How far do the sources support the idea that Abrham Lincoln was not committed to racial equality?
Part A:


Abraham Lincoln is revered by Americans as one of their greatest presidents and the liberator of slaves.However, historians have begun to question this status.


Source one, the ‘House-Divided’ speech was made in Springfield, Illinois and makes the point that the preservation of the Union is paramount to slavery. This could be due to Lincoln wanting to gain support from racist areas or to make the point that the Union is the only thing that matters. This source is quite ambiguous..


Another source which lacks anti-slavery conviction is Lincoln’s first Inaugural Address, March 4, 1861. He states, ‘I have no purpose, directly or indirectly to interfere with the institution of slavery”. It is hard to mistake the message in this speech and it seems that Lincoln is firmly set on preserving slavery. However, this speech would have been cautious.


Lincoln’s fourth debate with Stephen Douglas, September 18, 1858 is one of the more convincing examples of Lincoln’s stance on slavery ‘ There are physical differnces between white and black which will forbid the two races living on terms of social and political equality’(source 5).


Contradicting this is another debate with Stephen Douglas at Chicago in Illinios (July 1858). Lincoln makes frequent abolitionist points ‘Let us discard all these things, and unite as one people…we shall once more stand up declaring that all men are created equal.’ Lincoln uses a biblical reference to convey the strength of his conviction.


33,000 of 46,000 free northern slaves and 175,000 of 296,787 southern free blacks joined the Union army. These statistics do show that Lincoln may have been seen as an abolitionist and perhaps inspired free blacks, yet this may not be the case when you consider the alternative for free black people of the time.


Source 8 crudely depicts Lincoln as ‘Abraham Africanus’ crowned as a figurehead of the abolitionist movement. Although this political propaganda would have been well received by abolitionists and blacks it may not have been the true Lincoln.


When pressed to reveal his stance on the slavery question by an abolitionist in 1862 (source 4) Lincoln is reserved and pragmatic ‘ My paramount objective is to save the Union’. Soon after this he cements his anti-slavery view but he is reluctant to reveal this for public consumption in a Newspaper.


Two sources cast Lincoln in very different lights. First of these are comments by Abolitionist Wendell Phillips after 1860 election and opening speech by Douglas, 21 august 1858. Wendell sees Lincoln as a step in the right direction, but ‘hardly an antislavery man’. Contrary to this, Douglas depicts Lincoln as the epitome of abolitionary views. This shows that there wasn’t a collective opinion of Lincoln.


Abraham Lincoln is regarded a great martyr and liberator of black slaves. However, to accept such an untainted picture of Lincoln is unwise. The sources support the idea that Lincoln was a ‘pragmatic radical’- but only in the context of his time.