Slavery was a formal institution in the United States until the American Civil War and the eventual implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution in 1865. Abraham Lincoln – the 16th President of the United States – played a vital part in the abolishment of slavery during his time in office (Johnston 30). However, it was crucial to obtain the support of the Southern States before the 1860 Presidential elections, and it meant that Lincoln had to appeal to their traditional way of life, including slavery. The issue of slavery was the primary focus of the elections, dividing the perspectives of Northern and Southern States both among the Republicans and Democrats. Therefore, it was essential to find common ground on the problem and unite the country. The current discussion proposes political advice to Lincoln on how to calm the fears of Southerners concerning slavery abolishment.
Slavery as a Formal Institution
Before offering political advice to Lincoln, it is essential to understand the role of slavery in the 1850s-1860s in America. At present, everyone recognizes that the inhumane nature of slavery and the oppression of human rights violate the underlying principles of the United States and the whole democratic world. However, slavery was a formal and legalized institution for the majority of the 19th century and played a vital part in the Southern States’ economy. At the time, even Abraham Lincoln recognized that “it is very difficult to get rid of it (slavery), in any satisfactory way” (Johnston 142). In other words, if the Presidential election eventually led to slavery abolishment, the Southern States would object to this intervention in their everyday lives, making war inevitable.
Abraham Lincoln, as well as other prominent politicians, wanted to avoid military conflict. He understood that a large-scale war of North against South would lead to thousands or even millions of deaths and might potentially eliminate the freedoms of America. Therefore, Lincoln described this problem as “the monstrous injustice of slavery itself” but could not offer an effective solution (Johnston 143). From these considerations, one of the approaches was to let the Southern States continue their slavery policies, and Lincoln was prepared for that. He commented that the unity of the country at the time was a more prioritized task than the freedom of the enslaved people (Johnston 30). In other words, he despised slavery as a concept but was not ready to take definitive action against it before the 1860 Presidential elections since it would obstruct his reputation and potentially lead to war. Ultimately, slavery was a deeply ingrained problem in the United States in the 19th century, and there were no “easy” solutions to fix the problem.
Political Advice to Abraham Lincoln
Personally, I agree that politics is a very complicated subject and would advise against creating unnecessary political tension against the South. Slavery played a vital part in the economy of the Southern States, and Lincoln would have lost all their public support if he had openly declared slavery abolishment. Furthermore, the South already had doubts about the Republican Party that wanted to stop the expansion of slavery. It was scared that slavery would be completely abolished in case a Republican became the President. Therefore, it was essential for Lincoln to play both sides and maintain neutrality concerning the problem of slavery to obtain public support from the North and the South.
Consequently, Lincoln had to become the President of the United States to change the slavery system from within through peaceful policies. In my opinion, it was the best chance to unite the country and abolish slavery without a war. The eventual Civil War led to a minimum of five hundred thousand deaths, and Lincoln initially tried to avoid it. If there were a chance to settle things peacefully, I would have advised Lincoln to maintain neutrality in his reassurances to the Southern States. Ultimately, I believe that the described approach to the political campaign of the 1860 Presidential election was the correct decision to eventually unite the country and get rid of slavery.
As a public relations adviser to Lincoln, I would propose the necessity of appealing to the Southern States. Slavery is an inhumane, oppressing, and cruel concept, but any radical change to the conventional way of life of the Southern States would have decreased Lincoln’s chances of becoming a president. Consequently, Lincoln wanted to find a peaceful solution to the problem of slavery and could change this atrocious system only from within. Therefore, it was essential for him to become the President of the United States and seek public support from all States. Moreover, he had to appeal to the people of the Southern States to avoid the potential military conflict. Although the Civil War eventually occurred because of ideological differences, Lincoln becoming the President of the United States was the best chance to solve the problem peacefully. Ultimately, I would have advised Lincoln to maintain relative neutrality in his reassurances to the Southern States and not to advance radical changes concerning the existing system to avoid military escalation.
Johnston, Steven. Abraham Lincoln: Icon of Ambiguity. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2018.