Emancipation, and the
Question of War Aims
THE ATTACK on Fort Sumter abruptly altered the focus of northern politics. Rather than the kind of union Americans desired, the overriding question became the survival of the Union itself. The earlier problem of the relationship of slavery to the Union did not cease to be pertinent, however, for no matter how much Republican leaders might profess the exclusive purpose of maintaining the Union, the possibility existed that military action to suppress the rebellion might result in widespread slave emancipation. Though the slavery issue might now be approached as means rather than end, its resolution remained the question of questions in American politics.
The slavery issue formed the basis not only for partisan alignment but also for factional division within the Republican party among radicals, moderates, and conservatives. The content of these distinctions of course changed over time. Before the war radicalism signified opposition to the spread of slavery and a commitment to its ultimate extinction. Once hostilities began, radicalism meant support for emancipation either as a means of suppressing the rebellion or as an end in itself. After the Emancipation Proclamation was issued in 1863, the resolution of the status and rights of the freedmen became a source of