Lincoln on Race and Slavery

By Abraham Lincoln; Henry Louis Gates Jr. et al. | Go to book overview

52

Annual Message to Congress:
CW, 5:518, 520–521, 527, 529–532, 534–537

In his address to Congress on the eve of the final Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln continued to favor colonization of newly emancipated blacks. He characterized his support as motivated by calls from “many free Americans of African descent.” A minority of African Americans had been interested in colonization and in the Haytian Emigration Bureau, headed by the former John Brown supporter James Redpath. The bureau had sent some two thousand blacks to Haiti earlier in the year, but by the fall—long before Lincoln's address—black interest in removal to Haiti had effectively ended. Lincoln recognized black reluctance to resettle in Haiti and Liberia, but seemed completely unaware of the depth of black opposition to colonization. His continued expression of support for the hated scheme infuriated Northern blacks, who saw it as yet one more attempt by whites to deny black citizenship. But Lincoln also began to back away from the scheme, even chastising those whose hatred for African Americans knew no bounds. He assured working-class whites that free blacks would not deny them work: “Is it true, then, that colored people can displace any more white labor, by being free, than by remaining slaves? If they stay in their old places, they jostle no white laborers; if they leave their old places, they leave them open to white laborers.” Moreover, Lincoln hinted that the nation would need the labor of blacks, perhaps reflecting his newfound confidence—although he would not publicly say so until the final Emancipation Proclamation—that blacks could successfully serve as soldiers. With border states again in mind, Lincoln offered compensation to those states that voluntarily abandoned slavery and to loyal slaveowners who lost their property “by the chances of the war.” Attempting to comfort those who feared the impact of a large free black population, Lincoln suggested a gradual emancipation program, but one that would not be realized until 1900.

-255-

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