Lincoln: Slavery Irrelevant to War




Bragdon Bowling

Brag Bowling


Brag is a native Virginian who grew up in Arlington. He graduated from the University of
Richmond with a BA in History and also has a JD Degree from the University of Richmond Law School. He served as a First Lieutenant in the US Army
for two years. He worked as a staff attorney in the Virginia General Assembly for 5 years before changing careers and going into real estate,
which is his present occupation. He has served the Sons of Confederate Veterans in a variety of positions including Commander of the Virginia
Division and Adjutant-in-Chief for the national SCV. He is the director of the Stephen D. Lee Institute.

Lincoln: Slavery Irrelevant to War
President Lincoln stated repeatedly before and during the war that his paramount purpose was to prevent southern independence, or as he termed it, to "Preserve the Union."


Commentary by Bragdon Bowling
, 4/09/2012

Originally published in the Washington Post March 4, 2012.


On August 20, 1862, Horace Greeley, Editor of the New York Tribune, published a sharply critical and passionate editorial
titled "The Prayer of Twenty Millions" which took Abraham Lincoln to task for his failure to free the slaves in
Union occupied territory. Greeley, one of the nation's leading abolitionists, spoke through his newspaper as an advocate
for emancipation.


Greeley felt he spoke for the millions of Northerners who were angry at Lincoln's conduct of the war and his failure to
aggressively move forward by his halfhearted use of the Confiscation Acts. Greeley should have known better. Lincoln,
throughout his political career had steered clear of radical abolitionists like Greeley, but felt he needed to answer
the powerful editorial. He would once again make his position on the war perfectly clear. Lincoln had previously expressed
his opposition to the expansion of slavery into western territories but conversely, he actively supported the
Corwin Amendment, a measure which would permanently allow slavery in the states where it was presently legal.


On August 22, 1862, Lincoln responded in a famous open letter to Greeley and the Tribune.


My paramount object in the struggle is to save the Union, and 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 save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that.


Nobody should have been surprised by Lincoln’s letter. He had made his position known many times. His primary purpose in
conducting the war was clearly the preservation of the Union. Lincoln was peripherally interested in slavery but was quite
willing to leave it in place and allow it to die a natural death. His strong support of the Corwin Amendment which failed
only because the South had left the Union illustrates Lincoln's slavery position both pre-war and well into the war. The
Corwin Amendment would have forbidden any attempt to amend the Constitution "to abolish or interfere with the domestic
institutions of the states, including persons held to labor or service (slaves).


In Lincoln's First Inaugural Address, he said he had no objection to the Corwin Amendment being made "express and irrevocable."
It also begs the question—--if the South was seceding to keep slavery, all that was needed to avoid war and preserve the Union
would be for the Southern states to accept the Corwin Amendment. This offering did not move the South. The South fought for
a higher purpose, their political independence.


The First Inaugural Address as well as the Lincoln-Douglas debates illustrated Lincoln's constitutional limitations regarding
slavery when he stated "I have no purpose directly or indirectly of interfering with slavery in the states where it exists.
I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.
" This does not mean Lincoln was pro-slavery
but that he regarded the Constitution as a brake on abolition. His ideas on race were similar to most Americans in the 19th
century. Lincoln's solution to ending slavery was through colonization to Africa (Liberia) and throughout Central and South
America.


But on August 22, 1862, the farthest thing from Abraham Lincoln's thoughts was the ending of slavery. Preservation of the
Union
was his goal.

Brag is a native Virginian who grew up in Arlington. He graduated from the University of
Richmond with a BA in History and also has a JD Degree from the University of Richmond Law School. He served as a First Lieutenant in the US Army
for two years. He worked as a staff attorney in the Virginia General Assembly for 5 years before changing careers and going into real estate,
which is his present occupation. He has served the Sons of Confederate Veterans in a variety of positions including Commander of the Virginia
Division and Adjutant-in-Chief for the International Sons of Confederate Veterans.

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