Retrospective endorsement of the historic achievements of Abraham Lincoln's administration—ending slavery and maintaining the integrity of the Union—has tended to overshadow misgivings about the manner in which those achievements were realized. Among Lincoln's contemporaries, however, such misgivings were rife, and they have never altogether disappeared.
On one hand, emancipation came about through a proclamation, “warranted by the Constitution upon military necessity,” that, to cite Richard Hofstadter's well-known description, “had all the moral grandeur of a bill of lading.” Frederick Douglass was even more pointed when he said of the Emancipation Proclamation, a year after its issuance, “I have applauded that paper and do now applaud it, as a wise measure—while I detest the motive and principle upon which it is based. By it the holding and flogging of Negroes is the exclusive luxury of loyal men.” Lincoln could exempt the people of the loyal slave states from his proclamation because it was directed not at slaveholders as such, but at rebels.1
On the other hand, conservative Unionists worried that Lincoln had freighted the cause of restoring the constitutional authority of the federal government with an unnecessary and dangerous moral commitment. “And now … in such a crisis as this—must the question of the