no purpose," he said, "to introduce political and social equality between the white and black races. I am in favor of the race to which I belong having the superior position." Throughout his life he supported those colonization schemes, a panacea for statesmen from Monroe and Jefferson, and Monroe down through Lincoln, as a way of somehow dealing with what they perceived as the race problem in America; that white and black couldn't live together in freedom. Therefore, if slavery was to be abolished, many of them believed some means for colonizing the free black population needed to be found. A week before his letter to Greeley appeared, he told a committee of free black men that it would be better for the races to be separated.

But if the stereotype of Lincoln as the Great Emancipator is overdrawn, so too is the caricature of Lincoln as a racist who did not care about slavery, who did not care about the fate of the enslaved. He talked repeatedly time and again about the monstrous injustice of slavery itself. He said that he abhorred the oppression of Negroes. Slavery, time and again Lincoln announced, was a moral, political, and social wrong. He believed these ideas deeply. After all, he was the candidate of the Republican party, the newly formed Republican party, the party that pledged itself to free soil, free men, free labor. It's because of what he represented as the presidential candidate of the Republican party, after all, that the Southern states begin to secede in the first place. And certainly Lincoln spoke up time and again against these evils, these moral evils, as represented by the institution of slavery.

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