Lincoln and the Politics of Slavery
My sixth book, Lincoln and the Politics of Slavery: The Other Thirteenth Amendment and the Struggle to Save the Union, examines a little-known episode in the most celebrated aspect of Abraham Lincoln’s life: his role as the “Great Emancipator.” Lincoln always hated slavery, but he also considered it legal where it already existed, and he never imagined fighting a war to end it. In early 1861, as part of a last-ditch effort to preserve the Union and prevent war, the new president even offered to accept a constitutional amendment that barred Congress from interfering with slavery in the slave states. Lincoln made this key overture in his first inaugural address.
I have unearthed the hidden history and political maneuvering behind the stillborn attempt to enact this amendment, which would have been the polar opposite to the actual Thirteenth Amendment of 1865 that ended slavery. Lincoln and the Politics of Slavery sheds light on an overlooked element of Lincoln’s statecraft and presents a relentlessly honest portrayal of America’s most admired president. I reject the view advanced by some Lincoln scholars that the wartime momentum toward emancipation originated well before the first shots were fired. Lincoln did indeed become the “Great Emancipator,” but he had no such intention when he first took office. Only amid the crucible of combat did a war for Union become a war for freedom.