The Sixteenth President of the United States of America
Series on Presidential Slavery
Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809, in Hardin County, Kentucky. His family attended a Baptist church, which had strict moral standards and opposed alcohol, dancing, and slavery. The family moved north across the Ohio River to Indiana, where slavery was not allowed, and made a new start in then Perry, now Spencer County, Indiana. Lincoln later noted that this move was “partly on account of slavery” but mainly due to land title difficulties.
Slavery in Illinois existed for more than a century. While Illinois’ first state constitution in 1818 stated that slavery shall not be “thereafter introduced”, slavery was still tolerated in the early years of Illinois statehood. However, Illinois voters in 1824 rejected a proposal for a new constitutional convention that could have made slavery legal outright. Nevertheless, legislation led to one of the most restrictive Black Code systems in the nation until the American Civil War. The Illinois Black Code of 1853 prohibited any Black persons from outside of the state from staying in the state for more than ten days, subjecting Black emigrants who remain beyond the ten days to arrest, detention, a $50 fine, or deportation. The Code was repealed in early 1865, the same year that the Civil War ended. At that time, Illinois also became the first state to ratify the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which abolished slavery nationally.
Abraham Lincoln’s position on slavery is one of the most discussed aspects of his life. Lincoln often expressed moral opposition to slavery in public and private. “If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong”, he stated in a now-famous quote. “I cannot remember when I did not so think, and feel.” However, the question of what to do about it and how to end it given that it was so firmly embedded in the nation’s constitutional framework and in the economy of much of the country was complex and politically challenging.
As early as the 1850s, Lincoln was attacked as an abolitionist. But while many abolitionists emphasized the sinfulness of individual owners, Lincoln did not. Lincoln was married to Mary Todd Lincoln, the daughter of a slave owner from Kentucky. While William Lloyd Garrison in The Liberator newspaper and a small but growing group of abolitionists called for total, immediate abolition of slavery, Lincoln instead focused on the goal of preventing the creation of new slave states and specifically blocking the expansion of slavery into the new Western territories.
Lincoln, with partial compensation to owners, ended slavery in the District of Columbia in 1862; the abolitionist goal became possible after decades with the departure of the southern members of Congress at the beginning of the American Civil War. In 1862 slavery was abolished in Washington, D.C., and in an effort to keep the local slave owners loyal to the Union Abraham Lincoln’s administration offered to pay $300 each in compensation.
His plan was to halt the spread of slavery, and to offer monetary compensation to slave-owners in states that agreed to end slavery. The slave owner received payment for their loss. He was considered a moderate within a Republican party that, nevertheless, took the radical position that slavery should be put on a course of “ultimate extinction” with the help of the federal government.
When Lincoln accepted the nomination for the Union party for President in June, 1864, he called for the first time for the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, to immediately abolish slavery and involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime. He wrote in his letter of acceptance that “it would make a fitting and necessary conclusion” to the war and would permanently join the causes of “Liberty and Union.” He won re-election on this platform in November, and in December, 1864, Lincoln worked to have the House approve the amendment.
When the House passed the 13th amendment on January 31, 1865, Lincoln signed the amendment, although this was not a legal requirement, and said in a speech the next day, “He thought all would bear him witness that he had never shrunk from doing all that he could to eradicate slavery by issuing an emancipation proclamation.” He pointed out that the emancipation proclamation did not complete the task of eradicating slavery; “But this amendment is a King’s cure for all the evils of slavery.”
The thirteenth amendment to abolish slavery, which Lincoln ultimately sent to the states, provided no compensation but earlier in his presidency, Lincoln made numerous proposals for “compensated emancipation” in the loyal Border States whereby the federal government would purchase all of the slaves and free them. No state government acted on the proposal.
President Lincoln advocated that slave owners be compensated for emancipated slaves. On March 6, 1862 President Lincoln, in a message to the U.S. Congress, stated that emancipating slaves would create economic “inconveniences” and justified compensation to the slave owners. The resolution was adopted by Congress; however, the Southern states refused to comply. On July 12, 1862 President Lincoln, in a conference with Congressmen from Kentucky, Maryland, Delaware, and Missouri, encouraged their respective states to adopt emancipation legislation that gave compensation to the slave owners. On July 14, 1862 President Lincoln sent a bill to Congress that allowed the Treasury to issue bonds at 6% interest to states for slave emancipation compensation to the slave owners. The bill was never voted on by Congress.
As late as the Hampton Roads Conference in 1865, Lincoln met with Confederate leaders and proposed a “fair indemnity”, possibly $500,000,000, in compensation for emancipated slaves.
Lincoln proposed Colonization of freed slaves was long seen by many as an answer to the problem of slavery. One of President Abraham Lincoln’s policies during his administration was the voluntary colonization of African American freedmen; he firmly opposed compulsory colonization, full citation needed and in one instance ordered the Secretary of War to bring some colonized blacks back to the United States.
The Pre-Emancipation Proclamation offered support for the colonization of free blacks outside of the United States. Known as the “lullaby” theory is that Lincoln adopted colonization for Freedmen in order to make his Emancipation Proclamation politically acceptable.
Did this President not want the black people in America? President Lincoln supported colonization during the Civil War as a sensible answer for the newly freed slaves. At his urging, Congress included text in the Confiscation Act of 1862 indicating support for Presidential authority to re-colonize consenting African Americans. With this authorization, Lincoln created an agency to direct his colonization projects. At the suggestion of Lincoln, in 1862, Congress appointed $600,000 to fund and created the Bureau of Emigration in the U.S. Department of the Interior.
President Lincoln first proposed a Panama colony for blacks in October 1861. Several hundred acres of Chiriquí Province in Panama had in 1855 been granted to the Chiriquí Improvement Company for coal mining. The Company supplied the US Navy with half-price coal during the war, but required more workers. Congress gravitated towards this plan in mid-1862, and Lincoln appointed Kansas Senator Samuel Pomeroy to oversee it. Pomeroy promised 40 acres and a job to willing blacks, and chose 500 of 13,700 who applied. Lincoln signed a contract with businessman Ambrose W. Thompson, the owner of the land, and made plans to send tens of thousands of African Americans. Pomeroy secured $25,000 from Congress to pay for transportation and equipment.
In December 1862, Lincoln signed a contract with businessman Bernard Kock to establish a colony on the Ile à Vache, an island of Haiti. 453 freed slaves departed for the island from Fort Monroe, Virginia. A government investigation had deemed Kock untrustworthy, and Secretary of State William Seward stopped the plan from going forward after learning of Kock’s involvement.
In addition to Panama and Haiti, Mitchell’s office also oversaw attempts at colonization in British Honduras and elsewhere in the British West Indies. Lincoln believed that by dealing with the comparatively stable British Government, he could avoid some of the problems that plagued his earlier attempts at colonization with private interests.
He signed an agreement on June 13, 1863, with John Hodge of British Honduras that authorized colonial agents to recruit ex-slaves and transport them to Belize from approved ports in Philadelphia, New York City, and Boston. Later that year the Department of the Interior sent John Willis Menard, a free African-American clerk who supported colonization, to investigate the site for the government. British authorities pulled out of the agreement in December, fearing it would disrupt their position of neutrality in the Civil War. No ex-slaves were resettled there. It has been suggested that General Benjamin F. Butler claimed that Lincoln approached him in 1865 a few days before his assassination, to talk about reviving colonization in Panama.
In his second term as president, on April 11, 1865, Lincoln gave a speech in which, for the first time publicly, he promoted voting rights for blacks. John Wilkes Booth, a Southerner and outspoken Confederate sympathizer, attended the speech and became determined to kill Lincoln for supporting citizenship for blacks. Booth is reported to have remarked: “That is the last speech he will make.”
On Lincoln’s death, Vice President Andrew Johnson became president, and was sworn in by Chief Justice Salmon Chase between 10 and 11 a.m.
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