Ohio History Journal

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Friends of Freedom: Lincoln,

Chase, and Wartime Racial Policy




Historians have long differed over what motivated Abraham Lincoln to is-

sue the Emancipation Proclamation. They have also disagreed over what

place the President believed blacks should occupy after emancipation. In fail-

ing to reach a consensus on what led Lincoln to the most important decision

of his administration they have debated over what factors and persons may

have influenced him.1 Among those individuals who had the strongest influ-

ence on the President's racial policies was Salmon P. Chase.

Until recent years most common in assessing Lincoln's motives has been

the thesis that the President was a pragmatic politician who simply did what

was necessary without a deep commitment to equality. Within this approach

there has been a broad spectrum of opinions. Richard Hofstadter was among

the most critical when he suggested that the President's Proclamation fol-

lowed the lead that Congress had taken already in the Second Confiscation

Act and that "it did not in fact free any slaves."2 Implicit in this argument is

the suggestion that Lincoln acted primarily in response to political pressure.

Others have come close to the Hofstadter position. Richard Current has

viewed the Proclamation essentially as a delaying tactic through which the

President outsmarted his abolitionist critics who demanded more immediate

and sweeping action by pronouncing a policy characterized by the limits it

put on emancipation. The Proclamation, says Current, was the result of

wartime expediency.3 V. Jacque Voegeli has demonstrated the extreme pres-

sure Lincoln was under in the North. Radicals could be assuaged by a limited

emancipation policy while conservatives might acquiesce if the policy was

restricted to areas behind Confederate lines and could be justified solely a s a



Frederick J. Blue is Professor of History at Youngstown State University.



1. We need not consider the opposing popular images of Lincoln described by Stephen B.

Oates as the frontier hero, martyr-saint, and Great Emancipator versus the bigoted white

racist. Historians can almost unanimously dismiss the latter view as over-simplification and the

former as extreme adulation. See Oates, Abraham Lincoln: The Man Behind the Myths (New

York, 1984).

2. Richard Hofstadter, The American Political Tradition and the Men Who Made it (New

York, 1948), 132.

3. Richard N. Current, "The Friend of Freedom," in The Lincoln Nobody Knows (New

York, 1958), 215-36.