1862: “Gradual Abolishment Of Slavery”


March 6, 1862

Fellow-citizens of the Senate, and House of Representatives,

I recommend the adoption of a Join Resolution by your honorable bodies which shall be substantially as follows:

“Resolved that the United States ought to co-operate with any state which may adopt gradual abolishment of slavery, giving to such state pecuniary aid, to be used by such state in it’s discretion, to compensate for the inconveniences public and private, produced by such change of system.”

…In the annual message last December, I thought fit to say “The Union must be preserved; and hence all indispensable means must be employed.” I said this, not hastily, but deliberately. War has been made, and continues to be, an indispensable means to this end. A practical re-acknowledgment of the national authority would render the war unnecessary, and it would at once cease. If, however, resistance continues, the war must also continue; and it is impossible to foresee all the incidents, which may attend and all the ruin which may follow it. Such as may seem indispensable, or may obviously promise great efficiency toward ending the struggle, must and will come.

The proposition now made, though an offer only, I hope it may be esteemed no offence to ask whether the pecuniary consideration tendered would not be of more value to the States and private persons concerned, than are the institution, and property in it, in the present aspect of affairs.

While it is true that the adoption of the proposed resolution would be merely initiatory, and not within itself a practical measure, it is recommended in the hope that it would soon lead to important practical results. In full view of my great responsibility to my God, and to my country, I earnestly get the attention of Congress and the people to the subject.

Abraham Lincoln, March 6, 1862

Abraham Lincoln

A State’s Choice

In a fascinating political move, President Lincoln recommended giving the states a choice: keep slavery or adopt gradual abolishment and get monetary aid. Again, Lincoln’s motives for this option were based on the belief that the war must end and the Union preserved, but he was looking for ways to keep the border slave states in the Union and possibly lure any rebellious state back.

He suggested that the financial aid given to the state by the federal government would be more profitable that slavery itself. Interestingly, the proposal allowed gradual emancipation which would give that state time to plan and adjust for the social and economic change; one can only wonder if the time allowed for gradual abolition would’ve benefited or further disadvantaged the newly-freed slaves. However, senators complained that it was too expensive and an unconstitutional use of federal funds.

With states rights and slavery closely tied together as causes for the secession and the war in the Southern perspective, Lincoln’s idea put the decision and choices back into the states’ hands for a short time.

A Step Closer

While Lincoln continued to maintain his position that he fought the war to preserve the Union, he began to shift toward emancipation as a positive outcome of the conflict. His suggestion to Congress reflects the new options he considered. At the beginning of March 1862, Lincoln could not be labeled “the great emancipator,” but abolition was clearly on his mind – linked to his Union war effort.

As 1862 continued to unfold, the president would take further steps toward his important decision; this message to Congress was one step in the direction of emancipation and freedom for all Americans.

Historical Musings

“The war must continue,” Lincoln says. On March 6th as the president presented his plan to Congress, General McClellan and the Army of the Potomac poised to embark and march on the Confederacy’s capital. After much discussed plans and plenty of doubtful debates, Lincoln was giving McClellan a chance to win battlefield glory.

The war would continue…and continue…and continue – much longer than McClellan, Lincoln, and most of the soldiers and civilians anticipated. It’s results, including emancipation, were still unforeseen by many at this point in 1862.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah


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