Lincoln’s Views on Slavery and the Union

Abraham Lincoln’s views and values were influenced heavily by his upbringing. Born in Kentucky in 1809, Lincoln lost his mother when he was 9 and moved with his father (an unsuccessful farmer) to Indiana and then to Illinois. Lincoln had almost no formal schooling.

After leaving home, he took a flatboat trip down the Mississippi, worked in a store, studied law, and was elected to the state legislature at the age of 25. In 1846 he was elected to Congress, but by 1850 he had given up on politics. But as the slavery debate grew hotter, Lincoln decided to reenter the political arena in 1854 and fight the spread of slavery.

That Lincoln opposed slavery is clear.

“If slavery is not wrong, then nothing is wrong,” he once wrote. “I cannot remember when I did not so think and feel.”

But like most white Americans, he thought black Americans were inferior, and he wasn’t in favor of immediate freedom for slaves. He also didn’t think blacks and whites could live together:

“My first impulse would be to free all the slaves and send them to Liberia, to their own native land,” he once said. “But a moment’s reflection would convince me, that whatever high hope (as I think there is) there may be in this, in the long run, its sudden execution would be impossible.”

As president of the United States, Lincoln put a higher value on preserving the Union than on ending slavery:

“If I could save the Union without freeing any slaves,” he wrote, “I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that.”

He was also adamant that no states would be allowed to leave the Union without a fight:

“A husband and wife may be divorced,” he said, “but the different parts of our country cannot. . . . Intercourse, either amicable or hostile, must continue between them.”
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