A record crowd greeted Dr. W. Caleb McDaniel, Assistant History Professor at Rice University, for his presentation on Abraham Lincoln this past Wednesday. Contrary to what schoolchildren across the country have been taught in history class, Dr. McDaniel revealed to the audience that President Lincoln had in fact been very reluctant to address the issue of emancipation of slaves during the Civil War. In an 1862 letter to Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, Lincoln asserted that preserving the Union at all costs was his only concern: “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery.” Lincoln believed that abolishing slavery would only aggravate the southern border states, tipping the balance in favor of the Confederate rebellion. He also believed that the U.S. constitution did not afford him the right, as President, to declare freedom for all slaves. Further, Lincoln questioned the practicality of assimilating freed slaves into American society and compensating southern slave owners for their loss.
Ultimately, it took progressive acts of Congress and leadership from Lincoln’s own military officers to realize change. In July of 1862, Congress passed the Second Confiscation Act, which declared that any slaves encountered by Union forces would be considered free. The Emancipation Proclamation, borrowing much of the same language from Congress, was signed by Lincoln on January 1, 1863. The Proclamation served to seal the fate of the Confederacy and ensure that slavery would not survive the war. In an ironic twist, Dr. McDaniel concluded his riveting presentation with a rare archival photograph depicting African American soldiers standing guard during Lincoln’s second presidential inauguration ceremony.
Wednesday’s program was part of the American Library Association’s traveling exhibit entitled “Lincoln: The Constitution and the Civil War” on display at LSC-CyFair until February 17. For more information on upcoming events from this series, please visit the library’s website: http://lonestar.edu/library/lincoln.htm.
View the Civil War in Four Minutes at http://multimedialearning.com/the-civil-war-in-four-minutes/