I can conceive of no greater calamity than the assimilation of the Negro into our social and political life as our equal.
Attributed to ABRAHAM LINCOLN.
Before the American Civil War and even on the war’s early stages Lincoln said that the Constitution prohibited the federal government from abolishing slavery in states where it already existed. His position and the position of the Republican Party in 1860 was that slavery should not be allowed to expand into any more territories, and thus all future states admitted to the Union would be free states.
The 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act, written to form the territories of Kansas and Nebraska, included language, designed by Stephen A. Douglas, which allowed the settlers to decide whether they would or would not accept slavery in their region. Lincoln saw this as a repeal of the 1820 Missouri Compromise which had outlawed slavery above the 36-30′ parallel.
During the war he used the war powers of the presidency to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared “all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free” but exempted border states and those areas of slave states already under Union control.
As late as February 1865 he offered to pay the owners for the emancipated slaves; the buyout offers were rejected. (In the District of Columbia the slaves were purchased and freed.) It has been argued that by making a declaration only about territories he did not control, as a practical matter, he did not free a single slave. Slaves that had escaped to the Union side were, however, immediately freed – as were millions more as areas came under Union control.
In 1842 Lincoln had married into a prominent Kentucky family of slaveowners. (His brothers-in-law would later support the Confederacy.) Lincoln returned to the political stage as a result of the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act and soon became a leading opponent of the Slave Power–that is the political power of the southern slave owners. Before 1861 he also opposed the abolitionists.
Lincoln stated that Negroes had the rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” in the first of the Lincoln-Douglas debates. Total equality was another matter. He did not say they had a right to complete equality with white American citizens.