Lincoln's Proclamation: Emancipation Reconsidered

By William A. Blair; Karen Fisher Younger | Go to book overview

Slaves, Servants, and Soldiers
Uneven Paths to Freedom in the Border States, 1861–1865

LOUIS GERTEIS

Secession defined the border states. In the immediate aftermath of Lincoln’s election, South Carolina, followed by Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas, declared themselves out of the United States and created a new central government, the Confederate States of America. Abraham Lincoln took office as President of the United States of America in the midst of this secession crisis and promised all loyal citizens, and particularly slaveholders, the full protection of the federal government. In his inaugural address of March 4, 1861, Lincoln assured Americans that “the property, peace, and security of no section are to be in any wise endangered by the now incoming Administration.” To this pledge, Lincoln added his endorsement of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850. Although the president promised stability and security for slave property, he acknowledged key difficulties in this arena when he suggested the need for legislation to insure “that a free man be not in any case surrendered as a slave.” Lincoln also suggested the need for congressional legislation to enforce the privileges and immunities clause of the Constitution. Clearly, the new Republican administration could not ignore conflicts associated with the enforcement of the federal Fugitive Slave Law and the controversial Supreme Court decision in the Dred Scott case, both of which inflamed northern public opinion. But, Lincoln made his central point plain: his administration would protect the “property… peace and personal security” of the “people of the Southern States.”1

Within weeks, Lincoln’s hopes for peacefully restoring the Union were dashed. In April 1861, Confederate forces attacked the federal garrison at Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor and the secession crisis became a war of rebellion. Lincoln’s call to the states to send troops to support the national government led to secession in the Upper South, as Virginia,

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