Originally from: Letters from Linden
Date: June 2009
By: Cory Sedwick Downing
February 12, 1809 – April 15, 1865
Maryland and Abraham Lincoln
In the year of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln, it seems fitting to recount his enduring legacies and their place within the history of Maryland. How Lincoln viewed the state of Maryland has as much to do with geography its border with our nation’s capital as anything else, and slavery was the catalyst. Lincoln steadfastly preached the message that slavery was unjust and counter productive to the health of the Union. Maryland had long depended upon slavery to help drive its lucrative tobacco production. Lincoln and Maryland came to grips with the dilemma of slavery and that paved the way for the defeat of the Confederacy in the Civil War.
The Early Years
Like his parent, Abraham Lincoln was opposed to slavery, and partly because of this, his family moved from the slave state of Kentucky to the free state of Indiana when Lincoln was only eight years old.
As a young member of the Illinois legislature in the 1830s, Lincoln was one of six dissenting votes in a 77-6 resolution upholding the right to own slaves and condemning the formation of abolition societies. Lincoln then pronounced, “The institution of slavery is founded on both injustice and bad policy,” but he believed that Congress should not intervene in state where slavery was already established.
He also remarked that “if slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong.”
Young Lincoln Makes His Mark
In the late 1840s, Lincoln, re-elected as a member of the Illinois General Assembly, wanted to present a proposal to Congress that provided for the gradual emancipation of slaves in the U.S. capital pending approval by the District’s voters. Finding little support for this idea, he never introduced the bill.
One out of Congress and riding the circuit in rural Illinois, Lincoln’s view of slavery was crystallized once he heard of the repeal of the Missouri Compromise and the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Now he saw that slavery would not die out of its own accord. “This nation cannot exist half-slave and half-free,” he said. The North must mobilize against proslavery forces or the idea of a free society would be jeopardized.
In his debate with Stephen Douglas on April 10, 1854 at the annual Illinois State Fair, an eloquent Abraham Lincoln stated his case with common sense, pointing out at the time the Constitution was adopted, “the plain unmistakable spirit of tha age, towards slavery, was hostility to the principle, and toleration, only by necessity.” He noted that the words “slave” and “slavery” were never mentioned in the Constitution. He also stated that when Virginia ceded its large northwestern territory to the United States, it did so with the understanding that slavery would be prohibited there.
Lincoln also tried to find a common ground with and empathy for those who owned slaves. He wanted to highlight the likenesses between Northerners and Southerners rather than chastise the South for its differences. “They are just what we would be in their situation. If slavery did not now exist among them, they would not introduce it. If it did now exist among us, we should not instantly give it up.”
He appealed to the Southerners’ sense of fair play and recognition of the basic humanity of the black man by reminding them that in 1820, they had “joined the north, almost unanimously, in declaring African slave trade piracy, and in annexing to it the punishment of death.”
President Lincoln and the Civil War
Lincoln calculated that “less than one half day’s cost of the Civil War would pay for all the slaves in Delaware at $400 per head,” and that eighty-seven day’s expenses would buy all the slaves in all the other border states combined. From an economic standpoint, war was costly. In March 1862, President Lincoln asked the legislature to pass a joint resolution providing federal aid to any state willing to adopt a plan for the gradual abolition of slavery, but they refused to do so. In April of the same year, Congress passed a bill endorsed by Lincoln to provide for the compensated emancipation of slaves in Washington, D.C. Slave holders in surrounding Maryland and northern Virginia began selling their slaves to slaveholders father south for fear of rebellion as a result of Congress’ legislation.
In July 1862 Lincoln met with his cabinet and outlined his Emancipation Proclamation which would use his executive wartime powers to emancipate all slaves. He set the announcement of his proclamation for January 1, 1863 but was persuaded by his cabinet to present it upon the first military success. As such. the proclamation would free all slaves within states still in rebellion against the Union. Three and a half million blacks who had lived enslaved for generations were promised freedom with this act. A preliminary Emancipation Proclamation was give light in September after the defeat of Lee and his Confederate troops in the Battle of Antietam.
Maryland and Slavery
Like Delaware and West Virginia, Maryland was a border state and as such, it was not affected by the Emancipation Proclamation which freed slaves in the Confederate states. Slavery had deep roots in Maryland. Although it was considered a slave state, Maryland did not secede, but many citizens joined the Confederate army of Northern Virginia.
Emancipation was a risky act. In peacetime, Lincoln had declared that he had no constitutional authority to free the slaves. Even using his war powers to invoke emancipation, Lincoln risked much. Public opinion was against it. The border states, here to force loyal to the Union, might rebel. Delaware and Maryland already had a high percentage of free Negroes: 91% and 49%, respectively.
The Civil War broke out in April 1861 with the Battle of Ft. Sumter in South Carolina. Lincoln worried that Maryland would follow the Virginia’s lead in seceding from the Union. He also felt that the capital must be fortified from potential attacks by the Confederacy. In May 1861, President Lincoln sent Union troops to occupy Baltimore on intelligence that secessionists would riot there. Additional regiments moved into other ares of Maryland, although a Confederate invasion never materialized.
Throughout the Civil War, the question of slavery was an ambivalent subject in the state of Maryland; however, just prior to Lincoln’s re-elected to the presidency in 1864, Maryland finally ratified a new constitution officially terminating slavery, effective November 1864. Then, in January 1865, the U.S. Congress sent to state legislatures for ratification what became the thirteenth Amendment banning slavery.