Eric Foner, Columbia University Historian
Eric Foner noted author of many books on Abraham Lincoln spoke at UConn Stamford last Wednesday evening on the President's early views on slavery.
Though Lincoln was never an abolitionist, Lincoln always envisioned slavery as unjust. In this early period, he did not envision that all slaves should be freed or be granted citizenship. The sheer reality was that he was living in a bi-racial society and he thought that slaves should leave America for a colony.
If slavery is unjust, then what should we do? Foner asserts it took Lincoln a long time to figure out what steps to take.
Just how strong were Lincoln's feelings were demonstrated in a three hour speech delivered in Peoria in 1854. His rival Stephen A. Douglas fathered the Kansas-Nebraska bill which when passed by Congress opened up great portions of the area to the west of the Mississippi River to expansion of slavery.
This outraged Lincoln and as the leading opponent to this expansion, he spoke about the evils of slavery in and of itself. He terms the institution a "monstrous injustice" the perpetuation of which would make the United States ridiculous in the eyes of the world. After all, our enemies would call the country- which espouses democracy and equality for all, indeed, hypoctical.
In another paragraph, he says that he would solve the slavery problem by sending the slaves back to Liberia, South America and the Caribbean.
The views expressed in this speech remains his opinions until the Civil War. In summary, Lincoln realizes that we cannot make the slaves equals. He is pro abolition, but doesn't know how to execute this plan. He is not judging the Southerners who will not take any action to liberate the slaves. His first reaction is to send them to Liberia. The slaves are seen as an alien group, unjustly uprooted from their land of origin; they are not an intrinsic part of American society.
End of Part I: To be continued