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

Epilogue: To Create a More Perfect Union

The moment came when I felt that slavery must die that the nation might live!

President Abraham Lincoln, 1864

At the beginning of the war, President Lincoln did not envision either the death of slavery or the profound social, political, and economic revolution that would result from its passing. But he eventually came to regard the war as a crucible for forging an improved Union whose most salient feature was the absence of slavery. Human bondage, he declared in his Second Inaugural Address, was "one of those offences which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove [through] this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offence came." Lincoln started as a reluctant revolutionary, but once the revolution had begun he became determined to finish the task by abolishing slavery. In November 1863 he tried to justify the bloodshed by delivering an address on the Gettysburg battlefield that over time has taken on a mystical aura as one of the most profound expressions of republican theory ever penned. Not until the postwar period, however, did Americans begin to grasp the universal importance of the Gettysburg Address, which highlighted the chief legacy of the Civil War as a Union more perfect because it offered a new birth of freedom based on the death of slavery.1

Even the Confederacy recognized the power afforded the Union by its move to abolition. Late in 1864, desperation hit the South, causing it to resort to a surprising and self-destructive measure: an offer to free its slaves in exchange for diplomatic recognition from England and France. Such a step demonstrated its awareness of the impact of slavery, but it also reiterated the South's continued capacity to delude itself into believing that recognition was still possible. Neither Anglo-French interest in cotton nor Napoleon's involvement in Mexico had yielded the desired result. And, to be sure, the abolition

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