Abraham Lincoln and a New Birth of Freedom: The Union and Slavery in the Diplomacy of the Civil War

By Howard Jones | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOUR
Emancipation by the Sword? Race War and Antietam as Catalysts to Intervention

This government cannot much longer play a game in which it stakes all, and its enemies stake nothing. Those enemies must understand that they cannot experiment for ten years trying to destroy the government, and if they fail still come back into the Union unhurt.

President Abraham Lincoln, July 31, 1862

I concede that emancipation would help us in Europe, and convince them that we are incited by something more than ambition.

President Abraham Lincoln, September 31, 1862

About a week after Lincoln broached the subject of emancipation to Seward and Welles, the British chargé in Washington, William Stuart, informed his home office that the White House had changed its wartime objective to abolition and was now ready to instigate a slave insurrection in a desperate effort to win the war. Stuart was wrong about the administration's new direction in the war and wrong in his interpretations of Lincoln's method and purpose. Lincoln had not joined the abolitionist camp, nor had he decided to incite slave rebellions. Stuart did not grasp that the president's antislavery stand had become crucial to his paramount goal of preserving the Union. And Stuart had mistakenly equated emancipation with abolition, failing to realize that Lincoln's view of emancipation entailed the establishment of black freedom in areas dominated by rebels and the continued existence of slavery in regions under loyalist control. These fundamental and all-important distinctions eluded Stuart's thinking, leading him to send exaggerated, emotional responses to London that encouraged Russell and fellow interventionists to fear the worst. The president, Stuart asserted, intended to use emancipation in a final, apocalyptic campaign aimed at stirring up the slaves and destroying the South from within.1

In fairness to Stuart, his interpretation of Lincoln's intentions had not totally distorted the truth: the president recognized that even his limited form

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