History Optional Paper-2 Solution – 1986: Q.5 (c)
Q. 5 (c) “If I could save the Union without freeing-any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that.”. Comment.
During American Civil War, abolitionists in the North United States had long been urging President Lincoln to free all slaves. In 1862, Republican editor Greeley of the highly influential New York Tribune wrote a famous editorial entitled “The Prayer of Twenty Millions” demanding a more aggressive attack on the Southern Confederacy and faster emancipation of the slaves. Lincoln responded in his letter to Horace Greeley by writing:
“If I could save the Union without freeing-any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that.”
The above statement of Lincoln was made due to the following reasons
(1) Lincoln considered his duty as the President was to save the Union first and abolition of slavery as a secondary matter. He consistently made preserving the Union the central goal of the war, though he increasingly saw slavery as a crucial issue.
(2) Most of the Southerners saw themselves as fighting in the Civil War to preserve slavery. To Northerners, in contrast, the motivation was primarily to preserve the Union, not to abolish slavery.
(3) There were several factions (such as Northern Democrats) in Northern United States who were against civil war, wanted the union to be united but also opposed abolition of slavery.
Though Republicans were dead against slavery, their priority was also to save the union first.
Lincoln’s statement was aimed at maintaining balance between these different factions in the Northern United States, so that confederacy could be defeated.
Hence, even though sectional conflicts over slavery had been a major cause of the war, ending slavery was not a goal of the war. Though that changed on September 22, 1862, when President Lincoln issued his Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, which stated that slaves in those states or parts of states still in rebellion as of January 1, 1863, would be declared free.