Lincoln on Race and Slavery

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

54

AL to andrew Johnson:
CW, 7:149–150

After issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln put aside his colonization plans, understanding that he needed African Americans in the army. With casualty lists growing each day and Northern support for the costly war effort flagging, Lincoln concluded that by placing liberated slaves in the army, he not only would increase military manpower but would deny the South an invaluable resource it needed to conduct the war. Until late in the summer of 1862, however, he had rejected the idea of black recruitment, believing that Northern whites would not accept the move and that African Americans were largely incapable of becoming effective soldiers. He even rejected the pleas of his first secretary of war, Simon Cameron, to recruit blacks and ignored many other voices that called for black troops. But the heroism of black soldiers along the Kansas-Missouri border, in Louisiana, and along the coasts of South Carolina and north Florida proved to many Union field commanders that blacks could fight, and even public opinion, among Northerners, began to change. Sometime in August 1862, Charles Sumner gave Lincoln a copy of George Livermore's An Historical Research Respecting the Opinions of the Founders of the Republic on Negroes as Slaves, as Citizens, and as Soldiers (1862). Livermore, a Boston merchant and bibliophile, launched into an exploration of the black role in the Revolutionary War soon after the start of the war and after reading the black abolitionist William C. Nell's Colored Patriots of the American Revolution (1855). Lincoln felt so indebted to Livermore that he gave him the pen that he had used to sign the Emancipation Proclamation. When he heard a rumor that Andrew Johnson had considered raising a unit of black troops, Lincoln fired off a letter to the Tennessean. Johnson, the only Southern senator not to resign and join the rebellion, enjoyed a reputation as a great enemy of the planter class and of slavery. The image of a prominent Southerner

-270-

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