During the build up to secession in 1860, and through the Secession Winter in 1861, many of the Southern slave states claimed that President-Elect Abraham Lincoln’s ultimate goal was to destroy slavery. Though Lincoln denied it, did the South have a point? Was Lincoln really willing to start a war to abolish slavery or were pro-slavery politicians deceiving the Southern people by playing into their racial prejudices and fear of equality for black Americans?
Beginning in 1860, many United States citizens actively took part in levying war against their national government. Many others gave aid and comfort to those who had, until just prior, pledged allegiance to the United States. And yet, at the end of that conflict, not a single one of them was found guilty of treason in a Federal court. Let’s dig into what treason actually means, how it had been applied previous to the Civil War, and why even the rebel leaders were not found guilty of treason.
The 1837 murder of abolitionist Elijah Lovejoy by a pro-slavery mob was long in coming. Rather than silencing the abolitionist movement, it had the opposite effect, solidifying it, and even radicalizing those who might have otherwise stayed silent. The murder’s reverberations rippled through the decades, even to the Civil War.
The idea is often put forward that up until the issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, the Civil War was fought by the United States to keep the Union together. It’s claimed that only after did it become a war to free the slaves. This, however, is not entirely accurate. From the start, especially to the Republican Party, the war was one to do both. It’s purpose was to reunite the nation, while its intended consequence was to abolish slavery. Nowhere is this made clearer than during the first summer of the war.
It’s important to recognize just how early this drive for emancipation began. Not only were there simple stirrings and rumblings, but actual votes were taken and actual laws were passed that actually freed people enslaved by Confederate masters – all before the first large battle took place.
There are some Confederate apologists who claim that "If there had been no Civil War, the South would have abolished slavery peaceably." It would have simply died out because "paternalist planters would have arranged, over time, to emancipate their slaves in exchange for financial compensation." ((H.W. Crocker, III, The Politically
It was more than happenstance that pitted Abraham Lincoln against Jefferson Davis. They disagreed upon almost everything there was to disagree upon. From family background to head-wear, these two presidents could hardly have been more different. But there was one area of thought upon which they agreed: Popular Sovereignty. Though