Mike RobinsonSeptember 24, 2012Consistently LincolnAntebellum America lead to one of the most politically fractured time periods of American history. As divisions over slavery accelerated in the 1850s, it became increasingly apparent that pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions had developed. This factionalization became increasingly pronounced so that by the 1850’s, slaveholders and non-slaveholders were fighting a brush war in “Bleeding Kansas.” Before then even, Abraham Lincoln was keen to prevent the spread of slavery to the territories. The necessity of preventing the growth of slavery was reflected in a growing militarization in his political beliefs. Lincoln was quick to note that though he viewed slavery itself as constitutionally protected, the attempts of southern slaveholders and their political allies to spread slavery throughout the entire United States had a destabilizing effect on the country as a whole. Lincoln’s views on race and slavery as well as his political goals remained remarkably consistent throughout his career. He attempted to use the power of his public office to strike any blows he could against slavery, an institution Lincoln recognized the majority of Americans felt fell within constitutional parameters.Sean Wilentz provides a clear voice explaining Lincoln’s position, “...his political cunning was his strength, not a corrupting weakness. Pure-hearted radicals did not manipulate him into nobility as much as he manipulated them to suit his own political aims... to save the Union and insure that freedom, and not slavery, would prevail in the struggle of the house divided.” 1The Lincoln that Wilentz describes is a political 1Sean WIlentz, “Who Lincoln Was,” The New Republic, July 15th, 2009, 26.
tactician. Lincoln was willing to make short term sacrifices for long term gain. Henry Louis Gates makes this clear in his preface to Lincoln’s “Speech at Bloomington, Illinois.” Gates reported that Lincoln defended the Fugitive Slave Act due to it being a necessary provision of the Compromise of 1850.2An agreement that Lincoln saw as vital to keeping slavery out of the unorganized territories.Lincoln himself provides an even more eloquent description of his pre-Civil War beliefs regarding slavery. At a political rally in Springfield, Illinois, in July, of 1858 Lincoln stated:...Although I have never been opposed to slavery, so far I rested in the hope and belief that it was in course of ultimate extinction... I became convinced that either I had been resting in a delusion, or the institution was being placed on a new basis- a basis for making it perpetual, national and universal... So believing, I have thought the public mind will never rest till the power of Congress to restrict the spread of it, shall again be acknowledged and exercised on the one hand, or on the other, all resistance be entirely crushed out.” 3Here Lincoln very clearly lays out that his change of opinion regarding slavery was