To the millions of African-Americans enslaved in the South, the prospect of freedom became finally possible with the election of Abraham Lincoln. Due to popular Southern opinion, Lincoln was known as an Abolitionist despite his personal claims of not directly supporting Abolition. African-American slaves became drawn to Lincoln, believing that the new president would bring them freedom. Consider the picture above, “Freedom to the Slaves”. In this picture, Abraham Lincoln is “freeing” a family of African-American slaves in a very direct and personal manner. However, Abraham Lincoln did not directly free the slaves. Lincoln created several anti-slavery documents to free the slaves of Southern states, but some of his actions were influenced by the actions of the slaves themselves.
To determine Lincoln’s and the government’s direct actions to free the slaves, one must first consider the Confiscation Act of 1861. This was an act created by the Union government that attempted to free and confiscate the slaves of the Southern Confederates. However, the Union government was unable to do so because Northern orders had little power in the Confederacy and thus the Act was not well enforced. Few confiscations of slaves actually occurred. Although Lincoln attempted to free the slaves of the Confederates, it still did not make him an Abolitionist, as this Act was more about politics than Abolition. All the Confiscation Act accomplished was preventing Union generals from declaring escaped slaves as contraband and returning them to their original masters.
The real document that acted directly against slavery in the South was the Emancipation Proclamation. As the Civil War raged on, slavery became the most pressing topic of the war. Lincoln was forced to act about the escaped slaves who began entering Union army camps seeking freedom, similar to the picture above. In this picture, titled “Slaves from the plantation of Confederate President Jefferson Davis arrive at Chickasaw Bayou, Mississippi”, slaves have left the plantation to seek freedom in the Union army camp. By actively leaving slavery, the slaves themselves had influenced Lincoln to grant their freedom. In 1863, by order of the Emancipation Proclamation, all slaves in the states still rebelling against the Union were declared free. However, slaves in the Border States that did not rebel against the Union were not declared free as the Emancipation Proclamation’s main goal was to address the influx of escaped slaves from the rebelling Southern states. The Proclamation officially acknowledged that the Union army would allow fugitive slaves to serve, thus increasing the strength of the Union forces. In conclusion, the Civil War started in reaction to the possibility of Abraham Lincoln declaring the Southern slaves free, only for the slaves themselves to be the ones declaring their own freedom.