Abraham Lincoln, Constitutionalism, and Equal Rights in the Civil War Era

By Herman Belz | Go to book overview

4
Protection of Personal Liberty in Republican Emancipation Legislation

THE MOTIVATION OF REPUBLICAN EMANCIPATION POLICY in 1862 has been a perennial imponderable of Civil War historiography. In 1948 Richard Hofstadter gave pointed expression to what has come to be known as the revisionist view of the matter in stating that Lincoln adopted emancipation only after all other policies failed, that he resorted to it in an unhappy frame of mind, and that the Emancipation Proclamation "had all the moral grandeur of a bill of lading." "It contained no indictment of slavery," Hofstadter wrote, "but simply based emancipation on 'military necessity.'"1 In 1963, believing that a good point had been carried too far, Mark M. Krug contended that Lincoln undertook emancipation not just for military reasons but also to right a moral wrong. Krug advanced this conclusion as a reasonable inference based on Lincoln's expressions of hatred for slavery and on the judgment of contemporaries that moral conviction sustained the emancipation edict.2 Similarly, Harry V. Jaffa, viewing Lincoln's career as a consistent whole, the rationale of which was to remove the curse of slavery from the American republic and from both the black and the white races, concluded in 1965 that Lincoln deserved to be regarded, as he traditionally had been, as the great emancipator.3

Something of a fusion of the revisionist and traditionalist interpre-

____________________
An earlier version of this chapter appeared in The Journal of Southern History, 42, No. 3 ( August 1976), 385-400.
1
Richard Hofstadter, The American Political Tradition and the Men Who Made It ( New York: Vintage, 1954), p. 132.
2
Mark M. Krug, "The Republican Party and the Emancipation Proclamation," Journal of Negro History, 48 ( April 1963), 98-114.
3
Harry V. Jaffa, Equality and Liberty: Theory and Practice in American Politics ( New York: Oxford University Press, 1965), pp. 140-68.

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