Was Lincoln a genuine advocate for civil rights for African Americans?

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Was Lincoln a genuine advocate of civil rights for African Americans?

Abraham Lincoln is known by historians today for his staunch determination to protect the Union, even if that meant using force. With this in mind, it is hardly surprising that his public views on African American’s civil rights have been disputed - whether they were just a tool to protect the Union or whether he actually believed that they should be equal. It is arguable that Lincoln’s own views were that slavery should be abolished; however it may also be the case that he did not want to lose popularity by advocating civil rights for African Americans.

Lincoln came to attention to the public during seven debates in 1857 and 1858, with the Democrat Senator Douglas, both trying to get elected in Illinois. Slavery was the key topic during these debates, with each candidate stating their views. In one speech in Edwardsville, Illinois Lincoln said, ‘they [the Republican Party] will use every constitutional method to prevent the evil [slavery] from becoming larger[1]’. This shows his disapproving stance on slavery and his unwillingness to let slavery expand to other areas in the United States. Furthermore in a letter in 1862 to the editor of the New York Tribune he stated ‘my oft-expressed personal wish that all men everywhere could be free[2]’. This letter was written in explanation of why he did not free all slaves that escaped to the Union Army during the Civil War. This suggests that he could have been trying to gain support in the abolitionist North and defend his reputation. Again in 1857 during a speech as part of the earlier mentioned campaign in Illinois, he states ‘in her [a black woman] natural right to eat the bread she earns with her own hands…she is my equal[3]’. This illustrates how Lincoln believed that slaves should be free and they should have the right to eat with their own hands without ‘asking leave of anybody else’. It becomes apparent that Lincoln did not believe that humans of any race should be owned, hence his viewpoint on slavery.  This means that Lincoln might be thought of as being a genuine advocate for civil rights for African Americans as he continually stated how he believed in equality. The fact that, even at the risk of losing votes from slave-owning people in Border States and pro-slavery democrats in the North, Lincoln publically claimed his want to stop the extension of slavery and believed in equality illustrates how he was a genuine advocator for civil rights.

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Lincoln’s repeated viewpoint on the evil of slavery had its risks and this could suggest he was a genuine advocator for civil rights. As is written in the Declaration of the causes of secession for South Carolina, ‘[the Northern States] have united in the election of a man to high office of the President of the United States whose opinions and purpose are hostile to slavery.’[4] The fact that slavery is one of the key issues that caused South Carolina to secede from the Union shows that Lincoln’s public stance on slavery was actually causing the Union to break up, ...

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