Abraham Lincoln History Essay Example
All people have not always acknowledged the fact that all human beings are equal. For a long time people treated others like property and hence enslaved them. Slavery denied people all their rights, starting from the basic rights such as natural rights to the other rights such as civil, political and even social rights. The abolishment of slavery restored those rights in relation to the former slaves though not all of them at once.
Natural rights also called human rights by some scholars are the rights that a person is entitled to when they are born. These rights are available equally to all people and are bestowed by God. It means that no legal or political system and no individual have the right to take them away from the individual. The natural rights include; the right to life as from the birth of an individual he or she has the right to live and no one should take that away from them. The right to liberty or freedom means that all individuals have the right to live as they wish; no one should dictate to another how to live as long as it does not interfere with their right to life and follows the public’s best interests. The other natural right is the right to own property and pursue happiness (Hopkinson, 2006). People should be allowed to own property that they have earned by working for or receiving as gifts or presents and they should live their lives in a manner that makes them happy.
Civil rights are the rights accorded to a person by the government through the Constitution that gives them several liberties. The liberties include; the right to assemble, the freedom of speech, the right to a fair trial when arrested, protection from being maltreated by the government in case of arrests through unfair and uncouth interrogation practices, the right to privacy and the right that protects the individual from discrimination on the basis of gender, race, religion, place of origin or the person’s ethnicity (Simpson, 1998).
Political rights are the rights accorded to citizens by the government and the Constitution that enable them to participate in the establishment and running of the government including the conduct of the people running the government. The major political right accorded to people is the right to vote. Political rights are considered to require higher intellectual capacity to handle than the other rights and are hence given to or reserved for the adult members of the community (Hopkinson, 2006). Social rights are the rights of a person to deserve improving the quality of life that he or she has. They complement the other rights and meet the needs of individuals. These rights include; the right to housing, the right to receive an education, the right to receive proper healthcare, the right to have access to high-quality food, the right to work so as to earn a living and the right to receive social service benefits.
Abraham Lincoln is known as the father of emancipation as he achieved the abolishment of slavery in America. His views on slavery were not fixed and kept changing from time to time during his lifetime. At the time he spoke in Springfield Illinois he believed that African Americans ought to be granted natural rights but not civil, political or social rights. Discussed below is the essence of his beliefs (Hopkinson, 2006).
Lincoln believed and adhered to the American Constitution and adored the declaration of independence. The above reasons formed his basis for the first reason why he thought that Africans in America required civil rights. The declaration of independence states that “All men were created equal” (Gates & Yacovone, 2009, p. 95) and Lincoln considered it a significant reason to grant natural rights to the Africans in America. He believed that the statement that all men are equal is right, and so all men must enjoy some equal rights irrespective of their color. He argued that those saying that the African Americans were not included in the declaration simply because they were not mentioned was wrong as the declaration also did not mention the Russians and yet in America they enjoyed all the rights like all other Americans (Gates & Yacovone, 2009, p. 99). These rights are the rights to life, freedom and owning property. He believed that these rights should not be taken away from the individual. To accord the African American the right to life, liberty and owning property one would have to abolish slavery as slaves were not masters of their own lives, worked for their owners and not for themselves and could not own property. He however believed that the equality was extended only to natural rights believing that the white person was intellectually superior to the African American and hence could enjoy the other rights (Guelzo, 2004).
Lincoln also believed that the slaves ought to be awarded their natural rights and hence freedom to prevent the amalgamation of the races. He believed that freeing the slaves would prevent the amalgamation in two ways. First, he observed that ninety percent of the mixed race children resulted from slavery so that the African girls were kept as concubines for their masters and therefore did not have a choice in the matter. He believed that “there were enough white men to marry all the white women and enough black men to marry all the black women” (Gates & Yacovone, 2009, p. 93) and hence there was a lower chance of giving rise to mixed race children if the African American people were free. He also believed that with the black people free, they could be totally separated from the white people and hence prevent the amalgamation of the races. He also believed that the slaves should be given their natural rights and hence be freed to facilitate colonization.
Politicians normally have ideologies that they stand for. In their careers they aim at achieving a desired level of political success to be able to implement policies that will make these ideologies real and active. The ideas they have are sometimes revolutionary and they may face resistance. This was the case with Abraham Lincoln. Throughout his political career Lincoln was eager to prevent two things from happening (Foner, 2010). First, he was eager to prevent the split of the union. Lincoln believed that it was ideal and most promising for the United States to exist as “one consolidated empire” and therefore tried to ensure that more states were included in the union instead of some of them seceding. He was ready to tolerate slavery and he considered it “monstrous” only for the benefit of the union. Later on in his career Lincoln was eager to prevent slavery from being nationalized. He was of the opinion that it ought to be abolished by giving the African Americans their natural rights as human beings. He succeeded in both maintaining the union as one country and issuing the emancipation declaration thereby abolishing slavery.
President Abraham Lincoln knew that the constitution did not allow the federal government and the President to change the slavery laws. To support the emancipation declaration he justified it based on several reasons; first, he quoted the declaration of independence as opposed to the Constitution (Simpson, 1998). The declaration of independence stated that all men were equal and this formed the basis of Lincoln’s argument for the emancipation of African Americans. He said that extending slavery was “criticizing the Declaration of Independence and insisting that there is no right principle of action but self-interest” (Gates & Yacovone, 2009, p. 130). He argued that continued slavery made America hypocritical and insincere in its fight for justice and freedom.
Secondly, to justify the emancipation proclamation, he says that he introduced it as the “Commander in chief of the armed forces and the navy of the United States” and not as a President (Gates & Yacovone, 2009, p. 160). The proclamation of emancipation is hence a war time decision as opposed to a peace time one. According to the Constitution, only the Congress had the power to abolish slavery or change the laws governing it. As a President he could not therefore alter this laws, a position that he voiced several times saying that “he took an oath to protect the presidency and the Constitution and that he was not going to use the powers accorded to him by the oath to break the Constitution” (Gates & Yacovone, 2009, p. 133). He therefore waited until the time of war when the union was at stake and implemented the Habeas Corpus and then declared the emancipation as a commander in chief, the proclamation then was a war strategy, not a constitutional one. It was a war strategy because it was aimed at cutting the numbers of the seceding states fighting units; they had employed the African Americans to support their war, and therefore help the union to win the war, as the union of the states was the major objective and the proclamation of the emancipation was acceptable (Foner, 2010).
Lincoln justified his proclamation of the emancipation by saying that it was aimed at protecting the Constitution of the United States. He believed that the Constitution was supreme at all times except when it was threatened. In that case he believed that no measure was too extreme to protect it, and it could be altered or gone against so as to protect justice and the nation. He used the allegory of the limb being severed to save a life as an appropriate justification. The confederacy of the South that wanted to secede were revolting directly against the elected government of the United States and hence threatening the union of the nation. He believed that the emancipation would stop this secession and hence it had to be effected. The nation was more valuable than a few laws (Guelzo, 2004). He said that the Constitution cannot prohibit the salvation of a nation.
Lincoln also justified the proclamation of emancipation despite not having the constitutional power to do so by quoting the constitution. People of the South often used the Constitution to justify slavery, especially the clauses on the recovery of slaves and liberty to own property without interference from the state. He declared the African Americans emancipated on the basis that their property was seized during a war. Such property he believed belonged to the captors. He goes on further saying that in war each party acts according to its own self-interest to win the war. The emancipation was in the interest of the union so that it considerably weakened the confederacy of the states. Hence it was right as it was a war issue.
To justify the emancipation Lincoln used the fact that the African American soldiers had fought for the union; this proved many people who doubted their humanity that they were indeed people and should therefore have access to at least their natural rights; this softened the stance of many hardliners making the emancipation an amiable decision. They understood that they were people as they fought for what they believed in, the union and also their freedom and hence proved their humanity to their doubters (Foner, 2010).
Abraham Lincoln is a controversial figure. This is because many of his actions were counterintuitive. The major subject in which he constantly contradicted himself was the issue of slavery and race relations. He often stated clearly that all men were equal and hence advocated for the natural rights of the African American but at the same time he went on saying that he, and any other white men for instance, was superior to all African American men (Simpson, 1998). One of the instances in which he made his point very clear was when he called for and addressed a few educated African American men on the issue of resettling African Americans in Central America for colonization. He had various interests in advocating for colonization of the African Americans and it elicited several reactions as discussed below.
Lincoln believed that the racial differences that existed between the white Americans and the African Americans were so prominent that it prevented both races from living in peace. He claims that the civil war is a result of the African Americans’ initiative, going on to claim that “without the institution of slavery and the colored race as a basis, the war could not have an existence” (Gates & Yacovone, 2009, 237). He therefore concludes that to end the suffering the races should not live together, hence pushing for the colonization of the African Americans in Central America (Guelzo, 2004). He claims that the Africans have suffered living with the white men obviously through slavery and also asserts that it is painful for the white men to live with the African Americans.
Lincoln further asserts that slavery is wrong, and that even free African American men are not equal to the white men. As it is his belief that every man desires to be treated equally to those around him, he proposes that the African Americans should move to a land where they will enjoy such treatment even though they will be colonized. He goes on asking the free African Americans to sacrifice their happiness and comfort for the members of their race who are still enslaved. He believes that the only way the African Americans can achieve equity is by living away from the white men. He wants to create a slavery free society not by abolishing slavery, but by moving the slaves away from their masters (Foner, 2010).
From his speech we realize that Lincoln does not consider African Americans natives of America. He considers them foreigners despite their living on the continent for years. He suggests that he has found a place whose climate is like that of their home clearly referring to Africa (Gates & Yacovone, 2009, p. 238). He thinks he is helping the African Americans because he asks them to move from their settlements to a new land and he sites that the new land is closer than Liberia and that it has an already thriving coal industry which eases their process of settling as they will have jobs hence a means of earning their living. He is clearly deputizing them as he seems to think he has the right to decide what is best for them. One can therefore argue that Lincoln did not fight for the abolishment of slavery, but for the union of the nation, while the abolishment of slavery was just a goal achieved in the process of forging a united nation (Hopkinson, 2006).
Lincoln also advocated for colonization for economic reasons (Gates & Yacovone, 2009, p. 240). People were afraid that the free African Americans would pose a challenge to white labor as well as white laborers. Lincoln argued that labor was like any other good in the market affected by factors of demand and supply. Freeing the African Americans, he argued, would not increase their number and hence their labor. But by colonizing them to another country, their number would decrease, hence increasing the demand for white labor and therefore the price for white labor would rise in addition to increased employment opportunities (Foner, 2010).
Lincoln also believed that colonization would prevent any further wars in America. This is evident when he claims that the civil war was a result of slavery and the racial differences in America. He therefore believes that if only the white people remained in America, there would be no war in the future. The only way he believes he can achieve an all-white America is by colonizing the African Americans to new lands and therefore creating a permanent separation between the two races. In his desire to achieve lasting peace, he plans to discriminate the “inferior” race. His suggestions elicited various responses (Guelzo, 2004). A few people supported it, but most of the people fighting for the abolishment of slavery criticized it. Fredrick Douglass, a famous African American who fought for the rights of the African Americans in the nineteenth century, said that Lincoln was fond of ridiculing himself; in another critic of the plan William Garrison stated that the slaves just like their masters were natives of the land. Politicians such as Senator John Hale of New Hampshire said that Lincoln’s idea was the most absurd idea ever conceived by man. The idea eventually came to an end with the proclamation of independence. It disadvantaged a few African American people who had sold their property in readiness to move to new lands.
Abraham Lincoln insisted that the war was to preserve the union and not to end slavery for various reasons. First, he wanted to maintain the loyalty of the states in the South that had not seceded. If he had made it out to be a war to end slavery from the outset, he would have lost their loyalty as they like all other southern states advocated for nationalization of slavery. Slaves generated a lot of money for their masters, as they were the main source of labor and losing them would have hurt the economies of these states. Lincoln also insisted that the fight was for the union and not for the salves to ensure he got both legal, financial, and physical backing for the war from the whites in the North (Foner, 2010). This was so as these people had no interest in fighting for the slaves or their rights. If they thought the war was for the freedom of the slaves, they would not have enlisted and the North and hence the union would have lost. To enhance this point Lincoln did not allow any African American men to enlist in the army and therefore reassured the white northerners that he was protecting their racial superiority. The African Americans enlisted when it was realized that to win the war they needed their participation (Simpson, 1998).
Abraham Lincoln also said that the war was for the union as in fighting for the freedom of slaves he was defending the values such as liberty, the rule of democracy and all other virtues enshrined in the Constitution of the United States that the seceding states were rejecting. He went to war to ensure that these states did not succeed in seceding and therefore preserve the union (Guelzo, 2004). He said that freeing the slaves was not an objective of the war. In his letter to Horace Greenly he says all he wants is to save the union with or without freeing all the slaves. (Gates & Yacovone, 2009, p. 242). According to the American Constitution there was no provision that prevented the states from seceding. This was so because when they came together after revolting against Britain, they agreed that they were sovereign states who came together in terms of friendship and worked together towards achieving a common goal. However this was against the spirit of the American Constitution as it was built on the working together as one of the states. It would go against the wishes of the founding fathers of the nation and the framers of the Constitution (Hopkinson, 2006).
If Lincoln had allowed the confederation of states to secede, it is unlikely to have prevented the war. It would have merely postponed it. This is so because they would be neighboring countries with different ideologies. The South propagated for the spread of slavery, while the North was against slavery. At some point in time, their interests would have clashed leading to the breaking out of the war. Secession could not prevent the war because in the south there were people who supported the North’s cause of emancipation of African American people and would have likely revolted (Foner, 2010). These people were loyalists to the union as shown by the strikes that spread in the South during the Civil War. A similar chain of events was liable to occur in the North as there were people who did not support Lincoln’s plan of action. These factions may have tried to communicate with the opposing sides of the conflict and this would have led to the Civil War.
Abraham Lincoln lived during the time when many changes were taking place in the society. His actions changed the course of the American history. He did not always act in good faith but he helped establish a strong, independent and united nation that is the United States of America today. From the Civil War, we can learn important things. Key issue among them is the equality of all Americans. It led to the proclamation of emancipation which although did not bestow equality to African Americans who served as a stepping stone that led to the free, independent democratic state that we have today.