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“Events Have Controlled Me”

February 13, 2019

In late 1862 and early 1863 Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.  He was reelected in November 1864.  In December 1864 he appointed as Chief Justice the man who had coined the slogan of the old Free Soil Party.  In January 1865 he worked tirelessly to get the 13th Amendment passed by the House, and in February he signed the Congressional Resolution which sent the Amendment to the states for ratification.  Lincoln’s first term was a solid record of antislavery accomplishment.

But Lincoln had not planned it that way from the start.  In his 2nd Inaugural Address he explained the previous four years by stating: “The Almighty has His own purposes.”  This sentiment was not mere rhetoric.  Lincoln knew that the Civil War had forced him to face the slavery issue in ways he had not previously imagined.  In an 1864 letter Lincoln had written: “I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me.”

He was always antislavery.  He always believed slavery to be wrong and had said so in the 1860 campaign.  But he also believed he could not do much about it.  He had even promised to uphold it in the South so long as it did not expand into the territories.  To be antislavery was not to be an abolitionist, but to be opposed to its extension into new locations.  In order to accomplish that goal, the Union had to be preserved, and in order to preserve the Union, Lincoln was willing to accept what has come to be known as the “Other” 13th Amendment.

 

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