The generalization that ending slavery was a central northern aim for the civil war is flawed, not because it isn’t true but because it is a gross simplification of the complicated political, social, and economic web that unraveled resulting in the civil war. Similarly, the same is true for the claim that Abraham Lincoln fought the war under the cause of liberty and freedom for all Americans. Although Abraham Lincoln is hailed as “the great emancipator,” the purpose of the Civil War did not shift towards freeing the slaves until later in the war when it became a necessary action in order to save the union. Rather, Lincoln’s overall aim for the Civil war was to preserve the union. Taking into account the arguments on this subject from notable historians – such as, James McPherson, Barbra Fields, and Schwieckart & Allen - it is clear that the emancipation of the slaves was a strategic move on Lincoln’s behalf in order to fulfill the primary war aim.
Soon after Lincoln is elected president in 1860, South Carolina led the way in seceding from the union. In his first inaugural address, Lincoln stressed the importance and his desire to keep the union intact. The United States, being one of the few successful experimental governments born from the enlightenment, would prove that that a nation led by the common people is not effective in comparison to traditional monarchies and such. Lincoln knew that the success of the nation depended entirely on keeping it together even through times of great discontent.
However speeches weren’t enough to prevent southern secession. As a last resort this rift in the nation, over slavery and states’ rights, had to be solved through violence. On April 12, 1861, confederate forces started off the war by firing on fort Sumter. The majority of Americans believed that the civil war was going to be a short lived conflict. Little did they know that both sides had the pride, resources, and will power to keep this conflict going. At this point, Lincoln is granted strong war powers such as the power to suspend habeas corpus and he declares martial law in Border States such as Maryland and Missouri. Furthermore at this point Lincoln focuses nearly no energy on this issue of slavery, rather he is concerned with reuniting the union and crushing the rebellion.
It wasn’t until April 16, 1862 that Lincoln started focusing on the issue of slavery when he abolished slavery in Washington D.C. Furthermore, in June of that year, Lincoln abolished slavery in all us territories. Then in September the initial emancipation proclamation draft is created. It wasn’t until halfway through the war that slavery was adopted as a central war aim, and it wasn’t until January 1, 1863 that the actual proclamation took effect.
Some historians, such as Schwieckart & Allen in their essay entitled “a patriots history of the US,” argue that was a major aim from the start just Lincoln couldn’t move until the time was right. Additionally, that the emancipation was seen by Lincoln as a moral/legal issue not a military/political issue. However, Although Lincoln had his personal sentiments about slavery; he took the role of president seriously and put the desires and needs of the union before his own personal agenda. In arguing why Lincoln took so long to adopt slavery as a primary war aim Schwieckart & Allen write: “why should they – loyal unionists – free their slaves when there was a chance that the rebels might still come back into the union and keep theirs?” however this point can be used conversely to display why Lincoln resisted emancipation at first and also Lincoln’s desire to preserve the union over the freeing of slaves. Furthermore, disagreeing with the claim that “Lincoln’s perception [the emancipation] first and foremost was a moral and legal issue, not a military or political one,” the emancipation war primarily a strategic military/political answer for union victory.
On the other hand, McPherson, in his