The Real Motivation of the Civil War

The Civil War did not begin as a war of

emancipation. Nor did it, in the beginning seek to

change the institution of slavery where it existed.

Instead the stated goal of the Civil War was to restore

the Union, slavery and all. The reason for this approach

was more practical than ideological. ”My paramount

object in this struggle is to save the Union and is not

either to save or destroy slavery” (Bailey et al. 461).

Lincoln of course had been for the restriction of

slavery. His campaign for the United States Senate seat

from Illinois was based upon the principle that a house

divided against itself could not forever stand.

Therefore, it was a matter of great concern to the

southern and border slave holding states, that he was

elected as the sixteenth President of the United States.

Lincoln recognized that if the Union was to be

preserved he had to convince so called, “border states”

that they should not leave. In the days following his

election, he centered his argument against secession on

the basis that, the states having joined the Union, and

ratifying the constitution, could not withdraw from this

solemn compact.

In fact, in Lincoln’s Inaugural address he

converted the oath of office from a pledge to, “protect,

defend, and preserve the constitution,” to a pledge to

protect, defend, and preserve the Union.” Lincoln

therefore, interpreted the union of states as

indissoluble on the basis of his oath of office.(Safire


It was this position along with careful moves that

preserved the Union in the border states. In Missouri

federal troops occupied the capital before a bill of

secession could be voted upon. In Maryland the

Legislature was disband before it could secede.

Therefore, even though 13 southern states withdrew, 27

states remained (Fepperson 1).

However, by the Summer of 1862, the war had been

going on for over 18 months, and there was no sign of

peace or victory in sight. Originally, conceived as an

inducement to the southern states to rejoin the Union,

Lincoln made his proclamation effective only in states

in rebellion against the Union. On July 22, 1862,

Lincoln informed his cabinet that he intended to free

the slaves that were in active rebellion (MSN).

“ I do order and declare that all persons held as

slaves within said designated slave states, and parts of

states are and henceforth shall be free...” (Lincoln).

The emancipation proclamation declared . The final

proclamation issues on January 11, 1863 freed the slaves

only in the states that had rebelled: Arkansas, Texas,

Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina,

North Carolina, and parts of Louisiana and Virginia.

The reason for the proclamation may have stemmed

the desire to keep Britain and France out of the war.

Since both countries had abolished slavery they could

not enter a war that had as its central issue the end or

perpetuation of slavery.

However, the more likely explanation of the issuing

of the proclamation was Lincoln’s belief that he had to

convert the wars aim beyond maintaining the status quo.

The North had decidedly become anti-slavery since the

wars beginning. Many states had passed their own

anti-slavery laws. Therefore, when Lincoln announced

the proclamation he was attempting to get out in front

of popular opinion and not lose his ability to see the

war to a successful conclusion and

Category: History